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CBS: Back to "Declinism"

Author: Michael Auslin
December 29, 2010

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Michael Asulin criticizes Paul Kennedy's assessment of U.S. decline for his failure to recognize the importance of the morality that plays into U.S. foreign policy, and the potential consequences of a weaker U.S. position in the world. (CBS)

In the judgment of Yale historian Paul Kennedy, a world in which a shrunken America is just primus inter pares, “one of the most prominent players in the small club of great powers,” is all but inevitable, a natural turning of the seasons. While many on the left would welcome such an egalitarian future - it is not “a bad thing,” Kennedy claims - the rest of the world, especially liberal-democratic nations, may quibble just a bit with this rather prosaic and utilitarian view of global power.

Kennedy - who was my colleague at Yale for most of the last decade - made his reputation by limning the “rise and fall of great powers,” and his most recent article in The New Republic, “Back to Normalcy,” is but a variant of this oft-played theme. Galloping widely through the last half-millennium of Western history, he purports to show how America’s global position rests on an increasingly unstable three-legged stool of “soft power,” economic power, and military power. Each is eroding as other nations rise. In Kennedy’s telling, the ability to challenge America for regional or possibly global leadership is merely a matter of aping American models and asserting the national will.

This view may not be incorrect in tracing current trends and perhaps even in sketching the rough contours of the near future. Yet this argument lacks any moral component and is overly dismissive of the sources of both domestic power and global stability.

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