Saturday, November 27, 2010

Five books on the rise and fall of America

Patrick Porter is a Senior Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department. His first book is Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes.

With Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, he discussed his top books on the rise and fall of America. One of the titles:
The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present by Christopher Layne

Your last book is The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present by Christopher Layne.

This is a fascinating book, written in 2006 by an American political scientist, and he asks a simple but difficult question. If you look at the traditional metrics, whether geopolitical or military or economic, America should be and should know that it is one of the safest great powers the world has ever known. Since 1900 it has been one of the most secure great powers in history and yet why does it have this restless foreign policy? Why does it involve itself in entanglements and commitments abroad and avoidable wars?

He offers a very strong answer, and that is that America is driven by a liberal ideology – this notion that the world can be transformed in positive ways by American powers, and by doing so America can be made more secure. When I say liberal I don’t mean liberal in the way that a lot of people think of the word – anything which is desirable and good. I mean liberal as a deliberate ideology about progress and the role of America in the world and how it can be made safer, more prosperous, free and liberalised and emancipated by the positive application of American power. Liberalism can be a muscular and evangelical thing. In fact a liberal is often quite intolerant because they want to change things so they can be in line with liberal ideals, unlike, say, a realist, who can be much more tolerant and accommodating of a tyrannical regime than liberals. And it is this ideologically intense view of America’s interests that, Layne argues, powers its interventionist and expansionist urges, and explains a lot of America’s behaviour.

But then he goes on to argue that America doesn’t have to be this way and it can adopt other roles in the world, and in exchange for its role of global cop it can become an off-shore balancer – that is an off-shore power that has the ability to intervene occasionally in the world to protect itself but is much more restrained and keeps a ‘free hand’. And this actually shifts the burden of security on to other regional powers like India and the EU. This is an alternative vision for America’s place in the world.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue