Daniel W. Drezner

So it turns out I’m the optimistic realist…

The latest issue of The National Interest is out, and it’s a special issue devoted to the "Crisis of the Old Order."  Fittingly enough, I have a review essay in there of Charles Kupchan’s latest book, No One’s World:  The West, The Rest, and the Coming Global Turn.  Kupchan’s book is pretty pessimistic about the ...

The latest issue of The National Interest is out, and it’s a special issue devoted to the "Crisis of the Old Order."  Fittingly enough, I have a review essay in there of Charles Kupchan’s latest book, No One’s World:  The West, The Rest, and the Coming Global Turn.  Kupchan’s book is pretty pessimistic about the current order: 

In No One’s World, Kupchan joins the chorus arguing that the distribution of power has shifted away from the West and toward the “rest,” meaning non-Western nations. More significantly, Kupchan argues that these rising powers will not embrace the same ideas that governed the United States and Europe during the creation of the post–World War II and post–Cold War worlds: “The Chinese ship of state will not dock in the Western harbor, obediently taking the berth assigned it.” The conditions that caused the West to embrace secular, liberal, free-market democracy are not present in very large swathes of the globe. Instead, according to Kupchan, it will be no one’s world: a mélange of competing ideas and competing structures will overlap and coexist. No one great power or great idea will rule them all.

Somewhat surprisingly, I think I have the most optimistic take on the current order among all of TNI’s contributors this issue — which means, in turn, that I’m somewhat skeptical of Kupchan’s claims.  Read the whole thing to see why, but here’s how I close: 

[M]any of the regions that Kupchan highlights as being “different” from the advanced industrialized world are not really all that different. It is true that most democracies in Latin America and Africa do not currently resemble the Madisonian democratic ideal. On the other hand, the same conclusion would have been reached after examining a snapshot of southern Europe in the 1970s or East Asia in the 1980s. Indeed, one could have made the same arguments about an absence of horizontal linkages, the heavy hand of the Catholic Church, and the ways in which the state had centralized economic and political authority. The fact that these countries now resemble their democratic allies suggests that the past is not destiny.

The moment one realizes that democracies evolve over time, Kupchan’s argument seems even more static. No One’s World assumes that either the strongman or populist variants of democracy will perpetuate themselves. If anything, the opposite seems to be true: the more extreme versions of Latin American left-wing populism are imploding, while Brazil looks more and more like a conventional secular democracy. Even countries as closed off as Myanmar seem willing to embrace myriad aspects of the Western model. Kupchan is certainly right that the rest of the world will not automatically migrate toward the West. But the migration will likely be greater than he thinks. A world in which China and Russia are the global “outliers” looks very different from the one depicted in No One’s World, which posits a much more heterogeneous assemblage of regime types.

 Twitter: @dandrezner
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