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The Age of Entropy
Why the New World Order Won't Be Orderly
RANDALL L. SCHWELLER is a professor of political science at the Ohio State University and author of Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple: Global Discord in the New Millennium (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), from which this essay is adapted.See more by this author
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, foreign policy experts have been predicting that the United States' days as global hegemon are coming to a close. But rather than asking themselves which country is most likely to replace the United States, they ought to be asking themselves whether the concept of global hegemony still applies in our era.
It increasingly seems that the world will no longer have a single superpower, or group of superpowers, that brings order to international politics. Instead, it will have a variety of powers -- including nations, multinational corporations, ideological movements, global crime and terror groups, and human rights organizations -- jockeying with each other, mostly unsuccessfully, to achieve their goals. International politics is transforming from a system anchored in predictable, and relatively constant, principles to a system that is, if not inherently unknowable, far more erratic, unsettled, and devoid of behavioral regularities. In terms of geopolitics, we have moved from an age of order to an age of entropy.
Entropy is a scientific concept that measures disorder: the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. And disorder is precisely what will characterize the future of international politics. In this leaderless world, threats are much more likely to be cold than hot; danger will come less frequently in the form of shooting wars among great powers than diffuse disagreements over geopolitical, monetary, trade, and environmental issues. Problems and crises will arise more frequently and, when they do, will be resolved less cooperatively.