Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order

In This Review

Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order
By G. John Ikenberry
Princeton University Press, 2011
392 pp. $35.00

International orders guide how major powers interact with one another and with less powerful states: how they cooperate and compete in trade and security and when and why they respect one another’s sovereignty. Ikenberry’s important book tackles this complex subject, giving readers a deep understanding of the factors that determine the type of international order. As Ikenberry explains, orders can be built on balance (as was the case in Europe for centuries), command (as the British Empire was), or consent (as he argues today’s U.S.-led liberal hegemonic order is). After World War II, the United States built and deepened this liberal hegemonic order, and Ikenberry delineates the ways in which it has served everyone’s interests -- including those of the rising powers. Today, however, somewhat ironically, the order is becoming “the victim of its own success,” as those powers are beginning to threaten U.S. dominance and as the growing acceptance of intervention in states’ internal affairs erodes Westphalian norms of sovereignty. Ikenberry argues that it is time to rebuild the order, and he provides solid grounds for confidence in the durability of its core. The specific form of the reworked liberal order, he explains, will depend on many factors, including the preferences of not only the United States but also China and India. While acknowledging that the future international order is hard to predict, Liberal Leviathan is a valuable guide to understanding the factors that will determine its eventual shape.

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