Reflections on the Volume

In Morten Skumsrud Andersen, Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon (eds), Undermining American Hegemony. Goods Substitution in World Politics. Cambridge University Press, 2021, pp. 177-188.

Among the many ways in which this volume has expanded our understanding of the dynamics by which political orders are maintained and may be undermined, two stand out. They are the adding of a bottom layer of goods ecology to extant conceptions, and the suggestion of a new two-by-two matrix which is not based on intentions, but rather on the effects of goods-substitution. The matrix has two axes: whether or not a state is satisfied with a given order, and whether or not a state is satisfied with the distribution of goods within that order at any one given time. A state that is satisfied with both, is status quo-oriented, whereas one that is satisfied with the order but not with the distribution, is positionalist (in the sense that it wants to change relative positions within the order). A state that is satisfied with the order but not with the distribution of goods, is revisionist, whether a state that is disssatisfied with both, is revolutionary. A key purchase of this scheme is that helps us specify how one and the same state – say, China – may generate effects that are both reformist and positionalist, and so the scheme may help us specify what it means to be a revisionist power. In this conclusion, we sum up the value added of talking about goods ecology, and suggest three ways in which the conceptualization may be further developed. These concern the question of identity, the search for recognition and co-production, and the prospect of hegemonic self-harm.