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Analytical Reviews; Part One: International Politics and World History. How to international politics matter? Paul M. Kennedy’s book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers covers the whole world from about 1500 until the mid-1980s. In roughly chronological order he recounts the achievements of each major world power as it arises out of its particular context and attains prominence…
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Download file to see previous pages In the first section China, the Islamic world, Japan and Russia are all considered first, and then the narrative leads into the emergence of Europe and the Habsburg empire in particular. The period 1660 -1815 is identified as introducing “the financial revolution” which casts the conflicts of that period firmly in the domain of economics. This section is pretty factual, with some theorizing about the close relationship between stable financial systems and the ability to wage wars. The second section develops the thesis that major powers always exist in a shifting state which is relative to other powers around them. He sees the world as being a system which has a sort of inherent balance to it, and describes how the steady rise of Britain was due to good organization and the early application of industrial technology, allowing this tiny country to produce about 53% of the world’s iron, and consume about half of the raw cottono output of the globe (p. 151) This is, however, a shortlived achievement, and Britain is presented as a model case study to show how every power wanes when others catch up with the innovations that led it to prominence in the first place. A factor which influences the rise of a global power is that it concentrates more on production than on military strength, and a factor which influences its fall is the converse, as can be seen in the carnage of the first half of the twentieth century. The third section entitled “Today and Tomorrow” is the most insightful, because it traces the two world wars, the cold war, and the tensions that existed in the 1960s to 1980s between several world powers such as America, Europe, Russia and Japan. The book ends just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the extraordinary collapse of Communism across wide tracts of the globe, which means that there is unfortunately no analysis of the rebalancing effect that this has had. Using the models presented earlier in the book, however, the reader is able to deduce that yet again the world has settled into a new balance of power, and yet again the declining superpower (America) is falling into the usual trap of investing in military campaigns. The strength of this book is in the sweeping connections it makes and the insight into relative power in the world. Part Two: Orientalism. Edward Said’s book, Orientalism, is justly famous because it approached world history from a refreshingly non-Western perspective and caused historians across the globe to re-evaluate all the history books that had been written with a largely unconscious Western bias. Said’s main thesis is that the concept of “orientalism” and labels like the East, Far East and Middle East are a fabrication of Western societies. He argues that the West sees itself as the norm, and the standard to which every culture should aspire, and that the colonial age deepened this instinctive feeling of superiority. The East is defined as a distant space which is “other” than the dominant West. It is cast in the role of contrast, displaying opposite features so that the West can compare itself, favorably of course, with a cultural counterpart. The book makes some strong points which are critical of Western European hegemony, and especially of French ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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