The Jungle Grows Back

Every once in a while I read a book which is so compelling that I want to tell everyone about it.  The last one was “The Hundred-Year Marathon” by Michael Pillsbury which reveals “China’s secret strategy to replace America as the global superpower.”

Now I want to tell you about “The Jungle Grows Back” by Robert Kagan.   It describes the crucial role of America in our imperiled world.


Several authors such as Johan Norberg, “Progress“, Steven Pinker, “Enlightenment Now”,  and Matt Ridley, “the Rational Optimist”, describe the steady human progress of the last several hundred years such as the increase of personal freedom, equality, and longevity and the decrease in poverty and violence all around the world.  These remarkable trends are widespread and have made the world a much better place.

Mr. Kagan makes a strong counter-argument that “this story of human progress is a myth.”  He argues that the amazing progress of the past 75 years is the product of a unique set of circumstances.  Namely that “the most powerful nation in the world since 1945 has been a liberal democratic capitalist nation.  The question is not what will bring down the liberal order but what can possibly hold it up?  Today there are signs all around that the jungle is growing back.”

“Prior to WW II democracy was in decline and it had been virtually nonexistent over the preceding five thousand years.”  Since 1945 it is “the growing power and reach of the liberal world order which is unprecedented.”

“We have lived inside the bubble of the liberal world order for so long that we have forgotten what the world ‘as it is’ really looks like.  In the American-led liberal order, Russia has fallen from superpower status but China has risen towards it.  If the United States is strong and determined and the liberal order remains healthy and united, a Chinese challenge could fail.”

But the “liberal world order may no longer be healthy enough and coherent enough to continue containing and discouraging” Chinese ambitions.

The biggest question of all concerns America’s own commitment to the liberal world order.  We have to abandon the post-Cold War myth that liberalism must be the natural end point of human evolution because it triumphed over communism.

“Today the order remains intact despite the hostility of the present administration and the weakness of the last.  It is ultimately the American security guarantee, the ability to deploy hard power to deter and defeat potential aggressors that provides the essential foundation without which the liberal world order could never survive.”

In summary, “the liberal world order is as precarious as it is precious.  It is a garden which needs constant tending lest the jungle grows back and engulfs us all.”

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