The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate

May 24, 2007

Not long ago I mentioned my embarrassment over missing a relevant citation for a piece that I’d written.

The article, co-authored with Thomas Wright and entitled “What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate,” appeared a few days ago in the American Political Science Review. Tom and I argue that:

Scholars of world politics enjoy well-developed theories of the consequences of unipolarity or hegemony, but have little to say about what happens when a state’s foreign relations take on imperial properties. Empires, we argue, are characterized by rule through intermediaries and the existence of distinctive contractual relations between cores and their peripheries. These features endow them with a distinctive network-structure from those associated with unipolar and hegemonic orders.

The existence of imperial relations alters the dynamics of international politics: processes of divide and rule supplant the balance-of-power mechanism; the major axis of relations shift from interstate to those among imperial authorities, local intermediaries, and other peripheral actors; and preeminent powers face special problems of legitimating their bargains across heterogeneous audiences. We conclude with some observations about the American empire debate, including that the United States is, overall, less of an imperial power than it was during the Cold War.

If you have access to the APSR, you can download the article here.

If not, I believe that I am allowed to make copies available on my personal website; those without access can, for the time being, download a copy here.

I should warn readers that this is not an easy article to read. We assume a working knowledge of international-relations jargon and introduce concepts and terminology unfamiliar to most international-relations scholars. The article also covers a lot of ground. I hope, at some point, that either one of us or both of us has the opportunity to publish a more accessible version.

Nonetheless, I think long-time readers will find it interesting that many of the arguments made in the article first appeared on the Duck of Minerva. I really should have thanked you all in the acknowledgments for your comments and feedback over the last few years.

In other news, I sent a draft of my book manuscript off to some presses for review a little over a week ago, so once I recover from post-writing burnout I intend to cease my long-time neglect of providing substantive posts on the Duck.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.