The New Face of Empire
Then again, simply because the United States ceased to be a ‘real’ republic does not mean that it ever became an empire. Of course, the United States did become an empire, complete with colonies, and from the perspective of the supposedly far more corrupt and imperial era we are now living in, it actually turns out that America is less of an empire now than it was then, which is to say not really an empire at all. ~ James Poulos
The problem with the interpretation of empire in James’ post rests in the notion that to achieve empire a nation must, in some sense, construct colonies in the manner of the British empire, or occupy militarily large swaths of the globe as the Romans did, or in some sense conquer. This is certainly one form of empire. So, all morality or practicality aside, it’s important to first distinguish what empire has become in the 21st century. America, after all, does not have colonies. Even the territories we now occupy – namely Iraq and Afghanistan – hardly qualify as colonies. We are not settling Americans there. We have no intent to extend to our citizenry settlements in Baghdad or plantations in the Afghani poppy fields.
This is, of course, because we no longer need to. Globalization has changed the face of empire entirely, which is why Freddie’s description, I think, falls a bit short:
“Here is what imperialism is: we come to your country, and we exert our control over it, and if you try to stop us, we kill you.”
This is not to say the ends of imperialism have changed, but only the means. The British, to reap the benefits of a global empire, needed to establish some sort of military and civilian presence in many of their colonies. In their effort to extend the British way of life to the world they had none or at least very few of the modern tools we Americans possess today. But their ends and ours were very similar – that is, to take possession of the economic benefits of the less-developed world to enrich their own population.
For the British it was tea and rubber and shipping lanes; for America it is access to oil and coffee and, yes, shipping lanes, but more importantly access to markets. The British were not concerned, particularly, with exporting their pop culture to India. They were far more concerned with taking from the Indians quite directly,and in exchange, extending to the colonized Indians the “British way of life”. America, on the other hand, wants to export the American way of life, and with it democracy – but more importantly – capitalism to all corners of the developing world.
This does not require colonization of the East Indies, or extending citizenship to the Gauls as the Romans did, but it does require a different form of expansion, which is not only military but also economic. The means of imperialism then have shifted a great deal from the days of Rome and its heirs., but the ends (and intentions) have remained intact, and the results in many ways spectacularly more grand than any empire that came before. One reason this has been such a success is technology; the other is the fact that we, as a nation, remain wedged in denial over our own identity as empire; and the third, is that we have such a complicit cadre of supporting nations in the industrialized West, who may not as overtly champion the cause, but who reap its benefits. Indeed, to leave out Western Europe from this critique would be negligent. They may not flex the military arm as often as we do, but their economic imperialism continues apace.
More on this to come. The imperial presidency is also an important consideration and one which I’ve left out for now….