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Chua speaks about global hyperpowers

Megan Loney | Friday, April 17, 2009

The Mongol, Persian and 17th-century Dutch Empires all have one thing in common, according to Professor Amy Chua of Yale Law School. All these empires can be classified as hyperpowers.

Chua used these specific empires as evidence to her thesis presented in her newest book “Day of Empire: how Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall” during a lecture titled ” The Rise and Fall of Hyperpowers: Tolerance, Intolerance and Lessons for America” Thursday in Haggar Parlor.

Chua introduced her lecture by reinforcing the definition and the rarity of hyperpowers throughout history.

They are not just any empire, not just great powers, not even super powers, but the rare category of hyperpowers, which barely make up more than a handful in all of history, Chua said.

In her thesis, she uses a very strict definition of hyperpower.

According to Chua, the nation’s economic and military powers must surpass those of other nations in the world in order for a nation to be defined as a hyperpower.

“To be world dominant, a society has to be at the very forefront at the world’s military and economic frontier,” Chua said. “The world’s best human capital at any given moment cannot be found in any one cultural group, religion, or ethnicity.”

In her new book, Chua said she argues the important role of tolerance or intolerance in the rise and fall of hyperpowers.

Every hyperpower was strikingly tolerant and pluralistic in the rising, at least by the standard of their time, and their decline coincides with intolerance, Chua said.

In the context of her thesis, tolerance does not hold the same meaning as what we usually associate with the term “tolerance,” Chua said.

Tolerance is the degree of freedom in which people are permitted to co-exist. It’s a relative concept, meaning that the nation is more tolerant than its rivals, but now that it is tolerant to an ideal standard, she said.

Chua said she believes tolerance is necessary, but not solely sufficient, for world dominance if a nation aspires to be a hyperpower.

She continued with specific examples of empires she names as hyperpowers: Persia, Rome, Mongol, the 17th-century Dutch, Great Britain and the United States.

Chua’s examples outline two main methods of becoming a superpower – through land expansion as the Persian Empire, or through commercial expansion as the Dutch Empire.

Chua said the problem that as a democratic power, the United States faces some of the same problems as these hyperpowers.

“The United States faces the same fundamental problem faced by every hyperpower in history: the problem of glue,” she said. “Only ancient Rome solved this problem, which helps to explain its longevity.”

Rome turned large numbers of common men into Roman citizens. By extending this citizenship, Rome managed to ‘Romanize’ its territories by creating common unity and loyalty.

The United States can do no such thing, Chua said.

The United States does not want to make foreign nations its citizens, especially as a democratic nation, Chua said.

The great mistake lies in assuming that the spread of American ideas and culture would be enough to Americanize others, Chua said.

“Wearing Yankees baseball cap and drinking a Coke does not turn a Palestinian into an American,” Chua said.

Though there is talk of China taking the United States’ position as the world hyperpower, Chua does not believe this will happen.

“If my thesis is correct, China cannot become a hyperpower because it is a quintessentially, ethnically based nation,” she said. “It is not able to pull in the world’s best and brightest.

“China is a great test case for my thesis. It has 1.3 billion people,” Chua said. “My thesis says that that fact alone will prevent it from becoming a hyperpower. The worlds’ best human capital will not be found in any one ethnic group.”

This may suit China just fine; it may not want to be a hyperpower, Chua said. Even if China doesn’t become a hyperpower, the United States could lose its hyperpower status. We could go back to a world with just superpowers, she said.

While the United States is currently facing several issues, Chua said she remains optimistic about its hyperpower status.

“There is no other country better suited than the United States to be a hyperpower.

“Where else will the world’s best and brightest go?” Chua said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Center For Women’s Intercultural Leadership, and the departments of Business Administration and Economics, Political Science, Justice Education, History and Intercultural Studies.