EMPIRE AS A WAY OF LIFE by William Appleman Williams


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Readers familiar with radical historian Williams' previous work (The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, Contours of American History, etc.) will find this essay covers much the same ground. The trail leads, pretty directly, from the colonial offspring of the British Empire through westward expansion, ""manifest destiny,"" the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the war with Spain, and so on beyond Vietnam to Iran. All of this is evidence, says Williams, of a ""way of life"" predicated on more (the expanding pie) and able to avoid alternative ways of life--simpler, more democratic, qualitatively better ways--because there always was more to get. Now we are confronted, he thinks, with a choice between our imperial habit, leading to nuclear war, or the more difficult choice of going cold turkey and confronting ourselves. The choice might be easier to make--at least in theory--if Williams' characteristic reading of American history weren't so one-sided. Although he is able to think of individuals who opposed empire, he can't see any alternative way of life consistently running through our past. He picks up and leaves the Puritan traditions of community and covenant, for instance, and dismisses the Populists as capitalist farmers without considering the currently-advanced view of them as small farmers oppressed by merchant bankers and seeking a more democratic life. So while he sees a social force compelling us to empire, Williams can see only individuals in opposition. No wonder his call for a life-change sounds so lonely. Williams is still a powerful voice, but the voice is repeating the same argument without going deeper into the historical sources. The choice is real, but the history behind it is more complex.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0977197239
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press