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Globalisation and the US Empire

Ellen Meiksins Wood (2003, p. 134) has captured succinctly globalisation’s current imperialist manifestations:

Actually existing globalization ... means the opening of subordinate economies and their vulnerability to imperial capital, while the imperial economy remains sheltered as much as possible from the adverse effects. Globalization has nothing to do with free trade. On the contrary, it is about the careful control of trading conditions in the interest of imperial capital. (cited in McLaren and Farahmandpur 2005)

While globalization is used to further the interests of capitalists and their supporters per se, it is often similarly used ideologically to justify the New Imperial Project. On 17 September 2002, a document entitled National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSSUSA) was released which laid bare US global strategy in the most startling terms (Smith 2003, p. 491). As transmodernist, David Geoffrey Smith points out, the

Report heralds a ‘single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise’. Europe is to be kept subordinate to, and dependent on, US power, NATO is to be reshaped as a global interventionist force under US leadership, and American national security is claimed to be dependent on the absence of any other great power. The Report also refers to ‘information warfare’, whereby deliberate lies are spread as a weapon of war. Apparently, a secret army has been established to provoke terrorist attacks, which would then justify ‘counter attack’ by US forces on countries that could be announced as ‘harboring terrorists’ (The Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE) 2003 pp. 67-78, cited in Smith 2003, pp. 491-2).

While the NSSUSA states that American diplomats are to be retrained as ‘viceroys’ capable of governing client states ((RUPE), 2003 cited in Smith 2003, p. 491), the New Imperialism, in reality, no longer seeks direct territorial control of the rest of the world, as did British Imperialism for example, but instead relies on ‘vassal regimes’ (Bello 2001, cited in Smith 2003, p. 494) to do its bidding. This is because capital is now accumulated via the control of markets, rather than by sovereignty over territories.

Writing from a liberal perspective, Michael Lind (2004, p. 5) points out that this does not stop many neo-Conservatives in the United States hankering after British Imperialism (and in particular the young Winston Churchill) as their model. British neo-Conservative popular historian and TV presenter Niall Ferguson, for whom the British Empire was relatively benevolent, has similar views. In a speech in 2004, he argued that the American Empire which ‘has the potential to do great good’ needs to learn from the lessons of the British Empire. First it needs to export capital and to invest in its colonies; second, people from the United States need to settle permanently in its colonies; third, there must be a commitment to imperialism; fourth there must be collaboration with local elites. Success can only come, he concludes if the Americans are prepared to stay (Ferguson 2004). George Bush and Tony Blair were, of course, pivotal in extending and consolidating US imperialism. Ferguson (2005) argued that Bush is an ‘idealist realist’ who is ‘clearly open to serious intellectual ideas’. Bush is a realist because he believes that power is ‘far more important than law in the relations between states’, and an idealist because he wants to spread ‘economic and political freedom around the world’. Bush, he goes on, has picked up two main ideas from the academy, namely that free markets accelerate economic growth which makes democracy more likely to succeed, and democracies are ‘much less likely to make war than authoritarian regimes’. Ferguson then offers the President a further idea. It helps to think of the US Empire (Ferguson’s words not mine) ‘as a kind of sequel to the British Empire’. The lesson to be learnt from that Empire is the need to stay longer. ‘Elections are not everything’ and the danger posed to liberty in the United States, and on the imperial front, he concludes, is less worrying than ‘a decline in US power ... surely something about which idealists and realists can agree’.

Wall Street Journalist, Max Boot has gone so far as to state that ‘Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets’ (cited in Smith 2003, p. 490).

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