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The attacks of September 11, 2001 struck fear into the hearts of Americans. Despite being the world's lone superpower and despite being possessed of an unprecedented share of the world's wealth, Americans learned they were vulnerable to terrorists who operated with neither country nor army. In response, the Bush administration began a "war on terrorism," invading countries which it suspected of harboring terrorists or having the desire to harm American interests in the future. But America asserting itself by preemptively waging war is both wrongheaded and dangerous, according to Benjamin R. Barber. In Fear's Empire, he suggests that unilateral military action perpetuates an image of America as an aggressive force that operates outside the accepted precepts of international law and policy. This could lead to less support from other countries in fighting a shadowy enemy and, because it perpetuates the image of America as self-righteous aggressor, could lead to generations of increased terrorism while contributing to a bunker mentality of fear back at home. But Barber does more than say what's wrong; he offers a detailed plan for a more conscientious foreign policy alternative. He draws a distinction between Pax Americana the strategy of preventive war which the United States used in Afghanistan and Iraq and Lex Humana or "preventive democracy," a strategy in which democracy is developed as a means of establishing a lasting peace around the world by encouraging a practical self-determination. Barber draws important distinctions: simply demanding that other countries adopt America's laws and processes will not work and exporting America's consumer driven economic lifestyle would be nothing short of disastrous. But by extending the notion of the social contract to the world, helping countries establish their own democratic societies, and using democracy as a model for nations to work together, Barber argues, peace could be established and fear's empire finally defeated. Barber's writing is intellectual without being pedantic and passionate without being unnecessarily shrill or partisan. Such an approach is welcome in a political climate where the loudest shouters tend to get the most notice. --John Moe [via]