Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order

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by Robert Kagan

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European leaders, increasingly disturbed by U.S. policy and actions abroad, feel they are headed for what the NEW YORK TIMES (July 21, 2002) describes as a "moment of truth." After years of mutual resentment and tension, there is a sudden recognition that the real interests of America and its allies are diverging sharply and that the transatlantic relationship itself


European leaders, increasingly disturbed by U.S. policy and actions abroad, feel they are headed for what the NEW YORK TIMES (July 21, 2002) describes as a "moment of truth." After years of mutual resentment and tension, there is a sudden recognition that the real interests of America and its allies are diverging sharply and that the transatlantic relationship itself has changed, possibly irreversibly. Europe sees the United States as high handed, unilateralist, and ill-consideredly belligerent; the United States sees Europe as spent, unserious and weak. The anger and mistrust on both sides are hardening into incomprehension.

This past summer, in POLICY REVIEW, Robert Kagan reached incisively into this impasse to force both sides to see themselves through the eyes of the other. Tracing the widely differing histories of America and Europe since the end of World War II, he makes clear how for one the need to escape a bloody past has led to a new set of transnational beliefs about power and threat, while the other has perforce evolved into the guarantor of that “postmodern paradise” by dint of its might and global reach.

This remarkable analysis is being discussed from Washington to Tokyo. It is essential reading.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
A veteran of four years in the State Department, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of several books and articles, Kagan demonstrates a confidence and authority that demand serious attention. To disagree with his theses is not to argue against the importance of his essay. On the contrary, generating an intelligent and focused debate is a major function of such works. The true measure of Kagan's small book is that it is hard to imagine any future serious discussion of trans-Atlantic relations or America's role in the world without reference to it. — Serge Schmemann
Foreign Affairs
A book version of the essay that sparked a great debate on both sides of the Atlantic in 2002. In this tour de force, Kagan argues that today's conflict between the United States and Europe is not simply a result of passing policy disputes or the Bush administration's foreign policy style. Rather, it reflects a more profound estrangement rooted in American power and European weakness. The old Atlantic partners live today on different planets. America's preeminent global position has thrust it into a Hobbesian world of lurking threats and made it more willing to use force, whereas Europe seeks peace through law and diplomacy. Kagan is best in describing Europe's postwar project of taming the dangers and instabilities of power politics in a democratic, Kantian zone of peace. Thanks partly to the U.S. security guarantee, Europeans have devised a political order in which power is subdued and the use of force banished. Yet Europe has also made itself weak, Kagan charges, as its nations remain unable to confront the anarchical dangers of the wider world. Kagan argues that America's realpolitik view is not only a feature of Republican administrations but a deeper expression of American power (after all, Bill Clinton was willing to bomb Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan). The result is a growing divergence in strategic views and eroding solidarity.

Kagan's characterization of a postmodern Europe, however, is too German-centered; he ignores the fact that the United Kingdom and France retain great-power identities and a willingness to use military force. His reading of the United States is also debatable. The United States has been the preeminent global power since World War II, yet it has oftenpursued its national interest through multilateral institutions and security partnerships. Pace Kagan, Europe and the United States might disagree on the nature of threats outside the West — as they have in the past — but their own relationship remains embedded in an Atlantic security community.

Library Journal
This slim work by Kagan (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) ought to be required reading within the Bush administration as it attempts to patch together a multinational coalition to unseat Saddam Hussein. In a beefed-up version of his seminal 2002 article in Policy Review, Kagan argues that the United States and Europe no longer inhabit the same universe where power politics is concerned. Power, then, lies at the heart of the transatlantic culture war. Americans have it-making them a target and priming them to use it to address foreign threats. Europeans don't have it, and, judging by their trifling defense budgets, don't want it. Operating from a "psychology of weakness," says Kagan, Europeans place their faith in diplomacy, international law, and international institutions-both to come to grips with the Saddams of the world and to rein in what they see as the excesses of the world's remaining superpower. It behooves American officials to try to bridge this gap in perspectives. This brilliant and controversial work belongs in all library collections.-James R. Holmes, Univ. of Georgia Ctr. for International Trade & Security, Athens Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Former diplomat and current conservative think-tanker Kagan (A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1996) rehashes an argument he originally offered in 2001 in 'Policy Review'. That argument goes like this: During the Cold War, the developed world fell into two camps, one dominated by the US, the other by the Soviet Union. The former had need "to preserve and demonstrate the existence of a cohesive ‘West,’ " and so political divisions between, say, Germany and the US tended to be muted, at least on an official level. Though it begs for a united front of defense, today’s common enemy--Islamic fundamentalism--does not demand the same coherence, which allows Europe to turn away from superpower big-stick formulas, to move "beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation." The US, conversely, is settling into its role as the world’s sole superpower, able to accomplish at least some of its tasks in the "anarchic Hobbesian" world by virtue of its military might. Europe, of course, benefits from this situation, even while clucking its tongue and attempting to "control the behemoth by appealing to its conscience," which Kagan considers to be a pretty good strategy that usually works. The upshot? Interpretations may vary, but Kagan offers a genteel solution for both sides: Europe should let us do what we must to keep the peace, recognizing that "we have only just entered a long era of American hegemony." And America shouldn’t try to bully Europe into accepting the unpalatable, and perhaps even listen to our putative allies from time to time. Though he’s capable of concocting a memorable sound bite, Kagan develops his nuancedargument with an appreciation for why Europeans are not now lining up alongside us to give Saddam a good thrashing. Good reading for policy wonks who missed the original article, of a piece with recent arguments for the virtues of American imperialism.
From the Publisher
“Kagan is an ideal position to dissect what is wrong in the United States-European relationship and why. He does so with a surgeon’s skill, stripping away layer after layer to reveal what in the end is a remarkable conclusion.” —The New York Times

“A compact and arresting book. . . . Highly readable. It is also a hard-hitting, unsentimental and yet liberal and humane manifesto.” —The Sunday Times (London)

“Lucid and elegant. . . . It is hard to imagine any future serious discussion of trans-Atlantic relations or America’s role in the world without reference to [Of Paradise and Power].” —The New York Times Book Review

“Kagan is one of America’s finest commentators on issues of foreign policy. He writes elegantly, has an excellent command of history and consistently demonstrates superior intelligence and insight. . . . This book could not have been more timely.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“I consider this one of those seminal treatises without which any discussion of European-American relations would be incomplete and which will shape that discussion for years to come.” —Dr. Henry Kissinger

“A book worthy of every thinking person on both sides of the Atlantic. It is hard to imagine so complex a subject being explained so clearly and so compellingly . . . A contribution unlikely to be equaled.” —Times Higher Education Supplement (London)“For its brilliant juxtaposition of strategy and philosophy, of the realities of power and the ethics of power, of the American ideal of justice and the European ideal of peace, Robert Kagan's small book is a big book. Nothing like this has been written since the death of Raymond Aron.” —Leon Weiseltier

“Subtle and brilliant.”—The New Republic

Cogent and important best describe this slim book, its lack of vast pages belying the weightiness of its message. . . . Controversial arguments, certainly, but this book deserves to be read by all conscientious citizens.” —Booklist (starred review)

“[Has] the foreign policy establishment humming from Washington to Tokyo. . . . It is being called the new 'X' article."—Washington Post

“A cogent new book. . . . Kagan is admirably even–handed.... [His] analysis is valuable and instructive.” —Detroit Free Press

“Kagan’s provocative and thoughtful essay is required reading for everyone concerned about the future of transatlantic relations. . . . Although not everyone will agree with Kagan’s analysis, readers will benefit from its clarity, insight and historical force.” —Senator John McCain

“A subtle and empathetic analysis. . . . Insightful.” —The Seattle Times

“‘Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus’, writes Robert Kagan in the first paragraph of his new book. . . . That's probably the best one–liner any foreign policy intellectual has offered to explain perennial transatlantic disputes over the exercise of power in international relations. . . . Well–argued. . . .Truly insightful.” —New York Observer

“[Kagan writes with] skill, erudition, and reasoned argument.” —National Review

“Anyone looking for an intellectual primer to explain the geopolitical forces at work in the Iraqi conflict should order a copy of Robert Kagan's Of Paradise And Power.” —Sunday Telegraph (London)

“This refreshing essay results from careful thought combined with critical information. Read it and you will think more deeply about this important arena.”—George P. Shultz, Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

“Brilliant.” —Francis Fukuyama

“The democratic West has divided into two: realist America, putting its trust in physical power, and idealist Europe, trusting to intellectual authority and multilateralism. It is true that, as Mr. Kagan makes clear, American foreign policy retains a strong idealist element, but it is its muscular willingness to act with force, alone if it must, that Mr. Kagan defends here, and convincingly.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Kagan describes [the current climate] with dispassionate and deadly accuracy.”—The Washington Times

“Slender but brilliant.” —Business Week

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 3 CDs, 3 hrs.
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 4.90(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power—the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power—American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Immanuel Kant’s “perpetual peace.” Meanwhile, the United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable, and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory—the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.

It is easier to see the contrast as an American living in Europe. Europeans are more conscious of the growing differences, perhaps because they fear them more. European intellectuals arenearly unanimous in the conviction that Americans and Europeans no longer share a common “strategic culture.” The European caricature at its most extreme depicts an America dominated by a “culture of death,” its warlike temperament the natural product of a violent society where every man has a gun and the death penalty reigns. But even those who do not make this crude link agree there are profound differences in the way the United States and Europe conduct foreign policy.

The United States, they argue, resorts to force more quickly and, compared with Europe, is less patient with diplomacy. Americans generally see the world divided between good and evil, between friends and enemies, while Europeans see a more complex picture. When confronting real or potential adversaries, Americans generally favor policies of coercion rather than persuasion, emphasizing punitive sanctions over inducements to better behavior, the stick over the carrot. Americans tend to seek finality in international affairs: They want problems solved, threats eliminated. And, of course, Americans increasingly tend toward unilateralism in international affairs. They are less inclined to act through international institutions such as the United Nations, less likely to work cooperatively with other nations to pursue common goals, more skeptical about international law, and more willing to operate outside its strictures when they deem it necessary, or even merely useful.

Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They try to influence others through subtlety and indirection. They are more toler- ant of failure, more patient when solutions don’t come quickly. They generally favor peaceful responses to problems, preferring negotiation, diplomacy, and persuasion to coercion. They are quicker to appeal to international law, international conventions, and international opinion to adjudicate disputes. They try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together. They often emphasize process over result, believing that ultimately process can become substance.

Copyright© 2003 by Robert Kagan

Meet the Author

Robert Kagan is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he is director of the U.S. Leadership Project. In addition to a monthly column in theWashington Post, he is the author of A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990 and coeditor, with William Kristol, of Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy. Kagan served in the State Department from 1984 to 1988.

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Of Paradise and Power 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Throughout the history of man, nations have continually sought greater levels of power and influence over other, weaker communities. Occasionally, a single political entity gains sufficiently in either of these two areas to the point at which the strength it wields is such that no other nation possesses the capability to oppose it in any further ambitions. At this point in the development of a civilization, it has reached the height of its status, and only then can the title of ¿Super Power¿ be correctly attributed to it. However, this period in the history of all societies who are fortunate enough to attain it lasts only a short while. Eventually, political turmoil within, or military conflict without, or not unusually, some combination of the two, results in the swift decline and sudden collapse of the nation into a mere fraction of what it once was. Thus is the way made clear for the cycle to continue. The United States has fought for and attained the status of a super power, and this in a relatively short span of time (a period not greatly exceeding the duration of two centuries). This book is a fascinating one to read, as it forces one to contemplate the question of exactly how much longer will present conditions persist? That is, how much longer will the United States remain in possession of the enormous influence which it currently enjoys? It may last for centuries. Or, on the other hand, it may only withstand the duration of the next hundred years. Mr. Kagan¿s essay is a truly objective work that presents both a critical evaluation of the relationship between the United States and Europe, and also the reality that the United States has most probably reached the highest level of influence possible. This short essay is well worth taking the time to read, as its relevance extends well beyond the world of today. It is certainly destined to take its place as one of the greatest political and philosophical works of our time.