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Book Review
Last Updated: 05/05/2004
More in Sorrow Than in Anger
Simon Stander

Emmanuel Todd's best seller has been translated into English. Todd predicted the fall of the Soviet Empire and twenty five years later he is diagnosing the current ills of the other super-power. What has gone down well with the Franco-German readership may be greeted more cynically in the Anglo-American world.


 

Emmanuel Todd, After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order, Columbia University Press, 2003 (First published by Gallimard Press in French in 2002)

 

 

Emmanuel Todd, though French, recounts his American links and his British education in order to clear the ground. He is not anti-US and he is no Anglophobe, being a good Cambridge man. Nevertheless, he argues that the US is not such a super-power as is made out. Hyper-puissance (the French got this term in before the English language had it on record) is definitely on the way out; the loss of a generous and beneficent USA that marked the immediate post-war period is s sign in itself of the decline power. What s more the rest of the world is coming along very nicely despite the fact that we see a weak Russia, a disintegrated Soviet Union and failed states sprinkled liberally across the globe.

 

Todd s main claim to fame hitherto has rested on his 1976 publication La Chute finale in which, as a young man, he predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over twenty-five years later he is making more of a diagnosis than a prediction, but which has similar telling qualities. The USA is not as all powerful as it thinks it is, it has lost its power to lead and the rest of the world is catching up rapidly.

 

The bases for this argument are a combination of demographic statistics, an awareness of the completion of universal literacy, some economic indices such as capital movements and production and consumption patterns and dollar-euro rates, observation relating to deep culture of a distinctly anthropological kind and, not averse to generalised historical material, some loose analogies with the Roman Empire.

 

The style, while claiming to be indebted to British empiricism, is reasonably elegant but marked by (on his own admission) over-statements, even dogmatic ones, to make the point .  There s nothing wrong with that, of course, as some points do need making, not the least of which, is to somehow curb the tendency of the USA to resort to arms and to demand less of the rest of the world in terms of resources to feed its own need to consume more than its fair share.

 

While the book does boast some empirical material, it is distinctly eclectic, the claims made for the statistics on literacy and demography are clearly exaggerated; on the other hand it is a good read. Though it has been much fancied in France and Germany, it is not surprisingly finding less favour in the English speaking world.

 

The author s countenance is more in sorrow than in anger. A phrase from Hamlet, I believe. We all hope for a better ending.

 

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