Is the U.S. an Empire?





Mr. Maier is Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University and the author of Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Harvard University Press), from which this essay is excerpted.

Iraq alone would not decide whether America had become or was to become an empire. Other issues might also have an impact: To what degree would the United States attempt to enforce a regime of nuclear nonproliferation when its allies were lukewarm about the tough confrontations such policing might entail? To what degree would the United States prove reluctant to demand exemptions -- in their way a sort of imperial prerogative -- as other lesser powers sought to construct an international legal order, such as the international court of justice, or energy emission regimes? To what degree would the United States risk war to protect the independence and security of its major Pacific clients, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, the latter above all claiming a status that accorded with American values but not with the long-standing accommodation with China?

And even these issues alone could not separate empire from leadership or ascendancy and preponderance or hegemony. To choose empire would confirm internal transformations, some of which Americans liked without facing up to their implications, others of which would not be openly accepted. To accept empire would be to confirm the trends toward inequality and toward further emphases on the public status of elites, whether of money, of advanced education, or of celebrity status. It would be to confirm the capacity of the executive -- what Arthur Schlesinger had called the imperial presidency -- to further evade control by other branches of government. It would give greater strength to the instruments of plebiscitarian consultation -- public opinion polls and focus groups and television audiences -- at the cost of congressional deliberation. None of this was inevitable, however. David Hume had once speculated that absolute monarchy might be "the easiest death, the true euthanasia, of the British constitution," but still preferable to a democracy riven by factionalism. His concern proved excessive, and to envision empire as the inexorable euthanasia of the American Republic might well be alarmist as well.

Still, just as Hume might envisage absolutism as a lesser evil, so imperial tendencies were not totally repugnant and indeed might prove attractive. Empires eroded individual liberties and marginalized dissent, but encouraged cosmopolitanism. To slide toward empire would still allow an ever more diverse American society to persevere in its growing acceptance of multiculturalism and its toleration of immigrants and minorities. To sidle toward imperial institutions might facilitate an activist intervention abroad on behalf of the rule of law and against human rights abuses. Separation of powers, after all, had often made America stingy and self-regarding. The commitment to spread democracy outside the United States, as advocated by the ambitious presidents of the past century -- Woodrow Wilson, the two Roosevelts, Truman, Reagan, and the second Bush -- might thrive under an imperial regime. Adversaries who resorted to terrorism, whether in the Middle East or in Manhattan, would render the evolution toward empire even more acceptable. The idea that their country was, or might become, an empire still repelled, and, what is even more fundamental, struck Americans as intuitively at odds with their institutions and community. Nonetheless, the trajectory had its attractions, and therein lay the openness of the moment.

Related Links


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Stephen Kislock - 12/29/2007

The United States, with with it's Ally Israel, is in the business of Empire Building.

The "New World Order" has it's counterpart in "New Middle East" courtesy of the United States Army and Lieutenant-Colonel Peters, who is was posted to the Office of the Deputy Chief for Intelligence.

Only the Current Empire and the Blood to prove it, the United States of America, has a New Map of the Middle
East. The term "New Middle East", was coined by United States Secretary of State Ms. Rice, June 2006 in Tel Aviv. The "Birth pangs" of this "New Middle East", was the Destruction of Lebanon, by Israel and United States Weapons.

Yes, Professor Maier, It's Only Israel that, the United States will risk WAR!

For the Story see, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&;code=NAZ20061116&article

Maps Included.

Thank You,
Stephen F. Kislock III


Carol Hamilton - 12/26/2007

Ron Paul talks a good deal about our having an empire, not a republic.


John D. Beatty - 12/17/2007

OK, now, exactly what point the writer was trying to make in this essay? Is it:

A. America IS an empire?
B. America is HEADING FOR empire?
C. "Empire" is an expression of all the writer dosen't like?
D. All the above?
E. None of the above.

Maybe I'm missing something, but this ressay is a waste of time.