In This Review

The New Twenty Years’ Crisis: A Critique of International Relations, 1999–2019
The New Twenty Years’ Crisis: A Critique of International Relations, 1999–2019
By Philip Cunliffe
168 pp, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020
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The historian E. H. Carr famously argued in The Twenty Years’ Crisis that Western peacemakers at Versailles built the post–World War I order on utopian illusions and liberal aspirations that led two decades later to economic upheaval, authoritarian nationalism, and great-power war. In this lively polemic, Cunliffe contends that in the aftermath of the Cold War, the United States and other democratic states did it again. Like liberal internationalists in U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s era, post–Cold War liberal thinkers misdiagnosed the global moment, overestimating the historical forces moving the world in a liberal democratic direction while failing to appreciate the forces of nationalism, mercantilism, and imperialism. Cunliffe asserts that this “liberal utopianism” pervades the thinking of Western political elites. Whereas Carr identified the fiction of a “harmony of interests” as the core premise of Wilson-era utopianism, today the liberal illusion is a belief in the “infinitely expanding market” as the foundation of a universal liberal world order. Cunliffe spends very little time looking for interesting world-historical parallels between the two eras and focuses instead on the blind spots of intellectuals and academic thinking. The book will inspire a useful debate.