Robert Kagan P'20

Prominent foreign policy expert Robert Kagan P’20 discussed his latest book, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, at Hamilton on Oct. 5. James S. Sherman Professor of Government Philip Klinkner introduced Kagan and his many accomplishments, which include serving in the State Department as a member of the policy planning staff, publishing numerous books on world politics, writing as a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and currently the Stephen & Barbara Friedman Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution

Kagan established himself as a supporter of what is known as the “liberal world order,” which he described as “a system based on open economic systems, free trade, and support for liberal and democratic government.” While he did concede that there is much to criticize about this system, he said that it has led to a more economically prosperous, democratic, and peaceful world compared to any other time in history.

“I think sometimes we tend to compare the way the world has been working to some ideal about how we would like the world to work, but a realistic assessment has to compare it to how the world has been in the past. In that respect, I think the liberal world order has been remarkable and unusual in many ways,” said Kagan.

Although the United States has made mistakes in pursuit of the liberal world order, Kagan believes that people tend to focus so much on what has gone wrong that they overlook its remarkable benefits.

His reasoning centered on the changes that took place after 1945 when the United States converted the Japanese and German dictatorships into economically powerful democracies. Kagan argued that this broke the “cycles of conflict” in Europe and Asia and “made possible the growth of prosperity, democracy, and peace that we saw in that period.”

Kagan compared the United States’ role in cultivating the liberal world order to a gardener growing and maintaining a garden. “If you want to keep your garden healthy, you need to constantly fight back the weeds, vines, and other forces of nature. That’s my metaphor for the liberal world order because the things that are attacking the liberal world order are forces of nature. The forces of nature in the international system tend toward anarchy, chaos, and the breakdown of order,” he said.

This metaphor is used throughout The Jungle Grows Back, including in the title itself. “Asking why nationalism and tribalism are creeping back into Europe is like asking why weeds and vines creep back into gardens: it is nature,” said Kagan.


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