Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order.

Author:Deudney, Daniel
Position:Book review

Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order, G. John Ikenberry (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011), 392 pp., $35 cloth, $22.95 paper.

Liberal Leviathan is a monumental work of political science that will stand for many years as a canonical statement on a topic--U.S. foreign policy and the liberal international order--that has been, and will continue to be, on the short list of the large topics of international history and politics. The book masterfully draws on history, advances international relations theory, and illuminates foreign policy choices of the past, present, and future. It also makes important contributions to the general theory of international orders (the circumstances, forces, and processes that shape their rise and fall), and of how the liberal international order differs from previous international orders and from the orders advanced by its rivals in the course of its rise. Henceforth, no serious student of American foreign policy and of international theory will be able to proceed without engaging Ikenberry's powerful and carefully formulated arguments.

No brief summary can adequately convey the richness and nuances of the arguments in Liberal Leviathan, but the book's essential claim is both clear and persuasive. Across the twentieth century, and particularly after World War II, the United States pursued a foreign policy that played a central role in the creation of an international order based on rules, the consent of the governed, and capitalist economic expansion. While certainly not encompassing all the states of the global international system, this liberal international order has been immensely successful in advancing peace, prosperity, and freedom, to the great benefit of much of humankind. Ikenberry argues that the United States undertook this endeavor on the basis of its national interest, and often successfully used its power to build this order. Unlike many previous paramount states, the United States as hegemon accepted some significant restraints on its own actions through international institutions, and in doing so it advanced not only the interests of others but also its own. Ikenberry's lines of argument are particularly valuable because they dispel the widely repeated claims of "realists" about the intractable constraints of anarchic international systems, the dim prospects for interstate cooperation, and the irrelevance of domestic political...

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