March 02, 2002
Clinton And American 'Hyperpuissance'

So Bill Clinton thinks that America's status as the world's only hyperpower will inevitably pass, and soon? Here's a report from Canberra, via Transterrestrial Musings. Scroll down to 'America Going Down' (hey, is that a dirty joke?):

Speaking at the 2002 World Congress on the Peaceful Reunification of China and World Peace in Sydney, Mr Clinton said this "brief moment in history" when the US had pre-eminent military, economic and political power, would not last.

"This is just a period, a few decades this will last, and I think that all of us who are Americans should think about this and ask ourselves how do we wish this moment to be judged 50 years from now," he said.

TM's comments on this are good, but I want to add a few points:

How can Clinton possibly know that American power will be so fleeting? The unchallenged domination of Rome in the Mediterranean lasted for centuries, not decades, despite a whole series of emperors that have became bywords for psychotic or moronic rule. From 14 to 68 A.D., Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero ruled in succession, and each has provided fodder for whole volumes of lurid lore, starting with Suetonius. Only a dozen or so years after Nero's premature departure, Domitian (81-96) came to the throne. He may not be a household name, but deserves to be, as I hope to show in a later post. Later on are Heliogabalus, the aptly-named Commodus, and several others equally bad, if not so well-known. The empire trundled along for centuries despite the abysmal quality of most of its rulers. As Adam Smith remarked, there is a lot of ruin in a nation.

Of course, nothing mortal lasts forever, but it is hard to resist the thought that Clinton finds American domination (or American domination when he is no longer president) deplorable, and therefore wishes that it would end sooner rather than later. If so, he is an even bigger fool than most of us imagined, a sociopathic Jimmy Carter. Does he think the world could live together 'in perfect harmony' without any major powers? Or does he think that any of the countries that might conceivably become superpowers in the next few decades could be trusted to do the job as well as the U.S.?

Similarly, those people who, not so long ago, used to go on (and on and on) about 'Late Capitalism', often pretentiously using the German word (Spätkapitalismus) when writing in English, were quite obviously allowing their wishes to corrupt their judgments. (I think it was The American Spectator that once described the Wall Street Journal as "the principal theoretical organ of Spätkapitalismus".) It certainly looks now as if mid- and late-twentieth-century capitalism will turn out to be Mittelkapitalismus at worst, perhaps Frühkapitalismus or even, if the sunnier conservatives and libertarians are right, Urkapitalismus.

Sorry about all the German -- I did promise pedantry. Speaking of which, what is the name for the rhetorical device by which Clinton slyly slides from the long-term indicative (American power won't last forever) to the short-term potential (it can't last long) to the implicit optative (it shouldn't last long)? I've just been introducing my second-year Latin students to the wonders of the subjunctive. Perhaps it shows.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 02, 2002 10:10 PM