During the Cold War, the U.S. position in the world was a lot like the ancient philosopher-astronomer Ptolemy’s theory of the universe. For Ptolemy the Earth was at the center with the other planets, indeed all the other celestial bodies, revolving around it. So too, the United States was at the center of the Cold War world. We were the wielder of power, the economic engine, and the bastion of free world ideology. Indeed with the demise and defeat of the Soviet Union, American centrality seemed even more immutable. We were the sole surviving superpower, the American economy was driving globalization, and Democracy was spreading across the globe. The world seemed even more Ptolemaic than it had during the Cold War.
Not anymore. The 21st century world is a Copernican one. The Earth/United States is not at the center. It/we have our own orbit. Other planets/countries do too. This is evident geopolitically with rising powers like China, India and Brazil, recovering powers like Russia, and evolving powers like the European Union , and those powers engendering their own revolutions like Egypt. The Copernican world is evident economically with globalization having what our own National Intelligence Council assessed as a “less of a ‘Made in the USA’ character.” It is evident ideologically amidst what my colleague Steve Weber and I have called the “global marketplace of ideas.”1 It is evident culturally as with the comment by a New York art dealer after an auction dominated by newly moneyed non-Western collectors that “for the first time in nearly two hundred years the Western world doesn’t make the decisions about our future.”
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