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Photo: “Flags around monument at sunset“, by Mommy110710, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Hue modified from the original

Cooley, Alexander, and Daniel Nexon. Exit from Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order. Oxford University Press, 2020.


We live in a period of uncertainty about the fate of American global leadership and the future of international order. The 2016 election of Donald Trump led many to pronounce the death, or at least terminal decline, of liberal international order—the system of institutions, rules, and values associated with the American-dominated international system. But the truth is that the unraveling of American global order began over a decade earlier. Exit from Hegemony develops an integrated approach to understanding the rise and decline of hegemonic orders. It calls attention to three drivers of transformation in contemporary order. First, great powers, most notably Russia and China, contest existing norms and values while simultaneously building new spheres of international order through regional institutions. Second, the loss of the “patronage monopoly” once enjoyed by the United States and its allies allows weaker states to seek alternative providers of economic and military goods—providers who do not condition their support on compliance with liberal economic and political principles. Third, transnational counter-order movements, usually in the form of illiberal and right-wing nationalists, undermine support for liberal order and the American international system, including within the United States itself. Exit from Hegemony demonstrates that these broad sources of transformation—from above, below, and within—have transformed past international orders and undermine prior hegemonic powers. It provides evidence that all three are, in the present, mutually reinforcing one another and, therefore, that the texture of world politics may be facing major changes.

Table of contents

  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The American Hegemonic System in Theoretical and Historical Perspective
  • 3 How Hegemonic Orders Unravel
  • 4 Exit from Above
  • 5 Exit from Below
  • 6 Exit from Within
  • 7 Exit Made in America
  • 8 Heading for the Exit

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.