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Reviews for Age Of Revolutions

by Fareed Zakaria

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Of revolutions good and bad, born of intentions good and evil. In this wide-ranging historical survey, political commentator Zakaria, author of The Post-American World, considers the present era to be “revolutionary in the commonly used sense of the word,” involving fundamental changes marked not necessarily by advances but instead retreats into ideologies once overcome. Donald Trump, in this regard, is “part of a global trend,” the proponent of a politics of resentment against the other, whether nonwhite newcomers or members of the so-called urban elite. Some revolutions have had better angels at their hearts. The establishment of the Dutch Republic, for example, brought with it a “celebration of individual rights…[and] toleration of religious minorities,” along with an entrepreneurial spirit that made Holland the wealthiest nation on the planet. Similarly, the British government supported inventors and technological innovation after the Glorious Revolution, which introduced “parliamentary rule and market capitalism,” giving the nation a decided leg up on more hidebound neighbors. Throughout this intellectually stimulating book, Zakaria asks and answers large questions, such as why the U.S., alone among industrial nations, never developed a socialist movement. (One part of the answer is that the U.S. never experienced feudalism as such, and its ruling class “obscured the strict lines of class conflict that fed socialism.”) Absent socialism, the country instead developed a liberal democracy along the lines of the old Dutch Republic, for better and worse. Zakaria writes, “Liberalism’s great strength throughout history has been to free people from arbitrary constraints. Its great weakness has been the inability to fill the void when the old structures crumble.” That’s about where we are today, with old structures collapsing on every side and no fresh solutions in view—certainly, the author concludes, not from the right wing. A thought-provoking tour of recent history and its considerable discontents. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

A prominent journalist considers historical dramatic changes and twenty-first-century geopolitical trends in a search for perspective on our current “revolutionary age.” Concerned by Trumpism and the broader global trend away from liberal ideals (Enlightenment principles of personal liberty and laissez-faire economics, not left-of-center politics), Zakaria (Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, 2020) first turns to the past. Adopting new technologies and rejecting the prevailing Spanish model of top-down colonial governance in the 1600s, the Dutch destabilized and transformed Europe. Drawing on historian Eric Hobsbawm’s similarly titled 1962 work, The Age of Revolutions, Zakaria emphasizes the failure of the French Revolution relative to the transformative British Industrial Revolution. Returning to the present, Zakaria identifies economic globalization, information technology, and identity politics as intertwined factors driving today’s geopolitical turbulence. In part, this is a cautionary counterargument to those agitators who romanticize illiberal backlash and fan the flames of violent conflict. It’s also an earnest plea for a return to third-way political centrism informed by classical liberal values at a time when middle-ground stances are increasingly rejected by a polarized electorate.