Global governance vs empire: Why world order moves towards heterarchy and hierarchy

  • Rainer Baumann
  • Klaus Dingwerth


Current debates in International Relations (IR) entail two different claims regarding the global structures evolving in the post-Cold War world. Some suggest that the scope of the US power amounts to lasting American hegemony or even to a US empire; others speak of global governance in light of waning capacities of single states to tackle international problems or the growing salience of non-state actors. In this article, we discuss these two bodies of literature in conjunction. We argue that the global governance literature and the empire literature use different lenses to observe the same object, that is, world politics after the Cold War, and that they both address the question of power and authority in IR. The global governance literature identifies a diffusion of power and authority in world politics and thus a move from anarchy to heterarchy. The empire literature, in contrast, identifies a concentration of power and authority in the hands of the United States and thus a move from anarchy to hierarchy. We discuss different attempts to redress this seeming contradiction and show that there is much ground to believe that world politics is in fact characterised by both a concentration and a dispersion of power and authority. What we may see is neither global governance nor empire alone, but rather moves towards heterarchy and hierarchy at the same time.


empire global governance heterarchy hierarchy world order 



The authors thank Kilian Beutel, Margot Eichinger, Annegret Kunde and Klaas Schüller for their research assistance. For comments on earlier versions, we are grateful to Jörg Friedrichs, Rodney Bruce Hall, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Jan Rolenc, the editors of the Journal of International Relations and Development, as well as two anonymous reviewers. Some of the work that went into this article was also undertaken as a part of the research project ‘Changing Norms of Global Governance’ for which funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; grant no. DI1417/2–1) is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rainer Baumann
    • 1
  • Klaus Dingwerth
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Duisburg-Essen, Centre for Global Cooperation Research/Käte Hamburger-KollegDuisburg
  2. 2.School of Economics and Political Science (SEPS), Department of Political ScienceUniversität St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science (SEPS)St. GallenSwitzerland

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