At the dawn of the twenty-first century, three ideas dominate the world: peace as the preferred basis for relations between countries, democracy as the optimal way to organize political life, and free markets as the indispensable vehicle for the creation of wealth. While not practiced everywhere, these ideas have—for the first time in history—no serious rivals as methods for organizing the world's politics, economics, and international relations.
In this illuminating book, one of America's leading foreign-policy thinkers, Michael Mandelbaum, describes how the wars and revolutions of the past two centuries brought these ideas to a commanding position worldwide. He then assesses the prospects for these ideas in the years to come, with a particular focus on the United States, which bears the greatest responsibility for protecting and promoting them, and on Russia, China, and the Middle East, where these ideas are not well-established but where their fate will profoundly affect the rest of the world.
One remarkable legacy of the second half of the twentieth century is the decline of major war among the great powers. Something emerged in Europe at the end of the Cold War, Mandelbaum argues, that had eluded the statesmen of previous eras—a formula for peace. He assesses the possibility of applying this formula in East Asia, another region where a major war could take place. He also provides a context for understanding why much of the rest of the world, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, has become less peaceful.
As major wars have declined, the free market has become the most widely accepted institution in human history, and Mandelbaum explains why this happened and how the rise of free markets holds the key to a peaceful and democratic future, while depicting the obstacles to the construction and operation of working markets. His analysis offers an original and compelling picture of the twenty-first-century world, a world remarkably favorable to American values and interests.