Thursday, June 7, 2007
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June's books of the month
The book selections for June had to pass a very stringent set of criterion. Namely: which books would actually manage to engage me when I was in a distant Caribbean isle, lounging on the beach, with naptime beckoning?
The general interest book is Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Cowen's book considers the various arguments about globalization leading to a withering of cultural diversity. Cowen takes these arguments seriously, but points out the hidden ways in which globalization can enhance cultural diversity within and across nations (one obvious effect -- globalization widens the diversity of material and ideational imputs for artists). He also performs a public service in debunking Mohandas K. Gandhi's theory of swadeshi.
Creative Destruction was a particularly fun book to read on vacation in the Caribbean, as one could literally see Cowen's arguments at work.
The international relations book is Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation. The book is a history of American foreign policy from the colonial era to the Spanish-American War. Kagan's thesis is clear: contrary to perceptions that the United States pursued isolationism until the 20th century, the U.S. was actually an active, aggressive player in world politics. Furthermore, its foreign policy was not based on realpolitik but rather infused with liberal idealism (with a tragic dollop of pro-slavery policies). In essence, Kagan is arguing that neoconservatism is not some 21st century creation, but rather deeply rooted in American history. Kagan is particularly sharp when he places major foreign policy addresses (Washington's farewell address, John Quincy Adams' July 4th speech, the Monroe Doctrine) into their sociopolitical context.
Kagan's thesis will lead to more than a few readers squirming in their seat. As David Kennedy pointed out in his Washington Post review of Dangerous Nation, "Europeans and others wary of America's motives and influence may find that it confirms their deepest dreads; some neoconservatives may wonder if Kagan has decamped to the Chomskyite, America-bashing left." I'm not entirely convinced of Kagan's thesis -- the role of ideas waxes and wanes throughout American history, and the isolationist impulse is not quite as small as Kagan believes -- but this book is lively and well-researched.
Go check them out!posted by Dan on 06.07.07 at 10:45 AM
Well, yes, Kagan is right that the U.S. has often been aggressive in the world. What the neocon's don't seem to understand very well is that you need to think out rationally whether a particular act of aggression would actually bring good results for American interests, or instead make things worse.posted by: Les Brunswick on 06.07.07 at 10:45 AM [permalink]
My own impression is that the US populace tended to favor isolationism in the 19th and the first third of the 20th century, but that the continued involvement of the US in global trade and the growing committment to that often led the US into more aggressive policies.posted by: John Biles on 06.07.07 at 10:45 AM [permalink]
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