Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Decline and fall

Posted by Ron Coleman on May 4, 2008

Lexington Green:

[P]utting aside the bogus and irresponsible notion of “unipolarity”, I suppose it is fair to say, in a taxonomic rather than invidious way, that America is the global hegemon. It is the primary provider of security, it is the primary determiner of the rules of the international game, etc.

So let’s be charitable to Mr. Haass and say that he is really talking about the displacement of the USA as the global hegemon. He does mix up his terms and also refers to the end of U.S. “primacy” – a word he uses incorrectly as if were synonymous with “unipolarity”.

The last global hegemon, Britain, was superseded by a much bigger entity, the good old USA. That transition process was ugly. It involved two world wars and a global depression.

I see no entity that can fill the role of global hegemon in the place of the USA.

The EU cannot do it. China cannot yet do it.

Many players have a stake in the US-led world order, and whatever irritation American primacy may cause, they will prefer the devil they know and will not like to see the uncertainly and risk of a new one replacing it.

I remember hearing about the imminent decline of the “American Empire” since the early 1970’s. It grows tired, and it it premised incorrectly on the assumption that, just as previous hegemons have declined, so must all hegemony. Lexington Green explains why, as a local matter, that does not seem likely at the moment. But there are other reasons why it is possible, perhaps, that American dominance could in fact last much, much longer than predicted by two main types of people: Those antagonistic to it, mainly on the left, and those on the right who pretend to rue its inevitable collapse, but really use predictions of such collapse as a rhetorical device to urge (typically reactionary) policies that are “the only way” to save Old Glory. What are these possible reasons?

  • Notwithstanding the serious flaws in our democracy and our 220 East 42ndconstitutional order — mainly too much of the former, mainly as it affects fiscal matters, and two little respect for the latter — it is not too much to say that no previous hegemonic power has been premised on a fundamentally free social and political order. The result is a level of internal social and political dynamism that would seem to militate against the sort of long run “internal rot” phenomenon experienced by the Roman and Ottoman empires, for example, or the somewhat different process of ossification, leading to self-doubt and moral cowardice experienced by the British Empire.
  • Related, but not necessarily guaranteed as a twin of the foregoing, is America’s fundamental commitment to the free market in economics. The supposed imperial project here, while surely interested in and committed to protection of its economic interests (i.e., petroleum and other supplies) by use of military and other strong projections of power, is not — unlike the mercantilism of the British Empire or the socialist fantasy / coercive reality of the Soviet empire — axiomatically, or even actually, driven by economic need. (This is true notwithstanding what the exact opposite assertion your Marxist professors teach you in college.) To the contrary, the free market is extraordinarily forgiving of foreign policy externalities that are predicted to have this or that catastrophic effect — when it is given half a chance actually to operate.
  • The American social order, the Shining City on the Hill, is historically premised on sincere religious belief premised on wide-eyed religious idealism. It does not always live up to the ideals of that belief, but the strain of idealism that animates “Americanism” cannot be found in Anglicanism, a church whose roots were essentially in realpolitik, nor in the cynical metropolitan paganism of Rome. The Ottoman empire also was founded on a profound religious faith, true — but as history seems to demonstrate, Christianity is probably a better foundation for building a healthy political and economic system, especially under modern and modernizing conditions, than Islam.
  • America is not an empire. The modern conception of hegemony allows for more shifts, realignments and tactical withdrawals than the traditional institution of empire could. This means America can, as a practical matter, control less in its sphere of domination than the Soviet or Roman emperors could in their time. But it probably also means it can, ultimate, control more that it needs to in order to maintain the level of dominance that suits its interests.

I could be wrong. It could all fold tomorrow. And it may not be all that terrible if it does. But considering that “they’ve” been predicting that tomorrow as frequently as Paul Krugman predicts imminent recession, and for even longer, thinking about these points could make your next cocktail party chat on this topic a little more interesting.

Cross-posted on Right-Wing News.

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3 Responses to “Decline and fall”

  1. Jack said

    “or the somewhat different process of ossification, leading to self-doubt and moral cowardice experienced by the British Empire…”

    Well, that’s true for about 50% of the population anyways, and that’s not too bad of any nation at any given time period, historically speaking.

    “America is not an empire.”

    No, America is a Republic with global projection and with a complicated web of international alliances and interlocking interests. Unfortunately we do not promote Republicanism (the governmental system, not the political party) worldwide, we promote the retarded and enfeebled little sister of the Republic, the democracy. And, more or less unfettered and chaotically employed democracy, is in many ways just as dangerous to the Republic externally as it is internally. If only America promoted Republics around the globe, Republics in actual fact rather than in theoretical nomenclature, instead of democracies, we could have avoided much of the pain we and the world have suffered, and mitigated many of the struggles we have been forced to engage, both internally and externally.

    “This means America can, as a practical matter, control less in its sphere of domination than the Soviet or Roman emperors could in their time. But it probably also means it can, ultimately, control more that it needs to in order to maintain the level of dominance that suits its interests.”

    An astute observation. To lead you give an example, teach by example and exercise, and then set free. To dominate you demand and enforce on another. But it is always better to control by leadership and example than by demand. For when you control by leadership you encourage others to exceed you as a leader and you encourage others to ever greater acts of heroism and accomplishment, which benefits everyone in the long run, the de facto leader included.

    It is the same with your children and/or wife, when you control by leadership, you enable your inferiors to grow and eventually to exceed and supercede you, if they are willing to apply themselves and you have courage enough to ask of them what they can achieve through hard exertion. (Just because, however, a citizen reaches the age to vote does not mean he or she will make wise choices or be an adult in his preferences and actions. Children can become, through training and through self-training, wise and mature, but the right to vote – the democratic right – does nothing to assure the necessity of wisdom, and it is wisdom, not right, which should rule and govern the Republic. Any old fool, and many young fools, can, and do, rule a democracy, as is the same case with the tyranny. The only real historical difference between the unfettered and self-serving democracy and the repressive and self-serving tyranny is in the number of fools needed to call it legitimate. But a Republic must be ruled by the wise – not the same thing as a Senator thank God; despite the Latin root word implications – and the mature. In other words the Republic is not only supposed to be governed by the wise, it is supposed to promote an on-going and multi-generational cycle of self-renewing wisdom in those who will continue the very existence of the Republic. And you can’t do that by simply assuming all votes and all opinions are of equal value, or that the vote of the Bloods gang member and the Nazi is of equal value to that of the philanthropist and the war hero who risked his life to make other men free. And despite the propaganda of the democratic claptrap, it isn’t, and it never was, and it will never be.)

    So, to avoid the defects of the democratic model within your own home you allow your wife to become a leader in her own right, through the wise practice of true and responsible leadership. You allow your children to mature. Not by giving them equal authority, but by teaching them how to mature and how to properly employ authority so that when their time comes, they become what they will and can become in their own way. But when you dominate by demand, or exclude and weaken by lax fiat, you do not teach leadership, you teach dependence. For us to teach democracy is in the long run, to teach the nations with whom we are aligned, to be weak and dependent upon us as their partner of control, and to weaken ourselves because instead of being able to delegate matters of economy and security and trust in their capabilities and efforts, we must execute control instead of exercising leadership. We should be teaching the ideals of the Great Republic, not the ideals of the backwards, self-involved, and ultimately self-consumptive democracy. Democracies do not grow men, but over time they do grow numerous Adolphs and Alciabedes. And governments, like men, are known by their fruit.

    We want to make adults of the world, not dependents. Build Republics, not mere nations. Nations, like storms, come and go. Republics stand in all weathers. They are far more difficult to build than the mere democracy, but then again they are much more enduring and capable and enterprising than a mere nation. Upon deep roots the eternal stands.

    You cannot grow true adults by merely giving children votes and telling them that whatever course they pursue, it is their right, and that their opinions are equal to those of real men and women. Because they are not. Children are not the equivalents of adults and adults do not wish to raise children into becoming ageless juveniles.
    And by extended comparison democracies are not the equivalents of true Republics anymore than Republics wish to grow everlasting empires.
    Democracies grow self interested, and empires grow fat, lazy, and corrupt, but the Republic grows the future.
    If, that is, it has the courage to grow itself, and not mere imitators.

  2. jan said

    That’s a helluva comment, Jack.

  3. Jack said

    Yeah, I get that a’lot.

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