05 February 2008

Hegemony Rules: One Could Do Much Worse

Update 7Feb08: This Bloomberg.com article looks at the recent revival of a recurrent media theme: The Imminent Demise of the United States. As so many times in the past, the current rumours appear to be a bit premature. H/T StaticNoise

Besides waking up to global jihad on 2001Sep11, the other phenomenon to moderate my previously rather radical libertarianism is a better understanding of hegemony.
Trade flourishes under hegemony. That is the lesson I took from Power and Plenty, a dense, arduous survey of economic history written by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke. In addition to the Mongol empire, they describe the increased trade under the hegemonies of the Romans, the Muslim Caliphate, and various dynasties in China and Latin America during the first millenium. Of course, the most recent example of trade under hegemony has been what Walter Russell Mead in God and Gold calls the maritime powers of Great Britain and the United States.

It makes sense once you think about it. Disparate peoples can coexist in three ways: in isolation, under hegemony, or at war
. In the absence of hegemony, peaceful intercourse is an elusive ideal.___TCS
The current world hegemony--Pax Americana--is often demonised, but is not likely to be improved upon for centuries. The two current serious alternatives: Chinese hegemony or the global caliphate, leave much to be desired.

China is quickly converting its portion of Asia into a vast wasteland, with poisoned land, water, and air. As China's economic influence and control spreads to other nations of East Asia, Africa, and South America, ecological devastation follows. In the area of human rights, China's record at home and abroad is likewise dismal. A Chinese world hegemony would be a nightmare for everyone.

What about a world Islamic Caliphate? Sharia for everyone, dhimmitude for all non-muslims. The streets running with the blood of infidels, apostates, heretics, homosexuals and adulterers. Makes you want to pull all US troops inside US borders, right?

Face it, the world is much better off under Pax Americana than it was during the European wars of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Thinking about either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russian world hegemonies would be too painful, so I'll skip those. Besides, a number of science fiction authors have done much better jobs doing that than I have time for currently.

Now, anyone can observe the DJIA and NASDAQ averages on the sidebar here. US markets experienced a 3% drop on "Super-Tuesday." I am in a selling mood myself, considering the likely winners in the US political contest. But what will be more interesting, is to watch the Asian stock markets to see how they react. Chinese stock markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai have been very schizoid recently, on mere rumours of a US recession. If the recession ever becomes more than a rumour, watch out.

Any nation that hyper-reacts so badly to the economic state of a hegemon, is not ready to become a hegemon itself. How much time before China is ready? That may depend upon who is the next US President.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share


Blogger IConrad said...

Al, I have to say that your list of options is simply insufficient.

There is a possibility of simple economic hegemony. It may not be likely, but then -- neither is a Caliphate-based hegemony.

If you're going to consider one, you must consider the other.

Tuesday, 05 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comment, Conrad.

Feel free to introduce other possible hegemonies that you might have considered.

A purely economic hegemony without a military to guarantee trade routes, has some problems, historically.

That is why I did not consider the EU as a credible hegemon. (that and its absurd CO2 hysteria threatening to tank European economies)

Russia has a large military (rusty, creaking, unhappy) but its economy is almost purely energy based. Such too-focused economies are unlikely to become serious hegemons.

If the rest of the Anglosphere were to get serious about a greater anglospheric sphere of influence, the US might be able to share more hegemonic responsibilities.

Tuesday, 05 February, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Hegemon is a very loaded term. Words can be intellectually constraining at times. The US should pursue its goals of bringing freedom, security and prosperity to the world. It should cooperate on these goals whenever cooperation is feasible and go it alone when it is not. Referring to this as hegemony may be accurate but so would be the description of it as enlightened self-interest.

Tuesday, 05 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

True, baron.

Conrad pointed out an important qualification of the US hegemony--it emphasizes the economic component over the military one, although the military component is still important.

Post-modernists who dominate academia and the media want to see "an end to history." That's one reason they hate the US military: it is a constant reminder of something they steadfastly deny--the world is unsafe and unstable without the (preferably veiled) threat of the use of force.

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger Ugh said...

I think average Americans on the whole are reluctant hegemons. They are uncomfortable with the notion of throwing their weight around and loathe being labeled as a global bully - which is why the "enlightened" hate President Bush so much. But few actually seriously consider the alternatives beyond mere platitudes as you have with this post and a previous post focused squarely on China.

American preeminence may last for quite a while longer, but when it ends and the next great power asserts itself I think history will look back at the United States of America in the post World War II era and realize it was not so bad after all.

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger IConrad said...

Al --

I think perhaps I should have been a bit more elaborative on the aspect of an economic hegemony. What I meant by the idea was that it would be possible for an economic structure to take up the role of hegemony without it being tied to a given region.

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

I may be beginning to see your point. I was quoting Arnold Kling: "Disparate peoples can coexist in three ways: in isolation, under hegemony, or at war. "

Conrad, you seem to be saying that Kling left out the option of coexistence by economic trade without hegemony, war, or isolation?

Or are you saying that an economic system itself can constitute a hegemony--in a diffuse, non-national or regional way? If so, do you mean something like the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith's capitalism, or something more tangible such as a conscious conspiracy of capitalists?

Kling seems to think that coexistence by trade--without the presence of at least a quasi-military hegemony to guarantee trade routes--is inherently unstable. I presume he bases this on his reading of history.

That is a very hard-nosed way to view the world, but I suspect it is more correct than not.

Wednesday, 06 February, 2008  
Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

But economic hegemony does not necessitate military or civilian occupation. Think of Ottoman rule over southeastern Europe--let them do their own socio-cultural thing, so long as it doesn't threaten any vital US interest. Put that burden on political leaders, as the Ottomans did on the various millets, to keep the peace, so to speak. If they're derelict, they confront the possibility of a lightning strike by a world-superior military, a la the US invasion of Iraq (but with no drawn out, fruitless occupation following).

The hope being that many strongmen go the route of Qaddafi in the face of this. Seems to me this is a more economically viable way of influencing global events, without the staggering costs of empires, which history has thus far shown always--always--crumble.

Thursday, 07 February, 2008  
Blogger IConrad said...

Or are you saying that an economic system itself can constitute a hegemony--in a diffuse, non-national or regional way? If so, do you mean something like the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith's capitalism, or something more tangible such as a conscious conspiracy of capitalists?

I think it tautological that we exist in a unique set of circumstances as a species, today. The existence of the internet and instant exchange means that we all share the same currency, in a way.

I think that economic institutions are beginning to "slip the shackles" of national boundaries; that this way of doing business will eventually result in military forces in the hands of non-regional corporations. Now, that can manifest as neo-corporatist fascism, or it can manifest as multinational groups with the ability to protect their own interests.

The idea I was thinking of is one wherein the term "nation" becomes less and less significant over time; rule by the force of economic exchange: those who choose to opt out of the system find themselves so completely marginalized by this that their only option is to participate.

Rather than this being a conspiracy, I think this a naturally self-assembling event. I don't tend to buy into the "evil secret society" jibe. Second-order simulacra personification isn't something I'm into.

Thursday, 07 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks, Conrad. The idea of private, non-national hegemons reminds me of the movie "Rollerball", James Caan version. I think Murray Rothbard was in favour of non-governmental security forces in competition.

Some of the older science fiction authors (L Neill Smith?) wrote about that concept as well.

I'll have to think about it a bit.

AE, military occupation may be unnecessary, but the potential threat of military action always has to be there--to prevent piracy and warlordism interfering with trade routes.

Isolationism is incompatible with hegemony.

The US is in a bit of a trap of its own making, and there is no easy extrication--regardless of what Ron Paul and others may claim.

Thursday, 07 February, 2008  

Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts