A long multiple-bourbon Sunday read: “The End of Our World Order Is Imminent.”

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That’s a tad bouncy, so maybe Ministry is better.

At any rate, the following strikes me as essentially correct. I’ve never bought into Manifest Destiny, or thought that America’s post-WWII hegemony was about much of anything beyond expanding markets at the point of a bayonet. There are numerous wonderful aspects of life as an American, and most of them exist side by side with unpleasant, uncomfortable and inconvenient truths.

This doesn’t mean one stops trying to make the world a better place, only that they pause on occasion to acknowledge reality.

The End of Our World Order Is Imminent, by Alfred McCoy (The Nation)

At least 200 empires have risen and fallen over the course of history, and the United States will be no exception.

Once upon a time in America, we could all argue about whether or not US global power was declining. Now, most observers have little doubt that the end is just a matter of timing and circumstance. Ten years ago, I predicted that, by 2025, it would be all over for American power, a then-controversial comment that’s commonplace today. Under President Donald Trump, the once “indispensable nation” that won World War II and built a new world order has become dispensable indeed.

The decline and fall of American global power is, of course, nothing special in the great sweep of history. After all, in the 4,000 years since humanity’s first empire formed in the Fertile Crescent, at least 200 empires have risen, collided with other imperial powers, and in time collapsed. In the past century alone, two dozen modern imperial states have fallen and the world has managed just fine in the wake of their demise.

The global order didn’t blink when the sprawling Soviet empire imploded in 1991, freeing its 15 “republics” and seven “satellites” to become 22 newly capitalist nations. Washington took that epochal event largely in stride. There were no triumphal demonstrations, in the tradition of ancient Rome, with manacled Russian captives and their plundered treasures paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, a Manhattan real-estate developer bought a 20-foot chunk of the Berlin Wall for display near Madison Avenue, a sight barely noticed by busy shoppers.

For those trying to track global trends for the next decade or two, the real question is not the fate of American global hegemony, but the future of the world order it began building at the peak of its power, not in 1991, but right after World War II. For the past 75 years, Washington’s global dominion has rested on a “delicate duality.” The raw realpolitik of US military bases, multinational corporations, CIA coups, and foreign military interventions has been balanced, even softened, by a surprisingly liberal world order—with sovereign states meeting as equals at the United Nations, an international rule of law that muted armed conflict, a World Health Organization that actually eradicated epidemic diseases which had plagued humanity for generations, and a developmental effort led by the World Bank that lifted 40% of humanity out of poverty.

Some observers remain supremely confident that Washington’s world order can survive the inexorable erosion of its global power. Princeton political scientist G. John Ikenberry, for example, has essentially staked his reputation on that debatable proposition. As US decline first became apparent in 2011, he argued that Washington’s ability to shape world politics would diminish, but “the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” preserving its core elements of multilateral governance, free trade, and human rights. Seven years later, amid a rise of anti-global nationalists across significant parts of the planet, he remains optimistic that the American-made world order will endure because international issues such as climate change make its “protean vision of interdependence and cooperation… more important as the century unfolds.”

This sense of guarded optimism is widely shared among foreign-policy elites in the New York-Washington corridor of power. The president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, has typically argued that the “post-Cold War order cannot be restored, but the world is not yet on the edge of a systemic crisis.” Through deft diplomacy, Washington could still save the planet from “deeper disarray” or even “trends that spell catastrophe.”

But is it true that the decline of the planet’s “sole superpower” (as it was once known) will no more shake the present world order than the Soviet collapse once did? To explore what it takes to produce just such an implosion of a world order, it’s necessary to turn to history—to the history, in fact, of collapsing imperial orders and a changing planet …

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