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Updates from the Strauss Center and our affiliated distinguished scholars and fellows


Strauss Scholars Contribute to New Book on COVID-19 and Global Order

Sep 21, 2020 |

Several Strauss Center Distinguished Scholars contributed to a recent series of essays collectively titled COVID-19 and World Order: The Future of Conflict, Competition, and Cooperation. This series, which was published by Johns Hopkins University, assesses the present state of world order and provides insights for a post-COVID-19 world from a variety of policy perspectives.

Professor Francis Gavin, Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University, as well as a Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar, co-edited this book and co-authored the introductory essay titled COVID-19 and World Order. In this essay, Gavin and his co-author Hal Brands use a historical perspective to provide a glimmer of hope as to the present state of geopolitics, illustrating how “Historically, efforts to construct effective international arrangements emerge after periods of war, crisis, and turmoil.” They provide an overview of the various world orders which have risen and fallen in tandem with major global events, such as World Wars I and II and the Cold War. They argue that the post-Cold War world order, which had been defined by “multilateralism and American ideals and power,” has become strained in recent years, and COVID-19 has thus far served to highlight and exacerbate the growing pains of a dwindling world order. Gavin and Brands then provide an overview of the forthcoming sections of the book, as well as a summary of the broad themes and insights.

Professor Philip Bobbitt, Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar and Distinguished Senior Lecturer and the UT School of Law, authored the book’s third chapter, titled Future Scenarios: “We are all failed states, now.” In it, Bobbitt argues that the great global challenge underlying all the various crises of the present moment—be it the pandemic, climate change, or the interracial movement in the U.S.—is “a crisis of managing change brought about by a historic shift in the constitutional order of the state.” Bobbitt then proceeds to illustrate how innovations which led to the ascendancy of “market-based, liberal democracy”—the greatest triumph of the constitutional order of industrial states—have created the very threats which now challenge that constitutional order. Bobbitt also discusses the relationship of federalism to the unfolding of the pandemic in the U.S., noting that it has “heightened the damage done by the pandemic.” In doing so, Bobbitt links domestic politics to global order, and encourages policymakers to engage in “scenario planning” to aid in understanding the potential trajectories of national and global politics—an important call to action, given that this pandemic was inevitable.

The sixteenth chapter of the book—Maybe It Won’t Be So Bad: A Modestly Optimistic Take on COVID and World Order was co-authored by Professor William Inboden, Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar, Director of the Clements Center, and Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the LBJ School. In this essay, Inboden and his co-authors address the dearth of negative projections of a post-COVID world order. They argue that while these pessimistic assessments—which warn of the end of the liberal world order and global American leadership—may come to fruition, an alternative reality has yet to be ruled out. Namely, if the U.S. recovers “the tradition of enlightened global leadership it presently seems to have abandoned,” it is possible that the U.S. could benefit from the geopolitical fluidity created by the pandemic, and thereby boost its soft power and prestige. The authors sketch out the pessimistic and optimistic scenarios, which roughly mirror one another. While noting that the future may not take a binary form, meaning the new geopolitical reality could fall somewhere in between these two extremes, quality U.S. global leadership will help to push the outcome towards the optimistic extreme. They conclude by emphasizing the failure of American statecraft throughout the pandemic and noting “how dramatically US performance will have to change to tip the balance from a dark future to a brighter one.”

The full book, which includes a total of twenty-three essays, can be accessed here.