Somewhere in The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso offered the observation that one day the United States woke up and discovered that it was an empire, but it didn’t know what an empire was. So it ran its empire like a giant corporation. I don’t think that’s true, but the question–what, if anything, is the American empire–is one that a lot of people grapple with.
Tony Judt reviews some recent attempts and offers some things to ponder.
“The challenge facing American voters in the coming elections is not to find a president who can convince the world that the US isn’t an empire—or else, if it is an empire, that its intentions are honorable. That argument has been lost and is now beside the point. Nor is it even a question of choosing between being loved and being feared. Thanks to America’s performance in Iraq—and our evident inability to plan one war at a time, much less two—we are neither loved nor feared. We have shocked the world, yes; but few now hold us in awe.
. . . we should not be surprised that America has ceased to be an example to the world. The real tragedy is that we are no longer an example to ourselves. America’s born-again president insists that we are engaged in the war of Good against Evil, that American values ‘are right and true for every person in every society.’ Perhaps. But the time has come to set aside the Book of Revelation and recall the admonition of the Gospels: For what shall it profit a country if it gain the whole world but lose its own soul?”