This book has such a sweep, and each chapter such an intersecting analysis of the broader questions that in many ways it feels impossible for me to write one of my informal summary reviews. That said, it was clearly apparent to me from the pure lucidity of the writing and the stringent engagement with serious ideas that this was indeed a very good and important book. It reads very well, and at nearly every turn raises legitimate and judicious concerns.
A few things I took away from it were the notions that since Westphalia, European and the International States have been run on a system that is interactive, rational and aims at the balancing of power. Over the centuries there have been growing ruptures and changes, some of which have led to the quite furious contradictions in the modern era. These are primarily the Western secular states keeping to a modified form of Westphalian international relations, and the emerging Islamic powers, notably Iran, who see the state not as a legitimate secular authority in itself but as a platform for realising the divine mission and expanding the revolutionary goals of their particular form of Islam to something a kin to an Islamic Civilization of a whole different premise. For that reason, there are contradictions and potential misreadings in a world system where a notion of congruent legal and state legitimacy between Western and Islamic powers are not mutually understood. And many wonder if this can be possible at all.
Several chapters prior to this were devoted to the Soviet Union. This too was a state that did not recognise the legitimacy of the international system – the capitalist West. Communism sought to use the base of the Soviet Union to spread its revolutionary ideals. But this is quite different to a religious revolutionism – even these laws are open, sooner or later, to some form of human shaping. They do not claim a divine providence in the same manner that has eternal fixity, and it was always the hope of President Reagan that the Soviet Union could be “brought back in from the cold” and into the “community of nations”.
And lastly, one pertinent motif (I thought) that will stay with me for some time is the idea that it was the First World War that destroyed Europe, and without quoting the eminent Sir Edward Grey, it was clear that Europe never recovered. We never regained our strength nor our political confidence. And it was Kissinger’s bold but somewhat diplomatic implication that the European Union is a project resulting from this. Europe in many ways, with a unilateral guarantee from the USA in the form of NATO, has turned its head away from the world and reverted to obsessions with its manifold inner pluralities and their possible cohesion. Whether this will work, and in the end result in a revitalised peninsular, we must wait and see.
In conclusion, for the sheer lucidity and clear unpretentious engagement of its writing, this book is a very worthy and very enjoyable read.