Recent events have led to a renewed scholarly interest in empire and the question whether the United States and its policies abroad constitute an "American Empire." This essay clarifies the various uses of the term and argues that conceptual overstretching retards scholarly analysis of the phenomenon. This essay suggests a definition of the term "empire" and provides an ideal-typical reference point to study its empirical variations. I provide a typology of empires to guide the analysis of common features as well as distinguishing characteristics. We can then answer the question whether contemporary manifestations might differ from their historical precursors. American unilateralist policy today differs in fundamental respects from previous imperial processes and structures. In contradistinction with earlier empires, U.S. policies lack the incentive structures for peripheral elites and local populations that typified imperial rule in the past. While falling short of constituting a formal empire, its policies face the same contradictions that confronted the western maritime empires as well as the USSR and which led to their dismemberment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Political Science and International Relations