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Empire and Moral Identity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2012

Abstract

Justifications and criticisms of empire have often focused on the effects of empire on imperial “subjects.” But an older criticism of empire equally focuses upon the way the possession of empire transforms the identity of the imperial state itself by altering its constitution, implicating its people in projects that happen elsewhere, and forcing them to define their relationship to applications of power in a radically new way. On this view the real danger of empire often is the effect it has on the state possessing the empire. In our times in particular, empire is thought to have a profound impact on the functioning of democracy in the imperial state itself. This article seeks to recover the moral sensibility that lies behind this form of moral criticism. It also seeks to examine, briefly, whether America is vulnerable to the “corruptions” of empire and the weight we should place on this moral consideration.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2003

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References

1 Although it is a measure of a transformation in the terms of debate that many commentators openly profess the virtues of empire. See, e.g., Niall Ferguson, The Cash Nexus (New York: Basic Books, 2000), ch. 14.

2 Villa, DanaSocratic Citizenship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001) p.34Google Scholar.

3 What constitutes proper multilateral authorization is a tricky question for many reasons. This is partly because international law on this matter is unsettled. It is also the case that nations intervening typically claim some form of authorization. In the case of Iraq, the United States appealed to Resolution 1441 and earlier Security Council resolutions. It tried to make the case that the international community was not living up to its own resolutions. Whether or not this claim is tenable would require a separate paper. The crucial point is that a form of intervention that is widely accepted by the international community, not just by members of a particular alliance, is less likely to be described as an imperial intervention.

4 Gaddis, John Lewis Order vs. Justice: An American Foreign Policy Dilemmain Foot, RosemaryGaddis, John LewisHurrell, AndrewOrder and Justice in International Relations 2003 OxfordOxford University Pressp.161Google Scholar.

5 J. Fulbright, J. WilliamThe Arrogance of Power (Har-monds worthPenguin Books, 1966) p.31Google Scholar.

6 Aron, RaymondThe Imperial Republic 1974 DelhiPrentice Hall Internationalp.309Google Scholar.

7 Hobson, John A.Imperialism: A Study 3d (London: Allen and Unwin, 1988p.196)Google Scholar; also available at http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Hobson/hbsnlmp11.html.

8 Aron, The Imperial Republic p.304Google Scholar.

9 Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power p.32Google Scholar.

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