Book Review — Imperialism: Past and Present

Imperialism by Emanuele Saccarelli

Imperialism: Past and Present by Emanuele Saccarelli is an academic look at the meaning of imperialism and how it was used throughout history. Saccarelli is a member of the faculty at San Diego State University. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and is the author of several books examining political theory versus political practice.

Any student of political science quickly learns that words mean specific things. These meanings may be very different from what a lay person believes or they may cut through the media’s Orwellian doublethink. For example, the word “communism” is linked with the USSR and “capitalism” linked with the United States. The Soviet Union never came close to becoming a communist state by definition. It was a dictatorship and nothing like Marx or Engels envisioned. The United States is not a capitalist state, but a mixed economy. We have public parks, roads, land, airwaves, retirement, health care (even before Obamacare), education, and a long list of other public services including subsidies to corporations. Jeane Kirkpatrick said that there is a distinct difference between right and left wing dictatorships. Right-wing dictatorships are authoritarian and can evolve into democracies. Left-wing dictatorships are totalitarian and will remain that way. The real difference, however, was not in how the governments functioned, treated their people, or provided services — It came down to whether the government was backed by dollars or rubles.

Saccarelli explains the difference between imperialism and colonialism. There is quite a difference between the two “isms.” Imperialism is a system used to maintain control and fundamentally keeps the rich, rich and the poor, poor. This can be done in several ways. Direct acquisition of the territory(military control), exercising political control, or by exercising economic control. Looking at the United States, military control was used throughout Latin America. The Marines occupied Haiti for nearly twenty years. They also occupied the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and were instrumental in the creation of Panama. The United States still remains the only military superpower in the world. Economically, the US previously held tremendous economic power from the end of WWII until the 1970s. America, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, was untouched during WWII. Economic power grew when the United States was the manufacturing nation for a destroyed Europe and Japan. The end of the Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 when the US unilaterally left the agreement and converted to fiat currency and eventually became a debtor nation in 1985. Political power does not necessarily need military or economic power, but it helps. Political power is seen as the authority and the ability to persuade other nations to act in a certain manner without the use of threats.

An interesting use of imperialism is covered in the book. It is generally thought that imperialism is an outward political force. Saccarelli demonstrates how it can be turned inward. Can a government be an imperialist power to its own people? The answer is yes. Imperialism exists to keep the powerful, powerful and the weak, weak. A look at how wealth is distributed in the United States show that currently the rich are gaining and the poor are losing. The middle is falling in with the latter. The system is working to concentrate greater wealth into the hands of a few, and successfully getting people to vote against their own interests.

Imperialism: Past and Present gives a scholarly look at the concept of imperialism. It is written for the reader with a background in political science, political theory, or the history of international relations or economic history. This is not intended to be an easy read or an introductory text. It would probably find it’s place nicely in as a graduate school text. It is not without controversy, but will inspire debate for those in the field or studying. Imperialism is well written, researched, and documented. An enlightening and educational read.



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3 responses to “Book Review — Imperialism: Past and Present

  1. fromcouchtomoon

    Internal imperialism– nice. That’s a fresh, efficient way to label US domestic policy, particularly with regard to govt corporate and finance interests.

  2. I’ve heard it called introverted totalitarianism. You should read some of David Harvey’s work. His latest commentary titled “Listen Anarchist!” is quite interesting and I would imagine agree with what you’ve said about the Soviet Union.

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