The Department of Political Science held an extension lecture by Prof. Srdjan Vucetic on “The United States in the World: Chronicles of a Decline Foretold” on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
Prof. Srdjan Vucetic is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. Vucetic is the author of “The Anglosphere: a Genealogy of a Racialized Identity in International Relations” (Stanford University Press, 2011) and seventeen journal articles and book chapters. Vucetic’s research interests are in international security, international arms trade, as well as in U.S. foreign policy.
Is the US Declining?
Vucetic, with the help of the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index Table Ranking, presented that US was way below Denmark, Sweden and many Scandinavian countries. He said that low rankings in these prosperity indices and the struggling image of the US economy in 2008 are the reasons why the media presents the US as declining.
Three Meanings of Decline and ‘Declinism’
Vucetic said that there is a certain neurosis called ‘declinism.’ He addressed decline as a discourse to understand and frame political outcomes. “It’s about observing America’s changing place in the world,” he said. Vucetic presented three meanings of the discourse:
- Is America Falling Apart?
- Is America Falling Short?
- Is American Falling Behind?
1. Is America Falling Apart?
Vucetic referred to a map that became quite popular in 2004 when George W. Bush was re-elected. The map had ‘United States of Canada’ and ‘Jesusland’ written over it, suggesting that the liberals in the United States would move to Cananda, while the southern parts of the US where Republicans had gained majority of votes would turn into a conservative ‘Jesusland.’ He presented a few similar illustrations of America falling apart.
But Vucetic said that “these arguments are always tongue and cheek,” and that it would be hard to conceptualize the disintegration of the US.
2. Is America Falling Short?
“There is something called ‘Jeremiad,’ defined as lamentation; speech in a strain of grief or distress; a doleful complaint; a complaining tirade,” he said. He explained that Jeremiad is about complaining that the US used to be much better than it is now; it is the anxiety of falling short of something or somebody. “Jeremiad has been in the United States from the beginning even when the United States was doing well,” he said.
But Vucetic viewed the books on American Jeremiad as not something which was about losing hope but about letting fellow Americans know that they are losing their position and that they need to pull up their socks. He said that the last chapter of these books are usually about how America could get back to its ‘original’ position; how America could get back its pride in American exceptionalism.
3. Is America Falling Behind?
Vucetic argued that the discourse of declinism is less about America falling apart or falling short, and primarily about falling behind China. He said that in every presidential election, some aspects in regard to China are certainly discussed: outsourcing, Chinese military, and Chinese undervaluing its currency.
It is this meaning of declinism that Vucetic talked about in depth. “Essentially what you have is ‘waves’ and ‘cycles’ of declines,” he said. He explained that in the 1950s, when Russians launched their satellite Sputnik into space, the US was surprised that Russians beat them to space. Later, in the 1970s, the Japanese had excelled in technology so the US now felt that they needed to compete with Japan instead of Russia. The US saw another wave of decline in the 1980s. “It’s a neurosis that can be productive … It makes the American society become even more competitive and more productive, and do something about its perceived decline vis-a`-vis other powers,” he said.
Vucetic emphasized on the need to study power. Conceptualizing power is important in order to know if something is declining in terms of power.
So, “Is the United States declining?” he asked.
“Yes, in relative terms,” he said.
But in absolute terms, the US is still above China or any other country.
Vucetic said that China does not have the kind of soft power that the United States exercises over the rest of the world. He also said that China is still not an attractive destination for people to immigrate to.
“In relation to China, US is still in an extremely powerful role,” he said. He mentioned that there is no itching among the world’s people to move to China or to learn Mandarin.
Vucetic accepted that the world might no longer be unipolar in absolute terms, but the US still hasn’t lost its dominance. He said that the US is perhaps weaker now, but not weak. And thus, referring to a visual aid used in his lecture he said, he was of the opinion, as American would put it: “Decline schmecline, we’re gonna be just fine.”
Listen to Prof. Srdjan Vucetic’s lecture on “The United States in the World: Chronicles of a Decline Foretold” at the Department of Political Science, on Thursday, February 28, 2013: [Link]