Henry Kissinger has traveled the world, advised presidents, and been a close observer and participant in the central foreign policy events of our era. Now he offers his analysis of the twenty first century's ultimate challenge: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historic perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism.
There has never been a true "world order," Kissinger observes. For most of history, civilizations defined their own concepts of order. Each considered itself the center of the world, and envisioned its distinct principles as universally relevant. China conceived of a global cultural hierarchy with the Emperor at its pinnacle. In Europe, Rome imagined itself surrounded by barbarians; when Rome fragmented, European peoples refined a concept of an equilibrium of sovereign states and sought to export it across the world. Islam considered itself the world's sole legitimate political unit, destined to expand indefinitely until the world was brought into harmony by Muslim principles. The United States was born of a conviction about the universal applicability of democratic principles - a conviction that has guided its policies ever since.
Now international affairs take place on a global basis, and these historic concepts of world order are meeting. Every region participates in questions of high policy in every other, often instantaneously. Yet there is no consensus among the major actors about the rules and limits guiding this process, or its ultimate destination. The result is mounting tension.
Grounded in Kissinger's deep study of history and experience as national security advisor and secretary of state, World Order> guides readers on a tour of the globe. It examines the events and ideas that formed the historic concepts of order, their manifestations in contemporary controversies, and the ways in which they might ultimately be reconciled.
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More retrospective than future oriented
There is much to like in this audiobook, which essentially plays out like an extended TED talk, provided you agree with Kissinger’s realpolitic take on nation states balance of power. As might be expected, he lays out his analysis/arguments in a thoughtful, logical progression and the sum amounts to a region by region history lesson on how nation states, motivated by self-interest, strive to achieve a balance of power with their neighbours/rivals so that no nation becomes too strong or too weak. Failure to achieve this balance creates a dangerous, destabilizing effect. In a sense, peace is maintained under this type of framework and World Order takes the reader through a history lesson on how this has evolved in various geopolitical regions over the last 500 years. The roots of HK’s worldview clearly haven’t evolved much over the past 50 years and at 91, it would probably be a bit folly to expect HK to change now. And hence, this underscores a fundamental weakness in World Order. As alternate theories aren’t offered, one doesn’t come away with the sense that this is true historical analysis, nor poli sci primer. As it focuses largely on the nation state, which arguably has less importance in the 21st century than it did in the previous, it hardly qualifies as a prescription either, though HK does touch on some of the challenges ahead (ie. Nuclear proliferation, non state groups, interconnected global communication). Still, I wouldn’t call World Order outdated, nor should it be tossed aside lightly; rather, listening to it is akin to spending the day with an elder sage, who still offers much wisdom and experience to impart but whose worldview is still firmly rooted in the past. It is worth the read as long as the reader always bears in mind that this is The World According to HK.
A masterpiece - whatever you may think of H.K.
- Phil O.