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Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 26. April 2004


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"The United States today is an empire—but a peculiar kind of empire," writes Niall Ferguson. Despite overwhelming military, economic, and cultural dominance, America has had a difficult time imposing its will on other nations, mostly because the country is uncomfortable with imperialism and thus unable to use this power most effectively and decisively. The origin of this attitude and its persistence is a principal theme of this thought-provoking book, including how domestic politics affects foreign policy, whether it is politicians worried about the next election or citizens who "like Social Security more than national security." Ferguson, a British historian, has no objection to an American empire, as long as it is a liberal one actively underwriting the free exchange of goods, labor, and capital. Further, he writes that "empire is more necessary in the twenty-first century than ever before" as a means to "contain epidemics, depose tyrants, end local wars and eradicate terrorist organizations." The sooner America embraces this role and acts on it confidently, the better. Ferguson contrasts this persistent anti-imperialistic urge with the attitude held by the British Empire and suggests that America has much to learn from that model if it is to achieve its stated foreign policy objectives of spreading social freedom, democracy, development, and the free market to the world. He suggests that the U.S. must be willing to send money, civilians, and troops for a sustained period of time to troubled spots if there is to be real change—as in Japan and Germany after World War II--an idea that many American citizens and leaders now find repulsive. Rather than devoting limited resources and striving to get complex jobs done in a rush, Americans must be willing to integrate themselves into a foreign culture until a full Americanization has occurred, he writes. Overall, a trenchant examination of a uniquely American dilemma and its implications for the rest of the world. --Shawn Carkonen

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"Every page of Colossus is provocative." —Ernest May



"Amid the seemingly endless writings and decisions about ‘America as Empire,’ the most prominent recent voice is that of Niall Ferguson." —Paul Kennedy, New York Review of Books

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It is commonplace to assume that having been forged in a war of independence against imperial rule, the United States could never become an empire in its own right. Lesen Sie die erste Seite
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242 von 250 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
America's Global Role Explained 8. Oktober 2005
Von Kirk H Sowell - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Ferguson's thesis is basically as follows: the world is a very dangerous place because it contains menacing terrorist and criminal organizations along with numerous states which are either (a) unstable or failed states and thus breeding grounds for the aforementioned (e.g. Afghanistan), or (b) all-too-stable states which give support to the same. Given that (1) the UN's membership is made up of tyrants (e.g. Zimbabwe), dysfunctional governments (e.g. Congo) and states which are simply irresponsible (e.g. Russia), and that (2) Europe is too weak both militarily and morally to keep order, the United States has to do it. Yet the U.S. itself may be unable to fill this role due to its financial imbalances and the unwillingness of individual Americans to serve abroad or even pay attention to what is happening.

Overall evaluation: The fact that I give this book a "five star" rating should not imply that agree with it entirely. Ferguson sets forth several main theses, with which I agree entirely, and along the way makes numerous judgments on ancillary issues, several with which I disagree. I am a specialist in Middle East affairs, and I think Ferguson's understanding of the region is basically sound and much better than most who write about these things. I disagree with a few factual evaluations, but I only noticed one blatant factual error: the Abu Nidal Organization (formed in 1973) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (formed in 1967) did not arise in the 1980s with Hizbullah and Hamas, and furthermore they were (the ANO doesn't exist now) and are not Islamist or identified with Islam in any significant way (as misstated on pages 123-124).

This book is valuable and worth reading for two reasons. First, Ferguson lays out why it is that some global hegemon is necessary and beneficial to the world, and why the U.S. can and should fill that role. He notes that regions of the world where U.S. military hegemony is lacking tend to be violent, poor and unstable. Not merely Europe but the other more developed regions of the world have benefited from this military umbrella. He also discusses how the British empire, despite the brutality and exploitation which often came with it, also held many economic and security benefits for nations under British rule. Ferguson's argument is not that the U.S. should try to copy what the British did, but that they should learn from their predecessors in hegemony, keep the good, get rid of the bad, and do better for themselves and the world today.

Second, Ferguson argues that despite the ability of the United States to be a force for good in the world, its foreign policy, or "empire," as he puts it, has serious weaknesses due to its three "deficits" - its financial deficit, its manpower deficit, and its attention deficit. The financial deficit comes not from military spending, but from the estimated $45 trillion in unfunded liabilities from Medicare/Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security. The manpower deficit comes not from a lack of population, but from an unwillingness of Americans to serve abroad, either in the military or in civilian positions. The attention deficit comes from the paucity of interest most Americans have in the details of what goes on in the world. These are the deficits which could cripple U.S. foreign policy in the future.

My primary question about Ferguson's approach is more semantic than substantive. Although empires of the past have often done good as well as bad, the term has been so demagogued that it is difficult to have a rational discussion once you use the word "empire." Moreover, because the U.S. has no settlers, only expats and professionals who do relatively short overseas tours and then come home, America today is really quite different from Britain in its imperial heyday. I would use the word "hegemon" because, while still offensive to some of the illiterati, it is fully accurate, and it describes the kind of role that the United States needs to play to fulfill the role set out for it by this Scottish historian.
160 von 173 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
an important argument from a master contrarian 28. August 2005
Von David A. Baer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
This troubling book by a prolific scholar of empire dissects the American version of that phenomenon in eight well-researched chapters and a conclusion. Ominously, his first four chapters are grouped under the title 'Rise' and the last four under 'Fall?'. Ferguson's personal interest in empire and his unusually positive appreciation of its role in human history is best understood by first reading EMPIRE: THE RISE AND DEMISE OF THE BRITISH WORLD ORDER AND THE LESSONS FOR GLOBAL POWER.

Ferguson is convinced that empires can only be understood comparatively-by comparing one with another-and against the alternative of anarchy. This brings a welcome realism to the discussion of how empires should and shouldn't behave. His interest in empire is not merely academic. He confesses in his epilogue what his book theorizes throughout: 'I believe the world needs an effective liberal empire and that the United States is the best candidate for the job'.

The author believes that America has always been an empire but is afflicted with the peculiar need to deny this fact. Popular criticism considers empire a bad thing, but because Ferguson insists that we take seriously what has happened in the absence of empire, he stands apart from those whose reflex is to equate empire with oppression and the unjust imposition of alien structures. Ferguson wishes that America would get over its denial complex and get on with being a productive empire in a world that, more often than not, simply needs that.

In 'The Limits of the American Empire' (ch. 1, pp. 33-60), Ferguson shows that Americans thought, spoke, and wrote in imperial terms from the moment of their secession from the British Empire. Often this was articulated in stark contrast to their self-identity as the anti-empire. Still, in all their attempts at empire and colonization there was a chronic failure to execute well. By comparison with America's imperial antecedents, its hegemonic achievements up to World War I were unimpressive.

American exceptionalism-to my knowledge a term that Ferguson does not employ in this book-manifested itself in the pre-WWII insistence that America could be an empire unlike all previous empires ('The Imperialism of Anti-Imperialism', pp. 61-104). The author trenchantly observes that '(f)or an empire in denial, there is really only one way to act imperially with a clear conscience, and that is to combat someone else's imperialism.' The rhetoric of anti-imperialism pervaded the post-War growth of America's influence, in spite of the obvious ironies. Ferguson analyzes the remarkable fate of Japan and West Germany under American stewardship, all of which begs the question of why this extraordinary achievement-or accident-has not occurred with more frequency elsewhere.

One man, Douglas Macarthur, appeared to have the inclination and gumption to become America's emperor. However, his ambition was decisively rejected and, like all good soldiers, in the end he faded away. Ferguson wonders whether Macarthur was right about 'winning Korea'. He might have ended hostilities two years ahead of time. Harry Truman's self-restraint, if that's what it was, rang out its echo in the growing 'bad conscience' about Vietnam two decades later. Americans, it would seem, did not have the heart to exert its influence in foreign lands with the attention span that fulfillment of its intentions would require.

Ferguson is a master of turning the tables on comfortable assumptions, a skill he engages with relish in 'The Civilization of Clashes' (ch. 3, pp. 105-131). He argues that the United States is a late arrival in the Middle East and that it has been far more interested in containing Soviet advances in the region than in hijacking its oil wealth.

Nevertheless, a robust American response to the events of September 11 was made inevitable by what Ferguson calls '11/9', the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Israel having assumed for so many years that it had carte blanque from the US to impose a military solution to its own territorial woes, the disappearance of a Soviet checkmate in the Middle East, and the growing western dependence on oil from the region, American military action was inevitable. What the terrorists achieved on September 11, 2001, was the inadvertent psychological shock that would allow Americans to support a full-scale incursion into the region.

The provocatively titled 'Splendid Multilateralism' (ch. 4, pp. 132-166) wraps up Ferguson's first section on the `rise' of the American Colossus. The term is a play on the Victorian reference to 'splendid isolation', not a good thing for the long-lived monarch's diplomatic advisers. Ferguson is at paints to show that multilateralism is not a always the splendid treasure that popular discussion of the diplomatic run-up to George Bush, Jr.'s invasion of Iraq often assumed it to be.

If I am reading Ferguson correctly, he can barely conceal his contempt for Bill Clinton's aversion to military casualties and the UN's oft-stated but seldom-executed desire to intervene in trouble spots on behalf of the international community. Indeed, he uses the A-word ('appeasement') to describe the UN's (i.e. the Europeans') response to the Bosnian crisis.

With regard to Iraq, the author believes that George W. Bush's appeal to multilateralism-hardly his crass unilateralism!-created more trouble than either America or Britain needed. There were solid reasons for intervening without tying oneself in knots at the UN. Still, Bush was incapable of making the kind of long-term commitment to a nation-building task that Candidate Bush had specifically derided to accomplish a goal worthy of an empire's good name.

Ferguson begins his part two ('Fall?') with 'The Case for Liberal Empire' (ch. 5, pp. 169-199) by making the audacious observation that empires have been around much longer than nation-states and thus are the more permanent fixture in history. However, the imperial phenomenon reached its zenith in the nineteenth century, then began its decline in the twentieth, 'impelled forward by a combination of European exhaustion, non-European nationalism and American idealism.' Empire was blamed for poverty, an accusation that Ferguson believes to have been refuted by post-imperial history.

The author then develops his argument that institutions and the free flow of capital are missing in post-colonial countries that remain poor. Importantly, these are two factors that empires seem relatively well prepared to establish and maintain. In a line of thinking that hearkens back to his Empire, Ferguson indicates that Britain's empire was fairly good at the kind of global integration-he calls it 'Anglobalization'-that safeguard liberal institutionalism. He then builds a bridge to the concern with American empire that is indicated by the book's title. Some countries, Ferguson provocatively urges, would indisputably benefit from American colonial administration. But is the United States capable of such 'long-term engagement'? If not, failure is predestined.

'Going Home or Organizing Hypocrisy' (ch 6, pp. 200-226) is a frightening comparison of the bland ambitions fostered by elite U.S. university graduates when compared with those of Oxbridge during Britain's imperium. I do not often find a book personally depressing, but this chapter is an exception. With devastating effect, Ferguson shines a light on American culture's short attention span with regard to the role its citizens are prepared to play in the wider world. An American reader does not have to agree to Ferguson's thesis about the appropriateness of empire in our day in order to lament this collective loss of will to think and act largely. It is futile to speak of nation building when the comforts of home have achieved canonical status, undermining the very plausibility of difficult work for an extended time in another place. The 'hypocrisy' of the chapter is actually a virtue that Ferguson urges upon America in its occupation of Iraq. Promise to go home soon, but don't even think about doing so.

Ferguson's seventh chapter ('"Impire": Europe between Brussels and Byzantium', pp. 227-257) examines the possibility of a European alternative to America's unipolar empire. He finds the American specter of an EU rival plausible in its potentiality, but then judges it too distant for worry.

Penultimately, Ferguson turns in his final full chapter (Ch. 8, 'The Closing Door', pp. 258-285) to the appalling financial balance sheet of the American economy. America is indeed suffering from 'overstretch', but not of the variety usually bewailed by the critics of its military engagements. Rather, domestic overstretch of the financially irresponsible variety threatens to bring the American lion to its knees. Given that Asian-including Chinese-central bankers have until now underwritten America's passion for indebting itself, Ferguson urges us to consider the risks to China's tentative door-opening strategies should a cocktail of financial events that is not hard to imagine for the US to default on the global financial commitments it has assumed.

In his epilogue ('Conclusion: Looking Homeward', pp. 286-303), Ferguson manages both searing criticism and touching concern. Summarizing his book, he argues that for all its unrivaled prominence America suffers three deficits: economic, manpower, and attention. Though he hopes so, he is not sure the third can be overcome.

Thus, the American Colossus may fall before time. Ferguson's peculiar contribution is to force us to imagine the consequences in something other than banal truisms. The decline of empires can just as well prove the occasion for tears as for jubilation.
122 von 141 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Another Thought-Provoker 7. Juli 2004
Von Thomas M. Sullivan - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
You will correctly surmise from purusing other reviews of this work that Niall Ferguson's books attract very well informed and thoughtful readers who are not at all reluctant to let him have it if in their view he strays too far into the counterfactual world he helped revive and refine with his works such as "Virtual History." My own take on the rather strong negative reactions engendered by "Colossus" here and elsewhere is that they are generated--like many counterfactuals--by Ferguson's message being taken too seriously on the one hand and not seriously enough on the other. "Colossus" is an essay on possibilities, not a prescription for world domination. It asks--and attempts to answer--the question of why the United States is such a reluctant world leader (in terms of active intervention in its affairs) and explores the possible implications of its shedding its historical aversion to international activism.

What I find lacking in negative reviews is an appreciation, however reluctant, of the value of this inquiry whatever the likelihood of its practical application. And this failure to "get" the message I attribute latently to our historic isolationism and explicitly to the same cause Ferguson highlights as one of the principal reasons why we are unlikely to change our minds: our national attention deficit disorder.

Irag provides the perfect illustration of one of Ferguson's most telling points: we were hardly there before we said we were leaving and then reinforced our apparent disenchantment with the enterprise by becoming politically irrational and transfixed by prisoner abuse and the failure to find WMD's. No reasonable person can argue that if we leave Iraq prematurely, we will have wholly failed to achieve our stated goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East, which conclusion raises the even more compelling public policy question of if we could have foreseen that home front and/or international political pressures were going to prompt us to cut and run, then why did we undertake the enterprise in the first place?

You can't go by me: I am an unabashed and unrepentent Ferguson fan. Every time I pick up one of his books, I feel like I am taking a walk on a pleasant Summer evening with an old friend who happens to be unassailably erudite and enviably eloquent and I am listening to him expound his well-informed views. Neither in these fanciful strolls nor in my critical reading of his works do I feel compelled to agree with him, but I am inexorably forced to think about what he is saying and consider the wonderfully diverse and provocative implications of his musings.

Finally, what troubles me is not whether this or my fellow readers' reviews will prompt you to buy and read this book. No, the question I ask is whether our policy makers ever choose a book like "Colossus" as their summer reading. Our recent foreign adventures suggest to me at least the exercise would be very much worth their--and our--while.
53 von 59 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Imperial Dreams 5. Juni 2004
Von Jeffery Steele - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Unlike some reviewers here, I did not come to this book instinctively distrusting its thesis. I was willing to consider that the United States was an empire in denial, and that the unfortunate part for the world was not that the U.S. was an empire, but that it did not embrace its role. Perhaps Ferguson is right that the world needs another liberal empire in the British mold; perhaps he is right that there are many troubled spots around the globe that require an outside agent to set them straight; finally, perhaps he is right that only the U.S. can now fill that position.
This book, however, does not prove his case. Ferguson writes very well and marshals an amazing array of facts to support some of his points, but he still fails to support the general task he assigns to "Colossus". For all the power of his prose and the flash of his facts, they merely gloss over crucial points in his analysis. This is true from the start, where Ferguson does not so much define "empire", as he does un-define it by giving the widely-used term so broad a meaning as to basically stand for any great power. He complains that some would use the word so narrowly that the U.S. would be excluded from the category, but he does not appreciate the opposite possibility: that the term can be defined so widely as to catch some ridiculous examples under its rubric, along with the U.S. By Ferguson's vague notion of the word, present-day Germany could be considered an empire along with the present-day United States.
But the weakest section of the book is its holding up of Imperial Britain as a model for the United States in the twenty-first century. Ferguson seems lost in a time warp here (and I speak both as a supporter of a strong U.S. foreign policy and an admirer of the British Empire). Perhaps the strangest argument in support of this section is his showcasing of Britain's seventy-four year stewardship of Egypt as a shining example of the benefits of liberal empire. But even Ferguson's presentation doesn't disguise that Egypt's long tenure under the British seemed to leave little of substance for the average Egyptian. Is this the best he could do for his argument? Give us Nasser and Egypt, circa 1956, as what Americans could look forward to in Iraq if we just stay the course there for the next seven decades, as the British did in Cairo? Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take the quick exit instead.
I still had a difficult time deciding what to rate this book. Ferguson's talents are obvious. He writes very well; his books are brimming with information and interesting narratives; there's no denying that some of his observations are brilliant. But the core message in this book is just so off that I couldn't bring myself to rate it higher, even as much as I sometimes enjoyed reading it. Like a delicious sweet, the taste of this book is hard to resist, but it's also impossible to deny the lack of anything nutritious inside it.
31 von 33 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Is America an Imperial Power? Should it be? 17. April 2006
Von Leonard J. Wilson - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Colossus, by Niall Ferguson, is in a sense a sequel to his previous book, Empire. In Empire, Ferguson presented the history of the British Empire and drew the conclusion that British rule had a net positive effect on the former colonies. He justifies this conclusion by pointing out the economic and political benefits conferred by the transmission of 19th century British practices and institutions, especially honest and competent government, the rule of law, and free trade.

In Colossus, Ferguson presents the United States as the reluctant, and possibly transitory, successor to British imperial power. Despite the reluctance of most Americans to acknowledge, much less advocate, an imperial role, the US currently has the key attributes of an imperial power:

1. Absolute dominance in military power (which appears likely to persist for the foreseeable future).

2. Nearly absolute dominance in current economic power (which appears likely to diminish in relative terms over the next few decades).

3. Preeminence in cultural power (derived in part from the dominance of the English language and in part from the size and success of the US economy).

The ability to exercise imperial power may be a necessary condition for its existence, but it is not a sufficient condition. See, for example, Fareed Zakaria's From Wealth to Power in which he examines the evolution of international role played by the US.

Ferguson's message in Colossus is that an American imperial role would be a good thing for the world in general. His concern is that the American people and the federal budget may not support such a role.

Popular support for foreign, let alone imperial, involvement has never been strong in the US. Our only large and lasting commitment to a world-role seems to have started with our involvement in World War II and run through the Cold War up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now that we no longer have a clearly defined enemy whose military power approaches our own, the willingness of the American people to support long-term and costly foreign involvement, appears to be returning to pre-WWII levels. To contrast the American and British support for empire, Ferguson notes that a career in the Indian Civil Service attracted many of the top Oxford and Cambridge graduates in the 19th century. How many Harvard or Yale graduates today are seeking even temporary assignments in Iraq or Afghanistan?

The long-term demographic and fiscal problems presented by the Social Security and Medicare budgets may limit our ability to fund a major military involvement in world affairs some time in the next few decades. This thesis tracks very well with that of Paul Kennedy in his book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.

Colossus is well worth reading, whether or not you agree with the author's wish that the US would adopt a stronger imperial role. The argument that imperialism is not always bad is an interesting counterpoint to Fareed Zakaria's argument in The Future of Freedom that more democracy is not always better than less.
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