In This Review

American Hegemony: Political Morality in a One-Superpower World
American Hegemony: Political Morality in a One-Superpower World
By Lea Brilmayer
Yale University Press, 1994, 259 pp
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Addresses what moral justification, if any, might be given for "hegemonic leadership." Brilmayer, a professor at New York University Law School, displays real virtuosity as an analytical philosopher. She puts the "vulgar realists," who deny any role to moral factors, in painful cul-de-sacs and examines the ways weaker states may consent to having the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world provide public goods or enforce international law. It turns out to be difficult, though not impossible, to locate a consensual basis for such a role, but the hegemonic leader must meet so many criteria -- no special regard for its own interest, no selectivity among regions -- that the enterprise begins to seem unattractive.

In the end, Brilmayer undercuts the state-centered assumptions on which her examination is based, giving the argument an inconclusive turn. She urges the United States to pursue universal human rights within prudence, but the impression lingers that policymakers are being asked to pursue an imprudent project prudently.