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Historians and foreign-policy experts have rightly chronicled the abuses of American evangelical overseas missions, especially in the era of colonialism. But Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Sr. Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, takes a different tack. While acknowledging the darker threads of both American and Christian overseas engagement, he argues it is more necessary than ever that evangelicals play a role in American foreign affairs. Mead makes this case in his most recent book, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (Knopf). CT senior managing editor Mark Galli asked Mead to unpack his thesis.

You say your book is about the biggest geopolitical story in modern times. What is that story?

The rise of this global system of politics, power, investment and trade, and culture and ideology that was first dimly sketched out by the Dutch, taken over by the English and then by the Americans. This is the operating software on which the world still runs: Version 1.0 was introduced by the Dutch in about 1600, version 2.0, by the British in 1700, and version 3.0, by the Americans in about 1945.

Think about transportation. When Edward Gibbon was writing about the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 18th century, he could argue that transportation hadn't changed since ancient times. An imperial messenger on the Roman roads could get from Rome to London even faster in A.D. 100 than in 1750. But by 1850, and even more obviously today, all of that has changed. You look at the steamboat, the railroad, the car, the airplane—not all of these were invented in the Anglo-American world, but they were popularized and extended by it. They were made possible by the financial ...

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