Let other boast about how many pages they have written; I’d rather boast about the ones I’ve read
Jorge Luis Borges
Jonathan Tepperman, the editor of Foreign Policy, argues in The Fix, that there are unconventional solutions to the problems that confront countries and that everything depends on the way the crises that come to present themselves are taken advantage of or utilized. Among the examples that Tepperman presents is that of Botswana when diamonds, its main wellspring of resources, dried up; the manner in which Singapore ended corruption; and the extraordinary reconciliation that Rwanda achieved after the ethnic massacres.
Carlos Elizondo writes, in Los de adelante corren mucho, that the inequality characterizing the Latin American region is not the product of chance but rather, the result of the contradictions typifying our political systems, because they permit arrangements “outside” the legal regimes, lead to the exchange of favors among the elite and, in general, sanction the establishment of their own oligarchies whose logic is not that of development but instead one for their own benefit. The book lays bare the way these societies operate and provides perspective to the enormous challenge entailed in procuring a more equilibrated and across-the-board development.
The technological advance appears unstoppable, now with the connection of all sorts of devices, vehicles, clothing, toys for all ages, and persons to the Internet. Pax Technica, a book by Philip Howard, contends that we are approaching the “algocracy”, the government of algorithms, instruments that have become the most powerful political tools ever created and that threaten to subvert all manner of authority and political organization, beginning with the Nation-State. This author’s vision is catastrophic, thus obliging the rethinking -and reevaluating- of the freedoms that, with all of the obstacles and avatars, we have come to enjoy.
The vote on Brexit and Trump has generated far-reaching debate worldwide on the value and attributes of democracy and its viability. In Democracy and Its Crises, A. C. Grayling analyzes the circumstances that impeded the democratic system from dealing with the social forces that democracy itself had created.
The best book I read this year, without a doubt, was When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, by Jeffrey A. Engel. It is a political study of the foreign policy of the first President Bush, the years during which the Soviet Union collapsed, the first Gulf War, NAFTA, the unification of the two Germanies and the invasion of Panama, all of which came to shape what that President denominated “a new international order.” The work portrays a series of photographs that evidence the dilemmas and calculations that face decision makers at key moments of history, although they are unaware of this at that juncture. The book reflects the human fallibilities, the uncertainties and the complexity in the face of the unknown: Can Gorbachov be trusted or is this nothing more than a ruse? What is the Soviet Union’s real situation? This is a treatise on foreign policy –on the cusp between prudence and pluck- on when the whole world appeared to be at a new dawn. This volume complements that published by Bush himself and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, two decades previously: a dispassionate perspective on what it is to govern. Both reveal in Bush a statesman perhaps less recognized precisely for his having been so solid, cautious and prudent, in dramatic contrast with the present occupant of that same office.
The Marshall Plan, designed to contribute to the recovery of devastated European nations (above all the losers) after the Second World War, has savored a prestige out of all proportion. It is rare to find a government that has not demanded a similar program to aid poor nations or those who underwent a civil war; in Mexico, this program is frequently invoked as an example to resolve the problems in the country’s South and Southeast. Benn Steil has just published a book in which he provides an explanation of the program in its historical context and its U.S. foreign policy dimension. The book explains that the character of the program was not one of aid, but a means to support local efforts and capacities in order for these countries to emerge from the hole in which they found themselves. Whoever reads this book will know that there are no easy or automatic solutions: development is not accomplished with hand-outs, but with great administrative and managerial capacity. It is no coincidence that Germany and Japan ended up being more successful than Greece.
Stephen Pinker, the author of The Better Angels, a book in which he demonstrated that humanity has experienced a constant improvement with the declining of violence through the centuries, has now published, in countercurrent, Enlightenment Now. Here Pinker presents the exceptional progress that distinguishes the human race, rejecting head-on the Populists who refuse advances and progress. What is fascinating about the book lies in the way it focuses on the propensity to take as a given that what has advanced will last and, within that context, the author’s defense of progress is relentless, in that he presents Populist movements as arrogant and fallacious.