Magazine article Foreign Policy

Defining Declinism Down

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Defining Declinism Down

Article excerpt

In 1988, Samuel Huntington wrote an essay critiquing what he saw as a neurotic American tendency to fear decline. At the time, the Soviet Union was about to collapse and the United States was about to win the Cold War, but Americans were fixated on fallout from the 1987 stock market crash, soaring trade deficits, and feared economic domination by Japan. One of the year's most discussed books was Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which decried the perils of America's "imperial overstretch."

Huntington argued for perspective, noting that America becomes consumed by fears of its own demise every 10 years or so--think: The technological insecurity after the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the reaction to the Soviets' 1979 invasion of Afghanistan--and that those fears had never actually been borne out. The recurring worry about national degeneration was not based on hard evidence--it was an emotional response, a psychological condition.

The authors of our cover story, Elbridge Colby and Paul Lettow, are not believers in American decline. They are believers in evidence. But the data show that America's relative influence around the world is, in fact, under enormous pressure as economic growth shifts with historically unprecedented speed to the developing world. It's a change happening faster than the one provoked by the Industrial Revolution or anything before or since. Potential adversaries of the United States, such as China, are using their newfound wealth to upgrade their military capabilities and, perhaps, challenge U. …

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