On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy [NOOK Book]


In there four incisive and keenly perceptive essays, one of out most celebrated and respected historians of modern Europe looks at the world situation and some of the major political problems confronting us at the start of the third millennium.

With his usual measured and brilliant historical perspective, Eric Hobsbawm traces the rise of American hegemony in the twenty-first century. He examines the state of steadily increasing world disorder ...
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On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy

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In there four incisive and keenly perceptive essays, one of out most celebrated and respected historians of modern Europe looks at the world situation and some of the major political problems confronting us at the start of the third millennium.

With his usual measured and brilliant historical perspective, Eric Hobsbawm traces the rise of American hegemony in the twenty-first century. He examines the state of steadily increasing world disorder in the context of rapidly growing inequalities created by rampant free-market globalization. He makes clear that there is no longer a plural power system of states whose relations are governed by common laws--including those for the conduct of war. He scrutinizes America's policies, particularly its use of the threat of terrorism as an excuse for unilateral deployment of its global power. Finally, he discusses the ways in which the current American hegemony differs from the defunct British Empire in its inception, its ideology, and its effects on nations and individuals.

Hobsbawm is particularly astute in assessing the United States' assertion of world hegemony, its denunciation of formerly accepted international conventions, and its launching of wars of aggression when it sees fit. Aside from the naivete and failure that have surrounded most of these imperial campaigns, Hobsbawm points out that foreign values and institutions--including those associated with a democratic government--can rarely be imposed on countries such as Iraq by outside forces unless the conditions exist that make them acceptable and readily adaptable.

Timely and accessible, On Empire is a commanding work of history that should be read by anyone who wants some understanding of the turbulent times in which we live.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this collection of essays, the British historian denounces globalism's increasing economic inequalities, which in classic Marxist form, he claims burdenthose who benefit least. Not surprisingly, Hobsbawm expects developing political resistance to retard globalism's progress in the next 20 or so years. Eventually, he implies, globalism will merely be a blip in the historically determined process of the international proletariat's triumph. The major obstacle to that development is the United States. Hobsbawm's America essentially has become a rogue superpower that rejects international common law in favor of what he calls "imperialism of human rights," which, combined with a fear of terrorism, legitimates U.S. military intervention anywhere the "uncontrollable and apparently irrational" U.S. government decides. Hobsbawm contrasts the "instability, unpredictability, aggression" of the American pattern with an earlier, more measured, economically based British version that he considers almost benign by comparison (and is a far cry from his earlier writing on the subject). His loathing for American reliance on "politico-military force" to pursue global ambitions as unlimited as they are undefined has reached new depths. This erudite polemic may appeal to the intellectual left, but is unlikely to change many minds outside that sphere. (Mar. 18)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Welcome to the disunited nations, presided over by an inept superpower, inhabited by corrupt client states and endured by an ever-suffering mass of humankind. We live, writes the eminent British historian Hobsbawm (Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life, 2003, etc.) in this slender volume of lectures, "in what we can now recognize as a deeply unstable form of global disorder both internationally and within states." This is far from the postwar Western dream of free-market nation-states coexisting peacefully. Many nations are dictatorships, many oligarchies, most subject to an economic globalization that spares no one-not even the residents of the developed world, for whom relentless corporate downsizing, cost-cutting and labor-shifting means that the "early twenty-first century offers a troubling, not to say sinister, prospect." Against this economic force, the old world of empires won by military force is dead; what will replace them remains to be seen, though there are plenty of forces around the world now battling out the question, inflicting damages mostly upon civilian populations everywhere. By Hobsbawm's account, it does not help matters that the world's chief power is now the United States, which does not seem to recognize that no state or empire has ever succeeded in ruling the world before, at least not for long. (In this regard, Hobsbawm quotes Napoleon: "You can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.") The author is mystified that 9/11 allowed "a group of political crazies" to attempt to convince the world otherwise, the net effect of which has been negative: The United States is not taken seriously by other nations and is internally divided both politically andculturally. The best solution for the rest of the world, Hobsbawm urges, is to refuse, "firmly but politely, to join further initiatives proposed by Washington which might lead to military action, particularly in the Middle East and Eastern Asia."Good grounds for heated discussion about America's role in the world.
From the Publisher

As close to essential reading as the times allow.

The popular people’s historian who has influenced our understanding of the previous three centuries like no other.

The fact is that no other living historian [before Hobsbawm's death in 2012] of whatever political affiliation has the intellectual firepower—the range and depth of knowledge, the analytical skill.

No historian can match his overwhelming command of fact and source. . . . Hobsbawm’s gift for startling, often seductive generalizations from his material has only grown.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307489029
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/26/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 128
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Eric Hobsbawm is a fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has taught at the University of London, the College de France, MIT, Cornell. and the Graduate Faculty of The New School for Social Research. He is the author of more than twenty books. He lives in London.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

On the End of Empires

When I was born, all Europeans lived in states which were part of empires in the traditional monarchical or the nineteenth-century colonial sense of the world, except the citizens of Switzerland, the three Scandinavian states, and the former dependencies of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans—and some of these had left the Ottoman Empire only just before the First World War. The inhabitants of Africa lived under empires almost without exception, and so, without any exception, did the inhabitants of the Pacific and Southeast Asian islands, large and small. But for the fact that the ancient Chinese Empire had come to an end some six years before I was born, one might have said that all the countries of Asia were parts of empires, old and new, except perhaps Thailand (then known as Siam) and Afghanistan, maintaining a sort of independence between rival European powers. Only the Americas south of the United States consisted primarily of states which neither had nor were colonial dependencies, even though they were certainly economically and culturally dependent.

In the course of my lifetime all this has gone. The First World War broke the Habsburg Empire into fragments and completed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. But for the October Revolution, this would also have been the fate of the empire of the Russian tsar, though it was severely weakened, as was the German Empire, which lost both the imperial title and its colonies. The Second World War destroyed the imperial potential of Germany, which had been briefly realized under Adolf Hitler. It destroyed the colonial empires of the imperialist era, great and small, the British, French, and Japanese, the Dutch and Portuguese, the Belgian, and what little remained of the Spanish. Incidentally, it also brought the end of the relatively brief U.S. excursion into formal colonialism on the European model, in the Philippines and a few other territories. Finally, at the end of the last century, the collapse of European communist regimes brought to an end both Russia as a single multinational entity as it had existed under the tsars and the more short-lived Soviet Empire in East and Central Europe. The metropoles have lost their power, as they have lost their dependencies. Only one potential imperial power remains.

Thirty years ago, most of us welcomed this dramatic change in the political face of the globe, as many of us still do. However, today we look back on it from a troubled new century that seems to lack the relative order and predictability of the Cold War era. The era of empires has gone, but so far nothing has effectively replaced it. The number of independent states has quadrupled since 1913, most of them the debris of former empires, but while in theory we now live in the world of free nation-states which, according to Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, was to replace the world of empires, in practice we live in what we can now recognize as a deeply unstable form of global disorder both internationally and within states. A number—probably a growing number—of these political entities appear incapable of carrying on the essential functions of territorial states or are threatened with disintegration by secessionist movements. What is more, since the end of the Cold War we live in an era when uncontrollable or barely controllable armed conflict has become endemic in large areas of Asia, Africa, Europe, and parts of the Pacific. Massacre amounting to genocide and the mass expulsion of populations (“ethnic cleansing”) are once again taking place on a scale not seen since the years immediately following World War II. Can we wonder that in some countries the survivors of former empires regret their passing?

How should these empires be remembered? The nature of official and popular memory depends to some extent on the length of time that has elapsed since an empire’s disappearance and whether it has left any inheritors. The Roman Empire, both in its western and eastern form, was so completely destroyed, and destroyed so long ago, that it has no inheritor, though the mark it has left on the world, even outside the area it once occupied, is enormous. Alexander’s is gone forever, and so is Genghis Khan’s and Timur’s. So are the empires of the Umayyads and Abbasids. More recently, the Habsburg Empire was so completely destroyed in 1918, and was so completely a-national in structure, that it has no effective continuity with the small nation-state now called Austria. However, often there is some continuity, especially as the end of so many empires is so recent, and has usually been accompanied or followed, in the former metropolitan states, by periods of considerable political and psychological stress. True, today no state that once ruled over a colonial empire intends to, or has any hope of, restoration. But where the metropoles of former empires survive as effective states, usually as nation-states, there is a tendency among them after a while to look back on the times of past greatness with pride and nostalgia. There is also an understandable temptation to exaggerate the benefits which the empire is said to have conferred on its subjects while it existed, such as the law and order within its territories and, with more justification, the fact that several (but not all) vanished empires have been more tolerant of ethnic, linguistic, and religious multiplicity than the nation-states that succeeded them. Nevertheless, as a writer on empires points out, reviewing Professor Mazower’s remarkable social history Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430–1950, “this theory of empire is too good to be true. . . .”[1] The reality of empires should not be in the hands of selective nostalgia.

Only one collective form of imperial memory has practical implications today. This is the feeling that the superior power of empires to conquer and rule the world was based on superior civilization, easily identified with moral or even racial superiority. In the nineteenth century both tended to go together, but the historical experience of Nazi Germany has eliminated racial or ethnic claims to superiority from polite discourse. However, the tacit rather than openly articulated Western claim of moral superiority remains, and finds expression in the conviction that our values and institutions are superior to others’ and may, or even should, be imposed on them to their benefit, if necessary by force of arms.

[1] Jan Morris, "Islam's Lost Grandeur," review of Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower. The Guardian (London), September 18, 2004, p.9.

From the Hardcover edition.

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