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Claes G. Ryn

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The Neo-Jacobin Ideology of American Empire

Central to the thinking of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution was the need to tame power. The drive for power had to be contained most fundamentally in the souls of individuals but also through external restraints, including constitutional checks. The Constitution continues to enjoy great respect, at least in ceremonial contexts, but today is a norm for political conduct less in practice than in theory. The spirit of traditional American constitutionalism has greatly dissipated, if not disappeared.

In the last few decades many American leaders have spoken much about America having a moral mission in the world. But the conception of virtue that they assume is different from virtue of the traditional kind in that it does not involve a strong sense of moderation and limits. On the contrary, this putative virtue has manifested and fed the will to power and a sense of limitless possibilities. Influential forces in both the American parties have wanted the world’s only superpower to attain global supremacy in order to promote the allegedly moral cause. They have espoused an outlook on man and society that contrasts sharply with that of the moral-spiritual and political heritage that gave shape to the Constitution.

In the last several decades an ideology of American empire became increasingly common in the American foreign policy and national security establishment inside and outside of government.[i] Needless to say, the advocates of this ideology do not aspire to empire in the old sense of permanent occupation of large territories. The United States can work its will on recalcitrant powers by other means. What the ideology advocates is armed and uncontested global supremacy.

The proponents of the ideology have been able to draw upon various American antecedents, such as the foreign-policy idealism of President Woodrow Wilson, but they have provided a more comprehensive and ideologically intense and systematic justification for U.S. interventionism.
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