Why US hegemony in the 20th century was inevitable.

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Why US hegemony in the 20th century was inevitable.

Kevin L. Boyd

Norwich University


At the beginning of the 20th century nobody thought or could even conceive of the changes within the world system of politics that would take place, to include a hegemon outside of Europe.  While the US was certainly a rising economic and financial power, its military was miniscule, and its foreign policy was clearly isolationist.  Geographically Europe is connected to Asia and Africa, and since the vast majority of the great powers up until the year 1900 had come from Europe or somewhere close by, such at Ottoman Turkey, there was no concept that the US would rise to such a hegemonic state.  In this paper I will examine the reasons that the US was able to rise to, while the remainder of the modern world failed to retain hegemonic status.  I will also attempt to predict the near future of world affairs and who will be the hegemonic power or powers.

        Keywords: hegemon, isolationist.

Why US hegemony in the 20th century was inevitable.


        As the year 1899 passed into history and the 20th century dawned; the world was a very different place that what we know it as today.  Europe was just coming out of a period now known as the ‘Long Depression,’ which was a worldwide economic crisis that began in Vienna Austria in 1873 and didn’t end until 1896.  The British Empire was the dominate hegemonic power in 1900 and had been so for centuries, and while other nations and empires sought to gain power, status, and glory there was no concept that Britain would be surpassed by the United States of America.  The United States of America was viewed as a rising financial power by ideologists in Europe, but not much more than that despite its victory over Spain in the recent Spanish-American War.  Spain was a has-been empire that had long ago fallen from a ‘great power’ status.  Germany had only recently united into a full-fledged nation under Otto von Bismarck a mere 29 years before, and nobody foresaw the wholesale destruction that the Germans would soon bring to the world.  The ‘Scramble for Africa’ was in full swing, as the Europeans sought expansion of their empires and their markets.  The Chinese were no longer a serious contender in world affairs, and in fact the Boxer Rebellion was being put down by the Eight-Nation Alliance and not the Chinese themselves.  A combination of events, a perfect storm if you will, led to the fall of every nation that the world thought would continue to be a hegemon and the US rise into the single hegemon of today.

Long Depression

May 8th 1873 saw the beginning of a coming worldwide financial crisis when the Vienna Austria stock exchange collapsed in a panic as investors feared a bubble after booming stock prices led to feverish sales of central European stocks. (Glasner, 1997) “The crisis of 1873 had a devastating impact in continental Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.  Petty producers were destroyed, banks collapsed, unemployment rose and industrial struggles intensified. In Germany in particular. (Simon, 1988, p. 182)”  Because of this depression Britain’s balance of trade had a growing deficit due to the shrinking markets worldwide, but mainly in continental Europe, and the protectionist policies that the various governments created in order to protect their economies.  With their growing trade deficit Britain sought to increase their colonial holdings because their income from overseas investments (read: colonies) was still lucrative.  In order to support their colonies they also needed stop-over ports for their merchant and naval fleets, such as South Africa and the Suez Canal. In addition surplus capital was oftentimes more profitable when it was invested overseas, especially with labor reforms occurring within Britain and much of Europe. This financial crisis and the imperial over-reach of Britain directly led to the ‘Scramble for Africa.’

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‘Scramble for Africa’ and other colonies

        The ‘Scramble for Africa’ as it is now known began circa 1880 and lasted until WWI, and resulted in all of Africa being colonized save Liberia which was under US protection, and Abyssinia (Modern day Ethiopia) which would soon fall to the Italians.  The African continent was literally dominated by the Western European nations, and the rivalry between Britain, France, Germany and the lesser nations such as Italy, Belgium, and Portugal amounted to a race or scramble to gain land and resources in order to improve their own economies.  This scramble for African territory ...

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