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Superpower, Hegemony, Empire
Unformatted Document Text:  also the matter of whether stock in the supposed U.S. empire is now overvalued. Although the Bush “neocons” and their political allies have put the idea of empire back in the spotlight, we really should not make too much of the novelty. That is because empires, like the poor, have been with us always. Our field’s fixation on the Westphalian state has tended to obscure the fact that the main actors in global politics, for most of time immemorial, have been empires rather than states. As Eliot A. Cohen puts it: “Most people throughout history have lived under imperial rule. The current international system, with nearly two hundred independent states and not a single confessed empire, is a historical anomaly.” 29 In fact, it is a very distorted view of even the Westphalian era not to recognize that it was always at least as much about empires as it was states. Almost all of the emerging European states no sooner began to consolidate than they were off on campaigns of conquest and commerce to the farthest reaches of the globe. State construction and evolution therefore was also about building, defending, and (sooner or later) losing empires. Ironically, it was the European empires that carried the idea of the sovereign territorial state to the rest of the world, an idea that came back to haunt them. A peculiar Western polity form thus was superimposed over other sorts of polities and identities, many of which were ages older, and—this is very important—were not thereby erased completely. Even before the latest Bush administration, the “unipolar moment” 30 of the lone superpower and attendent globalizing trends helped to give empire some currency during the last decade of the 20 th century. A book by Andrew J. Bacevich on American Empire argued that there is very little difference between the U.S. role in the world as conceived and practiced by the George W. Bush and earlier Clinton administrations, and indeed that both had their foundation on “U.S. exceptionalism” and dreams of special mission that are almost as old as the country itself. 31 (Unfortunately, for Bacevich he published his book in 2002, before the excesses of Iraq highlighted the striking differences between Clinton and Bush.) Another widely read book on Empire by neo-Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri also in fact antedated the current Bush administration. They state: “This book was begun well after the end of the Persian Gulf War and completed well before the beginning of the war in Kosovo. The reader should thus situate the argument at the midpoint between those two signal events in the construction of Empire. 32 Hardt and Negri make it clear that their version of empire includes far more than the United States and is roughly the same as “globalization” in its economic and other dimensions. More about Hardt and Negri shortly. Long before the “unipolar moment,” the bipolar world of two superpowers, without much stretch, could have been and sometimes was regarded as a Cold War contest of two empires. President Reagan publicly characterized the Soviets’ as the “Evil Politics (January 2006), 229-230. 29 Eliot A. Cohen, “History and the Hyperpower,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 4 (July/ August 2004), 50. 30 Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” 31 Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002). 32 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), xvii. 9

Authors: Ferguson, Yale. and Mansbach, Richard.
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also the matter of whether stock in the supposed U.S. empire is now overvalued.
Although the Bush “neocons” and their political allies have put the idea of empire
back in the spotlight, we really should not make too much of the novelty. That is because
empires, like the poor, have been with us always. Our field’s fixation on the Westphalian
state has tended to obscure the fact that the main actors in global politics, for most of time
immemorial, have been empires rather than states. As Eliot A. Cohen puts it: “Most
people throughout history have lived under imperial rule. The current international
system, with nearly two hundred independent states and not a single confessed empire, is
a historical anomaly.”
In fact, it is a very distorted view of even the Westphalian era not
to recognize that it was always at least as much about empires as it was states. Almost all
of the emerging European states no sooner began to consolidate than they were off on
campaigns of conquest and commerce to the farthest reaches of the globe. State
construction and evolution therefore was also about building, defending, and (sooner or
later) losing empires. Ironically, it was the European empires that carried the idea of the
sovereign territorial state to the rest of the world, an idea that came back to haunt them. A
peculiar Western polity form thus was superimposed over other sorts of polities and
identities, many of which were ages older, and—this is very important—were not thereby
erased completely.
Even before the latest Bush administration, the “unipolar moment”
of the lone
superpower and attendent globalizing trends helped to give empire some currency during
the last decade of the 20
th
century. A book by Andrew J. Bacevich on American Empire
argued that there is very little difference between the U.S. role in the world as conceived
and practiced by the George W. Bush and earlier Clinton administrations, and indeed that
both had their foundation on “U.S. exceptionalism” and dreams of special mission that
are almost as old as the country itself.
(Unfortunately, for Bacevich he published his
book in 2002, before the excesses of Iraq highlighted the striking differences between
Clinton and Bush.) Another widely read book on Empire by neo-Marxists Michael Hardt
and Antonio Negri also in fact antedated the current Bush administration. They state:
“This book was begun well after the end of the Persian Gulf War and completed well
before the beginning of the war in Kosovo. The reader should thus situate the argument at
the midpoint between those two signal events in the construction of Empire.
Hardt and
Negri make it clear that their version of empire includes far more than the United States
and is roughly the same as “globalization” in its economic and other dimensions. More
about Hardt and Negri shortly.
Long before the “unipolar moment,” the bipolar world of two superpowers,
without much stretch, could have been and sometimes was regarded as a Cold War
contest of two empires. President Reagan publicly characterized the Soviets’ as the “Evil
Politics (January 2006), 229-230.
29
Eliot A. Cohen, “History and the Hyperpower,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 4 (July/
August 2004), 50.
30
Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,”
31
Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S.
Diplomacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).
32
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2000), xvii.
9


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