Empire Institute

An Interdisciplinary Project:

we meet twice a month:

in Tübingen (usually the last Friday) and
in Stuttgart (usually the second Friday)


              As the world accelerates into the new millennium, talk of empire is once again being heard in the corridors of power. In reaction to 9/11, American foreign policy has become more imperial as it shifts from informal to formal rule—policing and administering territory. President Bush’s declaration of global “war against terror” coincides with a rapidly growing population, failing states and a heightened race for control of the Earth’s strategic resources. At the same time, foreign policy elites in New York, Washington and London seem to be suggesting that force in the service of human rights can provide a public good by establishing civil order in the face of the global trend towards ungovernability that economic globalization is producing.

              Publicists throughout the cold war promoted American power in novel terms, such as “The American Century,” “Pax Americana,” “Super Power” or “Hegemon,” and avoided the word “imperial,” which Marxist-Leninism had coupled with capitalism. After the Soviet Union imploded, imperial-capitalism became ideologically irrelevant. American policy-wonks and spin-doctors were free to change public rhetoric. Today’s influential opinion pieces on America’s liberal Imperium are reminiscent of the late-19th century when the U.S. first set off to build an empire overseas. Even domestic opposition to empire shares parallels with the Anti-Imperialist League of 1898. However, for many Americans and Europeans this came as a great shock. Imperialism represents a reversal of many of our cherished assumptions about liberal democracy, the postcolonial world and international peace. Yet, for those living outside U.S territory, especially inhabitants of Mesopotamia and Afghanistan, ‘democracy promotion’ appears as the latest rhetoric in a long chain of distant imperial powers.

              The move towards formal imperialism also contradicts the shift from modernity to post-modernity, which sociologists in the 1980s elaborately theorized about; for instance, the ways in which domination had changed: from normative regulation to seduction, from policing to public relations, from enforcement to advertising. Domestically, the task of social control ceded from centralized administered agencies to essentially uncoordinated market forces while territorial conquest and administration came to be seen as more of a liability than an asset. Moreover, news of troop withdrawals became more common than invasions. Interventions into the internal affairs of sovereign states were, more or less, limited to subterfuge either through covert operations or the economic policies of the IMF and World Bank, which imposed conditions on dependent countries. However, all this changed after 9-11.