Saturday, June 18, 2005

Mirror images

Every coinage faithfully reflects the currents of the time. The following terms mirror the present times.

A monster country is a large and populous country, especially one that wields enormous economic, cultural and political power. The American diplomat George Kennan in his 1993-book Around the Cragged Hill used this phrase for the first time for any country that is so large, powerful and diverse that it has become essentially ungovernable. Today, the ungovernable aspect is no longer in use and monster countries are now merely the big and the powerful.

A nation that has vastly greater economic, political, or military power than any other nation is today labelled a hyper power, a word that is an extreme version of the older term superpower that was coined in 1930. Hyper power rose to power in 1998 when the French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said, "There is one hyper power and seven powers with world influence — Russia, China, Japan, India, France, Germany and Britain…."

Imperial overstretch refers to the extension of an empire beyond its ability to maintain or expand its military and economic commitments. Paul Kennedy first used this expression: United States now runs the risk…of what might be called ‘imperial overstretch’: that is to say, decision-makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the total of the United State’s global interests and obligations is nowadays far too large for the country to be able to defend them all simultaneously." (‘The relative decline of America’, The Atlantic, August, 1997)

Declinism is the belief that something, particularly a country or a political or economic system, is undergoing a significant and possibly irreversible decline, leading to the adjective declinist. Samuel P. Huntington coined it in 1988, but the noun ‘declinist’ appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, where a citation from 1831 mentions the ‘doctrine of the decline of science’ and labels one of its proponents as ‘the leader of the declinists.’ The opposite of declinism is triumphalism, which originally, in 1964, referred to excessive or blind pride in the achievements of one’s religion or church.