A "Uni-Multipolar World?"
Jude Wanniski
April 5, 1999


To: Foreign Affairs editors
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Samuel P. Huntington's "Lonely Superpower"

Today brings us to my fifth critique of an exposition in your March/April issue. The series began when I flunked Martin Feldstein for his essay on emerging markets, about which he knows less than nothing. I then flunked C. Fred Bergsten for his gobbledegook on the "coming dollar-euro clash," which for the 2001st time in his career recommends a devaluation of the dollar as a means of preparing for this mythical clash. Things picked up when I gave an unexpected "A" to Garry Wills for his superb essay on the United States as "Bully of the Free World," then another "A" to Milton Viorst for venturing into the Libyan desert for a marvelous interview with Mu'ummar Qaddafi. Today I wrestled with one of Harvard's big thinkers, Samuel P. Huntington, expecting to find political mish-mash, instead finding passable political mash, worth a solid "B."

If he simplified a bit, he could have gotten an "A" out of his effort, but like most big thinkers he knows that he will sound like an ordinary cracker-barrel philosopher if he keeps it simple, so he gussies up his thesis. (I think of Economist James Tobin of Yale, who wrote a paper on modern portfolio theory some years ago and won a Nobel Prize. His thesis: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket.") What Huntington says is that the since the end of the Cold War, the United States is acting as if it were a superpower in a unipolar world, but in reality it is a superpower in a multipolar world. The thesis is designed with enough complexity to drive away anyone without a college degree, but when we boil it down, we find Huntington is saying the United States is now acting like a father who thinks he can dictate to his children and have them obey, but in reality the children are grown up and have families of their own. While they will give dad his patriarchal due when the extended family is in distress, they expect to participate in the decision-making process.

I've been writing about the "American Empire" in one way or another for almost 20 years, as a benign imperium. He credits Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers with the term benign hegemon. I discussed the concept of a benign American imperium with Summers in a conversation with him in his office in May 1997, and why this meant it would be our responsibility to maintain the value of the dollar in terms of gold in order to establish the unit of account for the entire empire. Hey, ask Summers, whom I credit with supplying the 50-cent term hegemon as a euphemism for my straightforward imperium.

Huntington, though, confuses his argument by having only one superpower in his equation, but multi-poles. Sorry, Sam. One superpower, one pole. The United States has to figure out how to deal with all its sons and daughters, the way a monarch has to learn how to deal with all the princes, dukes and earls of the realm. Way back when, I suppose, there were monarchs who did not have to consult with anyone before issuing decrees the way our government drops bombs here and there, whenever we get up on the wrong side of the bed. (My God, the pictures of Belgrade in flames on Good Friday made me realize how easy it is to become a fascist state as long as you have The New York Times, the WSJournal, and The Washington Post cheering you on.) So yes, I think Huntington's piece is damned fine stuff, chastizing our Political Establishment for thinking it can do as it pleases for as long as it pleases. This was Garry Wills's point in his essay on the U.S. as the world bully. It is a just phase the world is going through as it tries to get used to a global sovereign. Just as absolute monarchy gave way to constitutional monarchy which in turn gave way to democratic republics, the whole process now has to repeat itself on a global scale. If the United States is the global sovereign, with Europe a collection of barons and earls, my guess is that China and Russia will play the feminine roles of Queen and Princess in this next phase of history.

A few years ago, I realized there was no textbook on how to behave as "Global Sovereign," because there has never before been one. Yes, Huntington is correct in pointing to the Roman and Chinese empires as near approximations. But for our foreign policy "experts" to think through a blueprint for managing the world, it does help to revert to the family unit as the basic building block of the world political economy.