Some have called the 20th century the "American Century". Others, recalling the height of the Roman Empire, have been so bold as to claim the past 50 years or so as the period of "Pax Americana". To be fair these names are justified from a limited perspective only, but are ultimately inaccurate. The last century was certainly a period of great American influence and power, capped in its last decade by the emergence of United States as the only global superpower and for a period of time political scientists even began referring to the US as a "hyper-power", a new nomenclature invented to better describe the seemingly unparalleled, and unopposed stature of the United States among the nations of the world. No matter the terminology, all such characterizations implied the establishment of a unipolar world centered on the United States.
The sustainability of a unipolar world, however, has always proven to be elusive. As Great Britain found out in the early decades of the 20th century, as Spain found out in the 17th century, and as Rome, Greece, Persia, and Babylon before them found out, the dream of a unipolar world is at best unstable and seemingly increasingly so as time passes and the world shrinks around us.
Certainly, things have changed in many ways for the better, a situation Americanists are quick to attribute to the influence of American mores and political institutions. We can spend quite a bit of time debating this, and surely it will be debated with much fierceness in the coming decades. It does seem nevertheless that the greatest claim to success in the modern era is the relative peace and willingness for cooperation found among nations today.
While conflicts still rage across many parts of the world the nature of such conflicts is better describe as domestic power struggles among ideological opposites, revolutionary uprisings against post-colonial regimes, or nationalist struggles for self-determination and sovereignty. But military conflicts focused upon territorial gain, border disputes, the redress of past wrongs, or based upon economic self interests have remarkably disappeared from the strategic dosier of foreign nations. Only the United States it appears continues to hold the perspective that "might makes right" in the 21st century.
The perception of the world as it is carried forward by Americans stands in contrast to reality. Where others see the hopes of political and social progress, the United States sees a sea of troubles.
The truth however is that Europe, perhaps the bloodiest continent in recorded history, now stands almost entirely peaceful, economically unified, and politically stable.
Africa, is gradually, albeit slowly, settling into stable relations among its countries. The African Union is beginning the process of economic and political consolidation, while countries like Nigeria and South Africa settled into the roles of regional leadership.
Among the East Asian countries prosperity is largely due to the recognition, acceptance, and nominal respect towards each other. While China, Japan, and Korea stand historically as mutual enemies, more is being accomplished on a day to day basis through regional cooperation than at any point before. All in spite of the clear differences towards democracy and capitalism.
Likewise in Latin America, despite the American media's portrayal, events are moving closer towards a regional union and a shared economy. Not surprisingly the only points of real contention among these nations is directly related to their individual relationship with the United States, a source of friction which is felt less year after year.
The world is undoubtedly moving towards a global government, a confederacy of nations with equal representation, and this is seen as a positive step for world peace. Regional bodies electing rotating presidencies and adopting regional currencies, all positive signs. In all corners of the globe this developing tide moves forward at an unprecedented pace. Meanwhile the United States seems stuck in the muck of warfare and international double-dealings, and stands as the only country where the thought of a global government is seen as a negative outcome.
But at some point in the near future the people of the United States will realize that the world no longer cares for the American perspective and that day comes closer every day. In a country where its people are so self-assured of their privileged perspective to a point of blindness towards the other worldly perspective, the point of awakening will be a rude one.
So what happens to a people convinced of a false truth when the veil is lifted from their eyes? What will happen when the world's leadership shifts into the hands of another country or more likely into an international grouping of nations? What will the day look like when Americans realize they are no longer the hegemonic superpower?
The world will continue with or without the United States, but the United States will need the world to continue. If things remain as is, if Americans cannot or will not accept the changes happening around the world, if the political leadership of this nation doesn't begin to lead the country in the right direction, you can be sure that in those coming days the America so enshrined by popular history, will give way to the America of our worst nightmares.