The liberal international order and its discontents

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The American-led world system is troubled. Some would argue that it is in crisis. But what sort of crisis is it? Is it a crisis of America's position in the global system or is it a deeper world historical transition in which liberalism and liberal international order are at risk? Is the American-led 'liberal era' ending, or is it transforming into a new sort of liberal order? In this article, I argue that the American liberal hegemonic order is in crisis. But it is a crisis of authority within liberal international order and not a crisis of its underlying principles and organisational logic. That is, it is a crisis of the American governance of liberal order and not of liberal order itself. The crisis of liberalism today will ultimately bring forth 'more liberalism'. The post-Cold War liberal international order is more durable than many think. Russia and China are not inevitable enemies of Western international order. A grand alternative to liberal order does not exist. To put it sharply: the pathway to the future still runs through institutions and relationships created over the last 60 years. American unipolarity will eventually give way to something new. Power and authority will shift in the global system as they have over the centuries. But rival orders will not emerge - even if new leaders will. In the decades ahead, the United States and Europe and rising states - many of which are in Asia - will have more reasons and not fewer reasons to cooperate in open and rule-based ways. The future still belongs to the liberal international order.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)509-521
Number of pages13
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Hegemony
  • Liberal order
  • Modernity


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