- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

Walter Russell Mead has done it again: Once more he has produceda magnificent, bold and sweeping conceptual history which combines a virtuoso command of sources within a brilliant integrating vision. And he does so in a prose style that is delight to read and that commands its prodigious learning with ease, wit and grace.

Mr. Mead, one of our most distinguished living historians of American foreign policy, here argues that the Reagan-Thatcher vision of the world that faced down communism and inspired the unprecedented spread of democracy, free markets and globalization is a far from new thing: He traces the ideological and even spiritual drive that unleashed first British and then American prosperity and rise to global power over the past 500 years.

Mr. Mead is far too good and scrupulous historian to make his book a simple, child’s play recitation of inevitable triumphs. But it is still fair to identify him as the heir of Thomas Babington Macaulay and, consequently, the prophet of neo-Whiggism. For like Macaulay — who, it should be remembered, had the most profound lifelong influence over the political philosophy as well as the orotund writing style of Winston Churchill, Mr. Mead ultimately celebrates what he regards as the continually victorious, onward-and-upward triumphs of the great Anglo-American political, economic and ultimately even theological traditions.

Mr. Mead fully and seriously engages Samuel Huntington and his thesis of the Clash of Civilizations. He explores the thought ofJoseph Gottfried Herder, that early critic of globalization,whose critiques 200 years ago of the spread of rationalism, enlightenment and democracy from France, and of free markets from Britain, proved so prescient and influential to the 19th- century conservative reaction — especially in Germany and Russia — that followed them.

Mr. Mead also acknowledges Sir Isaiah Berlin, the great British political philosopher, who reclaimed the work of the opponents of the French Revolution for serious study. But he nowhere engages the important work of the British conservative historian Paul Johnson. In “The Offshore Islanders” more than 30 years ago, Mr. Johnson already traced in English history the growth of the very same tremendous trends towards religious freedom and passion passed on a direct engagement with the translated Biblical text, and an obsession with political and economic freedom, that Mr. Mead delineates here.

And Mr. Johnson went backeven farther than Mr. Mead in tracing the ideological roots of these currents in the Pelasgian heresy in England of the fifth century AD. Mr. Mead might have done well to add FyodorDostoevsky’s critique of the terrifying consequences of individual freedom and responsibility as discussed by the Grand Inquisitor in “The Brothers Karamazov” to his excellently documented list of intellectual opponents of the essential Anglo-American tradition.

Mr. Mead, nevertheless provides us an unprecedented panorama of both the epochal achievements of Anglo-American civilization. His reach is stunning. A discussion of the turnpike system in Britain shows how the independence, freedom and power of local government at the county level proved crucial to developing the most dense and advanced road and communications system in the world across England by the middle of the 18th century, well before the railroad technology was even imagined.

By contrast, the ponderous, statist — today we would all them socialist — policies of the monarchs of Bourbon France mired French roads and communications in the dark ages. This failure proved literally fatal forKing Louis XVI and his queen, Marie-Antoinette. The coach that carried them on their unsuccessful escape flight from the French Revolutionaries could only crawl along the roads that Louis and his predecessors had failed to modernize so they were quickly caught and hauled home to be guillotined.

The most unexpected juxtapositions and insights abound on every page of Mr. Mead’s great book. I have never before seen President Ronald Reagan, the arch-exemplar of conservative values, compared in detail to Oliver Cromwell, the British revolutionary who had King Charles I beheaded. But Mr. Mead quotes from key speeches of Cromwell and Reagan to document their mutual passion for economic freedom and individual human dignity that in both cases sprang from the same vigorous Protestant Christian roots.

Even the hypocrisies and double-standards that Britain and the United States have so long been accused of — often not without merit — are traced by Mr. Mead back through the horrendous massacres that Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins were inflicting on innocent Spanish inhabitants of Central America and the Caribbean as early as the 1560s.

There is a sense of play, even of whimsy, that lights up the pages of Mr. Mead’s book beyond anything he has previously done. I doubt that anyone has ever before managed to put the German philosopher of the development ofideas Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Francis Fukuyama, John Lennon and Homer Simpson into the same paragraph in a single seamless argument. And even Homer might manage more than a “Duh” at the argument that he fulfills the End of History and the pinnacle of human striving and achievement according to Hegel.

If there is one serious caveat to make about this book it is that at the end Mr. Mead finally succumbs to the Panglossian, or Candide-style optimism that he has clearly manfully struggled against for most of the work.

He remains confident at the end that Britain and the United States, the Lion and the Eagle (or as he puts it with an appropriate acknowledgement to Lewis Carroll, the Walrus and the Carpenter) will continue liberating bodies and souls, generating growth, change and dynamism around the world as well at home, for untold generations to come. It would be nice to think so,but the study of history and its documented record present no such blank checks, and the growing shadows we see over our new 21st century world are hardly conducive to such optimism.

Instead, as Isaiah Berlin, a veteran of the titanic struggles of the Free World against Soviet Communism and Nazi racism through the 20th century, always cautioned, the record of the hard lessons of history in no way provide any automatic guarantee that the politicalsystems and values we cherish will survive and triumph inevitably in the future, however well they have flourished in the present and the past.

Nevertheless, this is a magnificent, exuberant and invaluable guide to who we in the United States and Britain really are, why other people around the world love and hate us (sometimes the same people at the same time) and how we got to where we are: Highly recommended.

Martin Sieff is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”

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