In his 2003 book, “Empire,” which was published here in the immediate wake of the United States-led invasion of Iraq, the popular British historian Niall Ferguson argued that the United States was “an empire in denial” and was “capable of playing an imperial role” in the world today, much the way Britain once did, in the 19th century.

Only eight years later Mr. Ferguson has written a tendentious new book, “Civilization,” which asserts, with similar certainty, that we are now living through “the end of 500 years of Western predominance,” that while China is on the rise, the question is not whether East and West will clash, but whether “the weaker” — that is, the United States and Europe — “will tip over from weakness to outright collapse.”

The financial crisis “that began in the summer of 2007,” Mr. Ferguson argues, should “be understood as an accelerator of an already well-established trend of relative Western decline,” coming on top of already serious debt problems.

“From 2001, in the space of just 10 years,” he goes on, “the U.S. federal debt in public hands doubled as a share of G.D.P. from 32 percent to a projected 66 percent in 2011”; when “unfunded liabilities of the Medicare and Social Security systems,” growing state deficits and public employees’ pension funds are added on to projections, he contends, “the fiscal position of the United States in 2009 was worse than that of Greece,” which is now teetering on the edge of default and desperate for a bailout from the European Union.

Continue Reading on www.nytimes.com