HKS Authors

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Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus


Is the American Century over? Many seem to think so. In recent years, polls showed that in 15 of 22 countries surveyed, most respondents said that China either will replace or has already replaced the United States as the world's leading power. A Pew poll in 2014 found that only 28 percent of Americans thought their country “stands above all others” compared to 38 percent in 2011. Yet perhaps, as Mark Twain famously quipped, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” After American independence in the eighteenth century, the British politician Horace Walpole lamented that Britain had been reduced to the level of Sardinia. In fact, Britain was about to be transformed by the Industrial Revolution that created its second century as a global power. In the mid-1980s, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist asked why, if the British Empire had lasted two centuries, “are we slipping after about 50 years?” On the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union that left the United States as the world's only superpower, best-selling books compared the U.S. situation to the decline of Philip II's Spain. And after the United States became the sole superpower in a unipolar world, a leading political scientist predicted it would quickly come to an end. With such cautionary examples, we need to keep humility in mind as we try to answer the question in our title.


Nye, Jr., Joseph S. "Is the American Century Over?" Political Science Quarterly 130.3 (September 2015): 393-400.