HKS Authors

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Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus


A century ago, Woodrow Wilson changed America's place in the world when he sent two million men to fight in Europe, but America withdrew into isolationism in the 1930s. After the Second World War, Harry Truman and others created a framework of permanent alliances and multilateral institutions that became known as the ‘liberal international order’ or ‘Pax Americana’. Those terms have become obsolete as descriptions of the US place in the world, but the need for the largest countries to provide public goods remains. An open international order covers political–military affairs; economic relations; ecological relations; and human rights. It remains to be seen to what degree these depend on each other and what will remain as the 1945 package is unpacked. Wilson's legacy of developing international institutions continues to make sense. Leadership is not the same as domination, and it will need to be shared. There have always been degrees of leadership and degrees of influence during the seven decades of American pre-eminence after 1945. Now with less preponderance and a more complex world, American exceptionalism in terms of its economic and military power should focus on sharing the provision of global public goods, particularly those that require ‘power with’ others. Wilson's century old insights about international institutions and a rules-based order will remain crucial, but America's place in that world may be threatened more by the rise of populist politics at home than the rise of other powers abroad.


Nye, Jr., Joseph S. "The Rise and Fall of American Hegemony From Wilson to Trump." International Affairs 95.1 (January 2019): 63-80.