another thought on empire

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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15 Responses

  1. I’m curious..If we are an empire in some new sense of the word…please define ‘colonies’.Report

  2. Jaybird says:


  3. Bob Cheeks says:

    This conflict in the Middle East is to “take democracy to the Middle East,” and while we’ve paid a horrific price in blood and treasure for this ideological madness,”you people” have given a Democrat control of this war, and Democrats know how to do wars!Report

  4. greginak says:

    Native residents of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Hawaii as well as Native Americans certainly and correctly would see America as an empire. Guatemala was part of our empire for quite a while in the 20th century since we essentially decided who would rule the country, kept them in power and that our business interests were taken care of.

    It seems like a definition of empire includes some control over a foreign countries internal laws, our interests has are enforced over the broad swath of the populations interests, having a say over who rules and how a country is ruled and generally more sway over the running of the country then the population.

    Riehl is whiffing on this one. Americans just don’t want to see ourselves as an empire. But this country was built on the land of Native Americans. Westerns are the story of empire.

    Also not every empire is purposely built. The brits ended up with India because various business interests went in and then needed military help. It did not start as an invasion to take over the country.Report

  5. koan0215 says:

    I “America has made of empire an art form,” then what’s the problem? I think the reality is very much the opposite – that our imperial projects cost us more than we gain.Report

  6. Conor Friedersdorf says:


    Would you mind adding the next couple lines to that transcript so that it includes my view that Iraq and Afghanistan do not make an empire at the moment?Report

  7. Kyle says:

    I’d say empire in the classic sense is veritably dead, but I don’t see what redefining the term to include fewer requirements accomplishes? It seems that what you’re doing here, and is quite common, is to say

    a.) empire is bad and inherently illiberal

    b.) America shouldn’t be mucking around poorly and illiberally in other countries ala Iraq and Afghanistan.

    c.) Calling America imperial fits with my normative view of American foreign policy and whether or not it’s imperial or not is irrelevant.

    d.) To avoid quibbling over how America is or is not an empire, lets just agree to redefine empire to define what we’re doing currently.

    I mean, at this point, why not call our rather plebiscitary presidency an elected monarch and refer to America as a kingdom, because the literal king concept doesn’t exist but the autocratic hierarchical structures remain. Whether or not the king is elected or not, is beside the point?

    I think my reductio ad absurdum falls apart for the same reason your redefinition does. It focuses on the broad themes of power usage and normative assessment at the expense of crucial details that aren’t as superfluous as they seem.

    That isn’t to say your point about contemporary forms of economic control, modern state-private economic interests, and how they intersect with sovereignty aren’t valid concerns and the starting point for a meaty and interesting conversation.

    I am saying that I think it detracts from that conversation to bend imperialism to how you want to use it rather than find a more appropriate moniker.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle says:

      I disagree. I think the imperialism exists in the same form, but with different (or perhaps more efficient) methods at its disposal. In other words, my thesis is that globalization has made certain steps unnecessary for the United States – i.e. colonialism – since we can so entirely dominate regions through a combination of military might (not needing to always use that might) and economic leverage.Report

      • Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I’m not sure what distinguishes the characteristics you’re citing from previous empires, which as often as not retained strong militaries and economic inducements as well.

        This is where I think hegemony is a more useful term because the political behaviour (in an international sense) of weaker/peripheral states in dealing with empires is distinctly different from how such states deal with hegemons.

        The fact that other allied and dependent countries can say “no,” without waking up to find the 82nd airborne in their capitol is – quite tellingly – indicative of how American foreign policy isn’t imperial. Also, I’d point out our reliance on bilateral treaties rather than indirect governance.Report

  8. gto says:

    what a pair of foolsReport