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Why Didn't the US Learn from the UK?

Updated on September 16, 2012

Superpower, Hegemon, Uni- or Bi-Polar State?

Before I try to propose an answer to the question: "I don't think the USA is the superpower it used to be and I want to know why?", I would like to consider the semantics of whether it ever was a superpower. In general parlance it has, for the last 60+ years, been considered as one. But is it really a hegemon, a unipolar state or a bipolar state instead. Let us consider each of these:

  • Superpower - a state that has the ability to influence events on a global scale to protect it's own interests. By this definition the United States of America has been a Superpower since the first time the expression was used, just after the 2nd World War, when it was attached to Russia, Great Britain and the United States.
  • Hegemon - power exerted by one group over another particularly through consensus not force. Not quite what the United States is about except in it's influence over NATO.
  • Unipolar - where one state has the majority of cultural. economic and military influence. From the end of the Cold War until 2000-ish this was the position the US was in.
  • Bipolar - where two states have the bulk of international or regional, cultural. economic and military influence. The most recent example of this being US / Russia during the Communist era before the Berlin Wall came down. The Western world aligned with the US: the Communist World aligned with Russia. Both countries, although Russia is not the country it was, still try to influence the world order e.g. trying to impose limits to nuclear proliferation by threats of economic wilderness to those that do not conform, even though it is unlikely that the US or Russia could now follow through those threats on their own.

These definitions support the notion that the US has been a superpower, a hegemon, a unipolar and a bi-polar state and occasionally all at once.

But is it following the path that Great Britain took in falling from Superpower status?

Was Great Britain the First Superpower?

The following list shows major Empires the World has seen:

  • Akkadian - 4300 ya to 4100 ya
  • Egyptian (Intermediate & New Kingdom periods) - 3800 ya to 3100 ya
  • Assyrian - 2900 ya to 2700 ya
  • Persian - 2650 ya to 2320 ya
  • Chinese (unified) - 2230 ya to 1790 ya
  • Roman - 2040 ya to 1760 ya
  • Mongol - 800 ya to 750 ya
  • British (1st & 2nd combined)- 510 ya to 60 ya

I have introduced the concept of ya here, standing for years ago. It is to give a better feeling for the age that has passed. I am not going to argue for or against any of the times given, they are merely for illustrative purposes.

Also, I have made a distinction between Empire and Superpower. By any criteria, Great Britain was a superpower with dominion over the British Empire. At its height it ruled over 23.1% of the population of the world. In the two periods of "Empire", including the British Commonwealth, we ruled over much of Asia, most of Africa, all of the North America's north of Mexico and the majority of the Arab world. By any measure the British Empire controlled the largest singularly-governed regions the world has seen.

This dominance of world economic, geographic, cultural, military, political, law and demographic spheres continued, with some losses, until the 1st World War. The cost of that war to the British economy and the loss of so many men to the conflict, seriously damaged our ability to maintain continuity, although the majority of the Commonwealth continued as a functioning economic unit. Great Britain functioned as a superpower, truly influencing events on a global scale, protecting it's own and the Commonwealth's interests.

So much so that, at the beginning of the 2nd World War, the British Empire was gone and had been replaced with the British Commonwealth. Fortunately this was a strong enough unit to be called upon when Great Britain stood alone for almost two years against the military juggernaut of the German war machine. A costly battle against a conflicting ideology.

Even when the US and Russia entered the War against the Nazi's, Great Britain and the Commonwealth expended huge monetary outlay to defeat the Nazi's and the Japanese. So much so that, by the end of the War, Great Britain was pretty much bankrupt.

We began the War a superpower and ended it being touted as a superpower but in name only. We were able to fall back on all that was good about the Commonwealth, but they too had expended huge amounts of capital to fund their war efforts in our defence. They could not reciprocate our economic assistance when we needed it the most.

So, the probability is that Great Britain was the first superpower. But now that status was lost our name was subsumed by the United Kingdom. From now on we could not face the world and call ourselves Great.

What Caused the Downfall of Great Britain as a Superpower?

Well, as outlined above, the cause of the downfall is as all downfalls of Empires occur, apparently:

  • An event causes a sea-change in world power politics - England survived the Spanish Armada and from then on saw an increase in its naval capabilities until it was the dominant force on the Oceans of the World. At this point the joining of the three mainland countries of the British Isles caused them to become Great Britain.
  • Great Britain used this naval dominance to conquer and discover lands that held wealth that the motherland could exploit. That wealth was mineral, agricultural, geographical and human. Each was utilised, transferred and monetised and powered the Industrial Revolution, which in turn, generated additional wealth. The British Empire was established.
  • With wealth came power, with power came wealth. With both came profligacy, greed and waste. Great estates were developed. Great collections were accumulated. Huge building projects were funded, not all necessary. Great Britain cocked a snook at the rest of the world. Arrogance ensued. A superiority complex ensued. We were Great Britain, no other country could assume that epithet. We were Great. We were the greatest empire the world had ever seen. We were Top Dog.
  • But some of the world thought that we were curs. They resented the position we put ourselves in, bullying and threatening and cajoling the rest of the world. Those that were in the club were tolerant. The rest were intolerant and wanted to bring us down a notch.
  • So they tried. A war ensued which still did not make us realise that the dominant position we were in had corrupted us. It cost us a lot of money. It cost us a lot of lives. It cost everyone as much, if not more. But did we learn? Did we hell!
  • What we did was move into an age of lax morals where fun and frivolity was the name of the game. The "haves" had, and flaunted it. The "have-not's" saw nothing in return for their sacrifices. The country did not learn. How could it, it was Great!
  • And so, a reaction came, against the impositions we had made against the defeated. A ground-swell of reaction against our arrogance. We didn't believe it would be such a reaction. How could we, we believed we were loved by everyone. The Commonwealth showed us that. How could we know, we were not them. What we had done was the consequence of winning a war. We made the rules. We said what was allowed. We placed our thumb on the neck of the defeated and said you shall be our hoe! To do with as we please. Who would not react? But what precedent did we have to believe we should take note of?
  • Once that reaction came it was swift. The whole of Europe was overrun by a tsunami of crashing bodies, casting all others aside. We were left alone, not wondering what we had done, but why they had done. It was, of course, their fault. How could it be ours? We called upon our friends, and some stood with us. The Commonwealth stood unbowed fighting on all fronts 'for the good of the World'! Still arrogant, still holier-than-thou.
  • We were cushioned from the blow of defeat by circumstance rather than from philanthropy. The US entered the war on the back of being attacked themselves. But this meant that we now needed to fight on two fronts. A greater expense and a stretching of our resources. A mistake was made and the opposition caused themselves to be fighting on two fronts also. The Russians were involved.
  • Eventually the 'warmongers' were defeated. We had won. But at what cost to both Nations? We imposed our will once again but this time as a bit-player in the theatre of retribution. Our influence was waning and our culture was bankrupt. No level of influence that we had previously enjoyed would return.
  • Our returning troops required to be hailed as victors. Our land was to be theirs for their favours. It was a united Kingdom but it was no longer a Great Britain. We needed to afford the presents that the heroes so deserved. What would they expect? What would they need? What could we offer? A better society. A land fit for all. A land of milk and honey. A levelling of the playing field. A place where their welfare would be catered for. A welfare state! And so was borne the welfare state - with the National Health Service at it's core. Free medical help and medication at the point-of-need.
  • But could we afford it? We had to in order to reward the sacrifices that had been made. And how would we pay for it and all the infrastructural repair our devastated land required? Borrow it - for we are surely Great! We can pay it back later. Can't we?
  • And our leaders still believed. Still believed that we should have influence. We can still wage war against the new threat of Communism. But we can't. We have to pull out even though we lose face.

And the US takes over waging that war in Greece and Turkey in 1947. Our influence has ebbed to the point of low-tide. America bails us out financially. And the new Superpower is born. Hail to the new king. Hail to the God - Money.

And that is what caused the downfall of the first superpower. It happened in the same way that all empires fail. They rise. They get arrogant and lackadaisical and lax in their morals and influence. They do not see it coming for they are not looking for it to come. And war is upon them, whether they forced it on others or others forced it on them. And it costs. It costs lives that should not be spent. It costs money and influence. It costs the Empire. The Empire dies.

Eventually another Empire springs up to take it's place. And so the cycle goes.

The seven ages of an Empire. The seven ages of a Superpower:

  • Birth - from the ashes of others, like a Phoenix rising.
  • Growth - expanding it's influence, checking that it is who it thinks it is.
  • Youthful exuberance - all-conquering positioning with the strut of a peacock.
  • Middle-age laxity - the moral fibre is diminished. We shall be here forever.
  • Mature ruler-ship - the arrogance of age, assuming all want to listen.
  • Old-age ensues - decline follows, and it dawns too late that the good times have gone.
  • Death - sometimes a lingering, drawn out cancerous death. Sometimes a traumatic death. Sometimes a sudden road-crash of a death. But death all the same.

But before death we have the long drawn out, painful aftermath of an Empires cancerous thoughts. We are Great! No you are not. The most you are is United - but even that is doubtful.

What Parallel's Can We Draw for the United States?

Review what has been written above and consider what parallel's can be inferred for the United States.........................I'll give you a few minutes.....................

I'll suggest a few points:

  • We now know when the United States became a Superpower. When it took over the baton from Britain (I now no longer call it Great) in around 1947. This was its birth. It had been an economic success before that. It used this to influence the world. But it had never conquered. It could not have been classified as an Empire. And we were moving to a new world (no pun intended) order. A transition from the classification of power from Empire to Superpower. A subtle distinction, but one made just in time for the United States to assume. The bailout of the UK caused the transition. The transition was swift and unseen. But it happened.
  • From that point on the United States began to flex it's muscles. But at this point it was more a bipolar state, sparring against the burgeoning power of Russia. The Communist Russia against the Democracy of all Democracies. Each expanding their influence and clout within their own spheres of influence. And against one another. Both were children, in the playground of politics, establishing themselves at the top of the pecking order.
  • And they had moved into the exuberance of youth. Just at the right time. They were preening themselves, having the cocks-spur strapped to their leg, ready to be let loose to fight to the death. And it nearly came. The end of two superpowers in one go, with the rest of us at the same time. An untimely end. The chance that the remaining ages would be concatenated into a single millisecond. But it did not!
  • Middle age set in and the superpowers could not be bothered to fight. They had decided that the settee of comfort, railing at the television (the opiate of the masses), was better than the cock-pit of death. They just couldn't be bothered to turn up! So much so that one of them gave up breeding cocks and let them all fly the coup.
  • So, one was left. The United States had reached it's age of maturity. Sound in it's economics. Sure of its role in the world. Just as the British Empire had been. Confident that it had all the answers. And with the arrogance that comes with it. The arrogance of an Empire owner. The arrogance that had been seen before in an Empire owner. The arrogance that is unnoticed by the arrogant. The arrogance that was once ours, Great British arrogance. It had somehow transcended the age between then and then and risen again in the breast and minds of its former colony. And this was the beginning of the end. For surely it must come. Once the United States arrived at this point, history shows that there is no going back. No rewind facility. No time machine to transport it back to utilise the knowledge it had gained to fuel a revolution of thought. Done. Over. Finished.
  • And so to decline. Great Britain assisted and the United Kingdom helped. But to no avail. Our experience was not to be learned from. And so you went to war. Not once, not twice,.............and all to show the world that you were The Superpower. It was not called conquest. The ad-men and spin-doctors saw to that. It was the semantics of freedom, the obduracy of liberation. War upon war that you 'won'. But without winning the war to subjugate the hearts and minds of the detractors. They rail against you, attacking at the very core of the torso of the state. A bitter blow. Not a death blow. But a blow that caused a reaction. Not just a military reaction but a financial reaction. The money-men would not die in vain. We must secure higher returns to secure the memory of those lost. And that was the fateful mistake. All the hard work of the past 60 years was undone when the opaque screen of the banking crisis was rubbed with the cloth of enlightenment. We saw what was behind and it was not good. The banking crisis was upon us.
  • And so to death. Death of a Superpower. The throat rattle of the dying is just audible. Floating in the air like the whistle of the wind through the cornfields of the Mid-West. It is in the heartland, the fertile interior, from which the sound emanates. It is the sound of the 'haves' trying to keep what they have. For they know that Armageddon is coming. And how is this death diagnosed? By the bailout of the economy. By the soothing of the wounds with a spoonful of Welfare (Medical Insurance). It happened to us - the UK, at the end of our reign. It is happening to you - the US, by the implementation of universal medical assistance and by the Chinese owning $800 billion in US Treasury securities. Yes $800,000,000,000, I tell no lie! That's $500,000 per citizen of the US. That death rattle is becoming more audible. It is now a croak as the last breathes are taken. And silence! The silence that comes with realisation. The realisation that, if you did not know it already, the good times are over. Well, it's not just the good times ..................................................

And who takes over the mantle? To whom is the baton passed?

Who is to be the Next Superpower?

Well, if we go by the evidence of the past, then surely it will be China. They own the United States. But, is that a positive on the list of things that allows a superpower to take over the mantle over superpowerdom? In this case I think not. Why? Because the US will never be able to pay the Treasury securities off. They will hardly be able to pay the interest, even if they can.

So, what of China? If they do assume the mantle, it can only be for a short time. Their capital is tied up with the largest customer they have. And that customer is shrinking it terms of return on investment and on buying-power that generates income for it. It's own financial foundations are rocky. So I think they will not be the powerhouse that maybe they thought they would be when they bailed out the US.

So who else is there? Well, there is the chance that the Islamic states will band together on the back of their oil revenues and take on the name 'Superpower', but they are too diverse and racked with tribal feuding to ever really band together. And anyway their revenues will sure as hell diminish when the current Superpower becomes the ghost of its afterlife. Consumer king will abdicate or be overthrown. No money, no power. No power,no Superpower.

And waiting in the wings. The challenger, we have the super-heavyweight number one contender for the vacant Superpower championship. "Let's get ready to rumble!". I introduce to you in the blue corner - the European Union. And the upshot for the US is that you insisted that the Union be formed, Some quirk of fate that.

Why do I believe this? Because:

  • now the EU is richer than the US
  • it has a greater population
  • it is expanding
  • it is a conglomeration of states that are working towards harmonisation
  • it has greater buying power
  • it is based on a tendency to move towards raising the standards of life for its citizens
  • it has job-market fluidity
  • it has an inclusive attitude not a conquering attitude

This is the new world order. But I do not think it will last long for the EU. The British Empire lasted for 450 years (well almost), the US Superpower era has lasted for 60-ish years. The EU will last for 10-20 years at most. And what after that?

The Emergence of WU.

The European Union will evolve gradually into WU. It is inevitable that, as each new member joins, there will be one less European country left out in the cold. At the point that all European countries are under the EU umbrella, others outside the classification of European will want to join. Who knows? The US, Canada and Mexico, as the North American Alliance will want to join the franchise. And China and the emerging economies of Asia will see the benefit of joining. At that point nobody could afford to be left out. And what do you have? WU.

WU = The Worldean Union. A true one world, one nation society that governs on inclusion not exclusion. A Union with borders, but hazy ones. A Union that acts like a University where there are rules but where the members are allowed to express themselves, right or wrong, until they overstep the mark, when sanctions are imposed. A Union that embraces NATO, the World Bank and all the International Organisations that have been set up waiting for the time to come.

And how will WU be governed?

Over the Internet, by the people empowering themselves with everyone having a voice. Just like this voice, inveigling your mind to think of the current and future situations with which you are faced


So, what has happened to the United States?

It has not learned from the mistakes of its predecessor. It has done what all other "Empires" have done. It has gone through the seven ages of Empire and reached the inevitable conclusion.

It has ruled the economic world for 60 years. It thinks it has the right to propound its ideology just as all mature superpowers do and it has found that not all who listen, hear. But it is not the US's fault. How could it be their fault? It was not the British Isles fault in their time. How could it have been their fault? The arrogance of maturity has beheaded the chimera. but the serpents tail still writhes. Like the headless chicken, it has a brain-stem that sparks its life until the very end. The goats body will be sustained and it will need to be sustained.

It is being sustained by China. But China's task will be onerous. Too onerous for any other task to be taken on. And that leaves the door open for the EU to step in. As it surely will.

And beyond that? Pure speculation. But the new world order predicates that "Boomer" will prevail at the heart of the WU. The WU is the Worldean Union, functioning through the Internet (the global village network) with the heart, where all the T1 lines converge, being "Boomer" - the greatest Masterframe ever built. No longer a mainframe - it will be much bigger than that!

--- Remarks, Observations and/or Criticisms are Welcomed ---

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    • humagaia profile imageAUTHOR

      Charles Fox 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks guys for your positive comments. It will spur me on to try to create content of interest to you Hubbers but also for the consumption of the outside world. There is one you know! A thought, perhaps WU can start here - new name THU - The Hub Union! An infomal grouping of differentiated ideas brought together under one HubVerse umbrella. I like it - there's a Hub in them there thoughts!

      Appreciation is always accepted gracefully - please now vote for my HubNugget - Answer to Jane: My Favourite Antique is.........

      Remember as well that if I do well then being my fan will help you with all the backlinks you will get.

      Happy Fanning to you all!!!!!

    • manthy profile image


      9 years ago from Alabama,USA

      Wow what a fantastic thought provoking hub, you have made a follower out of me ;0)

      Thanks for posting it

    • ns1209 profile image


      9 years ago from UK - England

      Another interesting and well written hub - well done!

    • humagaia profile imageAUTHOR

      Charles Fox 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Jandee - WU was there to do just that. It's worth speculating where we are headed. Whether I will be around to worry about it, I doubt. Hope the reading experience enthused you to write a counterbalancing argument against WU. And thanks for the congrats! The experience obviously prompted you to view my profile - and you managed to get all the way to the bottom. I'm impressed. I shall now go off and read yours. Come on you Blues!

    • jandee profile image


      9 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Hello,forgot to add congrats. on win yesterday at Anfield...

    • jandee profile image


      9 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Hello Humagaia,

      Good read ! Not sure if I agree with WU concept but interesting enough to egg me on to read more,

      regards jandee

    • Dokemion profile image


      9 years ago

      Different country has their own perspective or nature in banking business. I guess U.K. just had a better way than US.



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