Sovereignty and Grand Strategy: Some Observations on the Rise of China and Decline of the Americans Reply

In the past, much of my own work has focused on critiquing a world order where the USA is the dominant hegemon because, well, that’s the world we’ve had for the past 30 years (and, really, for 73 years when it is considered that during the Cold War the USSR and PRC were really just Third World countries with nukes). But what does the ongoing decline of American hegemony and the passing of the torch of civilization to the East mean for the future of anti-imperialist struggles? Unlike the Americans, whose traditional foreign policy has operated on the Viking model (i.e. raiding and looting), the Chinese seem genuinely interested in the economic development of other societies for the sake of not only gaining access to material wealth, but also for the the cultivation of export markets for themselves. In fact, the efforts of the Chinese to economically develop Africa seems to have been the one thing that has worked thus far in terms of lifting Africa out of total poverty, something that neither Western hegemony or Western “developmental aid” was ever able to do (and was never intended to do). The Chinese appear to have an interest in developing Central Asia in the same way (one of the primary reasons why the Americans have been so insistent on continuing imperial expansion in Central Asia). At the same time, China’s authoritarian autocratic traditions do not bode well for the expansion of libertarian values in a world where China is the dominant hegemon. Yet China’s xenophobic traditions will likely be an obstacle to the development of a Chinese imperialism on the level of Western imperialism given China’s likely fear of perceived cultural contamination.

By Aaron Zack

Telos

The rise and decline of great powers are not solely material in nature but also moral, political, and cultural. Many modern theorists emphasize the material factors in rise and decline, but older political thinkers focused on moral-political explanations. Carl Schmitt defines the essence of the political as the distinction between friend and enemy. A rising sovereign will effectively distinguish between friends and enemies and act in the interest of a political community. A decaying sovereign will gradually lose its capacity to both make a rational distinction between friends and enemies and act in the interest of the (fading) political community. True grand strategy therefore depends upon a robust sovereign—a decayed sovereign faces difficulty in implementing an effective or optimal grand strategy. China is a rising power without an obvious universal mission or ethos. Nonetheless, China is governed by a robust and effective sovereign determined to advance China’s material national interests. A traditional geopolitical analysis suggests that America should act, if necessary, to prevent the emergence of a Chinese hegemony in East Asia. However, the American “sovereign” and polity are in a state of decay and, despite material wealth, lack the moral-political virtue necessary for the conduct of an effective grand strategy. Therefore America ought to accommodate China’s rise and primarily depend upon robust Asian sovereigns to limit Chinese power. Otherwise, the gap between the American sovereign’s fantasies and the reality of its decay will be closed by a swift military and geopolitical defeat.

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