Skip to main content Skip to navigation

American Empire, Part 1

Lecture slides.

Seminar questions:

• Why have Americans long had such a conflicted relationship with empire?
• In what ways do Luce’s and Ignatieff’s essays—both published on the cusp of American involvement in war overseas—reflect national ambivalence about US power?
• How helpful or otherwise is it to conceive of the US as an imperial power?
• If the US has been the world’s most powerful political and economic actor since World War II, why hasn’t Washington been more successful in achieving dominance in areas where it has intervened militarily?

Seminar required reading:

Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (Harvard UP, 2009) e-book
Ch.1 “The Myth of the Reluctant Superpower”

Henry Luce, ‘The American Century’ [Life, Feb. 17, 1941] in Diplomatic History, 23, ii (Spring 1999), 159-71

Michael Ignatieff, ‘The American Empire, The Burden,’ New York Times, Jan. 5, 2003

Supplementary reading:

Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth Century Europe (Harvard University Press, 2006)

Richard H. Immerman, Empire for liberty: a history of American imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (Princeton University Press, 2010)

Geir Lundestad, The Rise and Decline of the American "Empire": Power and its Limits in Comparative Perspective (2012) e-book
Ch. 5 “The Impotence of Omnipotence”

Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt's geographer and the prelude to globalization (University of California Press, 2003) e-book

Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right (Hill & Wang, 1995)

William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Dell Publishing, 1972)