September 4, 2002
In a time of war and uncertainty, The Ideas That Conquered the World offers a major new statement about the fault lines of the twenty-first century, from globalization to terrorism, from great-power conflict to common security. Michael Mandelbaum, one of America’s leading foreign-policy thinkers, argues that three ideas dominate the world today: peace as the preferred basis for relations between and among different 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, they have – for the first time in history – no serious rivals. And although the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were terrible and traumatic, they did not “change everything,” as so many commentators have asserted. Instead, these events serve to illuminate even more brightly the world that emerged from the end of the Cold War.
The Ideas That Conquered the World describes how the wars and revolutions of the past two centuries, along with the strongest and most underappreciated of all historical forces, the power of example, brought these three ideas to a commanding position everywhere, without any serious rivals as methods of organizing politics, economics, and international relations. And Mandelbaum assesses the prospects for these ideas in the years to come, giving particular attention to the United States, which bears the greatest responsibility for protecting and promoting them, and to Russia, China, and the Middle East, in which they are not well established and where their fate will affect the rest of the world.
What is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the world of the twenty-first century, Mandelbaum argues, is the decline of major war among the great powers. He shows how there emerged in Europe at the end of the Cold War something that had eluded the statesman of all previous eras – a formula for peace – and he assesses the prospects for peace in East Asia, the other region of the planet where a great war could take place. Mandelbaum provides a context for understanding why much of the rest of the world, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, has become less peaceful in the wake of the Cold War, despite the trend away from war among the great powers.
As major war has declined, the free market has become the most widely accepted institution in all of human history, and Mandelbaum explains why this happened and how the rise of free markets holds the key to a peaceful and democratic future. His analysis offers an original and compelling picture of the new world of the twenty-first century, a world remarkably favorable to Western values and interests.
Michael Mandelbaum is the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies of the John Hopkins University, and is a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a regular foreign affairs columnist for Newsday and the author or co-author of seven books on foreign policy.