In This Review

The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Creat the Politics of Empire
The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Creat the Politics of Empire
By Harold James
Princeton University Press, 2006, 176 pp

This is an erudite and wonderfully insightful study of the age-old problem of global politics and the global economic order by a distinguished Princeton historian. Following a flood of books on America as empire, this book points the debate toward deeper questions about the rise and fall of hegemonic states and world markets. James argues that powerful states -- Rome, Britain, the United States -- have created rules that are necessary for the functioning of a stable and open international economic system but that the imperial exercise of power undermines these rules and threatens the stability of markets. This is the "Roman predicament" -- a logic that James finds articulated in the great works of Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon. He sees the experiment of the European Union as an alternative model for the provision of rules and governance, but it lacks global reach. All in all, James provides one of the most coherent and satisfying accounts yet of the enduring and inescapable interplay between power and social order. He makes clear that the United States cannot escape the Roman predicament, but he is less clear on whether it can avoid the Roman ending.