Is the United States the center of an empire? Has it ever been?

A thread in which we debate – wait, I don’t do Great Debates. Rule 147. Let’s start over. A thread in which we discuss the United States and its history of imperialism, with an automated poll to get things going.

You’ll note that the poll options include options for Native Americans. Obviously I’m not the boss of you, so I can’t tell you how to define that term; I can only ask you to follow your conscience and to be as honest as possible. For instance: one of my mother’s mother’s father was a full-blooded Choctaw (as if “full-blooded” means anything), which means I’m 1/8th; but I don’t think it would be right of me to call myself Indian.

Poll in a moment, but don’t let that slow you down; it’s just a way to start the discussion. That said, everyone who votes gets a bottle of brandy teleported over.

Sorry to have screwed up the poll options. The second sentence should read " ‘Native’ means ‘Native American.’ "

Arguably the westward expansion across the North American continent was imperialist, but that’s not what people usually mean when they debate this.

We were imperialist for a while at the turn of the 20th century, with our acquisition of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, etc. But we seemed to pass through that phase pretty quickly, at least compared to many of the European empires.

I voted “I’m not a US citizen, and I’d say the US was formerly not an empire, but sure is now.” but only because there wasn’t an option that says it’s one now, and has been for a long time (IMO, since at least the early 1800s, more likely from the get go in 1776) - and I do include the Westwards expansion in American imperialism.

It’s certainly a big part of what I mean, Saying that the conquest of North America was not imperialistic is not merely inaccurate but implicitly racist.

Ah, well, if that’s part of what you meant, then sure: it was and is an empire. No need to make accusations of racism: typically when people talk of an “American Empire” they are referring to the exertion of American power outside of North America, such as the basing of troops in Asia and Europe, etc.

Considering that an “empire” in the political sense is a lot like a federation, except with involuntary membership of the member states and peoples, I’d say no, the US is not an empire as such. We don’t exert coercive hegemonic power over our member states.

Back around 1900-1940 or so, we were somewhat imperial, with the Spanish-American war changes in possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and a few other areas, but now the only parts of the US that are not states are Puerto Rico and a very few Pacific island possessions claimed during World War II. A fairly pitiful empire by any standard.

We are a sort of soft-power empire though, in the sense that our economic might allows us to dictate a great many things to the rest of the world, and especially to our close economic neighbors. This is mostly in the realm of trade, although sometimes this power is used to coerce certain human rights policies or other policies, but that’s more the exception than the rule.

I guess the main distinguishing thing is that Barack Obama can’t just issue an executive order that Mexico must make their water safe to drink, and President Nieto has to comply or face US troops. Instead, if safe Mexican water was important, we’d have to take some sort of circuitous indirect route to try and carrot and stick them through economic means into having safe water. That’s not how classical empires have ever worked.

The conquest of North America wasn’t imperialistic- there wasn’t any notion of including existing Native American states in our framework a-la the Romans, British or Macedonians under Alexander. That would have been imperialistic, but merely driving the Native Americans out is pretty much anti-imperialistic.

Hawaii. End of story (though I voted for “not any more”).

Plenty of empires have had a loose grasp on their constituent lands, simply taking desirable resources as needed and influencing local laws. Only flexing their military muscle occasionally to keep subject nations in line. I’d say that’s a good description of what the US has been doing for 75 years or so. And “Manifest Destiny”, the Philippines, Cuba and the Panama Canal were certainly imperialistic.

The fact that we can and often do go kick the shit out of anyone who annoys us (which often translates to “gets in the way of our economy”) makes the US a de facto empire.

Eleven carrier groups… ten more than any other nation on earth, and used specifically to park outside offending nation’s houses and threaten them into compliance.

It was recently pointed out to me that the US no longer has to win wars. Going and kicking over anthills achieves much the same result without all the tedious details.

I once had an essay question on a college U. S. History test that was, essentially, just what OP asks. And what Rodgers01 wrote here was, essentially, what I answered – with about 10 pages of details and comments, etc., as befits an essay exam. Teacher was impressed.

Oops, damn. I chose “of native descent” thinking that only meant “born in the U.S.” My error.

(I am, in fact, 1/16 Kumeyaay… But that isn’t very significant…)

ETA: meat of the matter, we were an empire, briefly, after the territorial seizures of the Spanish-American War. But since then, the Philippines have their independence, and Puerto Rico could have it any time they voted for it, we’re not an empire any longer.

Compositejoe’s been busy.

Oh, and not-US: agrees it is now an empire. However, although it may be the center of an empire, it has no center itself.

Answer is meaningless because definition of “Empire” depends on the one defining it and they vary differently depending on their political slant. It’s the same as a far-right/far-left person whining “America is a Republic, not a Democracy” on their own specific definition. I’ll define it as having an Emperor, who is a King who wears a funny hat.

Factually, it was but is no longer, under his Illustrious Majesty Norton I, Emperor of these United States, and Protector of Mexico.

Yes, for a few years right after world war 2 for two reasons:

  1. It had a all/most of the atomic bombs and,
  2. Its hand-made consumer products were affordable and better than any around.

my own note: American craftsmanship as an industry backbone died in the 80s.

Then how do you account for the Athenian Empire, the Venetian Empire, and the Empire of the Roman Republic, none of which included Kings ? And the latter of which, altered into the ‘Empire’, had a chief executive more of a president-for-life than a hereditary kingship.
Many republics have been empires, and the 19th century British, even, nominally a monarchy, was in fact ruled by a parliament and a bureaucracy. In the case of contemporary China, the empire was run by a bureaucracy ( and that bureaucracy’s traditions ).

It is a empire as it is a ‘superpower’ so able to control other states/countries. It’s ability to have them fly the US flag as opposed to telling them when it is OK to fly theirs is irreverent.

Perhaps ‘beyond empire’ is a more fitting term.

I agree with thelurkinghorror. The term “empire” is meaningless, other than to be provocative due to it’s negative connotations. The USA is not an empire in the sense of Rome or the Ottomans where we are constantly seeking to expand our territories. The USA is more accurately a “superpower”. We wield great military and economic influence over the world, but the boundaries of the USA and it’s territories has remained stable. In contrast, when the British or Romans expanded their empire, they annexed the territories they occupied and the people living there became subjects of the empire.

Hawaii was annexed just over a century ago and is still a subject of the US.

Tell that to the Confederacy…