If the American Century is at an end and the contributors are performing a postmortem, what do they identify as the patient’s cause of death? One answer is that American economic and political strength have been abused and run down through mismanagement. As Emily Rosenberg discusses in her chapter on consumerism, America’s culture of mass consumption cultivated habits that have sapped American wealth and power through the accumulation of enormous private and public debt, while the spread of the consumerist ethos around the world has further eroded America’s earlier economic advantages.
American economic and political strength are also victims of the American Century’s own successes. As Jeffry Frieden explains in his chapter on globalization, the success of the United States in leading the rebuilding of the global economy in the wake of World War II produced a competitive economic order that has hastened the end of American preeminence. Viewed this way, the American Century ended because it is no longer needed. Likewise, Akira Iriye argues that the world has become so integrated economically and culturally that the global order that is replacing the U.S.-led one will not be dominated by any one nation.
Proponents of continued U.S. hegemony sometimes attempt to scare Americans with visions of a world led by Russia or China, but what comes after the American Century will be nothing like that. According to Iriye, “it will not be a Chinese century or an Indian century or a Brazilian century. It will be a long transnational century.” This is a useful reminder that it is extremely unusual for any one nation to be hegemon over the globe, and it is not something that will be quickly or easily repeated.