John Mearsheimer smiles at the podium.

John J. Mearsheimer

By Karen Kelly
Photos by Bryan Gagnon

“Liberal hegemony is dead.”

That was the assessment delivered by University of Chicago political scientist and author John J. Mearsheimer to a sold-out crowd at Carleton University on January 30th. The event was hosted by Carleton’s Department of Political Science as part of the FPA Research Series.

Mearsheimer’s lecture, entitled “The Great Delusion”, described the rise and fall of liberal hegemony—the United States’ attempt to remake the world in America’s image— since the end of Cold War.

“After the Cold War, the United States was the only power in the world with the freedom to pursue an ideological foreign policy,” explained Mearsheimer, who is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. “We thought of ourselves as a crusader state capable of knocking off dictatorships and turning them into liberal democracies.”

Mearsheimer laid out three steps to spreading liberal democracy around the world. First, promote it across the planet. Second, embed countries in the international economic order—“get them hooked on capitalism.” Third, embed them in international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and NATO.

“It was a colossal failure,” he concluded, citing U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. “We quickly went from being a liberator to being an occupier.”

Blunders Around the Globe

In his lecture, Mearsheimer described the errors the United States had made in a number of countries since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In the Middle East: “The amount of murder and mayhem in the Middle East is truly remarkable. If there was any accountability, most of those policymakers would be in the gulag now.”

In Syria: “The United States was deeply involved: we bear a huge responsibility for that giant mess.”

In Ukraine: “The West is largely responsible for this crisis. They wanted to create a bulwark of liberal hegemony on Russia’s border. Russia had no intention of letting that happen.”

In China: “This may be our biggest blunder. We thought if we got them hooked on capitalism and into international institutions, it would become a liberal democracy. Now, we are up to our eyeballs in alligators trying to deal with this country.”

Mearsheimer argued these mistakes contributed to the election of President Donald Trump, who ran on an anti-interventionist platform. He credited Trump with recognizing that “sticking your nose in everyone else’s business gets you in a heap of trouble.” Although Mearsheimer said the execution of Trump’s ideas had been a complete failure.

Mearsheimer concluded with the assertion that the international system is moving from unipolarity to multipolarity, which will make it almost impossible for the United States to continue pursuing an ideological foreign policy. In other words, the United States will no longer be the sole great power, but will share that distinction with a growing China and a resurgent Russia.

John J. Mearsheimer’s latest book is The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (Yale University Press, 2018). A video of the lecture will be shared on the Department of Political Science website in the near future.

This lecture was part of the FPA Research Series, which features special events, conferences, lectures, panel discussions and workshops throughout the academic year that celebrate the diversity of research produced in the Faculty of Public Affairs.

John Mearsheimer signs autographs after his lecture.

Audience members lined up after the lecture for Mearsheimer’s autograph.

Friday, January 31, 2020 in , ,
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