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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another must-read from the Great Contrarian, 24 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (Hardcover)
This excellent and thought-provoking book is a companion and follow-on to Professor Ferguson's best-selling and critically acclaimed `Empire.' Whereas `Empire' was an examination of the historical legacy of the British Empire, `Colossus' brings the USA and its role in the world under the spotlight. Ferguson is of course not the first academic writer to do this but he does bring an original and radical perspective to the subject.

The fundamentals of Professor Ferguson's thesis are that the USA is, and has been for some 50 years, an `Empire in Denial.' His controversial and `politically incorrect' perspective is that there is nothing wrong with empire, per se: if one examines human history empires have been the norm not the exception; that the 19th century invention of the `nation state' is artificial and flawed, and has demonstrably led to an unnecessary level of poverty, to petty tyrannies and internecine tribal warfare, to `failed states' and misery for millions, excluded from credit and prosperity. He also sees the UN as chronically under-funded with a General Assembly dominated largely by unelected despots, an impotent paper tiger which can not and will not for the foreseeable future do anything effective to keep global peace.

In the first half of the book, the author gives a good overview of the history of the USA and its de-facto empire-building tendencies: its continental expansion westwards, wars against Spain and Mexico, adventures in The Philippines and in various parts of Latin America, and how it came to colonise parts of the Pacific region and gain military bases around the globe.

In the present day (the book was written in 2004) Ferguson sees the USA as an empire in all but name because of, among other things:

1. Complete dominance in military power with a global reach unlikely to be matched by any other state or combination of states in the foreseeable future, with a qualitative technological supremacy which makes it unique in human history

2. Economic and political power not so obviously complete or unchallenged as its military dominance but nevertheless significant, challenged only by a politically weak, uncertain and incompletely unified EU & a not yet developed economic superpower in China

3. Due to the international media power of Hollywood in particular and US popular culture in general, plus the world dominance of the English language, the USA is THE globally-dominant cultural superpower

Ferguson sees the current 180-plus independent and disparate nation states making up the geopolitical map as an inherently unstable and unsustainable model which results in permanent warfare, instability and inequities. His thesis is that because Europe, the only possible alternative, is insufficiently united and demonstrably lacks the political will, the USA has to act as global policeman simply because no-one else will exercise the responsibility. However the author sees the USA as de-facto global superpower to be disappointing with poor results, and points to several inherent weaknesses which make it ill-suited to exercising its global responsibilities:

1. Chronic fiscal indebtedness due mainly to federal spending on Medicare and other welfare commitments - >US$50 trillion and rising

2. Addiction to consumerism at any price leading to a chronic imbalance of trade

3. The manifest unwillingness of American citizens to take up their global responsibilities and serve abroad

4. A national `attention deficit' - let's get in and bomb, then get the troops out quickly, never mind about clearing up the mess or making a long-term commitment to ensure stability

The author makes the case that a global hegemon - `Pax Romana' in the ancient world or `Pax Britannica' in the 1800s - is A Good Thing for global stability. These former empires brought rule of law, stable government and huge investment to the regions under their control. In contrast, the recent era of US geo-political dominance has seen the `developing world' starved of investment with corrupt, despotic and kleptocratic governments indulged and tolerated; the erosion of human rights, poverty and bankruptcy for millions all in the name of `independence' and `sovereignty.'

As outlined above, Ferguson sees the primary causes of this woeful state of affairs to be a reluctance on the part of US policy makers, and the population as a whole, to get involved. He cites examples in the mid-20th century of the US making long-term commitments to Germany and Japan following WW2 and to South Korea in the 1950s, resulting eventually in free, democratic and prosperous nations with respect for human rights and good, non-corrupt governments, net contributors to the world. However these three examples have been exceptions: the USA has subsequently been hyper-sensitive about being seen as `imperialist' and in most cases does not follow-through its interventions with sufficient commitment or thoroughness to see a worthwhile result.

So in summary, Ferguson's view is that policy-makers in the USA might learn from the British example and impose a new global order for the 21st century by force if necessary rather than let the world continue to live in factional instability and chaos, populated by too many bankrupt failed states and aid-beggars. He sees only the USA as capable of implementing such a New World Order dominated by free democratic institutions and prosperity due to its military, political and economic power and its global reach. The thesis is less ideological than practical, and asks - in reality, what is the alternative and are the results better or worse?

`Colossus' is a rewarding, intelligent and original thesis offering a new perspective on the responsibilities of being a global superpower. It opens up interesting discussions on the desirability or otherwise of global hegemony and slays a few sacred cows (like the myopic ideological belief that Empire is a bad thing, period - `compared to what?' he asks). Even if you find yourself disagreeing with all or part of the author's thesis, it's healthy to have the debate and think out of the box for a change.

The book is highly recommended by this reviewer, especially to the more intelligent reader who welcomes new and original thought and is not afraid to have his preconceptions challenged by new ideas.
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