Abstract: Over the past decade, fears about the decline of the United States relative to other countries (especially China) have become a prominent feature of American political discourse. While anxiety about losing power on the world stage has been a recurrent phenomenon in the United States since the 1950s, the present bout of pessimism – combining reactions to the disastrous Iraq War, the 2008 financial crisis, and most recently the rise of Donald Trump – makes this the deepest and most serious crisis of confidence in postwar American history. This project explores the domestic political and strategic consequences of anxiety about lost or eroding national status by combining insights from social theory and social psychology. I use evidence from historical cases of decline (including Spain after 1898, France after 1945 and the United Kingdom after 1945) as well as survey experiments to investigate hypotheses about the heterogenous ways in which different individuals and groups react to relative national decline, and how these responses combine to influence the declining state’s politics and foreign policy.
Speaker bio: Steven Ward is a Junior Faculty Fellow at CISAC for the year 2017-2018 and an Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Cornell University. He holds an MA in Security Studies and a PhD in Government from Georgetown University. He is the author of Status and the Challenge of Rising Powers (Cambridge University Press, 2017). His work has appeared in Security Studies and International Studies Quarterly.