Follies of Power
David P. Calleo, Follies of Power: America’s Unipolar Fantasy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
The election of Barack Obama notwithstanding, Calleo sees the political imagination of America’s elites still deeply attracted to a unipolar view of world politics. In this way of looking at the world, peace and prosperity in the global system require a reigning superpower. Great Britain is imagined to have played this role in the nineteenth century and the United States to have inherited it in the twentieth. America’s interest and duty are thought to lie in fulfilling this fate that history has thrust upon the US. The unipolar vision persists tenaciously but is more and more false. In reality, today’s disposition of international power and wealth is increasingly plural. America’s unipolar vision grows progressively dysfunctional as much of the world fears and resists it.
Chapter 1 spells out these themes. Chapters 2 and 3 look at the disastrous consequences of the unipolar vision at work – in the Middle East and in Europe. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 assess the nature and limits of American power – soft, military, economic, and moral. Chapter 7 discusses the problems of order and coexistence in a plural world. It speculates on the possible contributions of “Old America” and “New Europe” as models for organizing the future. America’s own constitutional equilibrium, Calleo argues, increasingly requires friendly balancing from Europe. To face their responsibilities to the world and to each other, both sides of the West will need to liberate their imaginations from thralldom to past triumphs. Meanwhile, America tries to parlay its Cold War role into global hegemony and Europe to go on borrowing its global security from America.
‘David Calleo has spent most of his professional life attacking America’s claim to global hegemony. He has always said it was bad for the world, and bad for America. In the Cold War period his attack on American pretensions was made on behalf of Europe. America’s vision of a Pax Americana left no room for Europe to breathe. Now it leaves no room for anyone else to breathe. In his latest book, Calleo provides a brilliant, sustained argument against America’s ‘unipolar fantasy’ – crudely, the belief that the United States can and should run the world.’
– Robert Skidelsky, Survival, February 2010
‘The book’s most interesting arguments are about Europe and its role in redirecting Washington toward the pursuit of a more collaborative — or even confederal — interstate system in which a coalition of power centers takes the lead. Follies of Power provides one of the most elegant statements yet in favor of a U.S. strategy of retrenchment. But it fails to reflect on the liberal features of U.S. hegemony — support for rules and an open world system — which are still in demand.’
– G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2010