America in the Shadow of Empires by David Coates (auth.)

By David Coates (auth.)

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Is America an Empire and, If So, What Kind of Empire? As we now close in on what exactly to call the contemporary United States in this discussion of empires, it does seem that a nation-state is best labeled as some kind of empire if it exercises regular and effective sovereignty over the internal and foreign affairs of other nation-states or regions, and it is best not labeled as some kind of empire if it does not. ”75 The idea of a continuum is particularly valuable here. At one end are empires that exercise direct and formal control over subordinate polities and rely heavily on superior military force to initiate and consolidate that control.

The core elite is dominant; the peripheral elites are subordinate. 56 That said, the political relationships at the core of empire can take and have taken many forms. They can vary in territorial space: some local, some regional, some very occasionally on a far grander scale. The Romans, the Mongols, and the British all controlled vast proportions of the then known land mass. The Venetian Empire, by contrast, hardly 42 America in the Shadow of Empires controlled any land mass at all. Empires can be predominantly land or sea based.

Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, the United States in the first century of its existence fought Mexico and annexed its territory, pushed Native Americans into constrained and limited reservations, and even invaded Canada in the hope of expanding north. It is true that military and political leaders on the American east coast did not then lock the settlers of each new territory into permanent political servitude: each area was, in the end, admitted to the union as an equal partner. That equality was not extended, however, to nineteenth-century Native Americans, whose ethnic exclusion and political subordination was total.

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