Wednesday, October 20, 2004


2601 students: There’s a long essay by Tony Judt on the idea of American empire in the November 4 New York Review of Books. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Talk of “empire” makes Americans distinctly uneasy. This is odd. In its westward course the young republic was not embarrassed to suck virgin land and indigenous peoples into the embrace of Thomas Jefferson’s “empire for liberty.” Millions of American immigrants made and still make their first acquaintance with the US through New York, “the Empire State.” From Monroe to Bush, American presidents have not hesitated to pronounce doctrines whose extraterritorial implications define imperial authority and presume it: there is nothing self-effacing about that decidedly imperious bird on the Presidential Seal. And yet, though the rest of the world is under no illusion, in the United States today there is a sort of wishful denial. We don’t want an empire, we aren’t an empire—or else if we are an empire, then it is one of a kind.
Judt never mentions Rome, but for someone who’s been thinking about the Aeneid, this essay is especially interesting to read.

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