Monday, March 07, 2005

The emperor's new clothes: neoimperialism as modernization

Although I doubt (alas!) that Susanne Rudolph has read my book on the modernization theorists, her presidential address to the American Political Science Association in September mirrored the argument I make in Mandarins of the Future, and also draws the same conclusions about how modernization theory adumbrated the pro-imperial project of the neocons within the current Bush regime. Rudolph also points out that the failings of that earlier project should sound a warning to contemporary believers in the neo-imperial project. Money:
Niall Ferguson has proposed that America accept its destiny as a global hegemon, but learn how to be an imperial power from the history of the British Empire. Faced with a need to stay the course in foreign lands, America is handicapped, says Ferguson, by Attention Deficit Disorder. It must learn to serve in the spirit of duty and to recognize its civilizing mission. I am not very enthusiastic about Ferguson’s project, but if I were, I would share his despair about Americans fulfilling the role of the British hegemon. In so far as British hegemony worked, it did so because the British accepted and incorporated difference. Britain’s feudal past and the royal and aristocratic traces it left in the British mentality and structure of governance enabled the empire to skillfully fit British racism into local patterns of asymmetry, to reward native subalterns by successfully inserting them into the British system of rank and order. Such cultural suppleness is more difficult for Americans, whose Lockean tradition prevents them from gracefully using inequality to their advantage. Lawrence of Arabia, the double agent of British and Arabian culture, is the model of British imperial imagination; the "ugly American," loaded with liberal designs, is the model of the American incapacity to imagine the other.
Imperialism in the name of egalitarianism is in fact an oxymoron, no matter what the liberal hawks and sincere neocons may wish to believe.

Hat tip: WAB.

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