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Ronald Reagan And The Re-Constitution Of American Hegemony

Sarah Tryphena Phillips Lecture, delivered by Professor Arne Westad, on 28 November 2012 (venue: The British Academy), the second in a series of three lectures on 'The Making and Breaking of States'.

During the 1960s and 1970s US global hegemony seemed to be in decline. The reduction in relative US economic advantage, political and cultural conflict within the United States, and the wars in Indochina created the impression of a sickly Superpower, which no longer knew how to impose its will on others. With no other hegemony on the horizon, intellectuals began revising their concepts of what power consisted of. Both in the United States and elsewhere political leaders wondered if the future would belong not to the United States, but either to economic powers, such as Europe and Japan, or the non-capitalist challenger, the Soviet Union.

Ten years later, the United States was presented by most as having regained its position from the 1950s. It was US the world’s technological powerhouse. Its peculiar form of market ideology was picked up almost everywhere. The Cold War had ended in a US victory. The Third World no longer existed as a political project. Some even argued that the US competitive advantage in the global economy was being restored.

What changed during the 1980s? This lecture uses recently opened archival material to discuss the literature on the international affairs of the decade, including the role of Reagan as US president, changes in US alliance patterns, and global ideological re-ordering.

About the Speaker
Arne WestadArne Westad is Professor of International History of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and an expert on the history of the Cold War era and on contemporary international affairs. He co-directs LSE IDEAS, a centre for international affairs, diplomacy and strategy, is an editor of the journal Cold War History, and a general editor of the forthcoming three-volume Cambridge History of the Cold War. Professor Westad lectures widely on China’s foreign affairs, on Western interventions in Africa and Asia and on foreign policy strategy. Professor Westad’s most recent book, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, received the Bancroft Prize, the Michael Harrington Award, and the Akira Iriye International History Book Award. It has been translated into fourteen languages. In his latest book, Restless Empire (Bodley Head, 2012), he traces China’s complex foreign affairs over the past 250 years, identifying the forces that will determine the country’s path in the decades to come.

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