Preparing for the Twenty-first Century Analysis

Paul Kennedy

Preparing for the Twenty-first Century

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

PREPARING FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY examines world affairs on a broad scope, looking at the factors that are likely to affect most countries in the near future. Paul Kennedy makes a strong case for the increasing interdependence of nations, arguing that technology and customs have reduced nations’ abilities to insulate themselves from world affairs should they so desire. Thus the hunger and overpopulation of less-developed countries becomes a world problem, just as do the resource exhaustion and pollution of the developed world.

Kennedy’s prognosis is far from uplifting. He sees an ongoing Malthusian dilemma on a world level. Relatively easy migration will allow the starving and increasing populations of the less-developed world to spill into the developed world, straining food resources there as well. Most population growth (barring migration) will be in the less-developed world. This demographic force poses an economic challenge for the next century, one that will be difficult to meet because increased production by the developed countries presents problems of resource exhaustion, pollution, and elimination of even more jobs of the type that currently reside in less-developed countries. The next century thus presents a main challenge of distributing the costs and benefits of increased production.

Population control offers a seemingly sensible solution to many problems, but it poses problems of its own. Large families act as a form of social security, with many children able to support few parents. Smaller families would increase the burden on the next generations of caring for aging populations; the United States and its Social Security system already show that strain. This most promising solution to many problems thus has its own costs and its own cultural barriers to implementation.

Kennedy presents a gloomy prognosis, one of many challenges and solutions that all have costs. Meeting these challenges will require increased cooperation among nations and increased recognition of the costs of development.

Sources for Further Study

Commentary. XCV, April, 1993, p.52.

Foreign Affairs. LXXII, Spring, 1993, p.156.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 5, 1993, p.6.

The Nation. CCLVI, June 14, 1993, p.844.

The New York Review of Books. XL, May 13, 1993, p.20.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, February 14, 1993, p.1.

The New Yorker. LXIX, March 1,1993, p.115.

Scientific American. CCLXXIX, July, 1993, p.114.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 7, 1993, p.16.

Preparing for the Twenty-first Century

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Preparing for the Twenty-first Century can be viewed as a sequel to Paul Kennedy’s surprising 1988 bestseller, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In that work Kennedy, the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University, examined the rise and fall of the major nation-states throughout the world during the era of European hegemony, which began with the Age of Exploration. Academics tradition-ally write for other academics, but The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers reached a broad audience during the waning days of the Cold War, as the United States found itself the only surviving great power. In an age of specialist monographs, the sweep and scope of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers also set it apart from most academic works. Born in England, educated at the University of Oxford, Kennedy brought to his study both his European background and his American experience. As in the work of an earlier English historian, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), a central focus of Kennedy’s examination was the decline of British power at the beginning of the twentieth century and the possible decline of American power at the end. Imperial overstretch was the cause of the first, and Kennedy suggested that the same cause-military responsibilities becoming greater than economic resources-might well undermine the United States’ paramount position in the world.

Kennedy’s earlier volume concentrated on the nation- state as the key element in recent centuries of history. In the foreword to Preparing for the Twenty-first Century, he notes that in a discussion of The Rise and Fall ofthe Great Powers one critic argued that the work had little to offer as a guide to the future because its concentration on the history of nations was irrelevant to the global problems facing the planet at the end of the twentieth century. The issues that should be examined and discussed are transnational developments such as the population explosion, the continuing technological and informational revolution, and the impact of both on the entire world’s environment. Preparing for the Twenty- first Century is Kennedy’s response.

It is an ambitious response. Kennedy admits that he had no expertise in those areas, and although history might be perceived as a seamless web in which the past becomes the present which will in turn become the future, historians are traditionally reluctant to assume the role of prophet or seer. Nevertheless, with the help of scholars from other disciplines and with the labor of his graduate students, Kennedy has brought forth a work with considerable information, many insights, and at least some tentative conclusions about what the next century might be like. In this study he stresses transnational concerns, suggesting that he found the earlier criticism at least partially correct: The problems of today and tomorrow are greater than the individual nation-state can solve.

Kennedy the historian turned to the past and the warnings of an earlier writer about the future, for the Reverend Thomas Malthus casts his shadow over Preparing for the Twenty-first Century. Malthus, whose An Essay on the Principle of Population first appeared in 1798, pessimistically predicted imminent disaster because of the rapidly rising population in England and elsewhere during the latter part of the eighteenth century. The limited food resources would not, he feared, be sufficient to feed the vastly increasing numbers of people. As it turned out, Malthus was wrong, at least for his own time. Thanks to the agricultural and industrial revolutions that were trans- forming Great Britain even as he wrote, the standard of living rose faster than the population. In Kennedy’s view, however, Malthus was a prophet whose insights have tragically come true in the late twentieth century. In 1825 there were approximately one billion persons on the planet. By 1990 that number had increased to 5.3 billion. According to the author, by 2025 that figure could easily reach 8.5 billion, and one forecast has predicted a worldwide population of 14.5 billion by the mid twenty-first century.

Most of this population increase will occur in the least industrialized countries and regions, particularly Africa and Latin America. While admitting that population prediction is an inexact science, Kennedy still posits that any quick stabilizing of the world’s population is impossible, and the areas of highest population growth are precisely the areas that will have the fewest resources to cope with that inexorable increase. Paradoxically, in the developed world the concern is much the reverse: A declining population of productive workers and an increasing population of elderly will create other difficulties.

Technology might...

(The entire section is 1987 words.)