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Endless Empire

Spain's Retreat, Europe's Eclipse, America's Decline

Edited by Alfred W. McCoy, Josep M. Fradera, and Stephen Jacobson

Publication Year: 2012

Throughout four millennia of recorded history there has been no end to empire, but instead an endless succession of empires. After five centuries of sustained expansion, the half-dozen European powers that ruled half of humanity collapsed with stunning speed after World War II, creating a hundred emerging nations in Asia and Africa. Amid this imperial transition, the United States became the new global hegemon, dominating this world order with an array of power that closely resembled that of its European predecessors. As Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the European Union now rise in global influence, twenty leading historians from four continents take a timely look backward and forward to discover patterns of eclipse in past empires that are already shaping a decline in U.S. global power, including:• erosion of economic and fiscal strength needed for military power on a global scale• misuse of military power through micro-military misadventures• breakdown of alliances among major powers• weakened controls over the subordinate elites critical for any empire’s exercise of global power• insufficient technological innovation to sustain global force projection.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-11

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pp. xi-15

Sensing the current world order at the cusp of major change, a global network of 140 historians gathered from four continents for an intense dialogue at a succession of conferences in Madison (2006), Sydney (2008), Manila (2008), and Barcelona (2010). The purpose of these meetings was to gain a comparative perspective on the subject of modern imperial transitions, which would have been impossible had we limited...

Part 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-17

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Fatal Florescence: Europe’s Decolonization and America’s Decline

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pp. 3-40

For nearly two centuries, the United States has shown a deep ambivalence about its path from republic to empire. As the country began its conquest of a continent in the 1830s, Congress commissioned a marble colossus for the Capitol Rotunda, the nation’s symbolic center. When delivered from Italy, this massive twelve-ton, toga-clad statue portrayed George Washington with a mix of classical...

Part 2. Spain’s Long Imperial Retreat

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pp. 41-57

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Eclipse and Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1650-1898

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pp. 43-54

It is appropriate that a volume entitled Endless Empire should beginwith Spain—an empire in retreat—which seems to have lasted longer than its fiscal, military, and geopolitical strength should have warranted. Spain is an exem-plary case of imperial flexibility and longevity, defying easy “fiscal-military”equations and causing historians to reexamine the durability of empires and to...

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Empires in Retreat: Spain and Portugal after the Napoleonic Wars

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pp. 55-73

The first significant period of revolution and decolonization in modern European history, which took place from 1780 to 1830, was characterized, among other things, by two paradoxes. The first is that the long-standing Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires—pioneers of European ultramarine expansion—persevered within a new world order forged by the Napoleonic Wars. These...

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Imperial Ambitions in an Era of Decline: Micromilitarism and the Eclipse of the Spanish Empire, 1858-1923

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pp. 74-91

Scholars of world history have taken great interest in the rise of the Spanish empire but have paid scant attention to its eclipse. Discovery, conquest,and colonization are central themes in what has been called the “rise of the West,” “the European miracle,” or the “great divergence.” After the colonization of Latin America is recounted in many histories, Spain disappears from the nar-...

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“The Empire Is No Longer a Social Unit”: Declining Imperial Expectations and Transatlantic Crises in Metropolitan Spain, 1859-1909

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pp. 92-104

Toward the end of 1859, four armed companies of “Catalan Volunteers” departed Barcelona bound for Morocco. Recruited and financed by the provincial deputation, their objective was to join the military offensive that Spain had launched against the sultanate in October as a response to border skirmishes in Ceuta, a city in North Africa that had been under Spanish sovereignty since...

Part 3. Imperial Transitions in Latin America and the Philippines

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pp. 105-121

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Facing South: How Latin America Socialized United States Diplomacy

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pp. 107-121

In the debates over American exceptionalism and what is distinct about the United States, little attention has been paid to one variable that can, at least in relation to its global ascendance, unambiguously be called unique: its relationship with Latin America. “South America will be to North America,” the North American Review wrote in 1821, “what Asia and Africa are to Europe.”1 Not quite....

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“Alliance Imperialism” and Anglo-American Power after 1898: The Origins of Open-Door Internationalism

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pp. 122-135

Among the historic changes that accompanied the rise of U.S. imperialism circa 1900, scholars have tended to treat the sudden improvement in social and diplomatic relations—the so-called great rapprochement—between the British Empire and the United States with something akin to benign neglect.1 While many historians have chronicled the various diplomatic, cultural, political, and...

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Pro-imperialist Nationalists at the End of Spain’s Caribbean Empire

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pp. 136-147

Between the outbreak of anti colonial revolutions across Spanish America in 1810 and the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, powerful monarchist minorities that had long guarded the privileges of Spain and its peninsular-born merchants, clergy, and officials in the Hispanic colonies of the Caribbean (Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico) were challenged by robust nationalist move-...

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Imperial Transition in the Philippines: The Making of a Colonial Discourse about Spanish Rule

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pp. 148-159

One of the more important questions within the literature on imperial transitions concerns the role of international opinion. One interesting place to study this phenomenon is the Philippines, which experienced such a transitionin 1898 when the United States replaced Spain as the metropolitan power following the Spanish-American War. As is well known, imperial powers everywhere...

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The Broken Image: The Spanish Empire in the United States after 1898

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pp. 160-166

The “splendid little war” of 1898 engendered new attitudes toward over-seas empire in the United States, some critical, others celebratory. One aspect of this ideological transformation was a reconsideration of the history of the Spanish empire. As Iván Jaksić, Richard Kagan, and Mike Wallace have demonstrated, there was a deep distrust of Spain dating back to colonial times. In the...

Part 4. British Global Dominion and Decline

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pp. 167-183

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Information and Intelligence in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Crisis in the British Empire

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pp. 169-181

Producing, controlling, and ordering knowledge was at the heart of British colonialism during the nineteenth century. Recent scholarship on Britain’s Victorian empire has suggested that colonial knowledge was central in enabling, justifying, and naturalizing British empire building.1 While these cultural readings of Britain’s global reach have illuminated how colonial discourses produced...

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The Fin de Siècles of Great Britain and the United States: Comparing Two Declining Phases of Global Capitalist Hegemony

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pp. 182-190

Following the thematic agenda of this volume’s introduction, the present essay strives to rise above the narrative details of a single empire to instead identify the general features of imperial decline and global governance, albeit within the capitalist world-system. Yet in critical dialogue with most of the other essays in this collection, I argue that core (imperialist) countries—regardless of...

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The Geopolitics of Decolonization

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pp. 191-202

The causes of decolonization have long been the subject of historical controversy. The relative contributions of the three “usual suspects”—colonial nationalism, domestic political change, and the post-1945 transformation in world politics—all have their partisans. Nor is it obvious that any one formula can be successfully applied to the wide variety of cases that the historian must con-...

Part 5. Complexities and Contradictions of French Decolonization

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pp. 203-219

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The Absent Empire: The Colonies in French Constitutions

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pp. 205-215

The past fifteen years have witnessed a profusion of publications with the words France (or French) and empire in their titles. With some notable exceptions,these works attempt to identify what was “imperial” about France at various points in its history.1 They tend to use the word empire in a very casual way—often as synonymous with one or more “colonies.”2 But, as the Jules Michelet quote that begins...

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When Did Decolonization End? France and the Ending of Empire

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pp. 216-229

In the Longue Durée of imperial expansion and contraction, France experienced two periods of colonial downsizing, the first over the decades from the 1760s to 1815; the second, beginning in the 1940s, was largely complete by 1962. However, this eclipse of formal empire meant neither the end of France’s international presence as a medium-range power nor its commercial, political, and...

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Decolonizing France: L. S. Senghor’s Redemptive Program for African Socialism

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pp. 230-243

How might postwar decolonization, including the transition from European territorial colonialism to U.S. market imperialism, illuminate our historical present? This important question about decolonization as a process of global restructuring motivates this volume. But because much of the historiography on decolonization is premised on an uncritical methodological nationalism, it is ill-...

Part 6. Subordinate Elites and Imperial Decline in Southeast Asia

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pp. 244-261

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Informal Empire: The Case of Siam and the Middle East

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pp. 247-261

“These half-civilized Governments such as those in China, Portugal, Spanish America all require a dressing every eight or ten years to keep them in order,”Lord Palmerston remarked in Parliament. The year was 1850, and these words marked the high noon of British power under the influence of Henry Temple Palmerston. First as foreign secretary (in and out of office) and then as prime...

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Scientific Patriotism: Medical Science and National Self-Fashioning in Southeast Asia

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pp. 262-275

Physicians and scientists dominated the first generation of nationalists in at least three East Asian colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the Philippines under the Spanish and U.S. regimes, the Dutch East Indies, and the Japanese territory of Taiwan. There is substantial evidence that in each place decolonization was practically and symbolically yoked to scientific...

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Decolonization and the Roots of Democracy

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pp. 276-292

The institution of democracy was a crucial ingredient of the transition of the colonized world toward independence. The democratic turn many countries took—often characterized as the “second wave” of democratization—was instigated by the Western powers, which looked for a legitimate successor regime and a stable political system.1 Democracies were established with an urgency that had...

Part 7. Imperial Decline and National Identities

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pp. 293-309

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Natives Who Were “Citizens” and Natives Who Were Indígenas in the Portuguese Empire, 1900-1926

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pp. 295-305

The nature of native political participation within the colonies is a central issue relevant to imperial eclipse and transition. It is often assumed that elites suddenly deprived of acquired historic rights and privileges will automatically question the legitimacy of the metropole. It is also sometimes assumed that metropolitan republicanism leads inexorably to claims for colonial independence....

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From Subjecthood to Citizenship in South Asia: Migration, Nationality, and the Post-imperial Global Order -

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pp. 306-318

The fall of great empires has often prompted migration. But by all accounts, in the past these were relatively small flows, made up chiefly of soldiers, skilled artisans, and comprador elites who had failed to forge fresh strategic alliances with new rulers at home, and who migrated abroad in search of political patrons.1The fall of the great European empires, in contrast, and the rise of nation-states...

Part 8. U.S. Global Hegemony

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pp. 319-335

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The “Three R’s” and the Making of a New World Order: Reparation, Reconstruction, Relief, and U.S. Policy, 1945-1952

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pp. 321-333

The post–World War II transition from a European imperial order to an American world system was not so much a military affair as a financial project. The Truman administration had to rely more on economic than military power to achieve its foreign policy objectives as Congress initiated a precipitous dismantling of the postwar U.S. military machine.1 The trade and monetary agree-...

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Entangled Empires: The United States and European Imperial Formations in the Mid-Twentieth Century

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pp. 334-343

There is a common tale about the rise of the United States after World War II premised on the assumption of American exceptionalism. Presumably, the United States emerged from the war as a benevolent, anti-imperial hegemon. Working from its own deep anti-imperial and democratic values, it pushed the European empires to dismantle and valiantly inaugurated a new global order...

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Cold War Transition: Europe’s Decolonization and Eisenhower’s System of Subordinate Elites

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pp. 344-359

At the American Bar Association’s diamond jubilee in August 1953 , Secretary of State John Foster Dulles delivered the keynote address juxtaposing 1872, the year of the association’s founding, with 1953. “Because we are a principal source of free-world strength,” he explained, “we face the intense hostility of the Soviet-dominated world.” We would not, Dulles continued, “want to have...

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Imperial Illusions: Information Infrastructure and the Future of U.S. Global Power

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pp. 360-386

After a decade of fighting several, simultaneous wars on terror, contradictory signs of slippage began to appear in Washington’s global dominion. By 2011, it appeared that U.S. military power, unchallenged for decades, was slowly being eroded by the country’s fiscal crisis and waning economic influence.Prominent among those who have predicted this decline, historian Eric Hobs -...


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pp. 387-452


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pp. 453-456


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pp. 457-477

E-ISBN-13: 9780299290238
E-ISBN-10: 0299290239
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299290245
Print-ISBN-10: 0299290247

Page Count: 492
Illustrations: 29 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2012