Review of “The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order”

The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order

The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order by Hal Brands

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


If you are a regular reader of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, there will probably not be anything new in this book.

After a short chapter on tragedy as emotion and event in Greek history and philosophy, the first two-thirds consists of a history of the US’ rise to power. There is nothing particularly new or inciteful for anyone with a background in diplomatic history.

The last third focuses on the retreat from the international arena that started with the Obama administration. There are some mentions of the Trump administration continuing this trend, but given the publication date and the leads in printing, they have the feel of late additions. They blame both administrations on the failure to maintain the international system (a requirement for the hegemon). Obama gets specific criticism for his “diffidence, caution and retrenchment” (142) and failure to follow-through. Despite Obama’s claim that you don’t bomb someone just to prove you can bomb them, they argue YES YOU DO especially if you want to maintain your reputation.

Their final position is that there would be no global governance without US leadership and participation because the alternative is the ‘rise of the barbarians.’



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