CVI - Colossus - the Rise and Fall of the american Empire, by Niall Ferguson, comments by André Bandeira
This book, written in 2003 and published in 2004, seems already outdated. But, coming from and oxfordian and Harvard historian, not only it shows the continuities of north-american policy, but also the continuities between the British and the US Empire. The book is well sized, very well sourced and it only scratches the journalistic membrane. The author is very much seduced for what it calls the «liberal Empire», although refraining from considering the British heritage as something that the USA should shoulder. As a matter of fact, he quotes several times the tradition, both republican and democrat, in the USA, of departing from a new ground where the American Revolution stepped in, that means: a new world without colonies. But what he elaborates better on, that is the historical need for an Empire, as the best alternative, not to multipolarity (which takes time to build) but to an anarchic and opressive apolarity. The sub-title seems to be a very good publicity spot. People run to read the book, in order to find knowledge on how a generally detested thing -- imperialism -- is going to fade away and they end-up in the middle of an overt advocacy of Empire. The author recognizes that, albeit the need and some intuition of it, among the american forerunners, that the most liberal nation in the world shouldn't shy away from taking its new responsibilities, still there are some inherent contradictions which may prevent a real Empire to emerge. One is the american public debt and how the rest of the world ( for instance China) have purchased it, that meaning that foreign rivals, may steer american foreign policy. The second that is what he calls «a lack of attention», or, in other words, the lack of political will and determination in the US, in taking the reins of an imperial destiny. The first point is something that the author doesn't master very well, maybe because it is History in the making and he doesn't cover all the aspects of an economic system underpinning any historical landscape. The second is more interesting because it is a genuinely cultural matter and the author is very well equipped to measure the resiling constants of the anglo-saxon culture on both sides of the north Atlantic. Does the book end with setting a bid for someone to take the stance of a «liberal imperialist»? I do not think so. The conclusion certainly entails that not so unintended premisse but the author also recognizes, all the book long, how the genetic code of the United States is averse to imperialism. That also may mean that the new doctrines of interventionism, responsibility to protect, human rights imposed by force, etc., don't have the means for attaining those heights. Something which inevitably leads to very volatile, day-dreaming actions, so seductive as high-risk speculative bonds and potentially so toxic as the current financial crisis.