Anyway, today's foray is an exploration of the canard that is "the decline of the American empire". It seems to be a thought process that's quite fashionable in these difficult economic times. Mostly I see it from the lefter leaning writers, but sometimes from the right, too. Hell, Jim tends to fall into this to a certain degree, though he leaves out the empire bit.
That's really the first falacious part of this outlook. Hard to have an American empire in decline when there never was an empire. Here are the numerous definitions of empire, courtesy of Dictionary.com:
1. a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent than a kingdom, as the former British Empire, french Empire, Russian Empire, Byzantine Empire, or Roman Empire.
2. a government under an emperor or empress.
3. ( often initial capital letter ) the historical period during which a nation is under such a government: a history of the second French empire.
4. supreme power in governing; imperial power; sovereignty: Austria's failure of empire in central Europe.
5. supreme control; absolute sway: passion's empire over the mind.
6. a powerful and important enterprise or holding of large scope that is controlled by a single person, family, or group of associates: The family's shipping empire was founded 50 years ago.
7. ( initial capital letter ) a variety of apple somewhat resembling the McIntosh.
8. ( initial capital letter ) characteristic of or developed during the first French Empire, 1804–15. 9. ( usually initial capital letter ) (of women's attire and coiffures) of the style that prevailed during the first French Empire, in clothing being characterized esp. by décolletage and a high waistline, coming just below the bust, from which the skirt hangs straight and loose.
10. ( often initial capital letter ) noting or pertaining to the style of architecture, furnishings, and decoration prevailing in France and imitated to a greater or lesser extent in various other countries, c1800–30: characterized by the use of delicate but elaborate ornamentation imitated from Greek and Roman examples or containing classical allusions, as animal forms for the legs of furniture, bas-reliefs of classical figures, motifs of wreaths, torches, caryatids, lyres, and urns and by the occasional use of military and Egyptian motifs and, under the Napoleonic Empire itself, of symbols alluding to Napoleon I, as bees or the letter N.
Obviously, the first definition is the one these thinkers are saying applies to the US. Problem is, the US has never been an empire. There's always the technicality of not having an emperor or king, but even going with the fall back of "other powerful sovereign or government", the simple fact is that the US doesn't have nations or peoples it rules over that aren't a part of the US. Territories of the US have always participated in the government to some extent, and the vast majority of the territory in the US consists of the 50 states, which are fully participatory in the government. Those territories that aren't states have their own elected government and participate in the Federal government, albeit on a more limited basis than states.
The US started as a part of the British Empire, but after the Revolution there was no empire. The US continually expanded, but those areas into which it expanded became a part of the US, not subjects of the US. That's a key difference between empire and the US. One can argue about the methods of the US in obtaining the new states and territories, but it was entirely different from the 19th century empires of England, France, Belgium and the like that carved up Africa and Asia. There was never any intention of making those lands a part of the empire in a participatory sense, even though many of the European powers were representative governments at various points during that age of empire.
My impression is that these writers use the term "American empire" as a pejorative to take the nation to task for its exercise of power, particularly in the post WWII world. However, the place the US held, and holds, as a leader in the world is due to both its economic strength and its ideals. In fact, the ideals of the US, as expressed in the Constitution, are the most important part of what makes the US the country that it is.
Let's put to rest, then, this trite idea of the "decline of the American empire." It never has been an empire. It's in a down moment economically, but that's only a small part of what makes the US special. The US could be the 50th economy in the world. It would still be an important nation, worthy of emulation, so long as it continues to adhere to principles of individual rights and as much freedom of action for its citizens as is possible (which isn't the Libertarian ideal but a recognition that some curtailing of individual decisions is necessary if we're all going to survive together).
Happy New Year, USA.