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50 What an empire is not is simply a nation-state writ large. “An empire in the classic sense,” Charles Maier wrote, “is usually believed, first, to expand its control by conquest or coercion, and, second, to control the political loyalty of the territories it subjugates . . ”51 We now live in an international order, one first formally recognized in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, in which the basic unit of international relations is the autonomous nation-state: The Question of Empire 41 the entity successfully claiming sovereignty over a particular territorial area and the one monopolizing the legitimate use of force within that area.

A rulesbased world requires a caretaker,”11 and, for everyone’s sake, that is what the United States must continue to be. The Thayer defense of America as an empire is echoed in that offered by Thomas Madden. ” It is not that America has actively sought empire; it is rather that America has had empire thrust on it. ” For Madden at least, the United States was and still is a reluctant global power—isolationism being, in his view, “woven into the DNA of the American character”—one drawn into foreign alliances, much like the young Roman Republic, only in response to external threats; and once so drawn, obliged to play a incrementally bigger role only to honor the trust placed in US support by its allies.

In twenty-first-century America, the right to collectively organize and bargain—so hard-won during the New Deal—is now largely eroded by so-called right-to-work legislation. The right to a decent minimum standard of life is continually threatened by the inadequacies of the minimum wage and the perpetual erosion of welfare provision. And the rights of women at work to paid maternity leave, flexible working hours, and available child care—rights increasingly 30 America in the Shadow of Empires available across the rest of the Western world—still remain to be won in most states in contemporary America.

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