The New Imperialism

PHILIP BOBBITT (2004), a defender of American imperialism, writes that George W. Bush is “the authentic voice of the liberal imperialist.” An imperialist who, according to Bobbitt, is concerned with a world of prosperity, women’s and minority rights, secularization and democracy. These policies, he insists, “take the doctrine of ‘democratic engagement’ of the first Bush administration, and the doctrine of ‘democratic enlargement’ of the Clinton administration, one step further. It might be called democratic transformation’. Or, it might be called ‘liberal imperialism.’” And then, he asks, “What is wrong with this noble idea?” This article will, in part, attempt to suggest “what is wrong with this noble idea.”
The current moment of empire and the new relationship of forces within the United States are crystallized in the Bush Administration’s Doctrine of Preemptive War,( n6) the USA Patriot Act, and the Homeland Security Act. The Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department are designed as the command centers of the attack upon civil and political rights. International law and international institutions, at the same time, are under assaulted as the Bush Administration declares its right to wage war unilaterally anywhere in the world. The Administration has literally declared itself outside of the bounds of international law and thus according to its own definitions, a rogue state. In economic terms, a policy shift from Keynesian state economic and financial planning to a neo-liberal Friedmanite free market, has been institutionalized.
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, modern capitalism, bourgeois democracy, globalization and contemporary pop culture are virtually incomprehensible without understanding the modern racialized capitalist state. Nor can the new imperialism be understood without understanding its historical anchorage in the racialized US state. While these are issues that engage state and political theory they are also matters that must be investigated historically. The social psychological and ideological dimensions are particularly important. It is safe to say that the American population, particularly white people, views the current moment as a new and unsafe frontier. There is a perceptible transformation of the psychological and ideological impulses among white Americans and something that resembles a collective traumatization is occurring as the business of empire comes home to roost.
The psychological and ideological moment is nourished by the concerns that ordinary white people have with their own vulnerability and their awareness that it is they who are called upon to make significant sacrifices in the name of empire. It is in this milieu that we witness the attempt of leading elements of the state to forge a national identity and sense of purpose geared to fit this new moment. Indeed, the conscious and subconscious dimensions of the American belief system are historically constituted. On the one hand they are variants of extreme individualism; but, at the same time, they embrace notions of whiteness and white supremacy that acknowledge the contingency of the individual upon the larger group. This dialectic between the white race and white supremacy on the one hand, and individualism on the other, accounts for certain of the contradictions of action and thought among white folk. This is particularly pronounced as regards economic and class interests.
In the priority hierarchy of most white people class and economic interests are of secondary or tertiary significance in the determination of political behavior; race trumps class in defining consciousness and political behavior.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL and ideological realities of ordinary white folk are filtered through the prisms of race, nationalism and white supremacy. The perceived threats, therefore, are viewed as threats to white people as a collective and not solely to the economic interests of the nation, or even to specific class interests. For them the American dreamscape has been sullied and tarnished. Their sense of security and the expectation of privacy are wounded. In their minds, their dream world has to be redeemed in order that the American psyche be restored. In the deepest sense the privileges of whiteness and white supremacy are perceived as being under attack. Hence, the defense of America and of democracy is at the core a defense of the global rights of white people, articulated variously as defenses of civilization or the West.
What we have is the reassertion of the notion of civilized and uncivilized nations. Civilized nations are either Western or those whose elites adhere to or adopt Western civilizational values. Hence, the war against terrorism is to uphold Western civilization. However, once it is connected to its objective, an American global empire, it may be properly viewed as a war to universalize white supremacy and to establish the United States as its hegemon. This inevitably leads to tearing up of the international legal framework established since 1945; in particular, the UN Charter and its commitments to decolonization and universally recognized human rights. This constitutes a profound emasculation of international law and a return to the Great Nations system of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As is clear this system harkens back to the time of rampant colonization. Clusters of right-wing commentators are either calling for the US to leave the UN or to severely minimizes its participation. Others more boldly assert the need to for an alternative international organization called the League of Democracies, which would divide the world between the so-called civilized nations and the less than civilized or uncivilized nations.

About Anthony Monteiro

I am a activist and scholar who is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.
This entry was posted in Political and Ideological Issues, W.E.B DU BOIS AND HUMAN SCIENCE. Bookmark the permalink.

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