The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy From the Cold War to the Present

In This Review

The Right Kind of Revolution
By Michael E. Latham
Cornell University Press, 2011
256 pp. $22.95
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Theories of development and modernization have played a crucial role in the formation of U.S. policy since George Washington's administration promoted the "civilization" of the eastern Native American tribes. When the French Revolution failed to create a moderate and liberal republic, when the newly independent South American republics collapsed into chaos, and when decolonization created fragile new states around the world, American intellectuals and policymakers argued about what modernization is and how it can be promoted. Latham's review grasps the strategic importance of modernization theory to U.S. foreign policy and at times offers penetrating and useful analysis. He does an excellent job of showing how Americans' technocratic assumptions have caused problems when events in places such as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, India under Jawaharlal Nehru, and Iraq more recently have not worked out as hoped. But Latham is sometimes more eager to castigate past administrations than to understand the dilemmas they faced. Nobody really knows how modernization really works, where history is headed, or how to raise living standards in poor countries. Yet the United States' values and interests lead the country, over and over, to promote what it hopes will be positive changes around the world.