PQC: First, appreciation and thanks to TheSaker, who introduced and uploaded these files.

It’s mindboggling that after all these facts and truth had been discussed, and that white supremacy and racial aggrandizement were identified. But only one or two identified (at 3.30.00) the main cause that lies with the State power!

Very important folks! Please find time to listen to this wonderful discussion in its entirety- 12 hours length in total!


Class Notes: http://www.mediafire.com/view/yff3kk4vcaa2vs6/Empire_as_a_way_of_life_-_lecture_notes.pdf

Audio Files- Lectures and Class Discussion: http://www.mediafire.com/listen/bn5f3bsz1oyol8w/Empire_as_a_way_of_life.mp3


Course structure:
September 19: Some historical context on empires and the U.S.
Empire: Williams, “Empire as a Way of Life” (article)
October 17: Racism and imperialism: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “The Grid
of History: Cowboys and Indians”
November 21: Foster, “Kipling, ‘the White Man’s Burden,’ and U.S.
December 19: Williams, Empire as a Way of Life; Introduction.
Chapters 1–5
January 16: Williams, Empire as a Way of Life; Chapters 6–9
February 20: U.S. imperialism in the Americas: Grandin, Empire’s
Workshop, Introduction through Chapter 3
March 20: Grandin, Empire’s Workshop, Chapters 4–6
April 17: The Brutal Reality of U.S. imperialism: Parenti, Against
Empire, Chapters 1–4
May 15: Parenti, Against Empire, Chapters 5–8
June 19: Summary reflections and a discussion of alternatives:
Grandin, Conclusion; Parenti, Against Empire, Chapter 11; Williams,
Empire as a Way of Life, Conclusion

I wish to begin our discussions with some comments on the dominant
view on empire or imperialism, using the words of leading political and
intellectual advocates. This will be followed by a brief critique of the
dominant view and a look at William Appleman Williams’s article:
“Empire as a Way of Life.”
The British historian Eric Hobsbawn writes that there are “few
things are more dangerous than empires pursuing their own interests
in the belief that they are doing humanity a favour.” In order to
understand these gifts that US empire-builders and propagandists
1believe they have given to the world, we need to get some
appreciation of the dominant view we learned from schools, the mass
media and religious institutions.
One of the leading godfathers of the Empire was our 28th
president, Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921). “Sometimes people call me
an idealist,” Wilson once said, “Well that’s the way I know I am an
American. America … is the only idealistic nation in the world.” Political
theorist Ronald Steel, who is no neo-conservative apologist for the US
Empire, concurs. “America is an idealistic nation, … based on the belief
that the ‘self-evident truths’ of the Declaration of Independence should
be extended to unfortunate peoples wherever they may be.”
This view of “America” began long before Wilson, however. The
myth of “America” as God’s chosen people, the “New Israel,” began
with the invasion of the Americas by English colonists in the 17th
century. John Winthrop, one of the first leaders of the Massachusetts
Puritans, stated: “We shall find that the God of Israel is among us….
that men shall say of succeeding [settlements]: the Lord make it like
that of New England; for we must consider that we shall be as a city
upon the hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Historian Loren Baritz (Backfire) points out that “the myth of America
as a city on a hill implies that it is a moral example for the rest of the
world…. It means that we are a chosen people….” This dogmatic and
self-righteous nationalism resembles that of other countries. “Between
God’s country and Holy Russia there is not much of a choice. Between
ideas of moral superiority and racial superiority there is even less of a
choice, since one invariably leads to the other…. The glory of France,
dominion of Britain, power and racial purity of the Third Reich, the
satisfaction of thinking of oneself as the ‘cradle of civilization’… the
willingness to die for one’s uniquely favored country, has no national
Writing in 1967, Ronald Steel viewed “the moral inspiration of
America’s involvement in foreign wars [as] undeniable.” This was
surely found during the Cold War, when “the rhetoric of our …
diplomacy rest[ed] upon the indivisibility of freedom, the belief in self-
determination, the necessity for collective security, and the sanctity of
peaceful … as opposed to violent change.” These values were
particularly evident immediately after World War II during “the
decision to rebuild and defend Western Europe,” when “the US acted
with wisdom, humanity, and an enlightened conception of her own
Steel claims that we see ourselves “as the defenders of freedom
and democracy in the contest against tyranny, because we are, in
President Kennedy’s words, ‘by destiny rather than choice, the
watchman on the walls of world freedom.’” Our empire building has
2“appealed to a deep-rooted instinct in our national character – an
instinct to help those less fortunate and permit them to emulate and
perhaps one day achieve the virtues of our own society….” It rested
“on the belief that it was America’s role to make the world a happier,
more orderly place, one more nearly reflecting our own image.”
For example, Steel asserts that in opposition “to the efforts of
France, Britain, and Holland to regain control of their Asian colonies
after WW II, we encouraged the efforts of such nationalists as … Nehru [in India], Sukarno [in Indonesia], and Ho Chi Minh [in Vietnam] to
win the independence of their countries.” The US took over from the
“departed European [colonial] powers…. We did this with good
intentions, because we [believed] in self-determination for everybody
as a guiding moral principle….” This effort “found its roots in our most
basic and generous national instincts.”
The post-WW II view of the US as the “chosen” nation was also
articulated by the influential diplomat George Kennan, whose
important article on the Cold War in 1947 advanced “the belief that
leadership of the free world was … thrust upon the American people by
divine providence and the laws of both history and nature.” Kennan
told his readers that “’providence’ had “made their entire security as a
nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting
the responsibilities of moral and policy leadership that history plainly
intended them to bear” (quoted in Michael Hogan, A Cross of Iron).
The enthusiasm for lofty American principles has also shaped the
rhetoric of recent US presidents. Accepting the Republican nomination
in 1988, for example, George Bush I lauded “America as the leader, a
unique nation with a special role in the world. This has been called the
American century, because in it we were the dominant force for good
in the world…. Now we are on the verge of a new century, and what
country’s name will it bear? I say it will be another American century.”
Bush II has followed in his father’s rhetorical footsteps. “Our nation is
the greatest force for good in history.” He has praised the glories of
the US and the need to share these with the world: “The US will
promote moderation, tolerance, and the nonnegotiable demands of
human dignity – the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, and
respect for women, private property, free speech, and equal justice….
Humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to offer freedom’s triumph
over its age-old foes. The US welcomes its responsibility to lead in this
great mission.” Despite “its flaws, … our nation is chosen by God and
commissioned by history to be the model to the world of justice and
inclusion and diversity without division.”
Such sentiments are bi-partisan in nature, and were articulated by
Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright: “If we have to use
force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation”
3(quoted in David Harvey, The New Imperialism).
Right after the 9/11 attacks, military historian Victor Davis
Hanson (An Autumn of War) argued that our war against terrorism
preserves Western civilization with “its uniquely tolerant and human
traditions of freedom, consensual government, disinterested inquiry
and religious and political tolerance.” When Hanson was growing up in
California in the 1940s and ‘50s, Americans “knew their country was
not merely different from others, but that it was clearly superior in its
rare democratic government, tolerance for religious differences, spirit
of liberty, and allowance for dissent….”
Scholars Ziauddin Sardar and Meryl Wyn Davies assert that
there is a “feel-good factor [in] such a reading of history…. The
American people are reassured that their nation is good, acting
disinterestedly and nobly according to its enduring values….”
Therefore, most Americans “believe that America has the right to be
imperialist. There is an inner fitness in America forged by its founding
principles that makes it the right nation to be pre-eminent…. If
America is the very idea of an ideal nation, then it follows that
American democracy has the right to be imperialist and express itself
through empire.”
Affirmations of US goodness from the 19th century are being
trotted out again, articulated by imperialist supporters such as Max
Boot, a former editor with the Wall Street Journal who writes a
syndicated column in the Los Angeles Times; and historians Niall
Ferguson of New York University and Michael Ignatieff, formerly
Director of the Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard and now a
member of the Canadian parliament. John Bellamy Foster points out
that with these “representatives of the establishment openly espousing
imperialist ambitions, we shouldn’t be surprised at the repeated
attempts to bring back [Rudyard Kipling’s] ‘white man’s burden’
argument in one form or another.”
In his book, The Savage Wars of Peace, Boot lauds the war against the
Filipino people in the early 20th century and draws parallels with the
current war in Iraq. He asserts that we should be encouraged that “the
bulk of the people did not resist American occupation, as they surely
would have done if it had been nasty and brutal.” He calls the
Philippines war “one of the most successful counterinsurgencies
waged by a western army in modern times”; he claims by “the
standards of the day, the conduct of US soldiers was better than
average for colonial wars” (quoted in John Bellamy Foster, “Kipling,
‘the White Man’s Burden,’ and US Imperialism,” Monthly Review).
According to Boot, empire “has been given a bad rap.” The “world
today needs the US to provide ‘the sort of enlightened administration
once provided by self-confident Englishmen….” (Quoted in Anthony
4Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal)
Niall Ferguson, who describes himself as “a fully paid-up member of
the neo-imperialist gang,” argues that “the US has – whether it admits
it or not – taken up some kind of global burden just as Rudyard Kipling
urged [a century ago]. It considers itself responsible … for spreading
the benefits of capitalism and democracy overseas. And just like the
British Empire before it, the American empire unfailingly acts in the
name of liberty, even when its own self-interest is manifestly
uppermost” (quoted in Arnove).
Antiwar activist and scholar Anthony Arnove also highlights the views
of some “writers and theorists [who] have argued that imperialism –
even colonialism – must be reinterpreted in a more positive light in the
aftermath of 9/11.” He cites Edward Rothstein of the New York Times
(9/7/02), who admits the word imperialism “still jangles with jingoistic
echoes…. Yet this idea is bound to change character…. After all,
instead of exploitation, imperialism is now being associated with
democratic reform, sometimes to the great satisfaction of its subjects.
Maybe even nineteenth-century imperialism will be reinterpreted and
invoked by example since many non-western nations developed
democratic institutions solely because of imperialist influence.
Imperialism’s exploitation often had a virtuous flip side.”
Arnove reviews some of the affirmations of empire put forth by
Ignatieff, one of the most “influential exponent[s] of the [imperialist]
school of thought who gives a liberal veneer to the rather crude
arguments of Boot and Ferguson.” Ignatieff argues that “[i]mperialism
used to be the white man’s burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But
imperialism doesn’t stop being necessary just because it becomes
politically incorrect. Nations sometimes fall, and when they do, only
outside help – imperialist power – can get them back on their feet.”
The burden of “being an imperial power, however, is more than being
the most powerful nation or the most hated one. It means enforcing
such order as there is in the world and doing so in the American
interest. It means laying down the rules America wants … while
exempting itself from other rules … that go against its interests. It also
means carrying out important functions in places America has
inherited from the failed empires of the 20th century.” Ignatieff claims
21st century imperialism is something new: “an empire lite, a global
hegemon whose grace notes are free markets, human rights, and
democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world
has ever known.”
As writer and activist Sidney Lens points out, the claims of US
benevolence are not new: “The US, like other nations, has formulated
a myth of morality to assuage its conscience and sustain its image.
The US, we are told, has always tried to avoid war; when it has been
5forced to take the military road, it has seldom done so for motives of
gain or glory. On the contrary, the wars are fought only for such high
principles as freedom of the seas, the right of self-determination, and
to halt aggression. In thought, as in deed, the US … has been anti-war


According to this “myth, the US has religiously respected the rights of
other peoples to determine their own destiny; it has always been
sympathetic to revolutions fighting for genuine independence; it has
always refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of other
nations…. More than any other great nation it has been guided by
selfless concern for the less fortunate.”
Howard Zinn’s comment on influential imperialist apologists such as
Ignatieff commences our critique of the dominant view that will be the
focus for the remainder of the course. Referring specifically to
Ignatieff, Zinn writes: “Only someone blind to the history of the United
States, its obsessive drive for control of oil, its endless expansion of
military bases around the world, its domination of other countries
through its enormous economic power, its violations of human rights
of millions of people, whether directly or by proxy governments, could
make [such a] statement” (Quoted in Sidney Lens, The Forging of the
American Empire).
Let’s return to the dominant view and raise some questions and
assertions we will later examine. Regarding Ronald Steel’s assertion
about “self-evident truths”: even a cursory investigation of US history
would show that when this statement was written these “truths” did
not extend to slaves and free Blacks, First Americans, women or the
poor; nor have they been extended to the countless nations and
people throughout the world who have been invaded by the US over
the centuries.
When Steel asserts that during the Cold War the thrust of US policies
was aimed at peaceful rather than violent change, he left out some
glaring exceptions, e.g., US initiated and supported violence against
Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), the Dominican Republic
(1965), Indonesia (1965) and Vietnam (ongoing when he published his
book). The idea that the US was committed to peaceful change during
the Cold War (or, I might add, before and after) is historically untrue.
Steel also lauds “the deep-rooted instinct” in our national character to
help others. When did this instinct arise in US history: during the
genocidal wars against the First Americans; while we enslaved Africans
and African Americans; when the we invaded Florida, Mexico, Cuba
and the Philippines?
Steel’s assertion that the US aided the struggle of Ho Chi Minh
and the Vietnamese for national independence is mind-boggling. It is
totally contradicted by the public record that reveals how, beginning
6with the Truman administration, the US supported French efforts to
reclaim Vietnam after WW II. The truth is that after WW II the US
opposed Vietnamese independence at every step of the way.
Victor Davis Hanson’s uncritical praise for Western civilization’s unique
and wonderful virtues omits a few things, e.g., the Inquisition,
centuries of anti-Semitism and the European Holocaust of the 1930s
and 1940s, Western conquest and genocide in the Americas, slavery,
and imperialism.
Hanson remembers the 1940s and ‘50s in California with triple rose-
colored glasses: nationally it was a time of Apartheid terror in the
South against Blacks; in California it was a time of forced removal of
Japanese and Japanese-Americans to concentration camps, and a
white supremacy directed at Latinos and others of color in California
and especially Los Angeles – a southern racist city when it came to
oppressed minorities.
As for assertions about our god-given and honorable presence in the
world: scholar Robert Jensen argues that the present Bush’s “frequent
… invocation of a direct connection to god and truth – what we might
call the ‘pathology of the annointed’ – is a peculiar and particularly
dangerous feature of American history and the ‘greatest nation’
claims.” The story we have learned and now tell ourselves is that
“other nations through history have acted out of greed and self-
interest, seeking territory, wealth, and power…. Then came the US,
touched by god, a shining city on the hill, whose leaders created the
first real democracy and went on to be a beacon of freedom for people
around the world. Unlike the rest of the world, we act out of a cause
nobler than greed; we are … the model of, and the vehicle for, peace,
freedom, and democracy in the world.”
Jensen asserts “this is a story that can only be believed … by
people sufficiently insulated from the reality of US actions abroad to
maintain such illusions. It is tempting to laugh at and dismiss [this
rhetoric], but the commonness of the chosen-by-god assertions – and
the lack of outrage or amusement at them – suggests that the claims
are taken seriously both by significant segments of the public and the
politicians” (Robert Jensen, Citizens of the Empire).
Max Boot’s claim about the conduct of US troops in the Philippines is
profoundly wrong, given the documented evidence of the barbaric and
racist actions of US troops in that war. The US invasion of the
Philippines was a precursor to the genocidal assault of the US in
Vietnam some 60 years later; the parallels between the two wars are
quite striking, especially the level of racist violence against
dehumanized “enemies.”
Sidney Lens reminds us that all these imperial acts have been
“valiantly camouflaged in the rhetoric of defense…. The … wars against
7the Indians were a ‘defense’ against their rampages and violations of
treaties. The war against Mexico was a ‘defense’ of Texas…. In Korea
and Vietnam the US … was ‘defending’ helpless small powers against
communist aggression.” According to Lens, “the myth of morality
wears thin against [the record] of history…. Even a cursory look
suggests that American politics has been motivated not by lofty [concern] for the needs of other peoples but by America’s own desire
for land, commerce, markets, spheres of influence, investments…. The
primary focus has not been moral, but imperial.”
And this imperialism, Stephen Lendman asserts, has “been in our DNA
since the early settlers confronted” the First Americans and
“slaughtered [millions] of them to seize their land and resources. We …
even put language in our sacred Declaration of Independence to give
us a birthright to do it,” calling “our native people ‘merciless Indian
savages’” [ZNet, 9/17/06].
Anthony Arnove’s critique of Richard Rothstein’s support for
imperialism goes to the heart of the issue. As Arnove states,
“Rothstein distills perfectly the logic of the white man’s burden in its
historical and contemporary form. Never mind the millions subjugated,
killed, starved, driven into forced labor, exposed to disease, abused,
denied their cultural heritage, exploited, robbed – imperialism was a
force for democracy and civilization. It brought ‘backward’ people in
the light of civilization.”
Arnove dissents from the “common refrain [made by] the defenders of
US Empire,” i.e., “… the US has [had] no territorial ambitions.” The
claim is demonstrably false. “The US conquered not only the lands of
the Native Americans, who were ethnically cleansed as the colonies
expanded westward, but also land from Mexico and Cuba….”
We will leave the final word in this critical review section to Sidney
Lens. With mountains of evidence and impeccable reasoning, Lens
correctly points out that “America the benevolent … does not exist and
has never existed. The US has pilfered large territories from helpless
or near helpless peoples; … it has violated hundreds of treaties and
understandings; it has committed war crimes; it has wielded a military
stick and a dollar carrot to forge an imperial empire such as [humans
have] never known before; it has intervened ruthlessly in the life of
dozens of nations….”
With the dominant view and this brief critique as background and
context, let’s look at some of the major assertions in William Appleman
Williams’s short article. We will return to his views in December and
Writing in 1980 Williams states, “we have only just begun our
confrontation with our imperial history, ethic and psychology.” Unlike
what Marx said about religion, his view is that “imperialism has been
8the opiate of the American people.” When one looks objectively at US
history and the myths of God and patriotism, it is hard to dispute this
He wishes to enlighten us about our actual history as “an
imperial people who must now ‘order’ ourselves rather than policing
and saving the world…. We must leave that imperial incubator if we
are to become citizens of the real world.” Essentially we must end the
massive denial of our real history that has been hidden and/or ignored
in our schools, mass media and religious institutions – it is a denial
that is social in origin but has penetrated deeply into the psyches of
US citizens.
Williams wants us to think of “empire as a way of life,” a
pattern of “thought and action” that has developed over time but
which was present at the Founding in 1776; it is not some recent
phenomenon associated with a neo-con cabal in Washington. This
pattern is “habitual and institutionalized, [and] defines the thrust and
character of a culture and society. It is a … conception of the world
and how it works, and strategy for acting upon that outlook on a
routine basis as well as in times of crisis….”
He reminds us that our views about empire are based upon certain
foundational assumptions about human nature, people, nations,
morality, economics and politics. These assumptions shape the
parameters in which we define issues and address problems; they
influence our “understanding of causes and consequences, … options,
and range … of action.”
For example, most of us use the language of the nation state or the
national interest rather than that of social class when it comes to
empire: we think of the US doing this or that, not ruling elites. We
rarely assert that it is not simply the US invading another nation, but a
particular and powerful class of men who make these decisions and
claim to speak for the national interest or national security. I do mean
men, by the way, despite an occasional female apologist for US
violence abroad such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick under Reagan, Madeleine
Albright under Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice under Bush II.
Imperialism is hard and dirty man’s work, but killing poor people in the
Third World has increasingly become an equal opportunity and
multiethnic endeavor as those such as Rice and Colin Powell can now
cast their violent shadow across the globe.
When we talk about empire we must confront the issue of
power – the superior power of one group to exploit and violate
another. Williams asserts that there are two “associated … but
nevertheless different relationships” involved here. “One is the union
of initially separate but … related units of population under one central
authority…. The result is an empire governed as an imperial system.
9The will, and power, of one element asserts its superiority” (as in the
creation of the US from the combination of the original thirteen
The other example cited by Williams is “the … forcible subjugation of
formerly independent peoples by a wholly external power, and their
subsequent rule by the imperial metropolis.” Examples here are US
attacks on First American nations and its seizure of part of Mexico in
the 1840s – both of which were “integrated into its imperial system.”
Williams tells us that “imperialism” is essentially a fundamental
“loss of sovereignty – control – over essential issues and decisions by
a largely agricultural society to an industrial metropolis.” The “superior
… power subjects an inferior [one] to its own preferences….” The basic
purpose of imperialism is for the dominant power, i.e., the ruling class
within that dominant power, to extract resources and economic surplus
from “the weaker” power. Its central goal is material exploitation, and
cultural hegemony, as it has been for centuries: US imperialism is no
Given the benefits that accrue to the dominant power in a
hierarchical and exploitive relationship, it is no surprise, as Williams
reminds us, that 20th century Americans have “liked empire for the
same reasons their ancestors favored it in the 18th and 19th. It
provided them with renewable opportunities, wealth, and other
benefits and satisfactions including a psychic sense of well-being and
power.” This ideological or psychic benefit is linked to the patriotic
appeals that influence most in the society.
Williams cites the English philosopher John Locke on the true nature of
empire: it “involves taking wealth and freedom away from others to
provide for your own welfare, pleasure, and power.” That’s what it has
always been about; all the assertions about freedom, democracy, and
concern for the unfortunate are ideological rationalizations.
The earliest rationalizations in the West centered on race and
Christianity – a process in which good Christian gentlemen engaged in
racist plunder against communities of color throughout the world. The
manifestation of this Christian racism received its ultimate blessing in
the US in the mid-19th century, under the term “Manifest Destiny.”
God – who of course was a White, Anglo-Saxon Male, gave US citizens
of English descent his blessings as they went about pillaging and
destroying the land, culture and people of the Americas – and engaged
in attacks upon the Irish, Chinese, Blacks and others.
Williams distinguishes between soft and hard imperialists;
however, it is a distinction that should not divert us from seeing these
as different strategies, two wings on the single predator aimed at the
same end: the racist exploitation of those whom Algerian author
Frantz Fanon called the “Wretched of the Earth.” The writer Joseph
10Conrad discussed this process with regards to the genocidal terror
committed by King Leopold and the Belgians in Congo. In the Heart of
Darkness in 1902, he stated: “They were conquerors, and for that you
only want brute force…. They grabbed what they could get for the sake
of what was to be got. It was robbery with violence, … murder on a
great scale, and men going at it blind…. The conquest of the earth,
which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a
different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ours, is not a pretty
sight when you look into it too much.”
As a final thought on the nature of empire, I wish to close
tonight with the words of the Greek playwright Aeschylus, who crafted
“The Persians” more than 2400 years ago. One of the characters
reflects: “All those years we spent jubilant, seeing the trifling,
cowering world from the height of our shining saddles, brawling our
might across the earth as we forged an empire, I never questioned.
Surely we were doing the right thing…. It seemed so clear – our fate
was to rule. That’s what I thought at the time. But perhaps we were
merely deafened for years by the din of our own empire-building, the
shouts of battle, the clanging of swords, the cries of victory.”