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War and Empire: an American Way of Life?

The relationship between expansion, economic well being, liberty, and happiness

richard nigro

on 14 November 2012

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Transcript of War and Empire: an American Way of Life?

How many military bases does the United States have around the world? 700 - 1000 How many countries are in the U.N.? 196 Of the 196 countries in the U.N., how many have US troops on station? 150 or 77% or 35% of active U.S. military (1,414,149) How many wars has U.S. fought since 1945? 5 -- all undeclared How many U.S. interventions since 1945? ~114 or ~1.7 per year Monroe Doctrine 1823

"We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States."
John L. Sullivan, editor of the "Unites States " magazine in 1845

"our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our multiplying millions." Early republic not much different proportionately from current climate 1798-1800 -- Undeclared naval war with France. --includes actions in Dominican Republic and city of Puerto Plata; Tripoli - first Barbary war; 1806, Mexico, Capt. Z Pike invades Spanish territory at the headwaters of the Rio Grande; 1806-1010, Gulf of Mexico, American gunboats operate against Spanish and French privateers; 1810, West Florida, Spanish Territory, Governor Claiborne, on orders from President Madison, occupies with troops territory east of Mississippi; 1812, war with British -- attempt to seize Canada; 1813, West Florida, on Congressional authority, Gen. Wilkinson seizes Mobile Bay with 600 soldiers; 1816-1818, Spanish Florida First Seminole War; etc.etc.

1835-36 -- Gen. Gaines occupies Nacogdoches Texas, during Texas War for Independence; 1844, President Tyler deploys forces to protect Texas against Mexico; 1846-1848, Mexican War, precipitated by President Poll's occupation of disputed territory; 1853-54 -- opening of Japan by Commodore Perry; Perry also makes naval demonstration, landing marines twice and secures coaling concession from ruler of Naha on Okinawa -- all to secure facilities for commerce; etc., etc. in Fiji Islands, Uruguay, China, Nicaragua, Turkey, Paraguay, Colombia; 1874 Hawaiian Islands; 1885, Panama; 1888, Korea; 1898, Spanish American War; 1899 Open Door Policy; and on to the 20th century Why is there this continual if not continuous pattern of behavior, of seemingly never-ending resort to "sending in the gun boats"? I think that it has much to do with a "way of life" inherited from the British and adapted to American circumstances. British come very late to the age of exploration -- Spain, Portugal, France, Dutch way ahead How do British catch up? Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1621-1683) and others articulate the theory and principles of Mercantilism. Mercantilism based on the Biblical injunction to promote the general welfare and common good of God's corporate world and its creatures; a propensity to define God's estate as the civil society in which the individual Christian resided Four principles of Mercantilism: 1)the state is the institution for achieving wealth and welfare; 2)good fortune doesn't happen by itself( no hidden hand); 3)the state has the obligation to serve society by exercising responsibility for the general welfare; 4)the world is known and finite (supported by science and theology) therefore the chief way to promote wealth and happiness is to take them away from some other country. Said differently, foreign policy is the key to domestic welfare Early American leaders, eg., Madison and Jefferson, understood the Mercantilist heritage very well -- they also understood that small states were both necessary and desirable for real democracy -- and this conflicts with the explicit emphasis on expansionism in Mercantilism -- the resolution of this contradiction opened the way for the republican empire they ultimately established. Back to Britain for a minute. English philosopher John Locke, who played a
significant role in the thinking of the "Founding Fathers,"
modified Shaftesbury's views in two respects: 1) Locke
focused on the individual whose happiness depended on
expansion and empire -- he set aside the relationship
between the "mother country" and the colonies and focused on the freedom of the individual citizen; 2)so now, the tension between the individual and the state
centered upon access to and division of the rewards of
empire -- the question of the allocation of responsibility
in society was discounted by Locke because he assumed the existence of a stable and profitable empire Riches, for Locke, mean having more than the rest of the world, more than one's neighbors, so, growing rich or poor depended ..."only on which is greater or less, our importations or exportations of consumable commodities. A shift from a Mercantilist conception of empire
toward an imperialist outlook becomes apparent after
1715. English investments were protected by strict controls on colonial currency established in 1751 and through a law of 1731 which made colonial property legally forfeit for debts. Back to America James Madison, the leading mind of early America's
gentry, recognizes Mercantilism as the means to forge the feeble Confederation into a mighty republican empire. Ironically, Mercantilism is overtaken in England by the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith but was reborn in early America. Contrary to mythology, the American farmer has never glorified or accepted the condition of self-sufficiency. He has always seen himself as a creature of the marketplace, and therefor a capitalist whose wealth and welfare depended upon the profitable sale of surplus production. American mercantilists stressed the necessity of economic expansion in generating material growth and development, as well as creating the conditions for maximum political and social well being. Economic liberty and success had a direct and causal part in defining freedom per se, and in realizing such freedom. Ironically, the drive for economic liberty became a major force in the successful assault on the Mercantilist system ---economic freedom was placed at the heart of an alternative conception of political economy developed by Adam Smith and others after 1730. Americans acted within the framework of Mercantilist thought until after the War of 1812. British tactics during the Napoleonic Wars and the interference with American commerce helped produce the war. In the early republic, farmers generated pressure for economic expansion in the form of demands for more land to sustain and advance commercial agriculture, and for the development of protection of overseas markets to absorb surpluses. Continued agitation by farmers for more land and markets dramatized the break down of the Mercantilist ideal -- of an organic society guided from the center by leaders with an inclusive outlook Articles of Confederation found wanting by most leading commercial interests. 1786-1797 -- Madison asserts the necessity of expanding the area of central political authority, the creation of a national government with powers over all subdivisions would provide the best security for a republican government -- "Extend the sphere," he said, "and you make it less possible that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens." Madison wanted to create ..."one great, respectable, and flourishing empire." Jefferson now realized that Madison had reversed the traditional analysis of the causal relationship between size and freedom -- at first, he was reluctant to accept this new equation tying freedom to empire -- he believed that expansionist "means" would subvert the "end" of freedom. But the strength of Madison's argument, augmented by the desire for more land and markets, persuaded many skeptical farmers to make it possible to create the Constitutional imperium. Once achieved, the agriculturalists took the lead in integrating the principles and practices of expansion with the axioms of natural law and freedom Now, for Jefferson, the acquisition of Louisiana was justified on the grounds that it promoted "... a wide spread for the blessings of freedom and equal laws." He also argued that adding Canada and Cuba were legitimate steps in creating America's "empire for liberty." After the War of 1812, Adam Smith began to influence American economic thinking similar to his impact on Britain in the late 18th century Mercantilism and Smith's economics shared two important characteristics: 1)reliance on the principle of the expansion of the marketplace as necessary for economic, social, and political well-being; 2) economic liberty and success had a direct and causal part in both definitions of freedom per se and the realization of such freedom Smith synthesized the thinking of the Physiocrats and John Locke -- freedom per se was unalterably entwined with the liberty "... to truck, barter, and exchange." there was no natural liberty if men were not free to act upon their own considerations of their own economic profit. For Smith, then, market expansion was the necessary condition for the realization of individual freedom and liberty. By 1828, agrarians chose Andrew Jackson, committed to destroying Mercantilism at home and expanding the marketplace across the continent and the seven seas. And so the historical connection between expansion, economic well being, liberty and freedom continued to play out until the present day when we still aspire to export our way of life and our values, provided, of course, such export provides stability and advantage to our republican empire. We continue to be surprised, however, when the people of Nigeria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia, Serbia, Egypt, Libya, Russia, China, most of Central and South America, etc. don't quite see it our way. War and Empire: an AmericanWay of Life? Proposition: Expansion, driven largely by economic
motivation, initially territorial and later unrelentingly commercial, became necessary to our definition of liberty and freedom, as a nation and as individuals. We are, and have been, an imperial people. k The end So, we return to the proposition: Expansion, driven by
economic motivation, became necessary to our definition of liberty and freedom, as a nation and as individuals. We are, and have been, an imperial people.
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