Make Us Great Again: The Causes of Declinism in Major Powers

Robert Ralston*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Narratives of national decline occur frequently, often independent of “objective” measures of decline. What causes declinism? First, I argue that declinism most often comes from opposition brokers. Brokers bring otherwise unconnected groups and individuals together in a coalition. This coalition is well positioned to blame the nation’s decline on the establishment. Second, I argue that negative events or conditions help narratives of decline resonate with audiences. Using text analyses of UK parliamentary speech, I show that declinism was rampant in late-1970s Britain. I show how two brokers—Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph—brought together previously unconnected groups to create a coalition that centered on British decline. Negative events, particularly the “Winter of Discontent,” helped declinism resonate, something the coalition recognized and exploited. Finally, I trace the foreign policy consequences of Thatcher’s declinism, particularly with respect to the Falklands War.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-702
Number of pages36
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2022


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