Is the American Century Over? That is the title is a slim, little monograph by the American political scientist Joseph Nye published in 2015. He agrees with Time magazine founder Henry Luce, who wrote a remarkable essay in 1941 during the Second World War that the 20th century was the American century.
No, the American century is not over, concludes Joseph Nye after looking at China and America and briefly at Europe, Russia, Japan, India and Brazil.
He writes: “The American century is not over , if by that we mean the extraordinary period of American pre-eminence in military, economic and soft power resources that have made the United States central to the workings of the global balance of power, and to the provision of global, public goods.”
He adds: “Contrary to those who proclaim this the Chinese century, we have not entered a post-American world.”
“But,” he says, ”the continuation of the American century will not look like it did in the twentieth century.”
America now and then
“The American share of the world economy,” says Joseph Nye, “will be less than it was in the middle of the last century…”
It will also be “more difficult for anyone to wield influence and organize action”, he says, in a more complex world with “the rise of other countries and the increased role of non-state actors”. He doesn’t name the countries and the non-state actors, but he could be referring to emerging powers and various and organizations.
“America will have to listen” to others to win their support, says Nye.
But America was never omnipotent, he adds
“The United States never had complete control,” reminds Nye. “Even when the United States had preponderant resources, it often failed to get what it wanted.”
We should “remember a year like 1956”, he says, “when the United States was unable to prevent Soviet repression of a revolt in Hungary, French loss of Vietnam, or the Suez invasion by our allies Britain, France, and Israel.”
“The American century,” concludes Joseph Nye, “is likely to continue for a number of decades at the very least, but it will look very different from how it did when Henry Luce first articulated it.”