Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Lurching Toward Empire
If you're up for a game of international point/counterpoint this morning, start with historian Niall Ferguson's interview on The Atlantic's website regarding his new book, Colossus: The Price of America's Empire. In the book, Ferguson argues that American empire is the surest way to promote peace and prosperity around the world--not necessarily the boot-in-the-face empire of the neocons, but a "liberal empire" along the lines of Victorian Britain's. He also argues that Americans consistently sabotage their imperial interventions by a distaste for protracted confrontations and a preference to focus on domestic political concerns. Which seems to me a fine argument for why we're not suited to run the world in the way the British attempted--we talk a good game about being the bringer of freedom to the whole world, but in the end, we're also the most self-absorbed people on Earth.

For the counterpoint to Ferguson, click over to the website of his old college chum, George Monbiot, whose work frequently appears in The Guardian. Monbiot suggests that Ferguson has forgotten the way the rulers tend to exploit the ruled, all the while thinking that their exploitation is benign and any problems along the way are either temporary or the fault of those being ruled. Monbiot doesn't argue an alternative in his review of Ferguson's book, although the title of his own new book gives a clue to his thinking: The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order.

Ferguson is young for a historian (40), photogenic, and can argue his admittedly controversial views without being shrill or dogmatic. As Monbiot says, "The quality of his research forces those of us who take a different view to raise our game." And he talks and writes with style, too. He told The Atlantic's interviewer, "It is the habitual fantasy of many Americans that if the U.S. would just stop intervening abroad everybody in the world would enact the lyrics of John Lennon's 'Imagine.' History suggests otherwise." And also: "Everybody in the United States thinks 9/11 is the most important event since the birth of Christ, or thereabouts. In truth, all the trends that manifested themselves in 9/11 were evident years before. . . . One of the lines I'm most fond of in Colossus is, 'the real historic turning point was not 9/11, but 11/9.' When the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, the United States entered a period of unrivaled global power, and it spent the better part of fifteen years trying to figure out what to do with that power. That was the real turning point of modern times."

Recommended reading: Salon's "Right Hook" provides a case study of the right-wing echo chamber by charting the many different ways different wingnuts made the same point about Al Gore's MoveOn speech last week: Gore is not merely wrong, he's mentally ill.

Quote of the day: From former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, the latest to give advice to John Kerry: "The TV camera is an x-ray for picking up attitudinal truths, and Kerry's lantern jaw and Addams Family face somehow reinforce the message that this guy has passed from ponderous to pompous and is so accustomed to privilege that he doesn't have to worry about looking goofy. It's as if Lurch had gone to Choate."

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