Stephen Andrew Kovach
Publication year: 2004

In “A World Without Power” Niall Ferguson convincingly argues that a world without American dominance would result in anarchy, rather than produce a new world leader because neither the European Union, China, or the Middle East possess the economic, military, or political savoir-faire necessary to lead the world in globalization.  Ferguson is less compelling, however, because he compares America’s economic, military, and political environments to medieval empires.  Ferguson argues that America’s dependence on foreign capital will produce economic hardship; its low troop levels will prevent it from reaching its hegemonic goals; and its troubled political traditions will impede long-term nation building projects, thereby limiting its success, and resulting in an apolar world that is characterized by anarchy similar to the Dark Ages.  Ferguson’s theory that the aforesaid conditions will limit America’s success challenges its egalitarian political structure because it insinuates the necessity of key changes to the important electoral laws set forth in the U.S. Constitution, the tactics used by the military, and the rules that govern its economy, all of which are vital to the framework of democracy.  This essay will present facts and opinions from foreign policy experts that directly and indirectly support and refute Ferguson’s theory that a world without American dominance would result in anarchy, rather than in new leadership.  If America were to alter its economic, military, and political systems simply because ancient empires failed after they experienced similar conditions, its values would no longer remain consistent with the ideals of democracy, thereby increasing, rather than decreasing, the probability that America’s global leadership will wane.                  The United States possesses an envious economy, one that is characterized by economic transparency, (requiring a rule of law, accounting standards, and a stable currency) which is a necessary component of democracy.[1]  Nonetheless, Ferguson argues that America’s, “growing dependence on foreign capital,” (Ferguson, 2004) is comparable to that of medieval empires, whose rulers knew nothing of transparency, and were unable to sustain its control after becoming dependant on foreign capital, thereby insinuating that America will also succumb to economic failure.[2]  To support his theory, Ferguson compares the aspirations of the United Nations and the Washington Consensus (the international financial power that headquarters the IMF, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.S. government that offers longer debt repayment schedules in exchange for the a governments’ commitment to serious reform) to the economic policies of medieval empires in, “the ninth and 10th centuries.”  (Ferguson, 2004)  However, it is absurd to compare an economy that is characterized by transparency and free trade, such as America’s, to one whose fiscal policies were limited to regional trade and industry that was controlled by tyrants, such as Henry IV, for example, who had no concept of globalization, and created a strong political economy for his Kingdom through taxation, not foreign capital.[3] Furthermore, unlike the current global economy, medieval economies were not interconnected, (economies and markets that are connected to each other via electronic means such as the Internet) and therefore were unable to benefit from the level of efficiency found in today’s transparency-based economies, indicating that the differences between them are so vast that they ought not be compared.  The fact that the current global economies benefit from unprecedented efficiency, combine with the knowledge that transparency is a requirement of democracy, together with the fact that medieval economies were regional, rather than global, collectively sustains the premise that if America were to alter its economic polices, it would violate the rules of transparency, and therefore be inconsistent with the rules of democracy, thereby increasing the probability that America will fail.                 An opposing theory vis-à-vis the consequences of America’s reliance on foreign capital suggests that it is not an impediment to its economic growth or sustained leadership, rather, it is necessary if it wants to succeed in its grand strategy (the overall impact of American society on the rest of the world).[4]  Walter Russell Mead argues that sticky power (the economic policies that attract foreign investment to the United States and make it difficult for investors to withdraw their money) encourages foreign investors to acquire a financial stake in America, one that prevents war, and “if war comes, it helps us win.”  (Mead, 2004, p.32)  When the United States borrows money from foreign countries, it is essentially issuing bonds (debt securities that are guaranteed by the issuer to pay the lender a predetermined, fixed interest rate for a period of time, plus return of their principle), thereby, “maintaining the strength of the American system,” (Mead, 2004, p.35) and promoting its grand strategy through foreign investors who are economically motivated for America’s success.  Dependence on foreign debt thus prevents a, “collapse of the American economy” (Mead, 2004, p.35) that would otherwise negatively affect global markets because, unlike medieval economies, those markets are interconnected to a common currency (the dollar) and the American financial markets.  Simply put, if America fails, they lose money.  Additionally, Mead argues that millennial capitalism (a version of capitalism that promotes competition among monopolies and places a corporations welfare ahead of individuals) is the latest form of enterprise to emerge that is forming the new global economy, and in the process, is creating new forms of international regulations that, “simply did not exists before.”  (Mead, 2004, p.74)  In view of the fact that economic transparency is a condition of a democracy, and because medieval empires were not democratic states, it is reasonable to suggest that medieval economies were not transparent, therefore rendering it illogical to compare them with America’s economy.  It is precisely the illogic of that comparison, combined with the abovementioned benefits of sticky power and millennial capitalism that jointly sustain the theory that if America were to change its economic policies simply because medieval empires failed when they became dependent on foreign debt, it would be inconsistent with the characteristics democracy, thereby increasing the probability that its global leadership would wane.

On one hand, Ferguson’s theory that America’s economic deficit will result in its failure is unsubstantiated, on the other hand, his argument that a world without an American hegemon will result in world anarchy is reasonable, and is best supported by using current data.  For example, Robert Kaplan argues that the world will succumb to anarchy because the economic demands that result from disease, deforestation, and diminishing natural resources, will likely result in chaos as entire civilizations rise up against the United States in their attempt to close the intolerable gap (the difference between social movement and economic development, characterized by the political instability of a developing country).  Kaplan’s theory is reasonable because he does not support it with obsolete data, but rather, with current events that are likely to influence the world in the twenty-first century.

Economic supremacy notwithstanding, America possesses a dominant, well-funded military, which, unlike the armies of past empires that coerced its soldiers into enlisting, American soldiers volunteer to join the armed forces.  Ferguson, however, believes that America’s second structural deficit is its, “small volunteer army” (Ferguson, 2004) because it is incapable of promoting its, “hegemonic aspirations with true colonization.”  (Ferguson, 2004)  Ferguson argues that America’s leadership role is somehow weakened because it is a, “net importer of people,” (Ferguson, 2004) insinuating that America’s immigration policies are inconsistent with its grand strategy, and that immigration is an impediment to its success.[5]  However, American immigrants make up the majority of enlisted soldiers who have cooperatively created the worlds foremost military.  In fact, between 1715 and 1947 millions of Irish, Italian, Jewish, Lithuanian, and Russians immigrated to Boston and other American cities, many of whom willingly fought in the Revolutionary, Civil, and both World Wars.[6]  Without immigration, the United States military would have been grossly understaffed and, as a result, could have conceivably lost those wars.  Therefore, Ferguson’s suggestion that immigration is detrimental to America’s future demonstrates ignorance towards the contributing factors that built its military, thereby rendering the theory that America will succumb to failure because of its small volunteer army as sheer ludicrous.                 Ferguson additionally argues that America cannot count on, “colonization” (Ferguson, 2004) in order to strengthen its hegemonic goals, thus implying that it must resort to the repressive tactics used by the Roman, Egyptian, and British empires, that used colonization to advance its despotic goals.[7]  However, America does not desire to play, “the old games of dominance with rivals and allies” (Mead, 2004, p.23) in order to succeed in its grand strategy.  Instead, the United States prefers to evoke change through the promotion of democracy without using, “the methods the Romans and others had used.”  (Mead, 2004, p.23)  Simply put, America’s goal is to promote democracy through its grand strategy without reducing the status of weakened foreign states to, “tributary provinces” (Mead, 2004, p.24) because doing so would be inconsistent with the liberating concepts of democracy.  The essential role that immigrants play in the United States military, combined with the fact that colonization is inconsistent with democracy, together with the previously mentioned economic benefits, collectively sustain the theory that if America were to alter its military strategy simply because medieval empires temporarily achieved success through colonization, it would be inconsistent with the liberating characteristics of democracy, thus increasing the chance that its global leadership would weaken.                 Even though Ferguson’s theory that America’s all-volunteer military will result in its failure is unsupported, his argument that a world without an American hegemon will result in world anarchy is rational, and is best supported with the occurrences of recent events.  For example, a goal of America’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), as published in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (NSCT), is to prevent weak foreign states from succumbing to corruption and poverty that could create a breeding ground for terrorism.  The NSCT asserts America’s commitment to reduce conditions that, “terrorists can exploit,” (National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2003) in countries with, “people living in poverty, deprivation, social disenfranchisement, and unresolved political and regional disputes.”  (National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2003)  According to Princeton N. Lyman and J. Stephen Morrison, West and Central Africa are currently suffering from corruption and poverty, therefore creating an environment that is conducive to terrorism, and if America does not increase its military presence in those areas, it will be unsuccessful in accomplishing its grand strategy because regional uprising could escalate and become global.  It is logical to suggest that the United States must have a dominant military to achieve its grand strategy, however, that goal can only be accomplished through an all-volunteer army who is committed to fighting for concepts of democracy, without using the harsh tactics of colonization, which could be misinterpreted as occupation, and lead to anti-American sentiment.  The goals of the NSCT, combined with the acknowledgment that terrorism is likely to develop in regions that are prone to corruption and poverty, together with the aforementioned benefits of an all-volunteer army, collectively sustain that premise that if America were to resort to the ancient tactics of colonization, it would no longer be consistent with the concepts of democracy, thereby increasing the probability that it would fail because it would result in anti-American sentiment.     West and Central Africa are not the only regions that create a threat to the United

States.  The Middle East currently posses the greatest risk to America and the stability of globalization, according to Samuel P. Huntington, who argues that a systematic misunderstanding (when one countries framework is so fundamentally different than the other, that it cannot be corrected by providing more information) that stems from the intolerable gap could result in a, “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1993) at the boarders, or seams, where civilizations meet.  The development of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East could be escalated because Super Empowered Angry Men (men who hate America and are able to use America’s own technologies, also known as dual technologies, against them to commit acts of terror) are capable of capitalizing on the, “absence of strong secular politics” (Mead, 2004, p.24) within the Muslim world, and enticing Muslims worldwide to rise up against America in protest of Westernization (when cultures are forced to accept Western traditions) and globalization.  According to Huntington, the future of politics will be defined by a clash of civilizations because globalization is creating fault lines (lines where cultures overlap are destined to become the battle lines of the future) where civilizations will rise against the United States, and ultimately result in worldwide anarchy if America is unable to control the situation.  Although, “religious institutions often set the political agenda,” (Mead, 2004) America’s enemy in the GWOT, “is not a religion” (National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2003) nor is it against, “a single political regime,”(National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2003) because America, unlike ancient empires, does not target specific religions; doing so would be inconsistent with the rules of democracy.  Rather, America’s fight is against terrorism, and those who use it to, “make a political statement using violence.”  (Norwitz, 2002)  Huntington’s argument is logical because it is based on current events that are likely to affect America’s role in globalization, and indicates that America must retain its dominance in order to prevent anarchy.  The fact that America’s GWOT is not against any religion, along with the development of anti-American sentiment that results from globalization, together with the increased risks to America that develops from Muslim countries that misunderstand America’s goals, collectively sustain the premise that a world without American dominance would likely result in anarchy.

In addition to an envious economy, and a dominant military, America possesses an advanced political system, one that opposes tyranny, observes a fair electoral system, and promotes socio-cultural change through the powerful concepts put forth in the U.S. Constitution.  However, despite its political strengths, Ferguson argues that America’s third deficit is its political traditions because they obstruct its ability to develop long-lasting commitments to vital regions, such as West and Central Africa, thereby preventing it from accomplishing its grand strategy.  Mead concurs with Ferguson that America’s political traditions impede its grand strategy, and argues that American politicians are, “condemned” (Mead, 2004, p.14) by short-term thinking that is, “tied to election cycles” (Mead, 2004, p.14) that limit presidential terms to two-years.  Mead insinuates that the political philosophy of German military writer, Carl von Clausewitz, who developed the initial concepts of the grand strategy, is superior to the democratic concepts set forth by the U.S. Constitution.[8]  For example, Mead states that, “Clausewitizian grand strategy requires long-term thinking” (Mead, 2004, p.14) that American officials are unable to achieve because the of the two-term limit, thereby insinuating that American politicians are inferior to a nineteenth century, “Bismarck…with thirty-eight years in power.”  (Mead, 2004, p.14)  However, implying that the political policies of nineteenth century Germany, or of any period, when elections were nonexistent, is superior to a democracy, such as the United States, which practices strict election laws, challenges Article I, Section II, and the twenty second Amendment of the U.S.  Constitution, and is therefore inconsistent with the principles of democracy.  For example, Article I, Section II of the U. S. Constitution (1787) was enacted to limit the Presidents and Vice Presidents term to four years, thereby preventing America from succumbing to oppression that typically characterized the long political reigns of medieval rulers whose agenda did not match its countries national interest (a set of cultural, social, economic, and political ideals that benefit all individuals).  Article I, Section II was further enhanced in 1951 by the twenty-second amendment, which limits the President’s term of office to two terms. Since its inception, Article I, Section II has never been challenged in Supreme Court, and the twenty-second amendment has been referenced only once by the Court in an unrelated case, thereby indicating that Americans are satisfied with the election laws set forth by the Constitution because Americans tend to challenge unacceptable and controversial Constitutional issues in Supreme Court.[9] The election laws mandated by the U.S. Constitution, combined with the palpability that those laws have never been challenged in Supreme Court, together with the understanding that those laws were passed to prevent American politicians from acquiring power similar to a tyrants, along with the previously mentioned economic and military conditions, collectively sustain the theory that if America were to change its political strategy to coincide with the policies of non-democratic countires, it would violate the concepts set forth by the Constitution, be inconsistent with the characteristics of democracy, and reduce the likelihood for success in its grand strategy.                 America’s economic, military, and political systems are not perfect, and to assure their continued support of its grand strategy, they must constantly be monitored to guarantee their consistency with the rules of democracy.  Historical information involves the evaluation of evidence combined with logical conjecture regarding a given situation.  When used appropriately, historical facts can offer invaluable information to support arguments that compare past and present cultures.  However, it ought not be used to make illogical comparisons, such as comparing current world events to those of the medieval period, for predicting America’s future, because doing so reduces the hypothesis to mere propaganda.  It is more compelling to support a strong theory with current events, particularly when dealing with foreign policy issues because it presents a logical theory that might be useful in assessing America’s progress in its grand strategy.  

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Cody, M. (2004). Tudor England. Abstract retrieved from

Ferguson, N. (2004). A World Without Power. Foreign Policy.

Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.

Huntington, S. P.. The Clash of Civilizations? Abstract retrieved from

Kaplan, R. D. (1994, February). The Coming Anarchy. The Atlantic Online. Retrieved from

Lyman, P. N., & Morrison, J. (2004). The Terrorist Threat in Africa. Foreign Affairs, 75 to 86.

Mead, W. (2004). Power, Terror, Peace, and War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

National Strategy for Combating Terrorism. (2003). Retrieved from

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learn more here O’Brien, David M. Constitutional Law and Politics: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. New York, N.Y., 10110: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003 O’Connor, Thomas H. The Hub: Boston Past and Present. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2001


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[1] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.

[2] Ferguson, N. (2004). A World Without Power. Foreign Policy


[4] Mead, W. (2004). Power, Terror, Peace, and War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[5] Mead, W. (2004). Power, Terror, Peace, and War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pg. 18

[6] O’Connor, Thomas H. The Hub: Boston Past and Present. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2001

[7] Ferguson, N. (2004). A World Without Power. Foreign Policy.

[8] Mead, W. (2004). Power, Terror, Peace, and War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[9] O’Brien, David M. Constitutional Law and Politics: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: New York, N.Y. ,10110