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American Empire (American Imperialism) is a term referring to the political, economic, military and cultural influence of the United Statesmarker. The term has become very controversial in the USA. The concept of an American Empire was first popularized in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The sources and proponents of this concept range from classical Marxist theorists of imperialism as a product of capitalism, to modern liberal and conservative theorists opposed to what they take to be aggressive U.S. policy.

Issues concerning the concept of 'empire'



The term imperialism was coined in the mid-1800s. It was first widely applied to the US by the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in 1898 to oppose the Spanish-American War and the subsequent post-war military occupation and brutalities committed by US forces in the Philippines.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives three definitions of imperialism:

Debate exists over whether the U.S. is an empire in the politically charged sense of the latter two definitions. Confusion also exists over the distinction between empire, a form of polity, and imperialism, a form of policy. Nevertheless, many polities that are not empires nonetheless behave imperialistically at times, and vice-versa.

Historians Archibald Paton Thorton and Stuart Creighton Miller argue against the very coherence of the concept. Miller argues that the overuse and abuse of the term "imperialism" makes it nearly meaningless as an analytical concept. Thorton wrote that "imperialism is more often the name of the emotion that reacts to a series of events than a definition of the events themselves. Where colonization finds analysts and analogies, imperialism must contend with crusaders for and against." Political theorist Michael Walzer argues that the term "hegemony" is better than "empire" to describe the US's role in the world, a standpoint shared by political scientists such as Robert Keohane, for whom a "balanced and nuanced analysis is not aided, however, by the use of the phrase 'empire' to describe United States hegemony, since 'empire' obscures rather than illuminates the differences in form of rule between the United States and other Great Powers, such as Great Britain in the nineteenth century or the Soviet Union in the twentieth."

William Jennings Bryan, Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1900, said:

That same year, Mark Twain, a leader and founding member of the American Anti-Imperialist League, wrote:

American exceptionalism



Stuart Creighton Miller points out that the question of U.S. imperialism has been the subject of agonizing debate ever since the United States acquired formal empire at the end of the nineteenth century during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Miller argues that this agony is because of United States’ sense of innocence, produced by a kind of "immaculate conception" view of United States' origins. In Miller's view, when European settlers came to the United States, they saw themselves as miraculously shedding their old ways upon arrival in the New World, as one might discard old clothing, and fashioning new cultural garments based solely on experiences in a new and vastly different environment. Miller believes that school texts, patriotic media, and patriotic speeches on which Americans have been reared do not stress the origins of America's system of government, that these sources often omit or downplay that the "United States Constitution owes its structure as much to the ideas of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes as to the experiences of the Founding Fathers; that Jeffersonian thought to a great extent paraphrases the ideas of earlier Scottish philosophers; and that even the unique frontier egalitarian has deep roots in seventeenth century English radical traditions."

Philosopher Douglas Kellner traces the identification of American exceptionalism as a distinct phenomenon back to 19th century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, who concluded by agreeing that the U.S., uniquely, was "proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived."

American exceptionalism is popular among people within the U.S., but its validity and its consequences are disputed. Miller argues that U.S. citizens fall within three schools of thought about the question whether the United States is imperialistic:

  • Overly self-critical Americans tend to exaggerate the nation’s flaws, failing to place them in historical or worldwide contexts.
  • In the middle are Americans who assert that "Imperialism was an aberration."
  • At the other end of the scale, the tendency of highly nationalist Americans is to deny such abuses and even assert that they could never exist in their country. As a Monthly Review editorial opines on the phenomenon, "in Britain, empire was justified as a benevolent 'white man’s burden'. And in the United States, empire does not even exist; 'we' are merely protecting the causes of freedom, democracy, and justice worldwide."


U.S. military bases abroad as a form of empire

US military bases in the world


After World War II, the U.S. allowed many of its overseas territories or occupations to gain independence. The Philippinesmarker (1946), Panama Canal Zonemarker (1979), the Federated States of Micronesiamarker (1986), Marshall Islandsmarker (1986), and Palaumarker (1994) are examples. Some, such as Guammarker, the United States Virgin Islandsmarker, the Northern Mariana Islandsmarker, American Samoamarker, and Puerto Rico, remain to this day under U.S. control without all the rights and benefits of statehood. However, of those former possessions granted independence, most continue to have U.S. bases inside their territories. In the case of Okinawa, which came under US administration after the battle of Okinawa during World War II, this happened despite local popular opinion. As of 2003, the United States had bases in over 36 countries worldwide.

Chalmers Johnson argues that America's version of the colony is the military base. Chip Pitts argues similarly that enduring U.S. bases in Iraq suggest a vision of "Iraq as a colony". In this context, it is interesting to note that certain historians of the British Empire have emphasised that, prior to 1850, official government policy was generally in favour of acquiring military (especially naval) bases overseas but opposed to the government-backed acquisition of new colonial territories. It is seldom doubted, however, that British policy pre-1850 was nevertheless essentially imperial in nature.

Viewpoints of American imperialism

Imperialism at the heart of U.S. foreign policy



Many Marxists, anarchists, members of the New Left, as well as some conservatives, tend to view U.S. imperialism as both deep-rooted and amoral. Imperialism as U.S. policy, in the view of historians like William Appleman Williams, Howard Zinn, and Gabriel Kolko, traces its beginning not to the Spanish-American War, but to Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory, or even to the displacement of Native Americans prior to the American Revolution, and continues to this day. Historian Sidney Lens argues that "the United States, from the time it gained its own independence, has used every available means—political, economic, and military—to dominate other nations." Numerous U.S. foreign interventions, ranging from early actions under the Monroe Doctrine to 21st-century interventions in the Middle East, are typically described by these authors as imperialistic.

Historian D.W. Meinig argues at length for the use of the words "empire" and "imperial" for the United States, rooted as early as the Louisiana Purchase which he describes as an "imperial acquisition—imperial in the sense of the aggressive encroachment of one people upon the territory of another, resulting in the subjugation of that people to alien rule. The Louisianans were suddenly annexed to the United States without the slightest gesture of interest on the part of either America or France as to how they might feel about it... Louisiana therefore became an unexpected experiment in empire... It began to give the word empire another and not altogether comfortable connotation for America: not just a theoretical term... but an America that included a bloc of captive peoples of foreign culture who had not chosen to be Americans." He also argues that U.S. policy toward Native American Indians was blatantly imperialistic, especially the Indian Removals under which entire peoples were moved to "specified reserves in an entirely different part of the empire" and resettled "under a program designed to remold them into into a people more appropriately conformed to imperial desires." Another example given is the military occupation and reconstruction of the American South following the Civil War.

The conservative critique of U.S. imperialism has been identified with historians such as Charles Beard and Andrew Bacevich, part of a tradition of non-interventionism, often referred to derogatorily as "isolationism". While Beard believed that American policy had been driven by self-interested expansionism as far back as the writing of the Constitution, many conservative critics of imperialism have a more positive view of America's early era. Writer and politician Patrick Buchanan argues that the modern United States' drive to empire is "far from what the Founding Fathers had intended the young Republic to become." A conservative anti-imperialism is defended both by some on the Old Right, such as Buchanan, and by libertarians such as Justin Raimondo.

For both leftists and conservatives, a critical historical view is typically continued to present U.S. foreign policy. Bacevich argues that the U.S. did not fundamentally change its foreign policy after the Cold War, and remains focused on an effort to expand its control across the world. As the surviving superpower at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. could focus its assets in new directions, the future being "up for grabs" according to former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz in 1991. Marxist sociologist John Bellamy Foster argues, in fact, that the United States' sole-superpower status makes it now the most dangerous world imperialist.

Lens describes American exceptionalism as a myth, which allows any number of "excesses and cruelties, though sometimes admitted, usually [to be] regarded as momentary aberrations." Linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky argues, like many, that exceptionalism and the denials of imperialism are the result of a systematic strategy of propaganda, to "manufacture opinion" as the process has long been described in other countries. "Domination of the media", according to Chomsky, allows an elite to "fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place."

Ideological views and theories of the American Imperialism

Although writers of various schools may describe many of the same policies and institutions as imperialistic, explanations for alleged U.S. imperialism vary widely. Journalist Ashley Smith divides theories of the U.S. iperialism into 5 broad categories: (1) "liberal" theories, (2) "social-democratic" theories, (3) "Leninist" theories, (4) theories of "super-imperialism", and (5) "Hardt-and-Negri-ite" theories.

Liberalist
A "liberal" theory asserts that imperial policies are the products of particular elected politicians (e.g. James K. Polk) or political movements (e.g. neo-conservatism: the Bush Doctrine and other recent controversies). It holds that these policies are not the natural result of U.S. political or economic structures, and are hostile and inimical to true U.S. interests and values. This is the original position of Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League and is held today by a number of Democrats, who criticize the claimed imperialism and propose the election of officials opposed to it as a solution, notably Ramsey Clark among others.

Social-democratic
A "social-democratic" theory asserts that imperialistic U.S. policies are the products of the excessive influence of certain sectors of U.S. business and government — the arms industry in alliance with military and political bureaucracies and sometimes other industries such as oil and finance, a combination often referred to as the "military-industrial complex". The complex is said to benefit from war profiteering and the looting of natural resources, often at the expense of the public interest. The proposed solution is typically unceasing popular vigilance in order to apply counter-pressure. The left-leaning Johnson holds a version of this view; other versions are typically held by conservative anti-interventionists, such as Beard, Bacevich, Buchanan, Raimondo, and, most notably, journalist John T. Flynn and Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler who wrote:

Communist
A "Communist" theory asserts that imperialistic U.S. policies are the products of the unified interest of the predominant sectors of U.S. business, which need to ensure and manipulate export markets for both goods and capital. Business, on this Marxist view, essentially controls government, and international military competition is simply an extension of international economic competition, both driven by the inherently expansionist nature of capitalism. The proposed solution is typically revolutionary social and economic change. The theory was first systematized during the World War I by Russian Bolsheviks Vladimir Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin, although their work was based on that of earlier Marxists, socialists, and anarchists. Chomsky, Foster, Kolko, Lens, Williams, Zinn, Marxist anthropologist David Harvey, and, most notably, Indian writer Arundhati Roy each hold some version of this view, as does Ashley Smith himself.

Super-imperialist
A theory of "super-imperialism" asserts that imperialistic U.S. policies driven not simply by the interests of American businesses, but by the interests of the economic elites of a global alliance of developed countries. Capitalism in Europe, the U.S., and Japan has become too entangled, in this view, to permit military or geopolitical conflict between these countries, and the central conflict in modern imperialism is between the global core and the global periphery rather than between imperialist powers. Political scientists Leo Panitch and Samuel Gindin hold versions of this view. Lenin argued this view was wishful thinking.

Hardt-and-Negri-ite
A "Hardt-and-Negri-ite" theory is closely related to the theory of "super-imperialism", but has a different conception of power. According to political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the world has passed the era of imperialism and entered a new era. They no longer hold that the world has already entered the new era of Empire, but only that it is emerging. According to Hardt, the Iraq War is a classically imperialist war, but represents the last gasp of a doomed strategy. This new era still has colonizing power, but it has moved from national military forces based on an economy of physical goods to networked biopower based on an informational and affective economy. On this view, the U.S. is central to the development and constitution of a new global regime of international power and sovereignty, termed "Empire", but the "Empire" is decentralized and global, and not ruled by one sovereign state; "the United States does indeed occupy a privileged position in Empire, but this privilege derives not from its similarities to the old European imperialist powers, but from its differences." Hardt and Negri draw on the theories of Spinoza, Foucault, Deleuze, and Italian autonomist marxists. Many in the traditions of postcolonialism, postmodernism and globalization theory hold related views.

Benevolent imperialism

Military historian Max Boot defends U.S. imperialism of past eras:

Boot argues that the United States altruistically went to war with Spain to liberate Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos from their tyrannical yoke. If U.S. troops lingered on too long in the Philippinesmarker, it was to protect the Filipinos from European predators waiting in the wings for American withdrawal and to tutor them in American-style democracy. In the Philippines, the U.S. followed its usual pattern:

Boot argues that this was far from "the old-fashioned imperialism bent on looting nations of their natural resources." Just as with Iraq and Afghanistan, "some of the poorest countries on the planet", in the early 20th century:

Boot willingly uses the term "imperialism" to describe United States policy, not only in the early 20th century but "since at least 1803". This marks a difference in terminology rather than a difference of fundamental historical interpretation from observers who deny that the U.S. has ever been an empire, since Boot still argues that U.S. foreign policy has been consistently benevolent. Boot is not alone; as columnist Charles Krauthammer puts it, "People are now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire.'" This embrace of empire is made by many neoconservatives, including British historian Paul Johnson, and writers Dinesh D'Souza and Mark Steyn. It is also made by some liberal hawks, such as political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Michael Ignatieff.

For instance, British historian Niall Ferguson argues that the United States is an empire, but believes that this is a good thing. Ferguson has drawn parallels between the British Empire and the imperial role of the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, though he describes the United States' political and social structures as more like those of the Roman Empire than of the British. Ferguson argues that all these empires have had both positive and negative aspects, but that the positive aspects of the U.S. empire will, if it learns from history and its mistakes, greatly outweigh its negative aspects.

American imperialism as an aberration

Another point of view believes United States expansion overseas has been imperialistic, but sees this imperialism as a temporary phenomenon, a corruption of American ideals or the relic of a past historical era. Historian Samuel Flagg Bemis argues that Spanish-American War expansionism was a short-lived imperialistic impulse and "a great aberration in American history", a very different form of territorial growth than that of earlier American history. Historian Walter LaFeber sees the Spanish-American War expansionism not as an aberration, but as a culmination of United States expansion westward. But both agree that the end of the occupation of the Philippines marked the end of US empire, hence denying that present United States foreign policy is imperialistic.

The United States Information Agency writes:

Historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that the US does not pursue world domination, but maintains worldwide influence by a system of mutually beneficial exchanges:

Liberal internationalists argue that even though the present world order is dominated by the United States, the form taken by that dominance is not imperial. International relations scholar John Ikenberry argues that international institutions have taken the place of empire;

International relations scholar Joseph Nye argues that US power is more and more based on "soft power", which comes from cultural hegemony rather than raw military or economic force. This includes such factors as the widespread desire to emigrate to the United States, the prestige and corresponding high proportion of foreign students at US universities, and the spread of US styles of popular music and cinema. Thus the US, no matter how hegemonic, can no longer be considered to be an 'empire' in the classic sense of the term.

Factors unique to the "Age of imperialism"

A variety of factors may have coincided during the "Age of Imperialism" (late nineteenth century, when the US and the other major powers rapidly expanded their territorial possessions) to spur on American expansion abroad:



Denial of American imperialism

Some scholars, however, defend the historical role of the U.S. against allegations of imperialism. Other prominent political figures, such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, have argued that "[The U.S. does not] seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been." Stuart Creighton Miller, however, stated in 1982 that this interpretation was no longer heard very often by historians.

Cultural imperialism

The controversy regarding the issue of U.S. cultural imperialism is largely separate from the debate about U.S. military imperialism; however, some critics of imperialism argue that cultural imperialism is not independent from military imperialism. Edward Said, one of the founders of post-colonial theory, argues that,

He believes non-U.S. citizens, particularly non-Westerners, are usually thought of within the U.S. in a tacitly racist manner, in a way that allows imperialism to be justified through such ideas as the White Man's Burden.

Scholars who disagree with the theory of U.S. cultural imperialism or the theory of cultural imperialism in general argue that what is regarded as cultural imperialism by many is not connected to any kind of military domination, which has been the traditional means of empire. International relations scholar David Rothkop argues that cultural imperialism is the innocent result of globalization, which allows access to numerous U.S. and Western ideas and products that many non-U.S. and non-Western consumers across the world voluntarily choose to consume. A worldwide fascination with the United States has not been forced on anyone in ways similar to what is traditionally described as an empire, differentiating it from the actions of the British Empire--see the Opium Wars--and other more easily identified empires throughout history. Rothkop identifies the desire to preserve the "purity" of one's culture as xenophobic. Matthew Fraser has a similar analysis, but argues further that the global cultural influence of the U.S. is a good thing.

See also



Notes and references

  1. p. 3.
  2. Keohane, Robert O. "The United States and the Postwar Order: Empire or Hegemony?" (Review of Geir Lundestad, The American Empire) Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), p. 435
  3. Miller (1982), op. cit. p. 1.
  4. Miller (1982), op. cit. p. 1-3.
  5. Patrick Smith, Pay Attention to Okinawans and Close the U.S. Bases, International Herald Tribune (Opinion section), March 6, 1998.
  6. America's Empire of Bases
  7. See, for example, Bernard Porter The Lion's Share
  8. Book jacket.
  9. p. 165.
  10. ERIC SCHMITT, "Washington at Work; Ex-Cold Warrior Sees the Future as 'Up for Grabs'" The New York Times December 23, 1991.
  11. Lens (2003), op. cit. Book jacket.
  12. Edward Hallett Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, 1939.
  13. who threatened war with Britain and caused the Mexican–American War by annexing Texas and all its territory disputed with Mexico
  14. CNN: Putin accuses U.S. of orchestrating Georgian war, September 12, 2008
  15. CNN: Bolivian president calls for ouster of U.S. ambassador, September 12, 2008
  16. CNN: Venezuela to expel US ambassador over coup plot, September 12, 2008
  17. TIME: U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy given 72 hours to leave Venezuela, September 12, 2008
  18. C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three, Simon and Schuster, 1958, pp. 52, 111
  19. Flynn, John T. (1944) As We Go Marching.
  20. Lenin, Vladimir (1916) Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
  21. "Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?" - Woodrow Wilson, September 11, 1919, St. Louis.The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Arthur S. Link, ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), vol. 63, pp. 45–46.
  22. Ibid. Lenin.
  23. Leo Panitch, "What you need to know about May Day"
  24. Leo Panitch, "Whose Violence? Imperial State Security and the Global Justice Movement" Jan, 2005
  25. Leo Panitch, "Putting the U.S. Economic Crisis in Perspective" Jan. 31, 2008
  26. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, "The Current Crisis: A Socialist Perspective" Sept. 30, 2008
  27. BRIAN JONES, "Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism" International Socialist Review Issue 44, November–December 2005
  28. p. xiii-xiv.
  29. Michael Hardt, Gilles Deleuze: an Apprenticeship in Philosophy, ISBN 0-8166-2161-6
  30. Autonomist_marxism#Italian_autonomism
  31. Miller (1982), op. cit. p. 3.
  32. Cf. Nye, Joseph Jr. 2005. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Public Affairs. 208 pp.
  33. Thomas Friedman, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", p. 381, and Manfred Steger, "Globalism: The New Market Ideology," and Jeff Faux, "Flat Note from the Pied Piper of Globalization," Dissent, Fall 2005, pp. 64-67.
  34. See, for instance, Michael Mann (2005), Incoherent Empire (Verso); Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (2005), "The American Empire? Not so fast", World Policy, Volume XXII, No 1, Spring;
  35. Miller (1982), op. cit. p. 136.


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