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Jul 26, 2004 5:43 am


Empire is the theme of the week's book reviews in the eastern press. Paul Kennedy reviews Hugh Thomas, Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire From Columbus to Magellan for the New York Times and Richard L. Kagan reviews it for the Washington Post. Kennedy seems to think you'll want to anchor your beach blanket with Thomas's 700 pages; Kagan thinks maybe not.

John Lewis Gaddis takes on Niall Ferguson's Colossus: The Price of America's Empire for the Times. Of Ferguson, Gaddis says:"No contemporary historian rivals him in the range, productivity and visibility of his scholarship. If the United States is pre-eminent in the world these days, then surely Ferguson is so within his profession." Yet in his latest book, says Gaddis, there are contradictory arguments, digressions, errors, and an"authorial overstretch" curiously comparable to the what Kennedy called"imperial overstretch."

Finally, Francis Fukuyama reviews Michael Hardt's and Antonio Negri's Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Their earlier book, Empire, sketched the outlines of a new imperial order of multinational corporations, institutions, and wealthy nation-states. In Multitude, Hardt and Negri propose a democratic alternative. Fukuyama believes that they fail because they haven't abandoned Marxist categories that obscure rather than illuminate the current situation."... the powerlessness and poverty in today's world are due not to the excessive power of nation-states," says Fukuyama,"but to their weakness. The solution is not to undermine sovereignty but to build stronger states in the developing world." They need not abandon the Marxist tradition altogether."Hardt and Negri should remember the old insight of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, taken up later by the German Greens: progress is to be achieved not with utopian dreaming, but with a ‘long march through institutions.'"

Update: Do not miss the conversation between Gaddis and Kennedy, who are colleagues in Yale's history department. It concludes with Gaddis's observation:

I'm angry that the current administration thought creatively about the situation it confronted on Sept. 11 and responded with a serious reconsideration of American strategy, but then they screwed it up in Iraq. They violated a really fundamental principle. It's the dog-and-car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about and chasing cars. But they don't know what to do with a car when they actually catch one. It seems to me this, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the Bush administration in Iraq.

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Jonathan Dresner - 7/26/2004

The problem with 'live' conversations is that people say things they don't think through very carefully:

"GADDIS. Where I would like to be 15 or 20 years from now is living in a world in which the international community as a whole justifies action, retaliatory or pre-emptive as the case may be, whenever brutal authoritarian regimes are practicing their terrible arts on their own people."

First of all, the most powerful military in the world has acted against two third-world regimes, and is now stretched to the breaking point. This won't come in two decades. Second, we'll have to be very careful how we define 'brutal' so that we can go on executing children.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/25/2004

I thought the review seemed, well, more contentious than revelatory. But anyone who picks Fukuyama to do a review has to expect that.

Adam Kotsko - 7/25/2004

What a delightfully patronizing review!

Interestingly, Fukuyama is the son of a former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, my current academic home, where a seminar centered on Empire was given this spring. He's quite an embarrassment to the entire CTS community, and in fact, my financial aid may very well be revoked as a result of posting this comment in a public forum.

Well, probably not. But still -- he's an embarrassment.

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