Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Predominance and its Discontents

Elliot A. Cohen has a thoughtful essay called "History and Hyperpower" in the July/Aug 2004 Foreign Affairs (only the preview is available on line). He says that the "age of American hegemony has begun." And although the U.S. is not an empire, it can learn from the life of past empires (no small task since "most people throughout history have lived under imperial rule"). It most certainly is the great power in the world; it has "overwhelming power." "No potential adversary comes close to it, and, for the moment, there is no question of a countervailing coalition to block, let alone replace, it." For the foreseeable future, only domestic politics can restrain it. "The logic of the Cold War was one of ideological struggle and bipolar contest. The logic of contemporary international politics is that of predominance and its discontents." (My emphasis)
Just because there are no rivals doesn’t mean that statesmanship is not necessary; the inevitability of anti-American (as in anti-imperial) sentiment must be considered and be dealt with. He reminds us that the constant maxim of the Romans--who seemed to lack deep culture, wise statesmen and invariably successful armies, and yet kept their empire intact--according to Mostesquieu was "to divide." This may explain why we take the side of the weaker factions within the European Union. Cohen also reminds us of another the virtue of the Romans, according to Machiavelli: "One of the great prudence men use is to abstanin from menacing or injuring anyone with words." Blustering and threats are not appropriate. Roman discretion is as important to study as Roman assertion. The Romans made requests and promises and followed through on both. Cohen:

"When the simply clad Roman senator Gaius Popilius Laenas delivered Rome’s demand that Antiochus IV withdraw from Egypt, he did not threaten the Syrian king. Rather, he walked over to the problematic monarch and with his staff drew a circle around him in the sand, insisting on an answer to the Senate before Antiochus stepped out of it. The Selucid king turned pale and acceded, and this act of submission destroyed his reputation in his own luxurious court." It is best for the U.S. to blandly smile when exercising its power and not use boastful words, Cohen argues. There is more, and it is all thoughtful. Read it, when you can.   

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