The Debate Over US Empire in the Age of Bush II
opportunity provided US rulers by the criminal attacks of 9/11/01
has led to an outpouring of new works on the theme of American empire.
On the pro-imperial side of the ledger stand those who see the US
Empire as a benign, essential upholder of world order on the model
of the Athenian, Roman, or British empires. In general, the British
example is the one most on offer, for obvious cultural-linguistic
so many pro-imperial writers now use the actual E-word is a sign
that they think they have won and that there really is no debate
needed. On the other hand, the new state of affairs may be an improvement
on earlier discussions taking the form of "first there is an
empire, then there is no empire, then there is."
of place in pushing the shining example of the British Empire goes,
naturally to our cousins across the water. Foremost among these
is Niall Ferguson, whose book, Empire:
The Rise and Decline of the British World Order and the Lessons
for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2003), draws the
the Evil Empire to the Empire for Liberty," The New
Criterion, 21, 10 (June 2003), meditates on sovereignty and
is glad it slipped from the hands of the Papacy and ended up where
it belongs, with the British, and then the American state.
Imperialism: A Blueprint," Policy Review, 118 (April
2003), exhorts Americans to look to the "liberal imperialism"
developed at the India Office by such worthies as John Stuart Mill.
(For a negative view of liberal imperialism, see Joseph R. Stromberg,
With Cruise Missiles," Antiwar.com, December 23, 2003,
Stuart Mill and Liberal Imperialism," Antiwar.com, May
for reason in the service of madness, nothing beats the many books
and essays, widely available and too numerous to cite, by Victor
Davis Hanson of National Review.
the sheer size of the Liberal and Conservative — and now Neo-Conservative
— interventionist scholarly infrastructure that grew up during the
long constitutional and intellectual coma known as the Cold War,
there is far too much pro-imperial and "benign hegemonist"
literature to discuss here. For a useful overview of the imperial
"socialists of the chair," see the Right
Web a site that is perhaps unique in being able to tell libertarians
and paleoconservatives from the now largely Neo-Colonized Right
somewhere between the paladins of empire and the critics of empire,
is Michael Ignatieff, “The
American Empire: The Burden,” New York Times Magazine,
January 5. 2003.
Empire (London: Verso, 2003), is a tour de force by an Anglo-American
sociologist who has long been interested in forms of power in human
history. Here he argues that various ideological and structural
faults will make the run of the US Empire rather briefer than its
Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
(New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004), is an important critique
by a long-established authority on East Asia. See also Johnson's
earlier book, Blowback:
The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York:
Henry Holt & Co., 2000).
the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire
(New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003) sees the US
imperial thrust as arising from ideological deformations of American
democracy traceable to Rousseau. A shorter version of the thesis
is found in Claes Ryn, "The
Ideology of American Empire," Orbis, (Summer 2003).
and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2002). Here he rediscovers the wisdom in the historical
vision of Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams. Bacevich's
doubts about empire may be traced through a series of essays in
First Things appearing from about 1995 onwards. In addition,
Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire (Chicago:
Ivan R. Dee, 2003), a collection edited by Bacevich, brings together
a range of writings on the US Empire – from those of empire-deniers
and empire defenders to those of mild and harsh critics of the empire.
before the recent excitement, Isabelle Grunberg, "Exploring
the u2018myth' of hegemonic stability," International Organization,
44, 4 (Autumn 1990), pp. 431–477, is usefully debunks, as a
form of myth, the claim that a benevolent empire is necessary to
an orderly world. Another pre-9/11 piece, Jeffry A. Frieden, "International
Investment and Colonial Control: A New Interpretation," International
Organization, 48, 4 (Autumn 1994), pp. 559–593, suggests
arguing that under certain circumstances a metropolitan power will
intervene to secure control of physically immoveable resources important
to that power's extractive industries. (Oil comes to mind.)
Trap of Their Own Making," London Review of Books,
25, 9 (8 May 2003) is a moderate critique of the US imperial project,
and from the Marxist Left, Tariq Ali, "Re-Colonizing
Iraq," New Left Review, 21 (May–June 2003)
is of interest.
a useful collection of articles from the Left on empire, see Third
World Traveler. For libertarian and/or paleoconservative treatments,
see LewRockwell.com, American
Conservative, and Antiwar.com,
which is also a huge clearinghouse for many points of view, as well
as Americans Against Bombing.
journalists have made hard-hitting contributions to the analysis
of imperial doctrine and practice since 9/11, too many to list here;
they include Eric Margolis, Robert Fisk, Jim Lobe, Justin Raimondo,
Alan Bock, John Pilger, Karen Kwiatkowski (ex-military with an insider's
perspective), among others.
Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
mail] is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at
the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and a columnist for LewRockwell.com
and Antiwar.com. See his War,
Peace, and the State.