THE NEW LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC IMPERIALISM: THE CAPITALIST FANTASY OF AUTHORITARIAN FREEDOM ABROAD
Western liberal democracies hold a hallowed place within the modernization narrative. They are the apogee of progress, the final stage of development from which all less than fully “modern” countries must strive. Yet these success stories are shadowed by histories of colonial exploitation and imperial rule. Here, “liberal values” were often tools for justifying insidious economic and political practices abroad, a romanticized cover for the international expansion of authoritarianism, illiberal- ism and hegemony. Crucial, in this regard, was the affective investment in a state empowered with the responsibility of simultaneously bolstering a superpower’s global hegemony and spreading its superior moral “civilization.” In the contemporary context, Western leaders have explicitly rejected the idea that their present policies have any relation to their imperial past. In the words of then President George W. Bush: “America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish, no territorial ambitions. We don’t seek an empire. Our nation is committed to freedom for ourselves and for others” (quoted in Ignatieff, 2003). Yet behind this modern crusade lies a similar liberal dynamic for legitimizing the state in quite illiberal ways in the name of extending and protecting not just liberalism but neoliberalism.