Every so often, several seemingly unrelated bits of information come together in such a fashion as to form a coherent, integrated image -- a big picture, as it were. Several days ago, my old friend, retired History professor Milton Cantor, a very distinguished historian of left-wing political movements in the United States, sent me a copy of a long, thoughtful letter he had sent to Senator Carl Levin. In three tightly written single-spaced pages, Cantor detailed the series of votes Levin had taken in the Senate that in one way or another expanded the autocratic power of the presidency and eroded what have always been thought to be the core rights and protections of constitutional government, most notably the Great Writ, as the writ of habeas corpus is called. On the same day that I received the letter, I read a blog post [I cannot now recall which of three or four different blogs was its source] that included a very striking graphic illustration of the size of the military budgets of the twenty or so most geared up nations. Not surprisingly [I actually already sort of knew this], the United States spends annually ten times as much on defense as its nearest competitor, China, and all in all about half of all the money spent on the military world-wide.
Something about these two bits of information coalesced in my mind, and I realized that I was seeing a perfect representation of America's hegemonic imperial status in the contemporary world. Overwhelming military dominance abroad is complemented by the establishment of an imperium at home. The government now asserts openly that it has the right to kill anyone in the world it deems a threat to its imperium, even if that person is a citizen of the United States. The only restraints the state now recognizes on its actions are instrumental -- the opportunity costs of military action, the deleterious effects on the members of the volunteer armed forces.
This is the reality with which we live, and it does not appear that it will change for at least a generation, perhaps longer. To be quite honest, I do not believe there is anything any of us can do to change this reality. I happen to think that Barack Obama is a more benign and less destructive imperial ruler than George W. Bush was or than any of the current candidates for the Republican nomination would be, and that is sufficient reason for me to do what I can to further his re-election. But no one should be under any illusion that either Obama or anyone else who could possibly be elected President, now or for the foreseeable future, will make any fundamental changes in the imperial character of the United States.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Empires come an go, professor. It took two hundred years for the British empire to unravel from its peak, but it looks like things move a lot faster these days. By the way, it's rare that empires collapse because of external threats, usually they unravel from the inside. As an American, it seems to me that our recent unwillingness to work for the common good is just a symptom of such a process.
I am sure you are right. At my age, all of that seems impossibly in the future. But I would expect America's military hegemony to last at leastr another generation.
Dear Professor Wolff,
I have enjoyed your blog for a few years--beginning with your autobiography. I'm curious to know what are the four or five blogs you frequent.
Hi, Adam, Every day I go several times to TPM, Andrew Sullivan's blog, the Huffington Post, The NY TIMES [even though I also subscribe to the paper edition]and Daily Kos. I also check FireDogLake, Slate, on occasion Al Jazeera. I also [I blush to admit] Google myself to see who is mentioning me, ande that takes me to a variety of blogs.
Just found your blog and your application of Hegemony with Imperium is great, qualifying your thoughts on another generation. Our civilization could be the Capstone for such endeavors.
Might I recommend Harper's No Comment? It is distressing to read about the crimes of the Empire, but at least it feels good knowing that someone is at the very least acknowledging some of the worst of them without readers do having to strain to get to the heart of the matter. His biography styles him as "known for his work in emerging markets and international law, especially human rights law and the law of armed conflict".
What a horrifying, utterly selfish decision--to support someone who murders thousands upon thousands of foreign children, because their domestic policy decisions are a little bit better than the domestic policy decisions that might have been made by other people in office at the time.
Even if those domestic policy decisions are better than what a "Republican" would've done...and they're not...but even accepting that partisan fairy-tale, what a vile, selfish act it is for you to support the ongoing murder of so many children belonging to a different culture. This is unabashed, vulgar selfishness of the worst kind.
You gravely agree that "Arab" children shall be butchered in droves so that "American" children can have unions. You are the worst that humanity has to offer.
Post a Comment