There is consensus on the decline of North American hegemony. It is about specifying the nature and depth of that decline. Gone are the days of Myths and Facts of America’s Decline, a book by Henry Nau, a great success not long ago: 1992.
The reasoning was based on the economic leadership of the United States in the world, an indisputable affirmation of the author, which barely concealed the continuity of the country’s “manifest destiny”. However, the United States had already adhered to the neoliberal model, which sought to drag the entire world economy, with disastrous consequences from the point of view of low growth rate and job creation. The world economy had already entered a new and long recessive cycle.
However, another movement was already underway in the world: the growth with record rates of the Chinese economy. At first, the United States did not believe that China was an economic competitor for them. Not only were they imprisoned by their dogma that only free market economies have economic dynamism, but they believed that Chinese growth was due to their enormous backwardness. They could not imagine that in a few decades China would become the second economy in the world, being on the verge, in this decade, of becoming the first.
But, above all, the crisis and the American decline was not only economic. The United States has always based its world superiority on its military strength. This has been the case since the end of World War II, when they had the experience, which remained an example to them, of the defeat of Japan. There could not be a more distant country as a culture and as a historical trajectory. However, with two atomic bombs, the United States defeated Japan and made it a faithful strategic ally.
With all the differences that this experience had in relation to the later ones -Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, among others-, the United States, with its recognized inability to analyze each experience in its historical context, definitively incorporated the strategy of imposing military superiority as a way to resolve conflicts.
The defeat in Vietnam, a country with an agricultural economy, theoretically easy prey for the United States, was symbolic. It was a military defeat against a people’s war strategy, the victory of an organized people, a political defeat that highlighted the weaknesses of the American strategy. But they went ahead, either because they felt that it was due to the compromising situation they had inherited from the Japanese and French defeats, or because they did not analyze in depth how with 700,000 soldiers and the laying of mines in much of Vietnamese territory it could be won.
The 2008 crisis marked a turning point in the international economy, which pointed to the definitive exhaustion of the neoliberal model. At the same time, the United States reproduced the strategy of imposing its military superiority as a way of trying to solve the crises in which it was involved. It was like this in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
Thus, the economic crisis was compounded by the military crisis, the North American inability to resolve crises through the force of its army. This weakness was inevitably projected onto its troop-based political force, which also suffered. Afghanistan’s failure is yet another example of how, after engaging its European allies in the adventure of invading the country, it projected the erosion of failure onto them, further weakening US political hegemony, even with its traditional European allies. A poll shows how his allies, if they submit to the alternative of allegiance to the US or China, would prefer it.
China has not only been strengthening its economy and trade relations around the world – from Asia to Latin America, to Europe – but its investments in all these regions have been consolidating its economic presence. To the point that the German automobile industry generated a direct dependence on the Chinese industry, establishing mutual needs and close exchanges between them. Technologically, China begins to dispute the vanguard with the United States in key areas for the global economic future, starting with all areas of artificial intelligence and automation.
The American force in the world survives in the American way of life, in what they call “the American way of life.” A way of life that had already been exported in the 1950s and 1960s, with the presence of large American multinational corporations in the world, with their products as a symbol of economic progress and social well-being, from household appliances to automobiles, owning these goods became the dream of the middle class and increasingly broad sectors of society.
Technological sophistication has been diversifying more and more in the arc of consumer products that accompanied the North American lifestyle, exported to Europe, Latin America and even Asia. The American way of life became universal. Marketing was in charge of spreading the association of these products with success in life and social well-being.
In China itself, supermarkets reproduce their western versions, albeit bigger and prettier, showing the same products produced there by the same North American multinationals. This closes the circuit of globalization of the American way of life.
The temptation to globally reject access to consumption in the Cultural Revolution and Kampuchea was defeated. Only the alternative of the consumer society remained.
Even in progressive Latin American governments there was no different form of sociability. The demand was the inclusion of everyone in the field of consumption, from which they were excluded. Access to sophisticated products, frequenting restaurants, traveling, where shopping was an essential part, meant access to consumption.
There was no formulation of an alternative type of sociability, which included access to basic necessities but without the centrality in consumption, brands, product fashions, in the frantic search to be up to date with the latest products launched and promoted by marketing. A pending challenge: the formulation of a kind of alternative sociability.
This is the only way to take advantage of the crisis of North American hegemony to defeat it also in the ideological, cultural and life spheres. Then it will definitely weaken.