This chapter examines the relationship between empire and global political order. The discussion proceeds as follows. The first section unsettles some of the assumptions that are often made about empire, in particular about the inevitability of the end of empire; the redundancy and outmodedness of empire as a form of political order, and the consequent implication that the natural focus of international relations should be the relations amongst states or nation-states. The sheer extent of the power of the United States and the apparent obviousness of the view that we are living in a unipolar world have brought back the language of empire and have led many to see the United States as an imperial power. The second section considers how we should understand that power. It argues that notions of informal empire provide some analytical purchase, but neglect both the consistently important role of military power and coercion in the evolution of US foreign policy, and the importance of rules, norms, and institutions — what one might call the formal side of so-called informal empire. The third section examines five of the most commonly cited reasons for the demise of both empire and top-down hierarchical conceptions of international order more generally. Rather than comparing the extent and character of US power directly with that of other hegemonic states, it asks how these five factors may have changed in ways that would make a hegemonic order viable and potentially sustainable.
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