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Review Essay

Hegemony and After

Knowns and Unknowns in the Debate Over Decline

In This Review

The World America Made
The World America Made
By Robert Kagan
Knopf, 2012, 160 pp. $21.00 Purchase
Power and Willpower in the American Future: Why the United States Is Not Destined to Decline
Power and Willpower in the American Future: Why the United States Is Not Destined to Decline
By Robert J. Lieber
Cambridge University Press, 2012, 192 pp. $24.99 Purchase

(Arnd Wiegmann / Courtesy Reuters)

Playing a dominant role in world politics does not make for an easy life. Even very powerful states encounter problems they cannot solve and situations they would prefer to avoid. But as Macbeth remarks after seeing the witches, "Present fears are less than horrible imaginings." What really scares American foreign policy commentators is not any immediate frustration or danger but the prospect of longer-term decline.

Recently, the United States has been going through yet another bout of declinism -- the fifth wave in the last six decades, by the scholar Josef Joffe's count. This one has been caused by the juxtaposition of China's rising power and American economic, political, and military malaise. Just as in the past, however, the surge of pessimism has produced a countersurge of defensive optimism, with arguments put forward about the continued value and feasibility of U.S. global leadership. 

Two examples

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