Book Review of Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000.

Table of Contents

IntroductionPaul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers was an interesting analysis of the shift and cycle of power and situations that have birthed and nursed empires into civil states. It provided a historical narration of the different era’s great powers and analysis of the different factors that have caused their rise and fall and how each phenomenon transformed each era into maturity. Paul Kennedy organized his discussion by dividing it into three parts which are from the periods of Pre-Industrial, Industrial, and those of the Twenty-first century. It was clear in his discussion how dynamic and different each empire and countries have been from the Pre Industrial times up to the current period in his discussion, but beyond the differences in eras and periods all countries lie on the common ground for the quest for power and their strengths are put to test on how they strategize to either rise up to power and maintain it, unfortunately for others the rise of a country could mean the downfall of another country although there is no direct correlation between the two based on the discussion on the book, it seemed implied especially in his discussion of the Habsburg downfall and the factors that affected it which for Paul Kennedy is a pattern often present in situations since it is likely that one country can achieve an upper hand in strategizing and decision making due to the nature and resources that it has but mainly through its best allocation of finance procedure that was taken to achieve the best possible results. However again Paul Kennedy warns that the results achieved are not the absolute situation or state a country can be in, since as what was said earlier with the dynamic nature of the political scene, shifts are bound to happen.This book review aims to address and discuss different points in the book which it found agreeable and disagreeable, the focus of this review can be narrowed down into three parts which are: first, the role of unity/centralization and diversity in Kennedy’s discussion of the earlier ancient empires in comparison to Europe specifically with the Habsburg’s situation and condition, second is the Industrial Revolution’s role in the maturing of states and military ascendancy, and third is Paul Kennedy’s stand on the problem that the current and upcoming Great Powers will be facing which is the constant shift of focus and allocation of resources among the different areas of concerns that a country must address and develop in order to achieve growth.Unity in DiversityPaul Kennedy started his discussion by listing and explaining the earlier empires which have possessed the momentary label of being a “Great Power”, which are Ming China, Ottoman Empire, Mogul India, Japan and Russia. All these being earlier and superior in terms of trade, culture, and natural resources have helped Europe in having a reference in its culture. Generally speaking the similar points among these empires that Paul Kennedy found remarkable was their unity, it was a strength but at the same time the cause of their downfall which caused them to easily plunge into conservatism, as to avoid further external complications and focus on figuring out their internal mishaps and security. On the otherhand Europe experiencing the “ European Miracle” or as what Paul Kennedy call’s being the hodgepodge of culture, continues to thrive in its diversity and decentralization that keeps all of the countries within it on their feet, non complacent and keep on getting ready for their future. However this very character of diversity which Paul Kennedy praised earlier was seen as the weakening point of the Habsburgs which was once considered as the possible front runner of becoming a Great Power among the confines of the European continent. Generally speaking it all falls down to strategy, and with the earlier situation that Habsburg faced, since it was not able to properly strategize which problems to focus on therefore straining a successful allocation of its resources, combined with Europe’s element of diversity wherein all the countries within it find each other as competition, with the effects of imperialism and overextension building tensions among the countries, including the call of times with religious revolutions and reformations, it was up to statesmen and leaders to strategize how to make unity and diversity work together. Paul Kennedy’s point of the contradicting combination of unity and diversity as both being a strength and weakness can be compromised with strategy, as what he suggested and that is something that is agreeable. A strategic analysis of the situation, factors and nature of the problem can help in determining what could be the best way to handle it. As for the Habsburg empire it seemingly focused on the least cost effective resolution when it continued to allocate and support the military revolution being faced with the Netherland, which they thought at that time needed to be responded and stopped immediately as it may cause a domino effect, although the call of time did aim for that, their operation in Netherland kept them in deep debt which later on became an additional factor to their downfall. Habsburg did their best in handling the situation that they were in, and yes Paul Kennedy’s suggestion of a combined unity and diversity could be possible but not at that point of time that existed especially with situation that Habsburg were in, diversity definitely existed but integrating all the product of imperialism and overextensions into one united whole, would not be possible at least at that time especially in the case with the Habsburgs, again the empire was busy with its imperialistic activities and overexpansion, with a lot of things going on with the Habsburg situation it forgot the very point of a Machiavellian policy in keeping a principality which is the internal control, as much as one empire prioritize expanding, one should also prioritize managing and gaining both the love and fear of the people in that principality and since this was not seen as an important factor of the Habsburg empire, it resulted to disunity among the new territories since there’s no attachment between them therefore causing more internal and liberal revolution against the mother colony or empire. However away from the ancient constraints that societies of the past had faced, unity and decentralization are definitely possible now and a possible evidence to that is Federalism, which highlights decentralization for a much better development as a unit in order to function better together as a whole. In a way it focuses on prospering as an individual or at a local level for a better connection and interdependence as a whole or at a central and national level. However although the strategy of pursuing a federal government seems promising, it should not be an overnight decision to be made, again countries and states are different in all aspects, a promising result of another doesn’t directly equate the same results for the other so strategy goes hand in hand with luck or in Machiavelli’s terms one must combine ability and opportunity to seize and thrive in an extraordinary situation.Industrial Revolution and StrategyThe Industrial Revolution did bring a sense of modernity in the society, it encouraged diplomacy, economic growth, and it brought a lot of advantages to whoever was being a part of it. Luckily Europe again was first to formally take part in the assembly of this term which is the Industrial Era which began at the 1800’s specifically between 1850’s to 1860’s under the wing of Britain, and yet again another invention which initially stood as an edge and as a strength that would lead towards the title of Great Power which again became the cause of the weakness and the downfall of a country. Paul Kennedy’s discussion opened the role of industrialization as a door of opportunities to develop one’s country and interact in the external sphere around the world, across countries but too much focus on placing a country’s resources on external and international investments and imports can debilitate the country’s internal strengths which is exactly what happened to Britain, since it shifted its focus on economic growth rather than its military powers which is the opposite of what Germany or “Prussia” did with the existence of Industrial Revolution. Prussia took advantage of the industrialization that it is experiencing to better its military training and activities which helped in its attainment of power during those times.The role of the Industrial Revolution may often be linked with progress and that is true, but on certain cases. Industrialization could end up being useless if it is not being properly managed and used for its full potential. In relation to today’s modern society and being in the cusp of the Fourth phase of the Industrial Revolution which is being hailed as the key to the promising future of the world. According to Bernard Marr from his 2018 online article in the Forbes website, this phase raises technology in a level of interaction with humans helping in improving the quality of life, from higher skill and education, efficiency of work, service, higher job incomes, all of these are packaged into one big box that presents as the gift of technology to mankind but again all of these to be possible still depends on mankind, humans are still the mind behind these creations, it still up to them to make the decisions on whether to use it in a way that can be advantageous to their endeavors. Generally speaking It is agreeable, on the part of Paul Kennedy’s stand when it comes to Industrialization and on how it is not independently successful on its own, it still requires a lot of elements and cooperation to make it work into something that can produce good results.A Shift to InterdependenceBeing true to its title, the book in its generality was able to discuss and analyze the history of great powers and the situations that have caused their rise and fall. In addition to that all throughout the discussion Paul Kennedy was constantly reminding or discussing how a situation can thrive or fail depending again on the strategy. This claim of his entails certain openness to the future of different countries. He was able to define or at least imply a Great Power as a leading empire or country which is superior among all areas of economy, military strength, technology, and international balances, which again with proper ability, timing, and strategy could come from any country in the world. Although Paul Kennedy mentioned United States, USSR, the EEC, and China and Japan as part of the twenty first century “Pentarchy”, he didn’t close the possibility of these country’s variability, it can change and it will change either for the better or otherwise depends on the future strategies and situations that it will be in.As an addition to Paul Kennedy’s argument, although I agree with the constant existence of the shift in strategy, decision making, in priorities, and allocation of resources, it is also timely to include Interaction and Interdependence. It has been a common tone in this book to highlight competitive attitude between nation states since all are managed and built differently connoting a difference in interest and wanting to always get ahead from the other. But with the modern state, above and hopefully beyond the barbaric and interest driven wars from the past, the current society and countries must have learned to set aside this “kingly” or superiority mindset, which arises the labels of having and becoming Great Powers. The focus should be more on diplomacy, formal and legal relationships and friendships without having the intention of exploitation but rather pure helping hand and respect all towards the betterment of one another. to support this idea Alexander Wendt has actually listed three points in escaping the “Hobbesian” point of view, these view is somehow similar the tone of Paul Kennedy’s discussion when it comes to the international scene, and to escape this view the three suggested Institutional transformations are: first, Sovereignty, Recognition and Security; second is respect of territorial rights, and lastly Socialization among states. ConclusionIn Conclusion this book review found the general arguments of Paul Kennedy as something that is agreeable but it did suggested minimal points that should be changed or additional ideas to be included. The key arguments or points of Paul Kennedy that this review used are the following. First is the contradicting discussion of unity and diversity as a factor of strength and weakness of an empire. Second is the role of Industrial Revolution. These first two points are actually connected as it all falls down in the use of strategy, and this paper agrees with the discussions of Paul Kennedy for the reason that factors of being centralized or being in a diverse nature, or having an advantageous geography or even technology would require the use of decision making and opportunity to process all those factors together to make it work and thrive in good results and betterment.The third point is somehow the summarizing point if this book review, since after all the book’s title and subject is the rise and fall of great powers, so it is normal for the author to discuss and narrate in the scenario that was created and narrated in that book which somehow posses a “Hobbesian” tone when it comes to the international scene, and the discussion and comparison of the different countries, however this thinking somehow hauls back a person, a society in the past and although it find this part of the book’s discussion as something disagreeable, the book’s conclusion makes up for this minimal disparity of ideas, since it ended with an openness for future endeavors of the countries and leaving it at that point opens an idea of variability and unpredictability which as what Paul Kennedy has earlier discussed in the book about the different country’s dynamic nature and character. But as an additional point in the book, this paper suggested a call for interdependence this time, maybe lose the label of being a great power and pursue inter-socialization and work on relationships or prioritize internal issues but avoid exploitation, this suggestion may sound utopian but interest can still work and be achieved without wars and anarchy instead through cooperation and well meaning international relationships. Bibliography:Industrial Revolution. (n.d). Retrieved from:, N., & Wootton, D. (1995). The prince. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.Marr, B. (2018, August 13). The 4th Industrial Revolution Is Here – Are You Ready? Retrieved from:, P. M. (1987). The rise and fall of the great powers: Economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000.Wendt, A. (1992). Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction of Power Politics. International Organization, 46(2), 391-425. Retrieved from