Thesis: Both (duh). More specifically, the mechanics of American imperialism change in relation to domestic politics and the international situation, but the philosophy of American imperialism–expand American capitalism but don’t get caught doing it–has essentially remained the same.
I. Straw-man beat-down: William Appleman Williams and Walter Lafeber
A. Both Williams and Lafeber are too materialist: American capitalism must expand, and it has done so by means of imperialism since Spanish-American War of 1898.
B. Truth to this–American capitalism must and has expanded. But Americans have been more and less enthusiastic about that at different times in the last century, a reluctance that finds its earliest manifestation in George Washington’s call to avoid foreign entanglements. Not that the US avoided such entanglements during the 19th century–it was a matter of imperialism by geographic justification (The West is ours, so good-bye, Indians; the Western Hemisphere is ours, so stay away, Europe). So, from the get-go, tension between American capitalism figuring itself out and expanding, and American habit of denying it.
C. How to see it: look to federal foreign policy, the activities of American capital, and domestic policy re: immigration.
II. Spanish-American War -> WWI
A. Opportunity and need arises
i. Opportunity: Perceptions of Spanish brutality; Europeans opening the way in other areas (Asia); American government coming into its own as military and organizational force (especially with TR’s involvement).
ii. Need: Growing economy without sufficient markets
B. American wariness
i. American habits of small government and belief in non-intervention
ii. Anxiety re: contact with the Other
C. Result: Open Doors by force
i. Federal foreign policy: Smash the door open and keep it ajar
ii. American capital: Rush in to the new markets in Asia and Latin America (United Fruit Company, for instance)
iii. Domestic policy: accommodate increasingly defined-as-white immigrants
III. WWI -> New Deal: Once Bitten, Twice Shy
A. WWI proves the isolationists right (well, they think so, anyway)
i. Wilsonian internationalism crushed in spirit and in form by blowback against death, destruction, and disillusionment with Progressive confidence
ii. Bolshevism! Watch out for those Bolshevists!
B. American economy
i. American consumers filling need just fine, thank you very much, by virtue of slightly higher income and lots more credit at home
C. Result: Shut the Doors and keep the world away
i. Political isolation (from League of Nations to Good Neighbor Policy)
ii. American capital finds some investment abroad, but can’t look to US gov’t for help (Latin America, esp. Mexico)
iii. Shutting the immigration gates (National Origins Immigration Act of 1924)
IV. WWII -> Vietnam
A. Confidence tempered and justified by anti-communism
i. In American government
ii. In American capitalism
iii. In liberal America
B. Result: Gloved fist of government and capital
i. Federal government spreading American democracy by peace when possible (esp. JFK’s programs) and force when necessary or cheaper (Turkey, Greece, Latin America, Korea)
ii. American capitalists selling and investing the world over, from institutions like IMF and World Bank to investment in Green Revolution to making consumers (and producers) out of Europeans
iii. Domestic policy: pulling back from exclusion with Immigration Act of 1965
V. Vietnam -> 1989
A. Oh, crap: American capitalism not working so well.
1. Disaster of Vietnam
2. Recognition of failure to eradicate communism (Korea, Eastern Europe)
3. Economic woes at home: stagflation and susceptibility to international oil markets
B. Result: Secret Imperialism
1. American government: stay involved, but be quiet about it (Latin America, Afghanistan)
2. American capital: seize opportunities as they appear, at home (shale oil during late 1970s; crushing unions in 1980s) or through mult-nationalization
3. American domestic policy: increasingly anti-immigrant (1986 IRCA)
A. Whew! We won! Now what?
1. Communism seems to have lost
2. American government: free from world-wide threat
3. American capital: the world is open for business
4. “Washington consensus”: an economic philosophy connected with seat of government. That tells the story.
B. Result: Aggressive, naturalized American capitalism
1. American government: send advisers to former communist countries to help them set up shop (capitalist shop, of course) and pressure for capitalism (Bush’s involvement with German rejection of third way after Wall falls). Step up to military involvement when instability seems to threaten New World Order (Kosovo, Gulf War, Somalia). More than anything else: focus on trade (NAFTA in 1994).
2. American capital: exuberant investment and privatization
3. Domestic scene: Americans pleased with their government and their economic system, which increasingly became one and the same.
4. BUT: produces backlash against American hegemony, which produces response of the unified American government/business machine (see Iraq War)
VII. The future
A. Ferguson: Gee, I sure hope America becomes the next Great Britain. Me: probably not, because (a) different type of capitalism and (b) American habits of anti-eager imperialism.
B. Todd: America’s screwed. Me: Probably, but not because of European birth rates, you idiot.
C. No matter what: American imperialism = American capitalism’s needs/desires + Domestic politics and International situation