The Great Delusion of Liberal Hegemony

Here are my notes on a video of lecture given by John Mearsheimer on 21 January 2019.

I’m not posting this because I agree with everything Mearshimer has to say. In particular, I disagree with his assertion that we should not have taken a gamble on helping China develop economically. It’s important to remember that China’s development pulled millions of people out of poverty. Unfortunately, Mearsheimer doesn’t take note of this upside. Instead, on China’s rise to power, Mearsheimer concerns himself with the potential military threat he sees from China. However, lest you think he’s just a hawk, he was opposed to the war in Vietnam, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. So, in some cases he’s a paradox: a political realist peacenik.

The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities
John Mearsheimer

Most of the ideas covered in this lecture are also laid out in:

The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities
John J. Mearsheimer
published in 2018

When I’m mostly quoting him, I’ll just start with his initials, but I won’t put his words in quotes. However, if it is a direct quote, I’ll put his words in quotes. When I’m just adding my own thoughts, I’ll lead with my initials.

JJM: John J. Mearsheimer
FMB: Fred M. Beshears

JJM: When the cold war ended, the US adopted a policy of “Liberal Hegemony.”

FMB: I’ll present his slides as follows:

U.S. pursued “liberal hegemony” after the Cold War

  • Main aim: remake the world in America’s image.
  • The policy failed miserably.
  • Why? Nationalism & Realism > Liberalism

JJM: Donald Trump ran against liberal hegemony, which helped him get elected.
JJM: But, of course, there were other reasons for his win in 2016.

JJM: What really defeated Liberalism was Nationalism and Realism.

Outline of talk:

  1. What is Liberalism? (What I mean by Liberalism.)
  2. What is Nationalism?
  3. What is Liberal Hegemony?
  4. Why did the U.S. pursue Liberal Hegemony?
  5. What is Liberal Hegemony’s Track Record?
  6. Why Did Liberal Hegemony Fail?
  7. Liberal Hegemony’s Future.

I. What is Liberalism?

FMB: Liberalism addresses this big question. It favors individualism.

  • JJM: Do you believe that human beings are fundamentally social animals who carve out room for their individuality?
  • JJM: Do you believe that human beings are fundamentally individuals to begin with who come together and form social contracts?

Liberalism’s Bedrock Assumptions

  • It is individualistic at its core. It assumes that the individual takes precedence over the social group.
  • It assumes that individuals cannot reach universal agreement over first principles. Those differences are sometimes profound and can lead to violence.

JJM: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are known as “Social Contract Theorists.” They all start with individuals in the state of nature who decide to form social contracts.

JJM: John Locke is known as the father of liberalism.

JJM: Liberals believe that human beings cannot use their critical faculties to discover universal truths.

JJM: When it comes to first principles, when it comes to those big questions about “What is the good life?”, “What is the proper political system?” we cannot reach universal agreement.

  • FMB: Hume’s point that we cannot get ought from is.
  • FMB: Natural science helps us improve upon conjectures.
  • FMB: But, we cannot use science alone to determine what ought to be.
  • FMB: Natural science helps inform our social policy decisions.
  • FMB: However, empirical truths are always provisional.
  • FMB: There is always the risk that empirical theories might be overturned by the arrival of new observations (new evidence).
  • FMB: Recall the story of the tribe that has never seen frozen water. They have a theory that one cannot walk on water. And, this theory is believed because they’ve never seen frozen water.
  • FMB: Social “science” alone cannot tell us what our social policies ought to be.

JJM: Abortion and Affirmative Action are two examples of cases where you cannot reach universal agreement.

JJM: You can trace the development of Liberalism to a time when Protestants and Catholics were killing one another over issues where they were unable to reach universal agreement.

FMB: Like the question: “Does the wafer turn into the body of Christ?” ๐Ÿ™‚

JJM: The central question for Liberalism: how should politics be arranged to deal with this potential for violence?

The Liberal Solution

  • Everyone has individual rights – that are inalienable.
    • A set of rights that cannot be denied.
    • Inalienable rights are “natural rights.”
    • They are applied to everybody on the planet.
    • Individuals have the right to live their life as they see fit (for the most part).
    • This is very important because we cannot agree on first principles.
    • We need to carve out space in civil society for individuals to have as much freedom as possible.
    • JJM: I’m very happy that I live in a liberal democracy.
  • The norm of tolerance.
    • We recognize that there are going to be differences.
    • Some people are going to live in ways that you don’t approve of.
    • But, we tolerate difference.
    • We want to avoid killing each other, and we want to have as much freedom as possible.
  • The Watchman State.
    • Unfortunately, individual rights and tolerance only get you so far.
    • There are still those who want to kill people they don’t agree with.
    • That’s why we still need a “limited” state.
    • It’s supposed to be a limited state.
    • A powerful state could trample on individual rights.

FMB: what about powerful corporations. Are they really “individuals”?

JJM: Here’s where the taproot of Liberal Hegemony comes in.

FMB: See They Economic Taproot of Imperialism, by J. A. Hobson
FMB: In Economic Imperialism by Kenneth E. Boulding and Tapan Mukerjee (editors)

The Taproot of Liberal Hegemony

  • Individualism + Inalienable Rights = Universalism

JJM: Took me a long while to figure this out.

JJM: “A theory that’s based on individualism, one that says that every individual on the planet has a certain set of rights quickly becomes a universalistic theory. It’s very important to understand that. This is what turns the United States into a crusader state. It’s that heavy emphasis on rights – on individual rights, inalienable rights – that leads to a universalistic ideology, or foreign policy in this case.”

  • FMB: Natural science theories put their emphasis on what is, not on what ought to be.
  • FMB: Generally speaking, social science theories need to put more emphasis on what ought to be.
  • FMB: In so far as social science “theories” put their emphasis on what ought to be, they become ideologies.
  • FMB: If the world is unipolar, and the US is the world’s one and only hegemon, then Hegemonic Liberalism becomes feasible.
  • FMB: In a unipolar world, the US starts to act as a crusader state that actively seeks to spread liberal democracy to every nation state on the planet. We see all the citizens of these nation states as individuals with inalienable rights. But, if they are living in a state that is not a liberal democracy, then the rulers of said state are trampling upon the inalienable rights of their citizens.
  • FMB: Hence the US aims to free the citizens of states who are not free.
  • FMB: Further, the US aims to free the citizens of these states by regime change.

II. What is Nationalism?

Nationalism’s Core Assumption

  • Humans are naturally social animals. They are born into and heavily socialized into particular groups.
  • Individualism takes a back seat to group loyalty.
  • Aside from the family, the most important group in today’s world is the nation.

JJM: Before our critical faculties kick in, we are socialized by our mother and father as well as others around us.

JJM: Although individualism takes a back seat to group loyalty, this is not to say that you have no room for individualism. You can carve out lots of space for individualism, but you do it in the context of group loyalty.

JJM: In today’s world, aside from the family, the most important social group is the nation.

What is Nationalism?

A set of political beliefs which hold that a nation – i.e. a body of individuals with characteristics that purportedly distinguish them from other groups – should have their own state.

JJM: The concept of a nation state captures what nationalism is all about.

JJM: Think of Zionism and think of Theodore Hertzel, the father of Zionism. His most famous book is called The Jewish State. There is this group, there is this tribe, there is this nation called Jews, and they want their own state.

JJM: Think about the Palestinians. What do the Palestinians want? They want a state of their own.


Nations place enormous importance on sovereignty or self-determination, which is why they want their own state.

Nation-states place enormous importance on sovereignty or self-determination, which inclines them in powerful ways to resist foreign interference.

JJM: Palestinians want their own state because they want to determine their own future. They want to have control over their own daily life.

JJM: Think about the US today and all this talk about the Russians interfering in American elections. This is categorically unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans. This is because the Russians are violating our sovereignty.

JJM: It’s quite clear that the Europeans feel the same way.

JJM: My argument is that nationalism beats liberalism at every turn. This is because we’re primarily social animals. We’re not primarily individuals from the get-go who form social contracts.

JJM: Compare what the planet looks like today versus what it looked like in 1450. If I gave you a map of Europe from 1450, and I asked you to memorize it in one week, it’s not clear that you could do it. It would be such a complicated map. There are all kinds of different political entities on that map from the 15th century.

JJM: Today, the entire planet is covered with nation-states.

Nationalism > Liberalism

  1. Human beings are primarily social animals.
  2. Look at the planet: it is covered by nation-states. Liberal democracies have never even comprised 50% of the states in the system, and the number has been declining since 2006.
  3. All liberal democracies are liberal nation-states.

JJM: The United States is a very nationalistic country. Britian is a very nationalistic country – witness Brexit.

III. What is Liberal Hegemony?

JJM: As I said before, liberal hegemony is the foreign policy the United States adopted when the cold war ended.

Liberal Hegemony’s Goals

It is basically an attempt to remake the world in America’s image. It has three components:

  1. Spread liberal democracy across the planet.
  2. Integrate more and more countries into the open international economy.
  3. Integrate more and more countries into international institutions.

JJM: This first dimension is that the US and its European allies including Britain are committed to spreading liberal democracy all over the planet. We’re going to interfere in the politics of countries here there and everywhere all for the purpose of making them liberal democracies.

JJM: We want a planet that’s not just filled with nation-states, but one filled with liberal democratic nation-states.

Second, we’re bent on integrating more and more countries into an open international economy.

FMB: Neo-liberalism’s idea of “open” means free markets, free trade (low or no tariffs), free capital movement, but NOT open boarders (i.e. no free labor movement across boards) and definitely not world government with global elections.

FMB: Recall Dani Rodrick’s trilemma. At any given point in time, a country must choose two of these three options:

  1. Deep integration in the world’s economy and institutions that govern the world’s economy such as the IMF and the WTO.
  2. National Sovereignty
  3. National Democracy

FMB: For example, you could have (1) and (2) but you would have to give up (3. National Democracy). Instead of (3), you have nations governed by unelected officials at the IMF and the WTO.

FMB: Or, take another example, you could have (1) and (3 World Government and World Democracy), but then you would have to give up (2 National Sovereignty).

FMB: Or, yet another example, you could have (2) and (3), but then you have to give up (1 Deep integration).

JJM: With Liberal Hegemony, the name of the game is to get countries “hooked on capitalism.” The name of the game is to create more and more economic interdependence.

JJM: And then the third goal, which is related to the 2nd, is to integrate more and more countries into international institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.

JJM: Under Liberal Hegemony, the US and its allies are especially interested in integrating big countries like China and Russia into international institutions. And, of course, these international institutions are bound up with that international economy.

JJM: So, the name of the game is to have really robust and numerous international institutions and to get countries all across the planet (especially the Chinas and the
Russias out there) embedded in those institutions. And, also get them embedded in this open international economy. And, going back to my first point, spreading liberal
democracy all across the planet.


JJM: For example, think about NATO expansion, EU expansion, and the Color Revolutions (i.e. the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine). What we were trying to do (we meaning the West, the US was in the driver’s seat, but the Europeans were with us hook, line and sinker). What we were trying to do was to spread democracy in Eastern Europe, including in countries that were part of the former Soviet Union (like Ukraine and Georgia), through devices like the Rose and Orange Revolutions.

JJM: And, we were even talking about turning Russia into a liberal democracy.

JJM: So, as we move NATO and the EU eastward, the goal was to foster Liberal Democracy. Furthermore, we were interested in integrating more and more countries in Eastern Europe into the open international economy.

JJM: Remember, we brought a whole group of these countries into the EU in the early 2000s. And, we were talking about bringing Ukraine and Georgia as well as other countries over time into the EU. We’re spreading capitalism, getting people hooked on economic interdependence. And, we wanted to get them integrated into international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO. We also wanted to spread NATO (yet another international institution) eastward.

JJM: A lot of people think that NATO’s purpose is to prevent Russia from taking over Europe. There is no evidence for this.

JJM: [Prior to the Ukraine crisis of 2014,] Madeline Albright told Vladimir Putin that he had nothing to fear from NATO expansion. Why? Because at the time we did NOT see NATO expansion as part of a containment strategy vis-ร -vis Russia.

JJM: Now, however, we try to blame the Russians for the Ukraine crisis of 2014. [FMB: we try to claim that NATO did nothing to provoke the Russians prior to 2014.]

JJM: But today, in the wake of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, we DO talk about NATO expansion as a containment strategy. [FMB: we try to claim that NATO has to contain Russia because they invaded Ukraine in 2014.]

JJM: What we thought before the crisis was that we would take this giant security community (and the 3 goals of Liberal Hegemony that were at the center of that community), and expand it eastward [without provoking Russia].

JJM: What are the benefits of Liberal Democracy (in the view of its supporters).

Benefits of Liberal Hegemony

  • Eliminates significant human rights violations
  • Makes for a peaceful world, thus eliminating the twin problems of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
  • Makes the world safe for liberal democracy.


JJM: Remember, since liberal democracies see human rights and inalienable rights as universal, whenever they see human rights violations in other countries, there’s a
powerful temptation to intervene.

JJM: So, the belief is that if you make every country on the planet a liberal democracy, then you effectively take this problem (i.e. human rights violations) off the table.

JJM: The key operating assumption is that liberal democracies don’t violate the rights of their own citizens in deeply harmful and massive ways (i.e. the way non-liberal democracies do).

JJM: So, the name of the game is to create a world of liberal democracies to solve the problem of massive human rights violations.

JJM: Second, the Liberal Hegemony Theorists believe in Democratic Peace Theory.

JJM: They believe that Liberal Democracies don’t fight with other Liberal Democracies. So, if every country on the planet is a liberal democracy, its: Peace, Love, and Dope! ๐Ÿ™‚

JJM: Just go back to Francis Fkuyama’s famous article (on the End of History). What he says is that once the planet is filled with Liberal Democracies, the biggest problem we’re going to face is boredom.

JJM: That’s because once you have a world filled with liberal democracies:
1) massive human rights violations are off the table and
2) furthermore, it’s a more peaceful world.

JJM: That’s why it’s boring.

JJM: And, you know the US is deeply concerned with problems like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Well, the argument is that if you have a peaceful world, those problems are off the table, too.

JJM: Finally, according to its supporters, Liberal Hegemony makes the world safe for Liberal Democracy. This is Woodrow Wilson’s famous phrase.

JJM: What am I saying. Inside of any Liberal Democracy, there are going to be a number of people who don’t like Liberal Democracy (sometimes a substantial number of people). Remember: people cannot reach universal agreement on first principles.

JJM: And, those who are very unhappy with Liberal Democracy are going to want to over-throw it. And, the great danger is that they may be able to go to another country that isn’t a Liberal Democracy to get support.

JJM: When I was a little boy in the 1950s, communism was seen as a big threat. And what people worried about was that communists in the US would be able to go to the USSR, and the communists in the USSR would give the US-based communists the where-with-all to start to begin to erode liberal democracy and eventually overthrow the American government.

JJM: So, if the planet has nothing but countries that are liberal democracies, then communists (or any other group who does not like the liberal democracy they’re living in) will not have any foreign country to go to for support. So, this is how you make the world safe for democracy, according to the Liberal Hegemony theorists.

JJM: So, these are the benefits of Liberal Hegemony. They are the benefits which were touted in the earl 1990s, and the benefits which played such an important role in motivating Americans to push hard with this strategy.


JJM: My argument is that after the cold war, unipolarity made it possible to ignore balance-of-power considerations. So, this made it possible to pursue a Liberal Hegemonic foreign policy.

JJM: However, the Liberal Hegemonic foreign policy I just described is impossible in either a bi-polar world or in a multi-polar world.

JJM: The reason is that when you’re in a world with two or more great powers (e.g. US, Russia, China), the great powers have to compete with each other. Which means that they engage in security competition.

JJM: This is the Realist side of John [Mearsheimer] coming out.

IV. Why did the US Pursue Liberal Hegemony

  • Unipolarity made it possible to largely ignore balance-of-power politics and pursue a liberal foreign policy.
  • The U.S. is a profoundly liberal country.
  • American nationalism supplied an unhealthy dose of hubris to the equation.
    Think Madeleine Albright! Think “American Exceptionalism!”

JJM: When great powers have to compete with each other, they cannot afford to pursue an ideological or idealistic foreign policy like Liberal Hegemony. Instead, they have to compete with each other for power.

JJM: But what happened when the cold war ended and the Soviet Union collapses: the United States is left, and the US is by far the most powerful country in the world – it is Godzilla.

JJM: Therefore, at this point in time, the US does not have to worry about balance-of-power politics with another great power, because there is no other great power [when the cold war ended].

JJM: At that point in time, the US is the sole pole in a unipolar world.

JJM: So, at that point in time, the US is in a position to pursue a profoundly liberal foreign policy (i.e. Liberal Hegemony).

JJM: Which brings me to the second point. The US is a profoundly liberal country which believes in inalienable human rights and Democratic Peace Theory.

JJM: After the cold war, the US was very optimistic about its prospects for spreading democracy, making this international economy open to everyone, and to incorporating more and more countries into international institutions (e.g. IMF, World Bank, WTO).

JJM: But there’s yet another dimension to the story. This third dimension is very important because is show you how nationalistic the United States really is.

JJM: American nationalism supplied an unhealthy dose of hubris to the equation.


JJM: Madeleine Albright, as many of you know, is a card carrying Liberal Hegemonist. She’s deeply committed to spreading liberal democracy across the planet. And, she’s deeply committed to using American military force for that purpose.

JJM: But Madeleine Albright is also an American Nationalist par excellance.

JJM: Her most famous comment was made in the late 1990s when she was asked in a TV interview: “Why is the United States intervening here, there, and everywhere?”

JJM: And she said: “It’s because we are the indispensable nation. We stand taller and we see further.”

JJM: When you hear the word “we” you are prompted to also think “the other.”
This is Nationalism. “We are the Indispensable Nation.” There’s the word:
Nation. “We stand taller; we see further.”

JJM: All of this is saying that Madeleine Albright is reflecting the chauvinism
that is almost always part-and-parcel of nationalism.

JJM: This is why most people don’t like nationalism, especially in the academy, because it has a real chauvinistic side to it.

JJM: I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it’s a fact of life.

JJM: We are the indispensable nation. We have the right, we have the responsibility, and now we have the military power since we’re Godzilla.

JJM: To turn the world into a different place. To remake it in America’s image.

JJM: Think about the concept of American Exceptionalism. No American politician can move one micrometer away from American Exceptionalism.

JJM: When Barak Obama got criticized on this issue was forced to say that: “America
is the indispensable nation.” He used those words.


JJM: It’s American Exceptionalism. We’re different. We’re better.

JJM: But that nationalism juiced the liberalism. That nationalism, coupled with the liberalism, coupled with the fact that we were so powerful, coupled with the fact that we had this template in our head about how we were going to make the world a much better place. And we were off to the races.

V. What is Liberal Hegemony’s Track Record?

JJM: What’s the track record? These are the three most glaring examples of failure.

Liberal Hegemony’s Track Record

  1. The Bush Doctrine & the Greater Middle East.
  2. The Ukraine Crisis & US-Russia Relations
  3. The Failure of “Engagement” with China.

  1. The Bush Doctrine

JJM: In the minds of the Liberal Hegemony Theorists, the Iraq war in 2003 was not going to be the last war in the middle east.

JJM: Iraq was the second stop on the train line if you include Afghanistan. The Liberal Hegemony Theorists had other plans, but then Iraq turned into a fiasco. The initial idea was that we could use military force or the threat of military force to overthrow regimes in the middle east and replace them with a sea liberal democracies.

JJM: In so doing, we would have peace in the middle east and simultaneously solve the proliferation and terrorism problems.

JJM: Afghanistan was under American control by December 2001. And in January 2002, the Americans were talking about invading Iraq.

JJM: Israel learns that we’re going to invade Iraq, so they send a high level delegation to tell us that we really need to invade Iran. We tell them that Iraq is the low hanging fruit. After we quickly take care of Iraq, we’ll either do Syria or Iran next. But before we go much further, everyone in the region will throw up their hands in surrender.

JJM: Israel believes the Americans and become big supporters of the war in Iraq.

JJM: What’s the result: a total failure.

JJM: No security analysts I know think we can win in Afghanistan. We’re just kicking the ball down the road.

JJM: We wrecked Iraq, Syria’s a mess, and as for Libya, we did a great job there, right.

  1. The Ukraine Crisis & US-Russia Relations

JJM: In the west, we blame the Russians for the Ukraine Crisis. But, I don’t buy this.

JJM: In 2008, we talked about bringing Georgia and Ukraine into NATO at the Bucharest summit. In April 2008, there was a NATO announcement that Georgia and Ukraine would become part of NATO. The Russians went ballistic.

JJM: In August 2008, you had a Georgia-Russia war.

JJM: And on Feb 22nd 2014, you had a major crisis break out over Ukraine.

JJM: The Russians have no intention of letting Ukraine and Georgia become a NATO bulwark on their doorstep. Further, they’re going to great lengths to split NATO and the EU apart so they cannot expand eastward.

JJM: Further, we now have terrible relations between Russia-Europe and Russia-US. And, we have foolishly driven the Russians into the arms of the Chinese.

JJM: The people who are suffering the most are the Ukrainians, and the US is not going to do anything to defend them.

  1. The Failure of “Engagement” with China.

JJM: In the 1990s, the Liberal Hegemonists see that China is on the rise and they decide to engage with China.

JJM: The strategy was to get China deeply integrated into the open international economy as well as international institutions such as the WTO. Then, as China becomes richer & richer, it will become a Liberal Democracy.

JJM: According to Robert Zelic, once China becomes a Liberal Democracy, it will become a responsible stakeholder in the international system.

JJM: The US doesn’t think like a Realist and worry that we may want to contain China. Instead we work hard to turn China into an economic (and military) Godzilla. We assume (bet) that China will become a liberal democracy and join the club of good guys. But it didn’t work out that way.

JJM: As a Realist, I was a prominent and public opponent of the Iraq war. I was opposed to NATO expansion from the get-so. As for turning China into Godzilla, I would never have done that because we had no way of knowing what China’s intentions would be.


FMB: But what about the millions of people who were pulled out of poverty by China’s economic growth. What does JJM have to say about them? Are they “collateral damage” in his view? That’s really cold.

VI. Why Did Liberal Hegemony Fail?

JJM: As I’ve mentioned before, the power of nationalism, the power of realism, and the overselling individual rights are the main factors.

Why Liberal Hegemony Failed

  • The power of nationalism
  • The power of realism
  • Overselling of individual rights


JJM: The idea that the US can go around the world violating the sovereignty of other countries, invading those countries, and doing social engineering at the end of a rifle barrel is a prescription for giant trouble.

JJM: If you’re smart, you stay out of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

JJM: I was in the military from 1965 to 1975 (i.e. during the Vietnam war). Over those 10 years I watched the US lose the Vietnam war. I learned from watching that that you do not want to go into places like Vietnam. The French were there before us and they were driven out in 1954. The French warned us in 1964 and 1965 that it was a bad idea to go into Vietnam. And that’s what happened. In 1979, the Chinese went into North Vietnam and it turned out badly for them, too. In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Unlike my colleagues in international relations, I thought the Soviets had just jumped into a giant quagmire.

JJM: Countries like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan do not want the US to invade them and tell them how to do their politics. We become an occupier and that leads to an insurgency, which then becomes one giant mess. So, you want to stay out.

JJM: The same goes for Russia and China. They don’t like us trying to interfere in their politics any more than we like having the Russians interfere in ours. That’s the power of nationalism. Going into other countries to do social engineering is asking for big trouble.


JJM: Now for Realism. The idea that you could take NATO and march it right up to Russia’s doorstep and Russia’s going to do nothing is lunacy.

FMB: Here he’s saying that the US policy (i.e. Liberal Hegemony) that motivated us to try to expand NATO eastward (i.e. right up to Russia’s doorstep) was not realistic. A geopolitical strategist who subscribed to Realism (one such as Mearshimere) would advise against this policy.

JJM: The Americans have the Monroe Doctrine, which means the Americans say: “We own the western hemisphere. It’s our back year. No distant great power from Europe or from Asia is either allowed to form a military alliance with a country in the western hemisphere or bring military forces into the western hemisphere.”

JJM: When I was young, we had the Cuban Missile crisis. The Soviets put missiles in Cuba. This is categorically unacceptable to the United States. And told the Soviets to take them out.

JJM: Fifty years from now, let’s assume that China’s really powerful and it’s formed relationships with Mexico and Canada. They start putting troops in Mexico City and Toronto. Then they visit Washington DC and tell the US President: Relax, you have nothing to worry about. Our forces are not aimed at you.

JJM: You want to remember this. The United States is a ruthless great power. There are few great powers in modern history that are as ruthless as the United States. We cover it up with liberal rhetoric, but bringing military forces into the western hemisphere is really asking for trouble.

JJM: Well, the Russians are same as the Americans in this regard. They do not want Ukraine and Georgia turned into western bulwarks.

JJM: Look at Syria. In 2011, when Assad is in trouble. The Americans and others move in and begin to fund the Syrian insurgency. By 2015, it looks like Assad is going under. What happens? The Russians move in. They have a long standing alliance with Syria; they have a naval base in Syria; the Russians decide they’re going to prop-up Assad. That’s realpolitik 101. And who succeeded? The Russians succeeded; and the Americans lost. Assad is going to remain in power Syria.

Overselling of individual rights
(50:20/1:25 )

JJM: If you go around the world, people everywhere care about rights. But, in many places they don’t care about rights that much. And, in many places liberal democracy is not an easy sell.

JJM: Go to Russia and try telling their policy elites: What you need is a free market and liberal democracy. They’ll look at you like you’re nuts. They’ll say: We tried that in the 1990s and it was the wild west. We do not want to return to the 1990s; we don’t need liberal democracy. We’ll take Putin and his soft authoritarianism, despite its problems, every time over liberal democracy.

JJM: What this is telling you is that you’re not selling an ideology or a political governing system that is wildly attractive in all places. In many places, it’s a hard sell. And, when you go into a country and you topple a regime and there is chaos all around you, you may find that people are mainly interested in security, not individual rights.

VII Liberal Hegemony’s Future.

JJM: My argument is that Liberal Hegemony is finished for two reasons.

JJM: The first, which is the least important, is Donald Trump.

The End of Liberl Hegemony

Reason #1: The coming of Donald Trump

JJM: Donald Trump ran against Liberal Hegemony. He said: I am no longer interested in seeing the United States trying to spread democracy around the world. And, as you know, Donald Trump has never seen an autocrat or a dictator he didn’t want to jump into bed with. He has no special place in his heart for liberal democracies. And, he’s not interested in trying to spread liberal democracy all over the planet.

JJM: And, with regard to the open international order, he’s a protectionist. He thinks America has been screwed by the open international economy. He wants to slap tariffs not only on countries like China, but on our allies as well.

JJM: And, with regard to international institutions, Trump’s never seen an international institution he didn’t loath. He hates NATO; he hates the EU; he hates NAFTA; he hates the IMF; he hates the WTO; he hates the World Bank.

JJM: One of the first things he did when he took office was he killed the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).

JJM: You want to know why the Foreign Policy Establishment in the US loathes Donald Trump: It is because he ran against everything they stand for.

JJM: But he got elected!

JJM: And, you want to know why he got elected. It’s because he pointed out that Liberal Hegemony [-i.e. the foreign policy being pursued by the US foreign policy elites] has been a failure.

JJM: So, we have this disconnect between the [foreign policy] elites, who want to perpetrate forever and ever this [Liberal Hegemony] policy, and the body politic.

JJM: BTW, Trump is not an exception here. Barak Obama was elected in 2008 on the platform that we were going to get out of the business of nation building. And Obama, to use his own words, said we should do nation building at home!

JJM: And then, right before he [Obama] left office, he gave a very famous interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly where he basically said that the foreign policy establishment (what we sometimes call The Blob) beat him back. He said he was forced to play, in his words, by the Washington playbook.

JJM: But Obama was not that different from Trump in certain respects with regard to foreign policy. But, Trump is not being beaten back.

JJM: But, more importantly, Liberal Hegemony is over because of the Rise of China & the Resurrection of Russian Power.

The End of Liberal Hegemony

Reason #2:

The Rise of China & The Resurrection of Russian Power

JJM: As I said before (and this is very important), you can only have Liberal Hegemony in a unipolar world. Also, for Liberal Hegemony to work [for the US], the sole pole (which is of course Uncle Sam) does not have to worry about competing with other great powers.

JJM: Not that Russia and China are considered Great Powers, and we’re talking about the Return of Great Power Politics, and we’re talking about multi-polarity, security competition is back in force, and it’s squeezes out Liberal Hegemony.

JJM: So, for better or for worse, Liberal Hegemony is history. Thank you.


Reading List of Videos and Books by John J. Mearsheimer

Great debate on a very important topic.
BTW: I favor David Kang’s position in this debate.

Debate: Should the U.S. Seek to Contain China?
David Kang vs John Mearsheimer
16 December 2021

David Kang: We should not try to contain China.
John Mearsheimer: We should try to contain China.

4 thoughts on “The Great Delusion of Liberal Hegemony

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: