Whose World Is It Anyway?

Whose World Is It Anyway?

Mini Teaser: Charles Kupchan’s engaging new tome describes a world where global governance is collapsing and nations have only the barest common ground of agreement. But his analysis is marred by unworkable policy prescriptions and a static perspective.

by Author(s): Daniel W. Drezner

Charles Kupchan , No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 272 pp., $27.95.

[amazon 0199739390 full]IN 1990, G. John Ikenberry and Charles Kupchan published a research article on hegemonic power in International Organization that originally garnered little notice but proved to be much beloved by scholars. In “Socialization and Hegemonic Power,” Ikenberry and Kupchan argued that hegemons maintained their status through more than brute force or the manipulation of carrots and sticks. Wise hegemons took care to ensure that they educated the elites of subordinate states in their substantive beliefs. In doing so, these elites would learn to accept the ideas that animate the hegemonic power. Their takeaway point was that, while material power mattered, deep levels of socialization permitted a superpower to rule through noncoercive means.

Since publishing that essay, Ikenberry, now at Princeton, and Kupchan, a Georgetown professor and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, have gone in divergent directions. The former has continued to write about American hegemony and the order that emanated from it. In After Victory , he pointed out the ways in which the United States used multilateral institutions to “bind” itself to a liberal global order. More recently, in Liberal Leviathan , Ikenberry argued that these institutions are sufficiently appealing to rising states like China and India that their elites would help support America’s animating ideas.

Kupchan has pursued a more idiosyncratic track. A decade ago, in The End of the American Era , he argued that American unipolarity was doomed and the European Union would emerge as a new global superpower. Clearly, that prediction has not panned out, so now he is back with a new and more pessimistic prediction. In No One’s World , Kupchan joins the chorus arguing that the distribution of power has shifted away from the West and toward the “rest,” meaning non-Western nations. More significantly, Kupchan argues that these rising powers will not embrace the same ideas that governed the United States and Europe during the creation of the post–World War II and post–Cold War worlds: “The Chinese ship of state will not dock in the Western harbor, obediently taking the berth assigned it.” The conditions that caused the West to embrace secular, liberal, free-market democracy are not present in very large swathes of the globe. Instead, according to Kupchan, it will be no one’s world: a mélange of competing ideas and competing structures will overlap and coexist. No one great power or great idea will rule them all.

No One’s World is an interesting and wide-ranging book. In a brisk two hundred pages, Kupchan covers an astonishing range of material, from the finer points of sixteenth-century religious doctrine to the political economy of modern African patrimonialism. He provides a useful corrective to the Pollyannaish notion that countries, as they get richer, will look more and more like the West. Unfortunately, Kupchan’s analysis is a snapshot where moving pictures are needed. The analysis in No One’s World has a static quality to it. A more dynamic assessment yields a vision that suggests Ikenberry might have time on his side. Perhaps the rest of the world has been more socialized into vital aspects of Western norms than Kupchan thinks.

KUPCHAN BEGINS No One’s World with a look into the past, recounting exactly how the West became the West . In 1500, it was far from obvious that Europeans were about to start writing the rules for the rest of the globe. The Ottoman Empire was surging into the Balkans and threatening to conquer the Austrian Empire. Chinese admiral Zheng He was voyaging far into Africa’s east coast; the Ming Dynasty seemed poised to expand its influence far beyond the Pacific Rim. The Aztecs were the hegemonic actor in Central America, as were the Incas in South America. Compared to these empires, the set of squabbling, decentralized and warring states in northwest Europe did not seem a likely candidate for global hegemony.

How did it happen? Kupchan isolates the preconditions in an abbreviated but informative history of modern Europe, and his story closely follows the traditional narrative of Western economic history. The Protestant Reformation broke the Catholic Church’s monopoly on political and ecclesiastical power, fostering toleration for entrepreneurial activities. Urbanization increased the power of merchants and traders at the expense of landowners and traditional nobility. Europe’s natural geography prevented any single ruler from eliminating other nation-states, creating a political competition that made it costly to retard or suppress innovation. Combined, these effects empowered key commercial interests possessing strong “horizontal linkages” with each other (a phrase Kupchan uses often). These newfound sources of economic influence forced political leaders to accommodate rather than repress commercial interests within their borders: “A growing bourgeoisie had established itself as an indelible feature of Europe’s political landscape, leaving monarchs and nobility no choice but to grant this new class a say in matters of governance.” The long-run effects of politically empowering this new class were a boost in economic dynamism and political liberalization in Europe. As Europe dictated terms to the rest of the world, these ideas and values spread to settler colonies and the rest of the globe.

Pullquote: According to Kupchan, it will be no one’s world: a mélange of competing ideas and competing structures will overlap and coexist. No one great power or great idea will rule them all.Image: Essay Types: Book Review