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By David Coates (auth.)

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But in that part of the post-1945 world that American commentators in the Cold War years euphemistically labeled the “free” part, the writ of the United States was dominant and all pervasive. The economic reconstruction initially of Western Europe and subsequently Japan under American political leadership created a bloc of countries linked by ever more open trade, based on the dollar as the reserve currency. In that bloc, until the 1970s at least, US economic superiority went unchallenged. So too did American military and strategic leadership in the collective security alliance of NATO, one protected from any effective Soviet challenge by the superiority of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Going farther and studying those empires in order to prevent the United States from falling into imperial traps only makes sense if our general view of empire is a negative one. Both views/assumptions are, of course, highly controversial. There are plenty of people out there who think that empires are good things. There are plenty of people out there who think that the American Empire is a particularly good thing, and there are plenty of others who deny that America is an empire at all. Before we can sensibly develop any comparative analysis of America and its predecessor empires, we need first to deal directly with those who deny the validity of the comparison.

But other commentators are not so convinced that America does have that much time, or indeed that much control over the future of its fate. ” The self-perception is of The Nature of Our Contemporary Condition 31 American superiority and American exceptionalism. ”125 In the hands of sympathetic critics of this kind, America is not as exceptional as it likes to think it is, at least when compared to the best of the rest abroad. On the contrary, for concerned critics like Friedman, to characterize America as exceptional is to perpetuate a self-indulgent myth.

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