american empire?

In response to a dreadful piece of faux-journalism in the Atlantic entitled The Price of Empire:

In 1945 neither the Germans nor Japanese had a choice in whether or not to be occupied. However, since then, the democratically elected governments of both nations have renewed the defense treaties and agreed to continue to host US bases. What is more, both governments have enacted policies antithetical to American interests from time to time, for example, Japan’s export policies, and Germany’s refusal to go along with the invasion of Iraq.

Next, empires by definition are physically maintained by force (cf. Rome, British Empire) and for the economic benefit of the empire, frequently to the detriment of the subservient regions. In the cases of both Germany and Japan, however, we see a voluntary military association that could be abridged by the German or Japanese governments, and we see that rather than economically profiting from these associations, the US poured huge sums of money into these nations for no defined economic gain. These two nations are in no way cases of empire as normally understood.

However, in the early 20th century, the Lenin-Hobson (i.e., communist) theory of empire asserted that capitalist nations who run out of internal ways to use capital will then turn outwards and will force weaker nations into economic subservience, creating a new kind of empire. The Lenin-Hobson concept of empire also turns on the use of coercion backed up by armed force. This has turned out to be false, but has become a mainstay of leftist thinking since it was published.

If, for the sake of argument, we allow both cases, then an empire is maintained by coercion and at least the threat of military force. Iraq and Afghanistan may or may not fit into this category (depending on whether the US pours more money in or takes more out of each of them)*, but Japan and Germany, who freely signed renewals of their defense treaties with the US, certainly do not.


h/t to Winds of Change

* Update: Actually, whether or not these two nations are part of an alleged American empire depends on several factors, first among them being whether or not they become fully independent nations, whether they are being exploited economically, etc. Right now I find it highly improbable, but I also maintain that we don’t know everything going on, so my estimate may change later.

Update ( June 29, 2008 ): Armed and Dangerous has an excellent post that approaches the topic from a different angle, followed up by a reply to a commenter.

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