John M. Owen
Academic, Historical Focus on States
March 4, 2011
In comparison to Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order, which is receiving a 6+ from my (my top 10%), this is at best a 4 for the general public of which I am a part. It has its academic testimonials, in that world it seems to be a solid 5.
The author focuses on the period from 1510-2010 and on forcible regime change among polarized elites. While the author clearly states his intent to confront realism theory and to provide an alternative history over five centuries, the book leaves me bored and cold.
Ideas matter, the author tells us. He documents (most ably) three waves, three ideological struggles.
First wave 1520-1650, Catholic Church versus monarchs
Second wave 1770-1850, Monarchs versus republicans/constitutionalists
Third wave 1919 to date, Export of fascism, communism, and liberal democracy
My biggest problem with this book–and I confess to early impatience–is its general treatement of “states” as relatively monolythic beings. While the elites are addressed–particularly when they split–this book just does not resonate with me. I have a note: “an ideological book with little relevance to ground truths today.” The author equates ideas with ideology; innovation is not in the index.
The author certainly does a thorough job of exploring his particular interest, and I do receive a broad sense of the curves–theology descending to reformation, rising again to statism and fascism, and then downward to individualism/populism.
The author writes to the “crisis of legitimacy” but I just do not get the same of ground truth and connection to reality that I do from books such as those by Max Manwaring and Monty Marshall.
The author concludes with an overview of today featuring Bolivarism, authoritarian capitalism, and state-centric predation. Populism does not really surface in this book, and I have a note that the author is in low company, specifically:
At the end of the book my disappointment is strong. I have a note, nothing on bankers, and remind myself of two books:
The author has a very good reputation on the basis of his earlier work and I certainly believe the testimonials about the academic value of this work but it just does not work for me with its neglect of memoires and its totally academic manner–I have a note, “academic book in academic tongues.”
Bottom line: can be used to abuse PhD candidates, but not for undergraduates or inter-disciplinary graduates. Turgid and just a bit annoying.