Swing of the Pendulum

In sum, the natural law or principle which governs the international system – aside from the established international rules and norms which are supposed to govern the international system – is the “balance of power.” Stephen Walt, a professor of politics and international relations at Harvard University, once made a comment that is worth reiterating. Walt wrote that if you are a student – or if you were a student – and you are majoring or have majored in politics, international affairs, and international politics and relations, and no one has taught you about the “balance of power,” then you should demand a refund for your tuition. As a result, I should be demanding a refund from both my undergraduate alma mater and graduate alma mater.

Although Walt has not lived the Eurasian realpolitik experience and does not wield the essence or ontological state that was wielded by the likes of Kissinger and Brzezinski, Walt makes an important point nevertheless. But perhaps one of the reasons why many politics programs in America’s universities do not emphasize the “balance of power” principle is because the balance of power principle was never really part of the lived American experience until recently. Moreover, understanding the “balance of power” principle is something that cannot be taught from a book. Like other things relating to politics, strategy, and warfare, an understanding of the “balance of power” principle is something garnered through lived experience and is then put into practice instinctively and intuitively.

Thus, the “balance of power” principle is something that is best understood existentially and phenomenologically rather than empirically and “scientifically.” But the norm in Anglo-America is to understand politics, strategy, and warfare empirically and “scientifically.” Aside from the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Lincoln, Churchill, and perhaps even Richard Nixon, there are simply no Anglo-American leaders who have the existential, phenomenological, and lived experience which in turn serves as the infrastructure for an intuitive and instinctual understanding of the “balance of power” principle. What is also important to note is that fluctuations and shifts in the “balance of power” are primarily psychological rather than material.

Moreover, the “balance of power” is in a constant state of flux. The expectation is that the constant fluctuations in the domestic and global “balance of power” will one day end with equilibrium. But there is also the possibility that one systemic shift will lead to yet another systemic shift, and these systemic shifts will endure for very long periods of time. On a global scale, the last systemic shift we had in the global balance of power was about 500 years ago, when the West began its domination of the international system whereas the Middle East and China went into decline. Now, the global balance of power is shifting again after a 500-year period, but it is not clear as to whether this shift will end in equilibrium or with a pendulum swing that will tilt the balance of power against the West for a prolonged period of time.

And on a domestic level in the United States, the “balance of power” has now become part of the economic, political, and social experience of the American people, first as a result of the establishment’s abuse of power beginning in 2001, then the rise of Trump in 2016. Afterwards, the balance of power pendulum swung in favor of the establishment again in 2020 due to Trump’s recklessness. Now, as we await 2022 and 2024, the balance of power pendulum can swing yet again in the American system. In some instances, writers like myself put forth a gambit or move to see how those at the top will react. In other instances, writers like myself assess an economic, political, and social issue as a result of an instinctual and intuitive understanding of the “balance of power” principle. But as mentioned before, the “balance of power” principle is a natural law or principle which is beyond the control of an individual or a set of individuals. Thus, our ability to assess and understand the workings of such a natural law and principle has limits.

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