Ennui Becomes Us

December 16, 2009 Topic: Society Regions: Americas Tags: BalkansIslamismToryWar In AfghanistanIslam

Ennui Becomes Us

Mini Teaser: Chaos and randomness abound. The increasing disorder of our world will lead to a sort of global ennui mixed with a disturbingly large dose of individual extremism and dogmatic posturing by states.

by Author(s): Randall L. Schweller

Most important, entropy will reduce and diffuse usable power in the system, dramatically reshaping the landscape of international politics. The United States will see its relative power diminish, while others will see their power rise. To avoid crises and confrontation, these ongoing tectonic changes must be reflected in the superstructure of international authority. Increasing entropy, however, means that the antiquated global architecture will only grow more and more creaky and resistant to overhaul. No one will know where authority resides because it will not reside anywhere; and without authority, there can be no governance of any kind. The already-overcrowded and chaotic landscape will continue to be filled with more meaningless stuff; and the specter of international cooperation, if it was ever anything more than an apparition, will die a slow but sure death.


Randall L. Schweller is a professor of political science at Ohio State University. He is the author of Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton University Press, 2006).


1 Under bipolarity, in contrast, powerful threats were concentrated in the two poles, whereas damage was diffused throughout the system. Because bipolarity encouraged the superpowers to view the world in zero-sum terms and compete fiercely on a global scale, roughly 20 million people were killed on the periphery (damage was diffused) in a titanic geostrategic and ideological struggle among two poles over world supremacy.

2 Notwithstanding the fallacy of a natural harmony of interests among democracies, we hear calls from John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and senior foreign-policy advisers to President Obama Ivo Daalder and Anne-Marie Slaughter for the United States to create a League of Democracies to replace the United Nations. Not only is this liberal-internationalist concept built on an idealistic myth that democracies share important foreign-policy preferences, it would also result in an irresponsible self-binding of U.S. power. By very publicly bestowing the League of Democracies with a stamp of legitimacy, America would be foolishly creating the only international institution that could actually constrain its foreign-policy autonomy and the free exercise of its military power.

3 Farhad Manjoo, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008).

4 John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2005).

5 Robert A. Pape, "Empire Falls," The National Interest (January/February 2009), p. 21.

6 James Fallows, "The $1.4 Trillion Question," The Atlantic (January/February 2008). 

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