Blogs > Cliopatria > Ferguson

Oct 22, 2004 4:47 pm


I hate to displace Hala’s excellent post from its deserved place at the top of the blog, but Niall Ferguson’s article in the Hoover Digest is a bit surprising. His recent re-examinations of empire have been enlightening. Now they may have crossed the lines of playful reassessment:
the alternative to a single superpower is not a multilateral utopia but the anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age. … We tend to assume that power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. In the history of world politics, it seems, someone is always the hegemon or bidding to become it …

Anyone who dislikes U.S. hegemony should bear in mind that, rather than a multipolar world of competing great powers, a world with no hegemon at all may be the real alternative to U.S. primacy. Apolarity could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age—an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic plunder and pillage in the world’s forgotten regions; of economic stagnation and civilization’s retreat into a few fortified enclaves.

This article will take some time to digest. Initially, I am not convinced by Ferguson’s argument. He offers the world the choice between fragmentation and American hard power—the Bush doctrine is better than the alternative (perhaps I am overinterpreting). However, he (of all people) should realize that every hegemonic power must establish itself within its milieu, adjusting to new technologies, socio-political configurations and geo-political networks. The best empires use hard power sparingly.

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