The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century. (Book Reviews)

By Olson, Andrew | Parameters, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century. (Book Reviews)


Olson, Andrew, Parameters


The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century. By Michael Mandelbaum. New York: Public Affairs Press, 2002. 402 pages. $30.00.

The Ideas that Conquered the World provides insights on the principles that have guided US foreign policy since President Woodrow Wilson. Michael Mandelbaum, one of America's leading foreign policy intellectuals, uses history as a guide to describe the ascendancy of three big ideas--free trade, democracy, and peace. He offers this book as an alternative to conventional realist thought in foreign affairs, suggesting that America's soft power is more important than its military might, and, in effect, was responsible for winning the Cold War. Mandelbaum highlights the power and successes of Wilson's triad of ideas, but when applied to current strategic threats he treats them as self-implementing, ignoring the core issues in the struggles by Wilson and others to gain their acceptance as guidelines for US foreign policy.

The book addresses the concepts of political Liberalism and the role of social history in the evolution of this very Western political philosophy. It traces the historical development of free trade and democracy, starting with the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain and the French Revolution. The United States became the champion of the relatively new ideas of free markets, democracy, and common security, and later, under President Wilson, Mandelbaum argues, the diffusion of ideas and ideals of free markets and democracy ultimately led to the defeat of conservatism on the European continent, while facing down fascist and communist political and eventually military threats. He extends his argument in the wake of the Cold War, suggesting that the power of these ideas has created an extraordinary new reality-the obsolescence of war between great powers.

Mandelbaum evokes the image of a tripod in explaining how free markets, democracy, and peace operate together. Free markets allow for the creation of wealth, democracy provides self-determination, and when both these legs are present it is highly probable that individuals will pursue peace over the destructiveness of war. Mandelbaum asserts that peace on the European continent is due to the triumph of free markets, democracy, and the adoption of a defensive-oriented military strategy. He does address technological advances in warfare, such as nuclear weapons and the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, but does not give them their due credit in making warfare among global powers obsolete.

In The Ideas that Conquered the World, Mandelbaum also neglects the difficulty of breaking the cycle of poverty, disease, murderous dictatorships, and human rights abuses that threaten the world. …

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