The Lazy Bear's Guide to Anti-ImperialismRoundup
tags: imperialism, Russia, Ukraine, militarism
Gabriel N. Rosenberg teaches at Duke University and is the Duke Endowment Fellow of the National Humanities Center.
In this issue of The Strong Paw of Reason, I stumble out of my Americanist cave and opine on matters of global import. Sabres are rattling and there are whispers of war in the East. What’s a humble bear to do?
Today’s newsletter is a return to the long form approach I pursued last year (remember I promised I’d still do that sometimes!). I’ll return to the regular modular approach in the future, but I felt like this essay is substantive enough that it deserved to stand alone. I am not an expert on US foreign relations or international affairs. But I think it’s my responsibility to engage these questions as well as I can with some perspective from my training as a historian.
This issue is addressed to people who don’t like US military actions abroad and want fewer of them. I’m calling that “anti-imperialism” in the title, though I’m aware that doing so sidesteps some important definitional questions that academics may wish to quibble about. If you prefer to describe my skepticism of US military force as something else (“anti-militarist” or “peacenik” or “woefully naive”) feel free to do so, but it doesn’t alter the substance of the argument. And if you happen to be a big fan of US military actions abroad this essay may not be for you. I’m not going to spend much time justifying my peacenik assumptions and hawkish sorts will probably disagree vehemently. Fine. That’s not the point. This essay is for people who don’t like US militarism, want less of it, and, given their limited political agency, hope to pursue an effective anti-imperialism.
To them I say: As long as the United States spends nearly a trillion dollars a year on its massive military, it really doesn’t matter all that much who is in charge; the institutional inertia of the National Security State will always favor war. If you want to contain American imperialism, you need to focus on reducing the institutional capacity to make wars. That’s not an easy task, but knowing that it is the task will help you identify the opportunists and marshal your limited time and energy. Less time and energy spent fighting the war machine is more time and energy spent eating honey!
The United States is a (declining) global hegemon with a world-spanning military apparatus unparalleled in size and destructive force. Its military actions make an enormous difference in the daily lives of millions of people all over the world who aren’t citizens of the United States but whose well-being demands our moral consideration. Those people don’t get a say in how the United States uses its military. Arguably, most average American citizens don’t get much of a say either, but insofar as we have any political influence, no matter how diluted and constrained it may be, it’s our moral responsibility to see that the US uses its military might, if we must use it at all, in a responsible fashion. Great power, great responsibility, yada yada. Ideally, every American citizen would take a serious interest in world affairs. They would learn enough to know when it was good and warranted to use military force and when it was bad and unwarranted. And then they would demand that their elected representatives ensure that military action was reserved only for when it was good and warranted and never when it was bad and unwarranted.
Problem: Americans are lazy and ignorant, and we’re easily hornswoggled by opportunists, fools, charlatans, and the sundry cretins who populate national politics and media.
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