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The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China, Matthew Kroenig

Reviewed by Vasilis Trigkas

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Chinese president Xi Jinping believes that China’s political system is superior to America’s. American elites hold the opposite view. Matthew Kroenig supports the latter view in his latest book, The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China, offering the “hard power argument for democracy” (p. 19). Democracies, Kroenig argues, prevail over autocracies in the perennial struggle for primacy. Here, Kroenig is a hedgehog—in the Archilochian sense—with a big idea aiming to explain hegemonic transitions across millennia.

Kroenig spotted a gap in the literature about the advantages of democracy. In its place, he attempts to build and test a “modern analytical model which proves that democracies enjoy a systematic advantage in international geopolitics” (p. 32). Statistical regression, Kroenig submits, reveal a “statistically significant relationship between a state’s polity and hegemony” (p. 56). Yet sensitivity to historical contextual complexity is paramount; comparatively framing political institutions across centuries can be quite arbitrary and abstract. He supplements quantitative analysis with qualitative case studies, “a sweeping historical analysis,” of democracies prevailing against autocracies (

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