In so self-important a field as international relations, it is rare to come across an exuberant page-turner of high quality. Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order is such a book--short and very readable, with a gift for capturing elusive arguments in striking phrases. The author scatters his broad learning liberally, and other people's as well. He also provides a vigorous defense for George W. Bush's aggressive foreign policy. But in a debate that has grown dangerously rancorous, his tone is amiable and fair-minded. The book is well worth reading, not least for insight into what the intelligent and civilized American neo-conservative thinks about the world. Taken in the right spirit, it should greatly advance Transatlantic discussion about the world order of the future.
Kagan's argument unfolds like a rocket, with several phases along the same trajectory. The starting point is that America and Europe have fundamentally different worldviews. The United States imagines itself in a Hobbesian world of ceaseless, egotistical conflict, where only superior force can keep order--a world where Mars is King. Europe imagines itself in a world where conflicts are settled by reasoned bargaining among neighbors who eschew the use of force against one another. In Europe's vision, it is Venus who presides. Europeans, celebrating their advanced, pacifist habits, relish a well-developed sense of moral superiority over the Americans. But Europe's enjoyment of its visionary world, Kagan argues, depends on the bellicose habits of the Americans. It is America's power and enthusiasm for using it that insulate Europe from its Hobbesian surroundings. It is Mars that protects Venus' lifestyle.