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Exploring the “myth” of hegemonic stability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

Isabelle Grunberg
Affiliation:
Attaché d'Enseignement et de Recherche at the Institut d'EtudesPolitiques in Paris.
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Abstract

There is a growing discrepancy between the popularity of the hegemonic stability theory and the amount of material pointing to the theory's shortcomings, both analytic and empirical. This article begins with a discussion of the theory's major weaknesses and then offers an analysis of the theory's discourse. Using methods of structural analogy and the study of imagery, the investigation proceeds from the most superficial to the most deep-seated and universal imagery found in the theory's discourse. It argues that the idea of hegemonic stability and the notion of the benevolent hegemon have their roots in powerful and interrelated myths, including myths of the golden age, the Savior, and the death of the sun. It also argues that the ability of these myths to sway human emotions has interfered with the process of theory-building and scientific investigation, of which intuition is a vital component. It concludes that the continuing popularity of the hegemonic stability theory is based on the timeless appeal of the myths that it incorporates.

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Copyright © The IO Foundation 1990

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160. See Tudor, Henry, Political Myth (London: Pall Mall, 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Eliade, . Le mythe de I'éternel retour, pp. 188–89Google Scholar.

161. Eliade, , Le mythe de I'éternel retour, p. 162Google Scholar.

162. In “The Mysterious Case of Vanishing Hegemony,” Russett uses these expressions ironically when reassuring those of his contemporaries who may be alarmed by such dire predictions. The entire quotes are as follows: “The sky has not fallen” (p. 220). “It is not quite a case where ‘all instruments agree’ it is a dark, cold day” (p. 210). According to the theory of hegemonic stability, the interregnum between two successive hegemonies (as in the 1930s and at the present time) is particularly fraught with danger and uncertainty. Within the daily sun cycle, this corresponds with nighttime; and within the yearly cycle, it has traditionally corresponded with the end of the year's fertility cycle, a time when demons and spirits rise from the dark (Halloween or All Saints' Day). Similarly, ghosts’ alleged favorite hour is midnight, the exact breaking point between two cycles.

163. Gardner, Richard N., Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy: Anglo-American Collaboration in the Reconstruction of Multilateral Trade (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956)Google Scholar.

164. Eichengreen, , “Hegemonic Stability Theories of the International Monetary System,” p. 57Google Scholar.

165. See Keohane, , “U.S. Foreign Economic Policy Toward Other Advanced Capitalist States.” p. 93Google Scholar; and Gilpin, , U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation, p. 97Google Scholar.

166. See Tudor, , Political Myth, pp. 95 and 109Google Scholar; and Girardet, , Mvthes et mythologies politiques, pp. 105, 119, 125, and 132Google Scholar.

167. Tudor, Political Myth.

168. Quoted in Cohn, , The Pursuit of the Millennium, p. 28Google Scholar.

169. Ibid.

170. Frye, Northrop, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982)Google Scholar.

171. Acheson, Dean, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969)Google Scholar.

172. Eichengreen, , “Hegemonic Stability Theories of the International Monetary System,” pp. 1618 and 23–24Google Scholar.

173. Rogowski, Ronald, “Structure, Growth, and Power: Three Rationalist Accounts,” International Organization 37 (Autumn 1983), p. 735CrossRefGoogle Scholar; emphasis added.

174. Bergsten, , Keohane, , and Nye, , “International Economics and International Politics,” p. 17Google Scholar.

175. Ibid., pp. 23–24. Note that in some textbooks, the world of pure economics is explicitly referred to as a “Garden of Eden,” and barriers to trade imposed by political authorities are considered the “original sin.” See the discussion on the second best argument in Lindert, Peter H., International Economics, 8th ed. (Homewood, 111.: Richard D. Irwin, 1986), p. 148Google Scholar.

176. Kolakowski, Leszek, Metaphysical Horror (London: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 42Google Scholar.

177. See Enriquez, Eugène, De la horde à I'état: Psychanalyse du lien social (From horde to state: A psychoanalysis of the societal link) (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), pp. 141 and 145Google Scholar. One example of the “slain savior” motif can be found in C. S. Lewis's fairy tale, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the most widely read stories in the English-speaking world. In this tale, a wicked witch casts a spell on the kingdom of Narnia. The king, the mighty and generous Asian, must undergo a ritual sacrifice in order to lift the spell and bring spring again to the country. He is eventually resurrected—in a splendid sunrise. In addition to its Christian symbolism, the tale, written in Britain in 1944, reflects the “beware of the spies” atmosphere and excitement surrounding the expectation of the landing of American troops in Europe. The historical parallel is striking at the beginning of the tale, and the religious parallel becomes most evident toward the end. Both point to the following equation, which is active in the Western mind: Asian = Christ = America. I am indebted to David Long for drawing this tale to my attention.

178. Frye, , The Great Code, pp. 147 and 148Google Scholar.

179. John 19:34.

180. Huntington, , “The U.S.: Decline or Renewal?” p. 81Google Scholar.

181. Eichengreen, , “Hegemonic Stability Theories of the International Monetary System,” p. 38Google Scholar.

182. Shakespeare, King Lear, act 3, scene 4, line 42.

183. See Portier, Lucienne, Le pelican: Histoire d'un symbole (The pelican: History of a symbol) (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1984), p. 11Google Scholar.

184. Kindleberger, , “Hierarchy Versus Inertial Cooperation,” p. 845Google Scholar.

185. See Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 45Google Scholar; and Gilpin, , War and Change in World Politics, p. 174Google Scholar.

186. Freud, Sigmund, Totem and Taboo (1913)Google Scholar, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 13, p. 151Google Scholar.

187. Freud also, of course, recognized the impact of early childhood experiences. Everyone has heard of the Oedipus complex, which may be relevant here, especially since the name “Oedipus,” meaning “swollen feet,” is said to stand for the dilated, reddened, setting sun (see Ginestier, , La pensee de Bachelard, p. 178)Google Scholar. However, the works by Freud used here concentrate on phylogenesis rather than ontogenesis.

188. Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 3Google Scholar.

189. Snidal, , “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” p. 80Google Scholar.

190. Bachelard, , La psychanalyse du feu, pp. 6768Google Scholar.

191. Ibid., p. 87.

192. See Bergsten, , Keohane, , and Nye, , “International Economics and International Politics,” p. 17Google Scholar; and Kindleberger, , “Hierarchy Versus Inertial Cooperation,” p. 843Google Scholar.

193. Claudel, , quoted in Bachelard, L'eau et les rives, p. 181Google Scholar.

194. Bachelard, , L'eau et les rěves, pp. 157–58Google Scholar.

195. See the following works of Klein, Melanie: The Psychoanalysis of Children (London: Hogarth Press, 1932)Google Scholar; and “Love, Guilt and Reparation,” in Klein, Melanie and Riviere, Joan, eds., Love, Hate and Reparation (London: Hogarth Press, 1937), pp. 57119Google Scholar.

196. Ròheim, Géza, La panique des dieux (Paris: Payot, 1972), p. 285Google Scholar; published in English as The Panic of the Gods (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)Google Scholar.

197. Bachelard, , L'eau et les rěves. p. 174Google Scholar.

198. Sometimes the free riders are divided into two types, the hungry weakeners and the ambitious challengers, as in this passage by Gilpin: “The Russians and OPEC have raised the price to the U.S. of maintaining its global commitments [weakeners] at the same time that European and Japanese economic competition [challengers] has decreased America's capacity to pay.” See U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation, p. 218.

199. Kindleberger, , “Dominance and Leadership in the International Economy,” p. 249Google Scholar.

200. Kindleberger, , “Systems of Economic Organizations,” p. 21Google Scholar.

201. Barthes, , Mythologies, pp. 4546Google Scholar.

202. See Girardet, Mythes et mythologies poliiiques.

203. Bachelard, Gaston, La formation de I'esprit scientifique: Contribution a une psychanalyse de la connaissance objective (The development of the scientific mind: Contribution to a psychoanalysis of objective knowledge) (Paris: Vrin, 1938), p. 16Google Scholar.

204. Freud, Sigmund, Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays (1939)Google Scholar, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 23, p. 134Google Scholar.

205. Millenarianism, the idea of America's moral superiority, and the notion of America's succession of England in the religious order are all enduring features of U.S. religious-political mythology. See Fitzgerald, Frances, “The American Millennium,” in Ungar, Sanford J., ed.. Estrangement: America and the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985), pp. 253 and 276Google Scholar; and Eliade, Mircea, “La nostalgie du paradis et la naissance de l'Amérique” (The nostalgia for paradise and America's birth), in Pauwels, Louis, ed.. La fin du monde? (The end of the world?) (Paris: Retz, 1977), pp. 6776Google Scholar. Similarly, according to Greenstein, American political culture makes for a widespread sensitivity to the benevolent leader figure, typically seen in children's political attitudes. See Greenstein, Fred I., “The Benevolent Leader: Children's Images of Political Authority,” in Dahl, Robert A., ed.. Readings in Modern Political Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968). pp. 341–55Google Scholar.

206. Lévi-Strauss, , Anthropologie structural, p. 231Google Scholar.

207. Bachelard, , La psychanalyse du feu, p. 80Google Scholar.

208. See, for example, Kelley, Harold, Causal Schemata and the Attribution Process (Morriston, N.J.: General Learning Press, 1972), p. 21Google Scholar.

209. Jervis, Robert, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), pp. 128–45Google Scholar.

210. See, for example, Frank, Andre Gunder, “The Development of Underdevelopment,” Monthly Review 17 (09 1966), pp. 17 and 20CrossRefGoogle Scholar: “A whole chain of constellations of metropoles and satellites relates all parts of the system from its metropolitan centre in Europe or the U.S. to the farthest outposts in the Latin American countryside.… [This structure] serves to suck capital or economic surplus to the world metropolis.”

211. Snidal, , “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” pp. 580–81Google Scholar.

212. Kindleberger, , “Hierarchy Versus Inertial Cooperation,” p. 841Google Scholar.

213. Frohlich, Norman and Oppenheimer, Joe A., “I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends,” World Politics 23 (10 1970), p. 191CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

214. Ibid., p. 120.

215. Ibid.

216. Lake, , “International Economic Structures and American Foreign Economic Policy,” p. 522Google Scholar.

217. Gilpin, , The Political Economy of International Relations, p. 351Google Scholar.

218. Bachelard, , La formation de l' ésprit scientifique, p. 16Google Scholar.

219. Rosenau, , “Before Cooperation,” p. 5Google Scholar.

220. Stein, , “The Hegemon's Dilemma,” p. 602Google Scholar.

221. Eichengreen, , “Hegemonic Stability Theories of the International Monetary System,” p. 5Google Scholar.

222. See Lawson, , “Hegemony and the Structure of International Trade Reassessed,” p. 137Google Scholar; Keohane, , After Hegemony, p. 35Google Scholar; and Frieden, Jeff, “Sectoral Conflict and U.S. Foreign Economic Policy, 1914–1940,” International Organization 42 (Winter 1988), pp. 5990CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

223. See, for example, Haggard, Stephan, “The Institutional Foundations of Hegemony: Explaining the Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act of 1934,” International Organization 42 (Winter 1988), pp. 91120CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

224. See Ikenberry, G. John, Lake, David A., and Mastanduno, Michael, “Introduction: Approaches to Explaining Foreign Economic Policy,” International Organization 42 (Winter 1988), pp. 114CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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