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The Distribution of Identity and the Future of International Order: China's Hegemonic Prospects

  • Bentley B. Allan, Srdjan Vucetic and Ted Hopf

Existing theories predict that the rise of China will trigger a hegemonic transition and the current debate centers on whether or not the transition will be violent or peaceful. This debate largely sidesteps two questions that are central to understanding the future of international order: how strong is the current Western hegemonic order and what is the likelihood that China can or will lead a successful counterhegemonic challenge? We argue that the future of international order is shaped not only by material power but also by the distribution of identity across the great powers. We develop a constructivist account of hegemonic transition and stability that theorizes the role of the distribution of identity in international order. In our account, hegemonic orders depend on a legitimating ideology that must be consistent with the distribution of identity at the level of both elites and masses. We map the distribution of identity across nine great powers and assess how this distribution supports the current Western neoliberal democratic hegemony. We conclude that China is unlikely to become the hegemon in the near term.

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We thank the editors of International Organization and two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved the paper. The paper benefited from presentations at Columbia University, Dalhousie University, European University in St. Petersburg, Lehigh University, the London School of Economics, Princeton University, Queen's University, Università degli Studi di Trento, and the University of British Columbia. We also thank all of the analysts who worked on the data used in the piece: Liang Ce, Benjamin Chan, Jian Ming, Marina Duque, Nanaho Hanada, Jarrod Hayes, Lim Kai Heng, Ki Hoon Michael Hur, Shivaji Kumar, Rebecca Oh, and Rachel Zeng Rui.

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