This is barely more than a pamphlet-sized survey of world history, from a Eurocentric perspective if only because it aims to trace the roots of modern power underlying the basic paradigms of government and control. Certainly, when it comes to the lenses through which the world views the instruments of authority, the world is now in the grips of Europe's dubious gifts. This book is not so much about political science, although it repeatedly gives Kant, Hegel and others their due credit, as about political engineering: how the ideas of before, during, and after the Enlightenment were applied, and continue to be tried out, by the world powers. He pays particular attention to the revolution in how European people thought about what government means, from the inexorable impressions made by the French Revolution and Napoleon, through the rise of Prussia and the German and Italian nations, to the collapses of world order into the first and second world wars and the Cold War.
Naturally any reasonable thinker could deplore the sweeping generalizations inherent in any condensation of world history and its ideological signposts into 113 ridiculously short pages. Then again, the distillation is potent and leaves a powerful impression, difficult to refute.
Beginning with the American and French Revolutions, a number of different ideas began to be experimented with in alternative to the traditional aristocratic grip on power, with warfare a limited, almost mere game. The defense of such traditionalists fell under the umbrella of the Conservatives. Some of the alternatives, under the umbrellas of Nationalist, despite being radical in their inception, slowly inverted into alignment with the Conservatives, ultimately leading to the Nazis, while the variety of Liberal forces took their darkest form in the Soviets. The branch of Liberal ideological heirs to the American revolution, however, formed the root of the educated professional class who have risen to cross national boundaries in their common, rational search for peace, and form the best hope of peace actually reigning among nations: "A genuine global transnational community with common values and a common language... Does not this at last provide a firm foundation on which the architects of peace can now at last build a new world order?" (pp. 108-09)
Modern, liberal democracy is no cure-all, however: in much of the world, "Capitalism, or the rule of the market, is effective only when practised by communities where there already exist stable civil societies held together by efficient bureaucracies and common moral values, conditions that the market itself is powerless to create. Democratic elections have often had the effect of destroying such social cohesion as already existed." Echoing Fareed Zakaria, it's hard not to take a second look at this conjecture given today's events.
The greatest remaining enemies to peace in our age, after the Cold War, are identified as religious/dogmatic scholars and unemployment - providing a toxic mix of boredom and its worst exploitation - another telling diagnosis from before 9-11. "There is something about rational order that will always leave some people, especially the energetic youth, deeply and perhaps rightly dissatisfied. ...Militant nationalist movements or conspiratorial radical ones provide excellent outlets for boredom." (pp. 112-13) Even allowing for the rightly dissatisfied, though that is accurate as far as it applies, is terribly generous as applied to the world in general.
Sir Howard is not wanting of a solution: "The estblishment of a global peaceful order thus depends on the creation of a world community sharing the characteristics that make possible domestic order, and this will require the widest possible diffusion of those characteristics by the societies that already possess them." As for those characteristics, going beyond institutions and organizations to include cultural dispositions, "Their creation and operation require at the very least the existence of a transnational elite that not only shares the same cultural norms but can render those norms acceptable within their own societies and can where necessary persuade their colleagues to agree to the modifications necessary to make them acceptable." (p. 105) Peace and democratic freedoms cannot merely be imposed from outside; they must be made to evolve palatably from within.
In the end, Howard is pragmatic but optimistic: On one hand, "Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile." On the other hand, "whatever else may happen, 'a seed of enlightenment' will always survive." And hopefully, after all, continue to grow.