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From her faculty perch at Yale Law School, Amy Chua studies international business transactions and globalization. Those studies got her thinking about the extraordinary place of the United States in the world order. The result of that thinking is a controversial book, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — and Why They Fall. Everything about the book is controversial: Chua’s concept of the “hyperpower,” her choices of hyperpowers past and present, her theory about how hyperpowers develop, and her reasoning about why hyperpowers eventually lose their hegemony. A hyperpower is, in Chua’s thinking, “world dominant,” which she defines as “at the forefront of the world’s technological, military and economic development.” For several decades, the United States has qualified in Chua’s mind as world-dominant, with no other nation a close second. The tension rides on her ruminations about whether the United States is slipping from its hyperpower status, and what it will mean — to its citizenry and the rest of the world population — if the slippage becomes precipitous. Surveying thousands of years of world history, Chua identifies these as probably the only valid hyperpowers before the contemporary United States: the Persian Empire from Cyrus to Alexander; Rome’s high empire, the Tan Dynasty of China, the Mongol Empire, the Dutch world empire, and the British Empire. Exclusions certain to initiate debate include medieval Spain, the Ottoman Empire, the Ming Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Aztecs, France under Louis XIV, the Hapsburg empire, and Nazi Germany. What brings about a hyperpower? Chua argues that it is heavily dependent�believe it or not — on tolerance. “To pull away from its rivals on a global scale, a society must .�.�. motivate the world’s best and brightest, regardless of ethnicity, religion or background.” But wait: The Mongols were tolerant? In fact, Chua’s own words seem to contradict the theory. Didn’t Genghis Khan’s “ravaging hordes raze entire villages, then use the corpses as moat fill”? What about Persia’s King Darius, who “sliced off the ears and noses of his enemies before impaling them”? As for the British Empire, according to scholars of post-colonial history, it “was built on the racism and condescension of the White Man’s Burden.” Nevertheless, Chua insists that her hyperpowers exuded tolerance. “I’m not talking about tolerance in the modern, human-rights sense. By tolerance, I don’t mean political or cultural equality. Rather, as I will use the term, tolerance simply means letting very different kinds of people live, work and prosper in your society — even if only for instrumental or strategic reasons.” The United States never could have risen to hyperpower status before the Civil War because of slavery, or even during the Reconstruction era immediately following the Civil War. Eventually, however, the United States permitted enough tolerance to qualify, according to Chua. Does Chua provide a useful paradigm for viewing world power throughout the ages? My answer is a qualified no. Here are some of the reasons why:

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