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Progress in the Sands

“The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.”

—William McKinley

What sets Sands of Empire apart from the growing list of books scrutinizing the Bush administration’s foreign policy is its philosophical ambition.  Where other authors have contented themselves with estimating the neoconservative influence on America’s strategic posture or describing the nation’s slouch toward a garrison state, Robert Merry puts the global misadventures of the last three presidents into the context of Weltgeschichte.  Behind neoconservative and Clintonite interventionists alike, Merry identifies an erroneous philosophy of history that subordinates all concrete cultures—and, indeed, concrete facts—to the idea of unceasing and inevitable Progress.

Merry, the publisher of Congressional Quarterly and formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has written a book that is part intellectual history, part policy brief, and always with a lay readership in mind.  Early chapters survey the development of Progress, a peculiarly Western notion with delusions of universality, from the 18th-century Abbé de Saint-Pierre and the Encylopaedists to Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman.  This intellectual lineage alone is enough...

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