Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

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Summer Reading: Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan

by Stewart M. Patrick

Liberal Leviathan (Princeton University Press, 2011)

Given the pervasive hand-wringing about U.S. decline, it’s refreshing to read that the West’s best days may lie ahead.

You can find that argument in John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order. It picks up where Ikenberry’s last “big” book left off (After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars), which argued that hegemonic powers were most successful when they exercised restraint towards lesser powers, rather than throwing their weight around. By sacrificing policy autonomy, providing public goods within multilateral institutions, and offering “voice opportunities” to junior partners, a hegemon could transform its “might” into “right”—turn power into legitimate authority.

Ikenberry insisted this would help “lock in” broad support for the hegemon’s leadership and that rising powers would therefore be less likely to challenge the global order. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman transformed the United States into a “Liberal Leviathan” in the 1940s by establishing multilateral institutions and patterns of strategic restraint. (A topic on which I have also written.) As a benevolent hegemon, it enjoyed widespread authority and loyalty so that countries didn’t try to ally against it, which carried the West to triumph in the Cold War.

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