Who Cares Who's Number One?

"All the great things have been done by little nations."
—Benjamin Disraeli

There is definitely less to Paul Kennedy's new book than might appear on the surface of it. Preparing For the Twenty-First Century is an odd combination of old-fashioned doomsday alarmism, the modern lust for total planning, and the equally contemporary demand for a future free of risk and insecurity. It is also written in as bland and pedestrian a style as that of any journalist or public academic on this side of the Atlantic; if Professor Kennedy is a fair indicator, then the British hegemony in respect of the English language has gone the way of the British hegemony in respect of economics, which is to say it has been Americanized. Perhaps in the 21st century it will be Nipponized as well.

Whatever new ideas are in this book, I must have missed by inadvertent catnapping. Kennedy's thesis is the already familiar argument that the so-called global economy, human mass migration, and environmental crisis are all factors in a process of transnational change that, in addition to being resistant to national control, have rendered the nation-state "the wrong sort of unit"—either too large or too small—to handle problems of historically unprecedented size and scope. These problems, what is more, cannot be dealt with by armed force, but only by international...

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