"The Rediscovery of Imperialism"
John M Cox
coxj at email.unc.edu
Tue Nov 5 02:52:47 MST 2002
The Rediscovery of Imperialism
by John Bellamy Foster
This essay was originally written as the introduction to Essays on
Imperialism and Globalization by Harry Magdoff, forthcoming from
Cornerstone Publications in India.
The concept of imperialism was considered outside the acceptable range of
political discourse within the ruling circles of the capitalist world for
most of the twentieth century. Reference to imperialism during the Vietnam
War, no matter how realistic, was almost always a sign that the writer was
on the left side of the political spectrum. In a 1971 foreword to the U.S.
edition of Pierre Jales Imperialism in the Seventies Harry Magdoff noted,
As a rule, polite academic scholars prefer not to use the term
imperialism. They find it distasteful and unscientific.
Today this is suddenly no longer true. U.S. intellectuals and the
political elite are warmly embracing an openly imperialist or
neoimperialist mission for the United States, repeatedly enunciated in
such prestigious print media as the New York Times and Foreign Affairs.
This imperialist fervor owes much to the Bush administrations War on
Terrorism, which is taking the form of the conquest and occupation of
Afghanistan andif its ambitions are fulfilledalso Iraq. According to the
Bush administrations National Security Strategy, there are no recognized
limits or boundaries to the use of military power to promote the interests
of the United States. In the face of this attempt to extend what can only
be called the American Empire, intellectuals and political figures are not
only returning to the idea of imperialism, but also to the view of it
propounded by its earlier nineteenth century proponents as constituting a
grand civilizing mission. Comparisons of the United States to Imperial
Rome and Imperial Britain are now common within the mainstream press. All
that is needed to make it completely serviceable is to rid the concept of
its old Marxist associations of economic hierarchy and exploitationnot to
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"A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary
that people be wicked but only that they be spineless." James Baldwin
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