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March 31, 2005

Thoughts on Hegemony

Brad Plumer's got a characteristically thoughtful post on why Americans want to be the dominant global power. I mean, really, what good does it do us? And, from a logical standpoint, he's right. In fact, I'd much rather be a highly-developed country on the second-tier of world power (like Japan or France) than America. So long as you believe the global strongman to be basically benevolent -- and, odd bouts of French-hating and Japanophobia aside, we've proved ourselves such -- you're really in much better shape letting someone else worry about supporting a massive army, purchasing all the latest weapons technology, and dashing across the globe when the bat eagle signal dances across the sky. You can save your cash and create a nice, comfy social net, full of health care for all and long, paid vacations.

But, if you're an American, and you've got even an ounce of nationalism in you, you'd rather see a world dominated by you than anyone else. You are good, you don't believe there to be anyone better, so the best possible outcome for the world, if not for your deficit, is American preeminence. in that way, I think Brad underestimates how much of this is a weird offshoot of white man's burden, call it best country's chore. It's not that Americans really want to be dominant, it's that they feel they kinda owe it to the world, all things considered.

Aside from some folks at the top of the national security food chain who defend it in cost-benefit terms, I think this is mostly an instinctive thing. Americans are a bit isolationist and a bit reluctant to project force in order to promote Good Stuff, but they'll generally vote for the hegemonically-inclined over his opponent, because this taps into nationalism rather than foreign policy opinion. And that's why I believe any effective national security critique the Democrats can adopt will rely, in large part, on arguing that there are better ways to promote American preeminence and apply American force. I don't think you'll get far by tapping into isolationist strains, but I think you can make quite a run by invoking our moral authority and responsibility to set an example for the world.

March 31, 2005 in Foreign Policy | Permalink

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Comments

Let's not kid ourselves. We love wars (when we win). My generation was raised on John Wayne movies- westerns and wars. Since then we've had Patton, Rambo, Rocky, Die Hard, and the Terminators. A large segment of Americans love their guns and hate things like "diplomacy" and "negotiations". How much attention do we pay to civilian casualties that we cause in other countries? Why have we tolerated torture? Perhaps we love war because we've never been conquered and occupied. We may not want an empire, but we need to be Number One.

Posted by: marvyt | Mar 31, 2005 2:25:48 PM

Actually, I think that since WWII, there has been general agreement at least in the West and most of Asia that a world dominated by the US was a good world. No other nations would have been trusted to be the underpinning of global order, nor would they have been capable. But things are changing, for reasons that go beyond the Bush adminstration's approach to the world.

Posted by: praktike | Mar 31, 2005 3:08:46 PM

Someone is going to be top dog. I can't think of any other country that would have the capability which I would trust with the position.

Europes demographic issues mean even if they wanted the job, they probably couldn't do it. That leaves China and Russia and perhaps India as possibles. India is the closest thing to a nation we could trust in that position and I don't think they are ready.

Of course two or more relatively equal competing nations can be stable for a time, but that is more expensive and dangerous than a single one.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Mar 31, 2005 5:51:17 PM

I think you are putting too much emphasis on your white man's burden analogue.

Most Americans think that their country is a good place. Even I, a liberal passionately opposed to George W. Bush, thinks that the good ol' U.S. of A. is the best place in the world to live and will certainly remain so through the end of this decade.

Americans like being number one in the world for the same reasons they like the hero to save the world and get the girl in an action flick. Having the big army and the best economy is just like having the biggest house on the block. It's the sort of belief that Max Weber would have a field day with, that there are tangible signs of being morally superior to other countries.

Posted by: Anthony | Mar 31, 2005 11:00:38 PM

Countries with "nice comfy social net" such as Sweden and Switzerland.

Of course they wouldn't have been able to survive if Imperial Germany had won WW1 or Nazi Germany had won WW2 or Soviet Russia had won WW3.

Sometimes you have to stand up and fight for what you believe is right "whatever the cost may be" (Winston Churchill 1940).

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Posted by: JEROGatch | Sep 3, 2006 3:25:30 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 2:44:23 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 2:47:03 AM

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