Colossus, by Niall Ferguson

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, and it’s really affected my thinking about the USA and its role in the world. Ferguson makes the basic argument that, apologists to the contrary, America is in fact an empire. [An interesting aside is that he cites a source that claims the US is the 68th empire in world history, with Communist China being the 69th and the EU as the potential 70th.]

Niall argues that empires, while they have negative connotations in today’s environment, actually provide a number of benefits: the rule of law, generally higher quality of life, generally higher economic performance — things that our world desperately needs now.

Most interestingly, he comments that when the US acts the most like an empire (consider Hawaii, Puerto Rico), the results for everyone concerned are almost always better than when we do something halfway (Cuba, the Philippines). In the situations where we are imperial to begin with but don’t have the will to continue (Cuba, for example, and now Afghanistan and Iraq), we pull out of the country prematurely, before a stable government can be established, and it tends to result in repeated military interventions over the years.

Anyway, it’s an interesting book. I found myself really disliking the topic when I started reading, but agreeing with it more towards the end. I’m not sure that everything he writes makes a ton of sense, but it’s a smart book, with an interesting point of view, and absolutely worth reading.

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