The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
Sometimes big names are just big names—and sometimes reputations are deserved. In this collection, we’ve decided to gather together a few of our most recent articles from some of the leading lights in international relations, showing just how the gap between scholars and policymakers can and should be bridged.
It’s probably fair to say that most practitioners and general readers find little of interest or value in most contemporary academic work in the social sciences, and that most social scientists are either unconcerned by such attitudes or attribute them to the failings of the consumers, not the producers. However, we here at Foreign Affairs—responsible for running a forum for policymakers, scholars, and general readers alike—believe strongly that intellectual rigor, practical relevance, and accessible presentation are not mutially exclusive. We believe, in fact, that when done right, they are actually mutually reinforcing.
Any theory worth its salt will have some practical implications for human life and action, particularly theories in political science and international relations, and drawing out those practical implications, making them clear and vivid, should be a no-brainer part of the standard scholarly task. It is the only serious way to answer the most crucial question of all: Why should I care about this work?
Similarly, presenting arguments transparently and accessibly is not just the best way to give them wings but is also useful for testing and improving them. Abstraction, jargon, and obscurity— unfortunately so common these days as the hallmarks of mainstream academic discourse—are the enemies of thought and truth. As George Orwell famously noted, “If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”
So we see a crucial part of our mission as encouraging leading scholars to leverage their academic expertise and bring it to bear on practical policy issues, presenting their articles in plain language that is accessible and appealing to a broad audience. To that end, this collection includes a wide range of work from prominent scholars and thinkers, spanning across everything from the direction of history and the future of American hegemony, to the handling of immediate policy questions such as the Iranian nuclear program, to the source of humanitarianism and the role of religion in the American polity.
The collection kicks off with Francis Fukuyama revisiting his most famous work on historical teleology, offering his thoughts on “The Future of History.” Then comes John Ikenberry discussing “The Future of the Liberal World Order,” Joseph Nye examining “The Future of American Power,” and Robert Keohane analyzing “Hegemony and After.” Fareed Zakaria closes this section with his answer to the question, “Can America Be Fixed?”
The future of U.S. grand strategy is a perennial concern, dealt with here by a debate between Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth (“Lean Forward”) on the one hand and Barry Posen (“Pull Back”) on the other. Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis, and Richard Betts all chime in on Iran policy in “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb,” “Getting to Yes With Iran,” and “The Lost Logic of Deterrence,” respectively, and Graham Allison offers insights on “The Cuban Missile Crisis at 50.”
The collection concludes with Michael Walzer ruminating “On Humanitarianism” and David Campbell and Robert Putnam exploring “God and Caesar in America.”
We leave to others the question of whether such pieces should be given any sort of consideration in an academic’s official standing. All we will say is that we are proud to have them in our pages and will continue to try to generate more like them in the future.