Books: New Old World Order

Issue: Sept-Oct 2006


Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006), 290 pp., $29.95.

Harold James, The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Create the Politics of Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 176 pp., $24.95.

"You can do a great deal with bayonets, but you cannot sit on them", said the shrewd Habsburg statesman Felix zu Schwartzenberg after the European revolutions of 1848--a sentiment that was relevant then and is gaining adherents in America since the Iraq War. The war has revived a sense of limits and realism, an ideological shift akin (in proportion but not substance) to the reassessments that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

Against this theoretical backdrop, two important new books by Christopher Layne and Harold James reinterpret, from different perspectives, international politics and the United States' role as guarantor of global stability. Layne asks whether current policies have created a peace of illusions that might be shattered by an unforeseen crisis, and he opens by exploring the origins of American supremacy and the strategy behind it. Starting from an analogy with Rome, James describes the mounting domestic tensions that increasingly threaten the global system and an interconnected world.

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