Who can limit the extent to which the federative principle may operate effectively?
Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural, 18051
The “neo-” in the uncertain designation “neo-imperial” would assert the historical uniqueness of a transformational political-economic project that would be global, “federative,” and liberal-democratic, universal in concept whether or not fully elaborated. For neoconservative pundits and other vulgar exceptionalists in the United States, as well as for the liberal internationalists whose outlook still defines the Democratic Party and the broad American mainstream, a neo-imperial interest and the national interest would be effectively the same interest, but most or all of those involved, when speaking to the home crowd and quite likely when speaking to themselves, will aim to define the former in terms of the latter, converting a defensive or impartially conservative neo-imperialism or the presumption of the global status quo on its own terms into an aggressive and chauvinistic neoconservative imperialism or the presumption of indefinitely extended domination. In the abstract, and during periods of retrenchment, the latter self-understanding may be as unpopular if not intolerable as in the moment of crisis it will be irresistible. Those moved to oppose or to seek or pretend to oppose either conservative neo-imperialism or neoconservative imperialism or both from within the neo-imperial center geographically or ideally may look to the libertarian reflexes that are sometimes identified as original Americanism; or to attitudes of the current political moment as once upon a time in the aftermath of the Vietnam War; or to Marxist-Leninist, anti-colonialist, Islamist, and other polemics in mixed inflections and under moralistic cover: Much easier to turn an exhausted yet undead praxis into a cliché than to outline a course of transition from here to some theoretically or merely wishfully more desirable there; easier to point to one-sidedly estimated costs of empire, costs of all types, costs as comprehensive as empire is all-embracing; easier, at opportunity, to laugh at the contortions of those trying to defend supra-national commitments as simple patriotism, than to engage on the consequences of unraveling those commitments. “It is not possible to be rid of it either,” says the miserable tyrant, of tyranny.2
- Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, Kindle Locations 6825-6826 [↩]
- Xenophon, Hiero or Tyrannicus, 7:12 – Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 15 [↩]