The rumors of America’s imminent imperial decline are somewhat premature. They are, however, quite fashionable. Particularly within some intellectual circles a decided preference has taken hold for Spenglerian handwringing, which barely conceals a measure of schadenfreude over the anticipated end of the imperial phase in the history of this somewhat crass, materialistic, chaotic, libertarian and vaguely religious mass democracy. America’s assumption of the imperial role after World War II—with U.S. power and influence projected around the world—was never popular either within America’s intellectual class or more recently within its mass media. Hence the anticipatory gloating over the allegedly inevitable demise of the world’s current number-one power.
To debate the accuracy of such a prognosis may be futile. The future is inherently full of discontinuities, and lessons of the past must be applied with enormous caution. Some recent scholarly studies have attempted to do so in a searching and comprehensive fashion, and without the dogmatic assumption of any kind of inevitability. This has greatly helped to raise the level of thoughtful discussion. From the political point of view, moreover, there is even some genuine benefit to be derived from the fact that doubts have been raised regarding America’s future. Posing the issue so starkly focuses attention on the definition of the actions needed to maintain a constructive American world role, the essentials of American security, the core American interests, and the effects on the foregoing of the inexorable geopolitical and technological changes.
In other words, the intellectual debate over a possibly inevitable decline can become a political deliberation on how to avoid it, how to reinvigorate America’s global power and how to redefine it in the context of a changing world. That can be the objectively positive result of posing the issue. Accordingly, the task of responsible statesmanship is to define more precisely the policy implications of the geopolitical and technological changes for the U.S. relationship with the world over the remaining
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