A Janus-faced World

The Breaking of Nations: order and chaos in the 21st century
by Robert Cooper
Atlantic Books, 180pp, £14.99

International relations may or may not be in a mess; the theory of international relations certainly is. The old theory was that the world consists of “states” which exist in an “international anarchy”. It was an “anarchy” because there was no world government. But there was, nevertheless, a principle of order, or rather two: empire and the balance of power. These coexisted in uneasy juxtaposition. By the end of the 19th century, the balance of power in Europe had become a world balance as the United States and Japan took their place as “great powers” alongside the empires of the main European states. After 1945, there was a bipolar “balance” between two “imperial systems” headed by the US and the Soviet Union. At any rate, this was the theory, though the facts never quite fitted it. Then the Soviet pole collapsed, and conceptual confusion reigned.

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Inside the Bubble

The Roaring Nineties: seeds of destruction
Joseph Stiglitz, Allen Lane, 389pp, £18.99

This book is the story of the forces that drove the American economy to frenzy in the 1990s and collapse in 2000. It is much better than Professor Stiglitz’s last offering, Globalization and Its Discontents (2002), which was largely a rant against the IMF and the World Bank. Diatribe is not absent from this book. But it is much more solidly rooted in his own path-breaking work on the economics of risk and information, for which he won a Nobel prize in 2001. Stiglitz is not an elegant, nor even a punchy writer. But when he relates the politics of the 1990s to the economics he knows well, the discussion becomes exciting.

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The Last Serious Politician

God and Caesar
by Shirley Williams
Continuum, 156pp, £12.99

To what political attitudes might Christian belief point? Can the decline of Christianity in rich western countries be reversed, and, if so, how? These are the main questions discussed in Shirley Williams’s arrestingly titled essay “God and Caesar”, based on lectures delivered at Notre Dame University in the United States in 2001. Currently the Liberal Democratic leader in the House of Lords, Shirley Williams is the most sympathetic figure in British politics today. She is also a practising Roman Catholic. But despite its grandiloquent title, God and Caesar is not about the relationship, historical or contemporary, between theology and politics. Rather it is the work of a career politician, who simply describes the origins of her own faith, tries to show how that faith has influenced her political beliefs, and asks us to consider what Christian belief might imply for political practice. Despite her attachment to Europe, she has also written a very English book. She looks at the world through English eyes, and ticks off its virtues and vices accordingly.

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