This book should have chimed loudly with the world view of the New Internationalist and its readership. The author, the son of Chinese refugees, has built a glittering career in international relations and academia. His book is a re-examination of world politics which explicitly rejects a Western-centric mindset and sets out to rebut reactionary thinkers such as Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington. Chan’s central premise is that traditional philosophical thinking on world events and trends is an inadequate tool when it comes to understanding an increasingly complex and fractured planet.
In what is described as ‘a magical realist book on world politics’ the author pulls in strands of Western and Eastern philosophical and religious thinking in an attempt to synthesize a unified theory to comprehend the diversity of human cultural and social development. To expound his thesis, Chan draws upon a dizzying range of sources, from Classical Greek philosophy to Zen Buddhism, online gaming to the Persian epic The Shahnameh. Chan deserves praise for his ambition; to set oneself such a daunting task is admirable. Even an honourable failure entirely to fuse such disparate material into a cohesive whole would be worthwhile.
Unfortunately, The End of Certainty is a poorly written, windy exercise in which name-dropping of ‘public intellectuals’ jostles with uncritical repetition of mystical religiosity. No coherent case is made and we certainly do not end with any clearer notion of a ‘new internationalism’. This book, which promises much and delivers next to nothing, is a huge missed opportunity. Chan has correctly identified a problem and signally failed to offer a solution.