The Return of History, and the End of Dreams, a riveting hundred-page book, written by Robert Kagan, and published in 2009 delves into the complexities of the new emerging world order shaped by contemporary events. He proceeds to talk about how terrorism, genocide, war, economic crises, political turmoil, and failed revolutions have changed the order of the world.

He writes, “The twenty-first century has not even turned a decade old,” emphasizing the importance of the events that unfolded before him. Kagan asserts, through his book that the end of the Cold War was supposed to shift the world order from clashing democracies, and fighting states, to a far more peaceful and liberal way of life, however, it resulted in states, and clashing ideologies vying for influence and power.

With Russia trying to undo the damage and humiliation it suffered at the hands of America (p.19), non-nuclear states shifting to nuclear powers, subjugated countries seeking freedom; through war, battles, and changed ideologies, and China gaining a stronghold, history is repeating, and the world order that dominated the international system before the cold war, has resurfaced.

Kagan’s book provided the readers with a comprehensive analysis of the new route the world order may be taking, but it was simultaneously critiqued by many scholars and critics – mainly liberals, for being too leftist and narrow.

Many critics mentioned the book as one having no applicability in the contemporary world, because modern times are far different from those at the time of cold-war, with a range of factors affecting global politics. “The book’s deterministic view of history ignores the potential for human agency, contingency, and the ability of states and societies to shape their destinies in the face of global trends and challenges,” a critic added in their analysis.

Another critic wrote, “The book’s normative bias towards liberal democracy undermines its ability to offer objective analysis and consider alternative political systems and governance models.”

In this book, Kagan critiques all the liberal scholars including Francis Fukuyama who thought of the finalized world order as one based on liberal democracy, established post-Cold War. As a conservative, Kagan posits that nationalism and nation-state ideologies have resurfaced in the International System, and conflicting interests between larger States such as China, America, and Russia will have implications on the World order altogether.

This is quite a reductionist approach toward the explanation of the ‘emerging world order’ as he defines it, overlooking and foregoing the importance of transnational relations. These include the increase in immigration of citizens to larger, and more offering countries in terms of security, employment, and general welfare. A huge number of immigrants have found homage in America, in attempts to escape from oppression, violence, and economic crises back home.

Additionally, the coalitions and agreements between States help the relatively struggling countries, with increased trade opportunities, and economic benefits, but Kagan does not take these into account. An example of these coalitions is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Kagan, given his emphasis on power dynamics, would interpret this project as China seeking to gain dominance in the Arabian Sea, to have a competitive advantage over America. He adds in his piece of research, “National ambition drives China’s foreign policy today.”

The CPEC project has opened newer opportunities in terms of employment, and trade for Pakistan. With the emphasis on power dynamics, and conflicting interests, Kagan ignores how non-state actors have a bearing on the International System, and that influence is different than the state of affairs, present before the Cold War.

It is also evident through his piece of writing that he (Kagan) considers military and military assets to be the sole determinants of influence in global politics.

While the military is an important asset for any country to safeguard National Security, it is not the only determinant of global politics. Ever since the end of the Cold War, terrorism, cyber warfare, instances of genocide, and even pandemics have shifted the strategies of States in the International System, depending on how each variant bore repercussions.

With the world evolving, strategies, and politics are also evolving. Taking the military as the sole bearer of global politics, Kagan downplays the contemporary global landscape. History may be cyclical, but with evolving practices, many other variables affect how countries portray themselves, and the International System. States have human security, and non-military concerns to worry about.

Terrorism, poverty, combating epidemics, and pandemics require multilateral approaches, in addition to military decisions, but considering the actions of States to be based entirely on the military is a wrong approach to understanding the world order. Alongside these factors, increased globalization, trade, and diplomacy have paved ways for States to gain influence in ways that do not include military, or military force.

An overemphasis on military force can perpetuate a worldview that prioritizes conflict and forceful intervention over diplomacy and peace agreements. Kagan’s perspective was limited and narrow, as he concluded without fully considering the diverse range of factors that shaped the post-Cold War global system.

It is worth noting that Kagan’s analysis is rooted in a European observation framework, reflecting his Western radical conservative viewpoint.

This Eurocentric point of view prevents his analysis from being representative of the entire International System. Thus, his perspective of World Politics undermines the aspects of colonialism, and imperialism, that predominantly affected non-western countries. Colonialism had lasting effects on the economic, social, and political aspects of the colonized regions, that are apparent to this day.

Therefore, with a limited worldview, Kagan cannot make claims about the entire global order, granted just the experiences of colonized non-western countries have a huge bearing on how the world order works today.

Furthermore, Kagan’s analysis of European Countries and America means that he overlooked significant events in the history of non-western countries, as Kagan mentions in his book, “China had its “century of humiliation.” Islamists have more than a century of humiliation to look back on. This statement posits how he foregoes and ignores the years, and empires of glory Islam saw, only for them to be destroyed, first by Genghis Khan, and then by colonizers. This makes his analysis of history non-applicable, skewed, and biased.

The book was a good read, with quite a thrilling outlook toward the world as we know it. I saw the world through the eyes of a conservative radical; and enjoyed it. However, in my opinion, the global system is shaped by a wide array of factors that exceed, and are more complex than the dominant, and emerging powers. Coming from a country that was previously colonized, I think that every evaluation of global politics should consider the repercussions, and spillovers of colonialism, and imperialism.

Although it might not provide conclusive solutions, this book is an essential tool for anybody trying to understand the forces that are currently influencing our world. “The Return of History and End of Dreams” is a must-read that will leave you considering the profound ramifications of our constantly changing world, regardless of whether you are an experienced scholar or an inquisitive reader.

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