ON EMPIRE: AMERICA, WAR, AND GLOBAL SUPREMACY by Eric Hobsbawm (Pantheon), 97 pages, $22.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
If you want to learn why the United States failed in its pursuit of empire, pick up historian Eric Hobsbawm’s slim treatise On Empire.
This hardcover pamphlet covers the end of empires, war and peace in the 20th century, the idea and practice of American hegemony and why the U.S. can never replicate the days of the British empire. All in all, a pretty ambitious undertaking to cram into 97 pages.
While the book is short on content, it is long on analysis of why, historically, the age of empires can never be revived, no matter how much firepower backs a nation looking to expand.
Hobsbawm, the grandfather of Marxist historians, believes the era when a few thousand British troops could subjugate hundreds of millions of people in India is over. Since the end of the Cold War, the Third World has been flooded with weapons, enough to engage and defeat any country with imperial aspirations.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, Hobsbawm argues, allowed the only remaining superpower to try to take out any regime it sees as a threat, with no regard for international law. Iraq shows the hubris of this policy.
The end of a two-superpower world caused international destabilization, and one of the main problems of our day is the re-establishment of that stability.
Modern economic interconnectivity has eliminated one of the strongest cards old-time Western imperialists played in empires past: modernization.
And as a debtor nation, the United States cannot now play the dominating economic role the British did in their years of empire.
Agree or disagree with his analysis, Hobsbawm is a thinker who knows how to get you thinking.