Beyond Liberal Empire and Peace: Declining Hegemony of the West?

  • Marko LehtiEmail author
  • Henna-Riikka Pennanen


Much of the recent international relations (IR) debates set out from the proposition that the continuance of the liberal international order is dependent on the hegemony of the United States. From this perspective, that largely aligns with the Hegemonic Stability Theory, change in the form of relative decline in US global power or unwillingness to maintain international stability, signals a crisis. In this chapter, we call for a broader and more flexible approach that can better reflect on change and tease out the complexity of liberal hegemony. To this end, we cross-read hegemonic stability theories with Gramscian notions of cultural hegemony and hegemonic ideas. We claim that “Western” hegemony is not only embedded in material dominance, but above all in ideational power: the universalization of the ordering principles of liberal peace, liberal institutionalism, and liberal internationalism. This prompts us to include in our analysis the discussions on consent and legitimacy, and their opposite, contestation and challenge. Since the nineteenth century, both Western hegemony and liberal order have gone through historical changes in which the hegemon of the order has been substituted and the basic ordering principles have transformed. This points toward the resilience of Western hegemony and the capability of the liberal order to undergo metamorphosis. However, the perspective of cultural hegemony lays visible the paradox in Western hegemony: liberal peace is entwined with liberal empire, and universal liberal values and norms continue to be firmly attached to the idea of liberal as a particularistic heritage of the West. These paradoxes are one of the main sites for contestation today. Coupled with the growing disillusionment with liberal organizing principles within the West, it is not inconceivable that the hegemonic resilience of the West and the capability of the liberal order to metamorphose might once again be put to a test.


Hegemony Liberal world order Liberal peace Legitimacy 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI)Tampere UniversityTampereFinland
  2. 2.Turku Institute for Advanced StudiesUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

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