No One's World
Review by John Coffey
Charles A. Kupchan, No One's World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN-13-978-0199739394, 2012, 258 pp., $27.95 list, $18.45 on Amazon, $12.07 on Kindle
Caesar had a slave follow his triumphal chariot through Rome, calling out, "sic transit gloria mundi." Nothing lasts forever, and all political regimes pass. The paramount question of our time is whether America is in decline and, if so, what the consequences of that may hold. The stakes are high for America and the world. For seven decades America has been the indispensable provider of collective global goods, sustaining a liberal international order bringing peace and prosperity to much of the world. Optimists maintain that with sufficient political will American hegemony can continue.(1) Pessimists variously see America's ascendancy eclipsed by China, or place faith in a sunny view of globalization, or claim that a reconfigured West can help fashion a universal democratic culture.(2) Others paint a darker future for the world without a benign American imperium. (3) Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University foresees a different post-American world without a hegemonic power, but one which need not descend into a Hobbesian state of nature.
According to Kupchan, multiple power centers with diverse political cultures and distinct versions of modernity will occupy the new global landscape. No power will dominate this multipolar world: "The twenty-first century will not be America's, China's, Asia's, or anyone else's; it will belong to no one." The "rising rest" will not adopt Western values and institutions (liberal democracy, industrial capitalism, secular nationalism). Consequently, to avert international anarchy the U.S. and EU must lead in forging a new consensus accommodating a pluralistic modus vivendi, a problematic task to which we shall return.
For Kupchan political culture explains Europe's ascendancy. The West's rise between 1500-1800 was due to unique historical conditions in the world. Medieval Europe's political fragmentation opened political space for the formation of an urban bourgeoisie, which became the engine of economic development and the scientific/industrial revolutions. Competing centers of power, geography, and the Protestant Reformation fostered religious and political pluralism, propelling Europe's ascendance and the genesis of modern representative government. These conditions created a dynamic middle class...