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Re: NYTimes.com Article: All Roads Lead to D.C.
by Albert Bergesen
06 April 2002 20:30 UTC
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"Empire" or late hegemony?

Actually, people use the designation "empire", but the phenomena is more
likely late hegemony, where the hegemon's economic position has begun to
decline but the political/military global stretch is still there.    

Hence it seems like military for the sake of military, hence like earlier
"empires".  But it is not that the US is like past empires, such as the
British or Spanish, but that those were periods of late hegemony, when what
sticks out is the political/military aspect, and given the growing
balkanization of the world economy, it leads some to see the "up" side of
"empire":  provider of order. 

But what needs to be remembered is that one only "appreciates"
international order when it is declining.  And that, isn't because of rogue
states etc. but because of the reproductive dynamics of the capitalist
world economy as manifest in the circulation hegemonies and the resultant
Schumpeterian creative destruction.  

Hegemonic decline, then provides for (1) the sense of, and reality of,
dis-order:  rogue states, terrorism, etc. and (2) the empire-like behavior
of the hegemon, who,  because of the earlier economic hegemony has the
global military reach, but now, with that complete dominance a thing of the
past, and a balkanizing world, is left with the military reach, and that
takes the appearance to many as "empire".  They don't know how to put it

Economic outreach + military outreach ='s imperialism, economic
imperialism, underdevelopment, the imperialism of free trade, and so forth.
 That's the characterization of the US and Britain at mid-20th, 19th
centuries.  But when the economic declines, then a new equation is created:
 military outreach ='s late hegemony, or the term "empire" becomes more
popular, which if this NY Times article is reflective of a shift in
charaterizations, is what we are seeing.  It is how things are
characterized because no one sees the world-system part to all this.  Its
still part and parcel of the dynamics of capitalist reproduction; its just
now in the hegemonic decline, or posthegemony, or
start-of-the-competitive-rivalry-phase, or how ever you want to put it.  

When you look at the region of ownership of the world's 500 largest firms,
the most recent data shows it is about a third American, a third European,
a third Asian see the recent American Behavioral Scientist article by
Bergesen and Sonnett).  
1/3, 1/3, 1/3 is not economic "empire", but it is, given American
predominance earlier, clearly a matter of a decline in American economic
hegemony, and as such the global economic substrate that underlies the
present talk of empire.

It seems ironic:  economic decline leads to military assertion.  But it is
military assertion by default.  No one believes that the US will be the
next economic hegemon during the next sustained upswing of the world
economy, but like Britain at the end of the 19th/early 20th, so today at
the end of the 20th/early 21st, it is the extant hegemon that intervenes
around the world while the hegemon-in-waiting concentrates on economic
expansion, not military overhead.  Britain was certainly all over the globe
at the turn of the 19th/20th but that "empire" didn't guarantee that they
would be the next economic hegemon.  That, as history shows, was the US.
So now, at the turn of the 20th/21st century who is militarily all over the
globe?  The US.  And will that guarantee, provide for, help, etc. the US to
move back to economic hegemony?  Doubtful.  It didn't for the British and
it seems doubtful that it will for the US.  

Empire is a manifestation of decline.  It isn't a stragegy of ascent or
mature hegemonic dominance. Those who sing the praise of American Empire
are whistling in the dark, except they don't know that the lights are going



 At 12:55 PM 4/5/02 -0500, Boris Stremlin wrote:
>overlooked, from this past sunday's week in review:
>first capitalism, now empire becomes the shibboleth of US public
>intellectuals.  What next?  Slavery? Devil worship?
>All Roads Lead to D.C.
>March 31, 2002
>STRUGGLING to get a handle on American foreign policy? For
>starters, try dusting off your Livy and boning up on the
>Second Punic War. Or dip into a good history of
>19th-century Britain, paying close attention to those
>dazzling military campaigns in the Middle East - the Battle
>of Omdurman, say, or the Second Afghan War.
>Today, America is no mere superpower or hegemon but a
>full-blown empire in the Roman and British sense. That, at
>any rate, is the consensus of some of the nation's most
>notable commentators and scholars.
>"People are now coming out of the closet on the word
>empire," said the conservative columnist Charles
>Krauthammer. "The fact is no country has been as dominant
>culturally, economically, technologically and militarily in
>the history of the world since the Roman Empire."
>Americans are used to being told - typically by resentful
>foreigners - that they're imperialists. But lately some of
>the nation's own eminent thinkers are embracing the idea.
>More astonishing, they are using the term with approval.
>From the isolationist right to the imperialist-bashing
>left, a growing number of experts are issuing stirring
>paeans to American empire.
>The Weekly Standard kicked off the parade early last fall
>with "The Case for American Empire," by The Wall Street
>Journal's editorial features editor, Max Boot. Quoting the
>title of Patrick Buchanan's last book, "America, A
>Republic, not an Empire," Mr. Boot said, "This analysis is
>exactly backward: the September 11 attack was a result of
>insufficient American involvement and ambition; the
>solution is to be more expansive in our goals and more
>assertive in their implementation."
>Calling for the military occupation of Afghanistan and
>Iraq, Mr. Boot cited the stabilizing effect of 19th-century
>British rule in the region. "Afghanistan and other troubled
>lands today," he wrote, "cry out for the sort of
>enlightened foreign administration once provided by
>self-confident Englishmen in jodphurs and pith helmets."
>Since then, the empire idea has caught on. In January,
>Charles H. Fairbanks, a foreign policy expert at Johns
>Hopkins University, told an audience at Michigan State
>University that America was "an empire in formation." Last
>month, a Yale University professor, Paul Kennedy - who 10
>years ago was predicting America's ruin from imperial
>overreach - went further.
>"Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power,"
>Mr. Kennedy wrote in The Financial Times of London. "The
>Pax Britannica was run on the cheap, Britain's army was
>much smaller than European armies and even the Royal Navy
>was equal only to the next two navies - right now all the
>other navies in the world combined could not dent American
>maritime supremacy. Napoleon's France and Philip II's Spain
>had powerful foes and were part of a multipolar system.
>Charlemagne's empire was merely western European in its
>stretch. The Roman Empire stretched further afield, but
>there was another great empire in Persia and a larger one
>in China. There is no comparison."
>The most extended statement from the empire camp to date is
>"Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos"
>(Random House, 2001), a recent book by the journalist
>Robert D. Kaplan.
>Arguing that "times have changed less than we think," Mr.
>Kaplan suggests the nation's leaders turn to ancient Greek
>and Roman chroniclers - as well as Winston Churchill's 1899
>account of the British conquest of the Sudan - for helpful
>hints about how to navigate today's world. He devotes a
>chapter to the Second Punic War ("Rome's victory in the
>Second Punic War, like America's in World War II, made it a
>universal power") and one to the cunning Emperor Tiberius.
>Granted, the emperor was something of a despot, writes Mr.
>Kaplan. Still, he "combined diplomacy with the threat of
>force to preserve a peace that was favorable to Rome."
>IF that sounds familiar, you've got the right idea. "Our
>future leaders could do worse than be praised for their
>tenacity, their penetrating intellects and their ability to
>bring prosperity to distant parts of the world under
>America's soft imperial influence," Mr. Kaplan writes. "The
>more successful our foreign policy, the more leverage
>America will have in the world. Thus, the more likely that
>future historians will look back on 21st-century United
>States as an empire as well as a republic, however
>different from that of Rome and every other empire
>throughout history."
>Classicists may scoff at the idea that democratic America
>has much in common with the tyrannical Rome of Augustus or
>Nero. But the empire camp points out that however unlikely
>the comparison, America has often behaved like a conquering
>empire. As Mr. Kennedy put it, "From the time the first
>settlers arrived in Virginia from England and started
>moving westward, this was an imperial nation, a conquering
>America's imperial behavior continues today. "The United
>States has bases or base rights in 40 countries," he said.
>"In the assault on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, they moved
>warships from Britain, Japan, Germany, Southern Spain and
>Italy. So while Joe Public might say we are not like those
>old empires - and we resent being called an empire - the
>actual effect of the projection of American power is not
>unlike the effect of the projection of Victorian power or
>Roman power."
>Today, the empire scholars acknowledge that America tends
>to operate not through brute force but through economic,
>cultural and political means. The idea seems to be that it
>is easier to turn other people into Americans than for
>Americans to make war on them.
>"We are an attractive empire, the one everyone wants to
>join," Mr. Boot said.
>And that, empire enthusiasts say, is the reason to root for
>a Pax Americana. In an anarchic world, with rogue states
>and terrorist cells, a globally dominant United States
>offers the best hope for peace and stability, they argue.
>"There's a positive side to empire," Mr. Kaplan said. It's
>in some ways the most benign form of order."
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>Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
Albert J. Bergesen
Dept. of Sociology
Univ. of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
E-MAIL: albert@u.arizona.edu
PHONE: (520)621-3303
FAX: (520)621-9875

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