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Topic: What is the American Empire?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
Omegared Offline





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Posted: May 26 2007,16:57 QUOTE

It seems to me that we need to define exactly what American imperialism is both historically and in the present day if we are to develop strategies to alter or defeat it.

Historians (even though they are rarely revolutionaries) can help shed some light on this subject.

Michael Hunt, a scholar of the American Empire, differentiates between "empire" and "hegemony," and suggests that there is an important contradiction between the two. A brief outline of his approach can be found here:

http://hnn.us/articles/37486.html

Another student of the American Empire, Chalmers Johnson, focuses on overseas military power. He claims that a "Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex" is erroding democracy and constitutional rights. Today, he argues, 40% of each tax dollar is directed toward military spending. Chalmer's also askes if "imperial liquidation" is even possible.

"I believe that there is only one solution to the crisis we face," he writes. "The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it."

The full article can be found here:

http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/38962.html

Michael Parenti, a radical academic, emphasizes the increasingly autonomous, transnational role of giant corporations. Is this a new form of imperialism in the 21st century?

His article can be found here:

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/05/25/1439/

Hunt raises an interesting point about Americans' historical tendency to pursue imperial projects while at the same time maintaining an ideological aversion to them. Johnson's analysis reveals the scope of the modern American Empire. He also raises the question how how we can begin to dismantle this system in its present form. But what will replace it? Will the challenge to imperialism only emanate from "the American People," as Chalmers claims? Or will it come from the subjugated groups of the so-called Third World?

Parenti's article poses another interesting problem. Should we maintain a narrow focus on American military excursions? Or would it be better instead to speak of a new "corporate imperialism" that is threatening democracy and justice across the globe?


There is much to discuss here.
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Mirin Offline





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Posted: May 26 2007,19:02 QUOTE

Dear Omegared,

You are concerned to define the nature of the American empire,  seeing this as a necessary step in order to develop a strategy to alter or defeat it.

In the article to which this discussion refers, Fidel Castro calls the US simply a "culture of domination."  I am not so sure that we need to go beyond this definition, but let me take the question seriously.

One reason might be to search for historical precedents.  

This is alluded to in the article by Professor Michael Hunt that you refer to.  Hunt speaks of the American empire as having gone through several phases, a "continental empire," then an "overseas empire" and an "informal empire."  In this regard, he makes comparisons to the empires of ancient Rome and China.  He also speaks of a more recent American "hegemon" based on American penetration of economic and cultural practices and products, and he compares this to the British empire.

Michael Parenti, on the other hand, considers that that the globalization of capitalism has surpassed national boundaries, and he does not speak of any historical precedent.

But let's consider the proposition in our target article that an appropriate historical example is the most recent empire to crash - that of the Soviet Union.   I am not sure whether we need to define it as an empire or a hegemon or an incipient globalized socialism.  

More importantly, let us ask if the crash of the Soviet Union is a pertinent historical example.

Reading through the background data cited by the article, I am struck by two aspects of the Soviet crash:

1) A severe and irremediable export/import imbalance.

2) A loss of confidence of the population in the legitimacy of the state and its related institutions (press, academia, etc.).

As a result, when the unavoidable economic crash arrived, there was no political will to fix the system and so the entire system collapsed.  Instead, people accepted a government supported and manipulated by the West and an economy seized by criminals, similar to the criminal accumulation of capital by the "robber-barons" that came to control the American economy at the end of the 19th Century.

The origins of the export/import imbalance of the Soviet Union can be understood from the texts referred to in the article. Most of the science, technology and quality materiel of the Soviet Union was devoted to the military in an ill-fated attempt to match the military force of the West.  As a result they produced no industrial or consumer products that could bring good prices as exports.  During the years of high oil prices in the early 1980's the Soviets used their oil exports to cover extensive imports.  Then when the price of oil collapsed, the ruble collapsed with it.

Sound familiar?  It does to me.

The US, relying on its military domination (call it empire?) and the globalized reach of the dollar (call it hegemon?), has so far managed to escape the consequences of a long-term growing chronic export/import imbalance.  We just don't manufacture anymore, except for military goods.  The imbalance is covered by borrowing, from the Chinese, the Japanese, and from the American people.  But eventually, as Fidel says in the target article, the dollar will collapse.  The collapse will be due to more or less the same reasons that the ruble collapsed.

Parenti is correct that globalized capitalism transcends national boundaries, but he does not point out that since it is based on the dollar, a collapse of the dollar would also be a collapse of the  globalized economic system.  The appropriate precedent is 1929.  After the collapse of the global economy, the ships that had previously carried products across the seas now remained in port.  All economies plummeted.

Johnson hopes that the American people will demand and succeed in reversing American militarism.  But so far, the situation looks like that of the Soviet Union in the 1980's , with continuing erosion of public confidence in the government and all related institutions such as political parties and candidates, the media, academia, etc.  Most likely, an economic collapse will only increase this alienation from existing institutions.

I tend to consider 1929 as the most appropriate historical precedent.  But the global depression paved the way for Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Hirohito.  In the US there was sufficient democratic force to avoid fascism, although a military coup involving Douglas MacArthur among others was planned in the early 30's.  In the Soviet Union, it facilitated a consolidation of the authoritarian rule of Stalin. All of these can be seen as an extreme extension of the culture of war that was already at the base of all nation-states.

If we expect to arrive at a 1929-type crash in the next few years, how can we plan for a different kind of transition?

Let me stop at this point and wait for your reply and/or the replies of others before taking up the preceding question.
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Omegared Offline





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Posted: May 26 2007,22:39 QUOTE

Thanks, Mirin.

You make some good points. But I still believe that revolutionaries need to be more precise in their definitions of "imperialism" so we can know exactly what we are dealing with.

I forgot to mention another important commentary by John Bellamy Foster. Find it here. Foster grapples directly with the old Leninist theories, and sees "modern imperialism" as a state of perpetual war, expropriation, and "polarization."

It's downright eerie to read the article you cite on the collapse of the Soviet Union alongside the Johnson article. I think you're on to something. Johnson especially points to the concealment of the true extent of American military spending (exactly the same way it happened in Russia).

You're also correct about the loss of confidence in the government. I know an historian of fascism who refers to these moments as a "sense-making crisis" - when a large segment of the population gropes around for a new ideology/movement to save them.

But I think you underestimate the ideological commitment of most Americans. Disagreement with the government or simple apathy does not necessarily indicate a desire to embrace an alternative world-view (whether it be a fascist dictatorship or a socialist culture of peace).

Also, I don't think the American economy is as fragile as you imply. Our physical imports may outstrip our physical exports - but what about the vibrant service and information-technology industries? I would argue that the primary American export now is knowledge, technology, and intellectual property. American corporations (as Parenti points out in his article) hold the preponderance of international patents. Scientists from all over the world come here to work. And where do wealthy parents from every continent send their children for advanced degrees? American universities.

What is interesting is the sea-change in opinion among non-Americans. After traveling abroad extensively over the past few years, I can tell you that the initial wave of sympathy for the United States after 9/11 has been replaced by a very critical view of the Bush government. American officials now proudly proclaim that they run an empire - and that this empire creates its own reality. But I think the first few decades of the 21st century will be remembered as the time when the rest of the world decided America no longer mattered.

This new external pressure is important as well, no?
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Posted: Aug. 06 2010,17:16 QUOTE

You will know that Imperialist America will fail when you see people stop fleeing from their current homelands for the freedoms America has to offer.  Admittedly, the Obama cabal makes American freedom less free...but his rapid turn to socialism will falter when he runs out of other people's money.
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riskrapper Offline





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Posted: Oct. 02 2010,20:50 QUOTE

Three terrific articles.  Lots to digest.  Charlmers assertion about dismantling the empire to preserve a semblance of democracy and ward off domestic authoritarian rule is spot on.  

Hunts discussion of imperialism vs. hegemony is most enlightening for me.  His comment about American's being "odd Imperialists"  truly captures the dislocation of our actions and our self deluded conception of ourselves and our actions.

Lastly Perenti's closing remarks about the triumph of property rights as trumping all other rights is a glaring reality codified into law with the recent Supreme Court decision on corporations right to free speech and unencumbered financial participation in electoral campaigns.    Sates Parenti..

What also is overthrown is the right to have such laws. This is the most important point of all and the one most frequently overlooked by persons from across the political spectrum. Under the free trade accords, property rights have been elevated to international supremacy, able to take precedent over all other rights, including the right to a clean livable environment, the right to affordable public services, and the right to any morsel of economic democracy. Instead a new right has been accorded absolutist status, the right to corporate private profit. It has been used to stifle the voice of working people and their ability to develop a public sector that serves their interests. Free speech itself is undermined as when "product disparagement" is treated as an interference with free trade. And nature itself is being monopolized and privatized by transnational corporations.

Good stuff.  Thanks for posting...

riskrapper
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