American Neo-Imperialism: the Export of Culture and Democracy

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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This dissertation explores neo-imperialism and its manifestations in US foreign policy. It focuses on the export of democracy and American culture as two of the core mechanisms for the sustainment of US influence in the developing world. It aims to define the ways in which the export of American-style democracy and culture has become one of the key sources of US foreign policy. To achieve its aims, the dissertation looks at the spread of democracy, using the US intervention in Iraq as an example. The spread of democracy has been theorized through the notions of “soft power”, as developed by Joseph Nye in the 1990s. The spread of culture, on the other hand, is discussed through the prism of the growing demand for American mass entertainment, and its ability to produce American-oriented social norms, in the age of capitalism and mass consumerism. Both democracy and culture are looked at as complex historical and socio-economic processes, designed to keep the American influence in the contemporary international system.

Chapter 1Introduction

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1.1 Background

After the end of the Cold War, the distribution of power in the international system had to be to revised and adjusted to the newly emerging actors in international relations. The end of the simple and predictable bipolarity of the Cold War world pushed the great powers towards the reconsideration of other elements of the international system such as non-state actors in the face of INGOs and Transnational Corporations. A new world order, enhanced by the forces of globalization, and new threats to security transformed the global agenda for peace and universal human rights. Development economics and the integration of the poorest regions of the world became a renewed topic of political debate, and the US found itself on the edge of a multipolar world, where its own hegemony was challenged from the rising Asian superpowers. It was in this challenging environment, the US began to reconsider the continuities in its foreign policy, and re-modelled its grand strategy (Boyle, 2008; Ikenberry, 2008; LaFaber, 2008). The rise of terrorism and ideology as signifiers for a new, more radical identity politics pushed the US to reconsider its regional interests, and the promotion of democracy and liberal values gained higher prominence than ever. The ethnic nationalism, which triggered the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the conflicts in Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia, necessitated a dramatic return to the US promotion of democracy abroad, as a pragmatic and goal-oriented approach for the preservation of world peace (Ikenberry, 2008; Mead, 2001; LaFaber, 2008). Here it is important to mention the role of recipients of US exported democracy, which is related to the notion that the political system of other states is crucial for the sustainability of collective peace and security. In this sense, since the end of WWII, the US has made several attempts to export its political structures and vision of democracy in different countries. Some of the more recent examples include Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, where the overall foreign assistance offered by the US included not only foreign aid, but also development programmes related with political reconstruction, state-building and democratic pluralism. This dissertation will explore the aspects of the notion of exported democracy, and will trace its ideological and historical roots. In an innovative way, it will also investigate its implications for the countries, where democracy was exported and will establish the extent of its presence in American foreign policy as a form of soft-imperialism. It will look at exported democracy not only as an ideological conception, but as a wide set of policies and programmes, implemented in several countries. It will trace the transformation of neo-imperialism from a predominantly economic concept into a political construct, which resulted in the spreading American influence across the globe.

1.2 Historical background

The promotion of democracy has always been part of the US foreign policy agenda, indifferent stages of US history. Its features can be found in the historical origins of American national identity (Hunt, 1987; Levy, 2001). A brief historical account of US foreign policy would reveal the complexity of US national identity and its main features – the export of democracy and liberalism.

The twentieth century has seen a major ideological transformation in USFP. At the beginning of the last century, USFP was marked by Wilsonian idealism and the international agenda for peace and cooperation, with the USA at its core (Mead, 2001; Muravchik, 1991; Cox & Stokes, 2008; LaFaber, 2008). The League of Nations demarcated a new stage of USFP with the boom of liberal internationalism, which was ended by its institutional collapse.

In the Cold War’s bipolar world, America’s containment of Soviet communism was a key feature of US Foreign Policy. After the end of the Cold War, US Foreign Policy was marked by a revisionist agenda for economic and political recovery of post-communist countries. In Latin America, the set of policies of what became known as the Washington Consensus demonstrated the economic effects of globalization on USFP, and once again – its attempt for supremacy over less developed parts of the world. The period after 9/11 saw a radicalization in US Foreign Policy with the war on terror in America’s grand strategy (Boyle, 2008; Walt, 2001). It was also marked by what John Ikenberry described as America’s security trap and its grave violations of international legal standards (Ikenberry, 2008).

From a historical perspective, the major tendencies in US Foreign Policy from the past century and the turn of the new one look like a mosaics of contrasts. A deeper consideration however reveals a consistency in foreign policy. Democratization and economic liberalization have always been in the American basket with goods for political export. During the nineteenth century, America was still groping its way to economic dominance, but its adherence to a policy to isolationism or aloofness was a basic feature of its foreign policy (LaFaber, 2008; Trubovitz, 2008; Hunt, 1987). In 1845, John O’Sullivan coined the phrase Manifest Destiny. It implied that the US is destined to spread its values for democracy and economic liberalism, and therefore its territorial expansion across the North American continent is justified (Hunt, 1987; Levy, 2001). For many Manifest Destiny is a concept, which belongs to history, but it was the basis for two of the main features of USFP – American Imperialism and American Exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism is viewed by some as an ideology, related to concepts such as national identity, race, and religion (Levy, 2001; Deudney & Meiser, 2008; Nau, 2002). Deudney and Meiser extend the definition of American Exceptionalism beyond ideology, and reflect on the political reality that it brings. They argue that levels of exceptionalism may vary and can coincide with “imperial foreign policy that serves to justify conquest and overseas expansion” (Deudney & Meiser, 2008, p. 32). They also discuss its relatedness to cultural or civilizational greatness or claims for economic development.

In US Foreign Policy, exceptionalism has been a mixture of all these elements, which leads us to a second key concept, related to the export of democracy and culture– American imperialism. It is the practical expression of exceptionalism and the historical visions of American national identity. However, it is different from it because it is related to policy and the policies for democratization and economic liberalization, purported by the USA in different countries from the developing world. It also rests on the assumption that American values, political system and culture are unique to the rest of the world. It is important to note that imperialism will not be discussed in the traditional sense of the word, which implies territorial invasion or militancy. It will be related to soft politics issues such as the export of democracy as a form of governance and cultural predispositions. American imperialism can be viewed as an expression of both American exceptionalism and internationalism. One of the most comprehensive views on American imperialism belongs to Michael Cox, who argues that the concept has its historic origins in economic expansion and liberalism, but it has also retained its ‘particularly liberalistic and moralistic tone’ because ‘its aim was not to conquer other people, but to liberate them from despotism’ (Cox, 2003, p. 9). Unlike most definitions of American imperialism, which focus either on its benign or malicious side, Cox does not automatically dismiss America’s self-interest and political gain as an incentive for its imperial behaviour, but he also takes into consideration its benevolence as a global provider.

As already mentioned, this dissertation will focus on the issues, related to the export of American culture and democracy. It will focus on the historical roots of American national identity and its features, enshrined in the American Dream – the export of democracy and liberal values. It will critically look at important developments in American history, which have shaped US national identity in foreign policy such as the Washington consensus, deployed in the 1980s and 1990s. The dissertation will look at the contemporary expression of these values and the ways they were perceived by their recipients. It will also argue that through the export of culture and democratic values, the US is corroborating one continuous feature of its foreign policy, which modern observers often class as neo-imperialism (Cox, 2003; Fouskas & Gokay, 2008; Little, 2002).

1.3. Structure of the dissertation

For clarity, this dissertation is divided in several main chapters: 1) Research question, which highlights the general as well as specific research aims of the paper 2) Literature review, which provides an overview of key works, definitions and a theoretical framework 3) Chapter 3 will look at America’s road to economic supremacy, and the transformation of this historic trend into a capitalist mode of production, which led to the core-periphery reorganisation of the world 4) Chapter 4 will look at the export of mass culture and entertainment, and its existence as a form of social control, in the context of neo-imperialism 5) Chapter 5 will summarize the main findings of the dissertation .

1.4 Innovation and importance of the research proposed

Despite the rearrangement of the balance of power since the end of the Cold War, the influence of the United States as a global power remains significant. This research will propose a creative approach to understanding the role of American culture, and the export of democracy as mechanisms for sustaining US power in the developing world. It will look at neo-imperialism not only as an expression of economic primacy, but also as a fusion between power and national ideals.

1.5 Research questions

1.5. 1 General research aims and objectives

This paper will look at the spread of American culture in the developing world and the export of democracy as mechanisms of foreign policy. It will focus on the following research aims and objectives:

Establish the parameters of the export of culture and democracy as instruments of US Foreign Policy, helping to sustain the position of America on the international scene
Assess the way in which the export of democracy and culture has become a source of US foreign policy and how this has influenced their relations with the United States
Assess their scope in maintaining US political and economic influence in the developing world

1.5.2 Specific research questions and hypothesis

The paper will attempt to establish the connection between the export of American culture and notions of democracy as a means of foreign policy. The paper will hypothesize that in an age when military force is less significant in foreign policy, global powers like the US rely on soft power means such as the spread of culture and democracy. The paper will argue that this is a form of ‘cultural’ or ‘soft’ neo-imperialism.

“Cultural” or “soft” neo-imperialism is an abstract concept, which is difficult to measure and investigate, unless operationalized. Therefore the author has decided to look at this from two important perspectives – the spread of democracy (1) and the spread of popular culture (2).

1) To explore the spread of democracy, the author will mention key tenets of the US foreign assistance in Iraq related to state-building, based on the American vision of democracy and liberal values. Also, the spread of democracy will be theorized through Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power (1990). These observations will be made in the context of the political strategies, which America has used in order to keep its position and its capitalist interests.

2) The spread of culture will be “measured” with a discussion on the growing demand for American mass entertainment and its ability to produce social norms in the age of capitalism. Mass entertainment will be looked as a process, related to the commodification of culture, as a means to the preservation of American influence in the world.

For clarity, the author has proposed to look at neo-imperialism as an evolutionary process, which started with the accumulation of wealth and power by the US after WWII, and continued with the export of democracy and mass culture in the post Cold War period. In this dissertation, neo-imperialism will be looked at as a fusion of power and ideals.

In order to understand how these features stand in US foreign policy and how they have been exercised as such, the next section will look at some of the key works, related to US foreign policy and the export of democracy.

Chapter 2
Literature Review/Theoretical framework

2.1 Introduction

The purpose of this section is to provide overview of relevant literature, as well theoretical framework and key definitions.

The topic in discussion involves several components, which are interrelated – export of culture, export of democracy, and neo-imperialism. To provide a critical review of the existing literature on the subject is a formidable task due to the fact that the subject has provoked intensive academic attention in the last several decades. Therefore only hey works will be examined. For clarity, chapter is divided in the following sections – works related to globalization and culture, works related to neo-imperialism and US Foreign Policy, and finally theoretical framework.

2.2 Works related to globalization and culture

In the study of democracy and culture as political exports, it is important to mention the role of globalization and technology. Authors such as Tomlinson (1999), Robertson (1992), Hopper (2007) and Featherstone (1990) focus on the connection between globalization and the export of culture. They differentiate between political, economic, technological and cultural globalization. While the first three types of globalization easily relate to a changing world order and re-distribution of economic, social and political power, the last type is the most difficult one to explain. It is related with the export of values and the constant exchange of ideas, which transcends spaces and borders. Cultural globalization, these authors suggest, is also related with existing cultural and social divisions, and the sovereignty of the nation-state. Cultural globalization, these authors suggest, is a way to abolish existing differences and can act as a unifier, through the export of ideas, values and commodities. It is interesting to note however, that none of these authors draws a direct link between cultural globalization and its capacity to be transformed into a tool for soft domination by existing hegemons. In the context of globalization, American popular culture began to be exported and easily perceived by developing nations. One example comes from the former Soviet and communist republics, who embraced Western (and mostly American) modes of governance, related to democratization and economic liberalism. They also however leaned towards consumerism and the spread of American films, movies, television and education, which led some IR theorists such as Robert Kagan to famously conclude that globalization wears “made in the USA label” (Kagan, 2003). Authors such as Tay explain globalization as Americanization. Although he points at the rise of Asian culture as the next wave of globalization, Tay (2010) manages to discover the mechanisms through which the export of American culture creates commercial interdependence. Although his observations target the future of US-Asian economic relations, he reveals the globalization of culture as a product of American foreign policy, successfully executed within historical circumstances. A similar view, although in an entirely different context is revealed by Brown (2003), who visualizes globalization as a process, initiated by the US after the end of WWII. He points at foreign trade and economic liberalization as the corner stones in the American recipe for a global world, and discovers the complexity of their implications in the developing world. Brown reflects upon the commencement of an era of expansion, which brought American values, dressed in policy reforms into light. Of course, to argue that globalization is a necessarily American invention would oversimplify the matter. Authors such as Rosenau (1990, 2000) and Cerny (1990) who view globalization as an autonomous process, which exists outside and despite the boundaries of the state, would be critical of the above perception of globalization as a pure manifestation of “Americanness”. However, to deny that America has corroborated its position through the spread of its global values would be narrow-minded as well. Since the end of the Cold War, it has chosen the spread of culture and ideas as a way to preserve its identity of exceptionalism. Even before the Cold War, Brown argues, the US spread its values in the non-Soviet dominated part of the world, and the world had to adjust to its mores, ideas and language (2003). This is a complex process which began as a reaction towards the Soviet threat, but it also reflects the perpetuation of the notion of exceptionalism, introduced in the first chapter of this dissertation. Reactionary or no, this trend defined the face of US foreign policy for the decades to come. The next part of the review will reveal how cultural globalization is related to another important concept – neo-imperialism in US Foreign Policy.

2.3. Works related to neo-imperialism in US Foreign Policy

The export of popular culture and the export of democracy in this dissertation are viewed as tools of US Foreign Policy. Therefore it is important to mention some works related to neo-imperialism in US Foreign Policy. Authors such as Boyle (2008) Cox (2003) focus on the American imperialism as a manifestation of cultural globalization, and the growing use of soft methods, related to the spread of American influence. These authors offer an interpretation of neo-imperialism, which is subtle and relates to the US Foreign Policy as a means to corroborate existing American identity of provider and protector of weak countries. Gowan (2004a; b) looks at American imperialism as an expression of the American grand strategy for liberalism and democracy. He focuses on the political strategies, which America has maintained in order to keep its supremacy as actor in foreign affairs and its interests as a capitalist state. He looks at the patterns in US foreign policy as a prerequisite for the attempts to build a world order, which would be suitable for the American vision of democracy and freedom. Although Gowan rejects the notion that the world order was built as containment to Soviet communism, he admits that it was the US which bound the Western world against the Soviet threat during the Cold War. In this sense Gowan sees the American grand strategy as a political-military one, which also had economic goals, related to the political preservation of American business interests and centres of capitalist power. Similarly, Cox and Boyle focus on the American strategy as an attempt of the country to preserve its position of a global leader, through intensive export of the notion of democracy, political cooperation and open trade. They also contemplate on how other countries perceive the US in the context of its attempt to preserve its national identity. Cox and Boyle suggest that it was these notions of exceptionalism and superiority, embedded in US foreign policy, which made countries from the Middle East and Latin America hostile to the US, and point at the rise of radical Islam and fundamentalism as one of the counter-reactions towards US imperialist behaviour since 9/11. Chomsky and Archar (2008) and Ikenberry (2008) develop this argument and even pose criticisms towards the US inability to cope with its own prescriptions for democracy and universal peace, through a violation of human rights in a series of foreign interventions in the Middle East, instigated, ironically enough in the name of peace and democracy. Little (2002) offers an interesting explanation of the connection between ideology and the export of democracy, and reflects upon American Orientalism and the ways in which the US has come to view some nations from the Middle East as “other” and “foreign”. This “otherness”, Little suggests, has become the dividing line between them and us in US foreign policy, and also a turning point for the classification of nations or communities, where democracy of the American type is still on the demand side. The Orientalism in US foreign policy towards nations from the Middle East is explained by Little as an ideological construction, embedded in the notions of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism (Hunt, Levy) explained in the first chapter of this dissertation. Similarly, Fouskas and Gokay (2008), Nau (2002) and Mead (2001) focus on US presence on the global stage as a fusion between power and ideals, and the resulting convergence of countries recipients to the American values of economic liberalization as a means for democratic reform. Despite the numerous occasions, in which this approach has led to mistakes, it is also a distinctive feature of the American grand strategy, which is to remain unchanged despite and because of the rise of Asin superpowers, these authors conclude. Here it is interesting to note that while the above works manage to explain the ideological and political roots of the export of democracy, which is envisioned as a tool, they offer little, of any clarification of how this tool actually works upon other nations and the challenges, which arise from its implementation. The next section will fill this gap and will attempt to place the observations in this literature review in a theoretical framework.

2.4. Theoretical framework

The literature review will conclude with the allocation of the main ideas in a concrete theoretical framework. To understand the theoretical implications of the export of democracy to many authors means to simply understand the theories of foreign policy, as related with the classical and critical theories of international relations. This is not an appropriate method for classifying the theoretical knowledge on the subject, firstly because it oversimplifies the matter, and secondly because a clear cut distinction between the theories is impossible because of the abstract nature of the subject. Another option is to attempt to understand the export of democracy through proper imperialist theories, proposed by Kautsky (1914) (Ultraimperialism or superimperialism) and Wallerstein (2003) (World-System Theory). Both theories overemphasize the role of capital and its accumulation as a means of powerful states to dominate over weaker ones. None of the two however, mentions the role of identity, ideology and their historical projections – issues, which are crucial for understanding the subject of research in this dissertation. A more relevant, although less theoretical observation is proposed by authors such as Hunt (1987) and Levy (2001) who argue that identity is crucial element in the formation of US foreign policy, and the notion of exceptionalism, as a historically developed collective psychology, is what triggered the export of democracy. Although their observations cannot be classified as theories of imperialism or neo-imperialism in the classic sense, they offer a flexible framework for understanding the export of democracy as the manifestation of neo-imperialism. For the purposes of this review, Hunt and Levy’s observations will be classed as identity neo-imperialism. If Hunt and Levy offer an explanation of neo-imperialism as a projection of national identity, Joseph Nye (1994) develops the concept of soft power as an approach to world politics. Although he refuses to label the existing world order as neo-imperialistic and the US as a new empire, his concept of soft power, as a means for achieving political power, rests upon the idea of the spread of values and culture. Nye’s analysis, although designed to explain the state of the world system after the end of the Cold War, can serve as a sufficient basis for understanding the export of democracy and culture, in the case of the US. Nye’s approach is not dedicated to theoretically classifying neo-imperialism, but it does reveal the connection between soft power, culture and values, and its translation into policies.

2.5 Summary

This literature review has revealed that there is an intricate connection between cultural globalization, American identity and notions of exceptionalism and concepts such as soft power, which offer a new approach for understanding the export of democracy. Literature on the subject suggests that the export of democracy is a manifestation of US neo-imperialism, although a sufficient gap in research exists on works which directly relate American exceptionalism, the export of democracy and soft power. Therefore the three sections outlined in this literature review therefore remain unconnected. The reminder of this dissertation will fill this gap in research, by ascertaining the connection between culture and the export of democracy as manifestations of American neo-imperialism.

Chapter 3
The Image of an Empire

3.1 Introduction

As previous chapters have already highlighted, neo-imperialism is an abstract concept, which is not directly measurable in the context of existing foreign policy strategies. This is largely due to the fact that it is interpretative and related with the re-construction of already existing social and political habits, in the context of the current political environment. In order to operationalize the concept of neo-imperialism, and to make it at least partly quantifiable, the author will look at neo-imperialism as an economic strategy for the accumulation of wealth, on which the idea of the export of democracy lies. Specific examples will be provided to illustrate the connection between the two.

3.2 The imperial face of a liberal strategy

The concept of neo-imperialism is not new, and despite its rhetoric revival in the last decade, it has existed as a policy since the beginning of the twentieth century. Although in the beginning it was considered by many to be a hidden strategy, America’s neo-imperialism in foreign affairs has many recognizable manifestations, such as the export of democracy and democratic structures to the developing world, or in countries, torn by instability and conflict.

Observers like Ikenberry (1999) and Nye (1990) have famously argued that this is a strategy, related with America’s liberal agenda for human rights, civil freedoms and social equality, embedded in the very notion of the American dream. The historic juxtaposition between the American dream and its expression as a doctrine of liberal world order has led many to the conclusion, that it was the result of America’s attempt to preserve its position as a political and economic leader. What Ikenberry (1999) calls “distinctively liberal grand strategy” is built around the idea, that stable political order can be encouraged and maintained through democratic politics, economic interdependence, international institutions, and market liberalism. These have been the signposts of the liberal strategy that some recognize as neo-imperialism (Fouskas & Gokay, 2008; Nau, 2002; Mead, 2001). Neo-imperialism can have many progenies and forms, and different observers put emphasis on different components. For proponents of the view of capitalist imperialism such as Gowan (2008) and Wallerstein (2003), the industrial dynamism of the American capitalist primacy in the post-war period is a priority. For those who observe the political implications of neo-imperialism, such as Ikenberry (1999) and Chua (2004), the export of democratic structures in the context of the American liberal tradition is the most important component. In any case however, the American presence in the post-war world is to be described by a term, which is invariably close to the notion of empire. To illustrate why this is a valid point, it is important to split the neo-imperialist concept into two parts – economic liberalism and the export of democracy. Both will be looked at closely.

3.3 Economic liberalism and America’s road to wealth

One of the tenets of the image of global empire is related with the export of economic liberalism. Those who share the view of the global empire are adamant, that the export of economic globalism is the result of historic political and military expansionism, embedded in the American national identity (Ikenberry, 1999; Gowan, 2008; Levy, 2001; Hunt, 1983). Some of its historic expressions can be related to President Theodor Roosevelt’s famous Dollar Diplomacy, and Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbour Policy, interpreted by some as a form of trade regional expansionism, undertaken by the United States (LaFaber, 2008, Little, 2002; Hunt, 1983). The Dollar Diplomacy (1913) was coined as a term by Theodor Roosevelt and was implemented as a system of foreign loans to countries from Latin America and Asia, in the early twentieth century. It was the policy continuation of the 1853 Monroe doctrine, and established the economic supremacy of the United States in Latin America. Its political replication could be found in President Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbour Policy only twenty years later (1933). It was related with the principle of non-intervention of foreign powers in the affairs of Latin American countries (LaFaber, 2008). More importantly, this policy was related with the establishment of new reciprocal trade agreements, and economic opportunities, which would establish a leading role of the United States in the region.

These early policies were important in establishing the sphere of economic influence for the United States and the expansion of the markets for its growing industrial sector. The turn of the twentieth century saw the first signs of the rising American economic model, which would soon lay the foundations of international organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Dollar Diplomacy and the Good Neighbour Policy are both evidence for the rising capitalist model and economic liberalism, which the United States started to export in Latin America, and later on in Asia. The first place where it exported its economic models however was Europe. In the years following WWI and during the Great Depression, the European countries suffered what historian Mark Mazower describes as the “crisis of capitalism” (Mazower, 1999: 106-141). The staggering levels of unemployment and the scarcity of economic resources, which the European countries had to face after the war, led to some trade unionists and industrialists to call for an economic model, based on the American one – high wages, high volume production and high productivity (Mazower, 1999: 113). This was the initial stage of what Mazower calls “the Americanization of Europe”, which would take place in the 1950s (113). Despite the fact that the American model was not accepted very well by all of the countries, and as a result the term empire was attached a necessarily negative and invasive connotation, the American economic mode and industrial dynamism became a landmark of the industrial relations after WWI. It is a widespread view that this type of economic expansion was based on the model of core-periphery, with the spread of capitalist markets to serve the production needs of the United States. According to some Marxist theorists such as Wallerstein (2003), the United States was the production core, which would attract other capitalist nations, in order to expand its production and therefore political influence in the world. Based on this core – periphery model some argue, America would turn the other capitalist centres into “members of an American-managed security zone”, (Gowan, 2008: 348). This economic gravitation towards the American controlled production periphery has been related to another type of political arrangement – security management of allies. The economic dominance established by the US in the post-war era led to the creation of security management model, with the United States at its core. In other words, the United Stated pledged through the concept of collective security embedded in the NATO principles, that it would protect its allies. Most of the times, these allies were also the United States’ partners in trade, and the US-centred security establishments triggered the construction of an integrated capitalist world economy. In this light, it is important to mention that the rise of American capitalism was not only the result of the containment of the communist threat during the Cold War.

There is no doubt that the Soviet presence played an important role in the American military-political approach, which found its replication in international development. The countries gravitating around the American capitalist core have also become part of the cooperative strategies, related to international development and a globalist agenda for human rights and global peace. In this sense, there has been a spillover from economics and industrialization, into politics and military influence, with the United States at the core of this transition. Many are willing to argue that the most obvious expression of this global model of economic interdependence was the development programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, which exacerbated global inequalities, and placed America at the centre of this political arrangement. The structural adjustment loans and the Washington consensus, which were designed to enhance the economic development of the poorest regions in Africa, Latin America and the republics of the former Soviet Union were based on open trade, rapid privatization and austerity (Stiglitz, 2002; Easterly, 2002; Sen, 1999). According to the critics of the development mechanisms, set by the capitalist core, these programmes corroborated the presence of a less benign American empire, where exploitation and economic dependency rather than economic recovery and eradication of poverty were the outcomes (Stiglitz, 2002; Easterly, 2002). It is now widely observed that the policies set by the United States, related with the export of trade liberalism in countries where there were no proper economic institutions had resulted in failures. Examples from the former Soviet republics and the Asian recession of the 1990s are still fresh and the unsatisfactory response from the countries recipients – not a reminiscence of the past. American economic liberalism, some development experts argue, failed to create sustainable growth and more jobs because of what critics call the one-size-fits-all approach (Stiglitz, 2002; Easterly, 2002). Many developing countries did not have the institutional capacity to meet the criteria set by the Washington consensus and the structural adjustment programmes, which opened their borders and removed any signs of government protectionism. These reforms made the recipient countries exposed to the risks of global trade, and their production and export rates could not meet the requirements of a very competitive global market. However, the purpose of this paper is not to provide an assessment of the development programmes, set by the US or US-centred institutions, but to trace the imperial element in the policies of economic liberalism, implemented by the United States since WWII. The economic models of capitalism and open trade were exported to the developed world, and the United States was at the centre of a capitalist-military alliance, where other capitalist oriented countries gravitated towards it. In the 1980s and onwards, these models were also exported in the developing world for the economic recovery of the poverty stricken regions. It is to be mentioned these economic strategies were designed to create markets, favourable for the American capitalist visions of productivity. They have expanded the US influence in the developing regions, and according to many, have sustained an economic hegemony, characterized by enhanced capitalist strategy, and especially devised market exchanges.

3.4 From economic wealth to the export of democracy

As already mentioned, the capitalist mode of production embraced by the US started as a historic trend and continued as a socio-economic one, nut it has a political dimension. The previous section mentioned the economic-security alliance, established during the Cold War, in which the United States was the guardian of states with capitalist interests, similar to its own. However, in order to illustrate clearly the tenets of American neo-imperialism is important to mention its political dimension.

The spread of American democracy has often been equalized with what Joe Nye famously called “soft power” in the 1990s. The concept rests on the assumption that in order to make other actors in the international system want the same things that you want, you need to have certain resources and hold a favourable bargaining position. The originality of Nye’s concept comes from the fact that these sources of power were not necessarily military. In the post Cold War era American neo-imperialism was a subtle and less of a strategic phenomenon, because it was related with the ideological spread of American values and democracy to the world’s most troubled regions. After the demise of the Soviet Union however, this stance obtained a different shade, because there was no ideology, omnipotent enough to compete it. Therefore the spread of the American democratic ideal was often compared to hegemony and imperialism. It was the source but also the justification of a revised agenda for a world order, where human security and cooperation in the name of peace and stability became the norm. After the end of the Cold War, territorial invasion for the purpose of economic gain was unacceptable, and new means of power replaced the classic state-to-state conflict (Shaw, 2005; Smith, 2006; Kaldor, 1999). A new form of colonialism, characterized by the exercise of soft power and political presence began to exists, and despite the fact the here the term colonialism is deployed metaphorically, the outcomes are still related to expanded (although not necessarily territorial) influence and presence. It is important to differentiate soft power from hard power, and in this Nye’s observation can be considered quite useful. He writes that “soft power rests on the ability to set the political agenda in a way that shapes the preferences of others […] The ability to establish preferences tends to be associated with intangible power resources, such as an attractive culture, ideology and institutions […] If the United States represents values that others want to follow, it will cost us less to lead (Nye, 1990: 552). In Nye’s terms, a country can obtain the positions it wants to obtain without necessarily coercing others, but by making them want what it wants. In this sense, soft power is the ability not only to influence and persuade, but to “entice and attract” (Nye, 1990:552). Nye’s definition of soft power reveals not only the political dimension of neo-imperialism, but the ideological platform, on which the American society rests. Therefore, discussing the political parameters of neo-imperialism is a formidable task. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to measure, and its existence in the international system is not entirely commensurate with economic and military power, or existing structures within the system itself.

Soft power in this dissertation is understood as the ability of the United States to inspire similar cultural and political models in different parts of the world, by exporting its ideals and visions. One of the most direct expressions of soft power is the export of democracy, and the American ambition to bring democracy to the world’s most troubled regions. The case of Iraq is only one of the myriad of cases, where the American democratic model has been exported in non-Western and non-democratic societies, and has provoked a heated discussion, as well as criticism and controversy. The American democratic model in the post Cold War era here is discussed as one of the tenets of neo-imperialism. It shows how modern foundations of power have moved away from the traditional military, territorial and economic capabilities, and have shaped a new stage in international affairs, with the United States at its core. The transformation of democracy from an American cultural tradition into a source of foreign policy and means to gain influence in a global world is easy to detect if we look at the case of Iraq, where efforts have been directed not only towards military and financial assistance, but also towards the political reconstruction of a heavily traditional society, and the establishment of Western political institutions. Whether the endeavours of the United States to bring democracy in Iraq have been successful or no is a matter of another discussion. For the purpose of this paper it is more important to identify how this process of exporting democracy relates to American neo-imperialism.

The democratic ideal has already been discussed as on of the most important dimensions of the American dream and the historically constructed notion that it is the freest country, and its values and ideals can transform the world. However, in order to measure the export of democracy as a source of foreign policy, we need parameters, in which to accommodate this view. Archibugi (2006) proposes three possible criteria or dimensions, which can make the export of democracy detectable and thus researchable in the context of developing, non-Western, ethnically mixed societies. The first concept he points at is the internal context and the levels of support, which the existing regime enjoys. The second one is related with the democratic history of the country – recipient, and whether it has enjoyed democracy and political freedoms in the past. The third one is related to aggression and the means, which have been used to implement democracy and democratic institutions. In the case of Iraq, it is not difficult to observe how these three criteria have (not) been fulfilled. Saddam’s regime was detested by the people of Iraq, especially by ethnic groups such as the Kurds, because of their poor treatment and human rights violation. In this sense the export of democracy was a viable alternative to an oppressive and monolithic regime. The second criteria which is related to restoration, has not been fulfilled in the case of Iraq. The country did not have a history of democratic rule, especially if one bears in mind the strong presence of the Baath Party since the 1960s. The third criterion however, is where the implementation of democracy in the case of Iraq raises some concerns. During the invasion, it was used as a justification for military intervention. In the eyes of its critics, the invasion of Iraq was disguised as a larger economic project, with oil and economic gain at its core (Chomsky, 2006; Chomsky & Archar, 2008). Some experts were even willing to argue that democracy was forced upon the Iraqi people, which led to exacerbation of the ideological and political tensions between the Middle East and the West, and the United States more specifically (Chomsky, 2006; Chomsky & Archar, 2008).

Apart from giving us a clear view of how the export of democracy can be measured, the three criteria proposed by Archibugi provide the opportunity to see how democracy as an ideal can be quantified and utilized to fulfil particular foreign policy agendas. American neo-imperialism has been corroborated by the export of democracy, and Iraq is only one of the examples of how democracy can be a continuation of capitalism and military ambitions.

3.5 Summary

This chapter has provided a critical overview of America’s road from wealth and economic primacy to an exporter of democracy. It is largely a transition which began as a historical ideal, embedded in the notion of the American dream and the exceptionalism of the American nation, and became a powerful source of US foreign policy after WWII. This chapter has observed the linkages between the accumulation of capital, and the preservation of other capitalist societies. It has also observed the establishment of a security-military sphere of influence, enhanced by industrial dynamism and political ascendancy through economic means. The basis of the export of democracy therefore has been the economic supremacy and capitalist ideology embraced by the United States. Although a core-periphery model of a neo-empire might seem like an oversimplification to some, its format helps us identify the economic relations existing between the United States and the rest of the capitalist countries on a global scale. It also helps us detect the sources of neo-imperialism, which is the topic of this dissertation. One last tenet of neo-imperialism will be discussed in the following chapter – the export of culture and entertainment.

Chapter 4
Cultural imperialism and the United States

4.1 Introduction

So far we have explored neo-imperialism as a pattern of political presence, measurable through the economic strength, acquired by the United States in the post-war period, and as the export of democracy, resulting from accumulated wealth and capitalist mode of production. This chapter will focus on one last tenet of neo-imperialism which relates to the export of American popular culture, as another identifiable dimension of Nye’s concept of soft power. The spread of American values, movies, music, sports and food has marked a new, ‘made in America stage’ in the world of entertainment and consumerism, which followed immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

4.2 Culture as a commodity

First in order to understand how culture has been exported by the United States, it is important to explain how it came to exist as a commodity. Marcuse (2002) famously argued that industrialization has involved individuals in the process of production and consumerism, which creates “false needs” and the artificial projection of these needs in a system of excessive consumerism, enhanced by advertising, media images and industrial relations. His most important contribution however is the idea that consumerism is a form of social control, which makes individuals dependent on the constant consummation of “cultural goods” and the ways their perceptions and morals are shaped depends on the trends, dictated by the system of production. In this sense Marcuse’s idea relates very closely with contemporary consumerism and partly explains the processes of commodification of culture in the case of the United States. It also relates to Hall’s vision of culture as a theatre of popular fantasies (1996). In the context of capitalism, images are created to meet certain demands, and these images are perceived by the audience (McRobbie, 2005; Barkers, 2008). Through mass campaigning and marketing, these images become accepted. Sooner or later, they become a social discourse and thus easily identifiable as a norm. When the norms are created, they need obedience in order to exist as such, and this obedience comes from the consumers, who follow the false needs, to use Marcuse’s term, because they identify themselves with certain cultural products or trends (Marcuse, 2002). A good example comes from the creative industries, the music and film industry in particular, where power lies within those who create particular products (McRobbie, 2005). The messages that celebrities and pop idols send to people become a norm of social behaviour, and are gradually transformed into a social discourse, or to use another term suggested by Marcuse– a form of social control (2002). In this sense it would not be exaggerated to say that popular culture does not really give us what we want, but what we think we want. It is not a form of freedom of expression, but in contemporary societies – a form of social control. Popular culture is supposed to break the cliches and transcend the traditional confinement of society, but in reality, it often fosters stereotypes.

In order to understand the commodification of culture, it is also important to understand the connection between culture and capitalism. There are two important factors, which have largely shaped the contours of modern culture. These two factors, as outlined by Rutherford, are the “utilization of culture and knowledge as economic source”, and the influence of neo-liberal ideas on economic policy, which sought to enforce individual freedom through market deregulation (Rutherford, 2008: 9). This resulted in a general trend of eradication of economic collectivism, and optimization of the conditions for capital accumulation. The latter explains why popular culture is fostered by capitalism – its mechanisms for economic freedom allow mass production, and mass consumption. They also allow the commodification of culture, which becomes commercial, because it is easily transferable from one social group to the other. In other words, capitalism does not only allow the commodification of culture, it does so by removing the constraints of the class. Class divisions have no significance when it comes to popular culture, because the latter is accessible for everyone. The major transformation of world markets has largely impacted the production of culture and its perception by the general public. In a widely industrialized and deregulated market, it was easier for culture to become accessible, and thus – more easily consumed. America has been at the heart of this process of commodification of culture, because of the advent of technology and the economic might, which the country gained in the post-war period. In the last couple of decades the United States has become the symbol of popular culture, and the world’s biggest entertainment exporter. The reasons for this are obvious — America’s economic wealth, enormous and versatile market of consumers, as well as its modes of economic production. These factors have made it the world’s largest exporter of popular culture as a commodity. Another reason why in the age of globalization the American cultural exports have found unlimited markets is the overall trend for increased levels of disposable income and wealth, despite economic turmoil and regional recessions in Asia and Latin America (Washington Post, 1998). This has made America’s products much more affordable, and the rise of the internet and social media has made them accessible worldwide.

The sociology of this mass cultural phenomenon is interesting, because it reveals the fusion between economic power, capitalism, culture, religion and national character – all of them manifested in the rapid spread of images and products, made in America. These images and products send universal messages, which penetrate even geographically remote regions and gradually become the social norm in the sense implied by Marcuse (2002). Another reason for this is the fact that global society has been transformed into a mass society, which has demands for mass entertainment and culture. American television, video, and movies have found more and more channels of distribution in the last several decades, and their utilization is possible only in the context of capitalism and economic freedom – two of the progenies of neo-imperialism, already discussed in the previous chapters.

Having identified the sociological and theoretical foundations of the American commodification of culture, the next section will focus on its practical dimensions.

4.3 The dimensions of exported culture

The dimensions of the export of American culture are easily quantifiable if one looks at the production speed of popular American products, such as the rate with which the MacDonald’s chain is growing or the increased popularity of Blockbuster movies. In 1996, the international sales of software and entertainment products totalled $ 60.2 billion, which was more than any other US industry, according to Commerce Department data (Washington Post, 1998). Since the end of the Cold War, the export of intellectual property from the United States has had a rise of 94 per cent in terms of dollars, the same records indicate. American popular culture and the symbols that it carries have permeated each sphere of public life, and have shaped new trans-cultural perceptions, images and visions of how societies need to communicate. America’s accumulated economic wealth has allowed for the export of culture in a borderless world of free trade and market liberalism, designed as its own socio-economic platform as the previous chapter has shown. In this sense, the United States has used its economic strength and enormous production capacity in the post war period to establish the boundaries of its own growing industry, with culture being at the peak of this massive production. It is also true that many of the countries, which are recipients of American mass culture, are not able to produce for themselves, which makes the entertainment industry exported by the United States a convenient filler of this economic gap.

4.4 Culture and neo-imperialism

Previous sections have theorized on the sources of mass culture and its recipients in global society. In order to understand exactly where the connection between culture and neo-imperialism lies we need to discuss one important feature of mass culture or what Marcuse calls the culture industry (2002). As already mentioned, culture industry can be a form of social control, and a shaper of preferences, choices and popular demands. This does not mean that it is easy to show how culture can exist as a form of social control, despite the fact that its depersonalization in the American context is one of the landmarks of modernity. In order to understand how cultural imperialism works, it is important to get back to the notion of soft power, developed by Nye (1990). The other necessary concept – the commodification of culture, we have already explained in the previous section. Cultural imperialism has been a source of American foreign policy in the last couple of decades, in the sense that it has established its own norms, categories and classifications, which are easy to grasp and absorb by the public. The ideas and images, designed by American culture and its various products from MacDonald’s to “ER” are a reflection of the basics of the American dream and despite its numerous variations they bear the features of liberty, freedom and mass capitalism. To deploy Nye’s concept in the context of culture therefore is not difficult. By penetrating global and domestic markets, the United States has left its strategy of coercion, and has begun to use what Nye calls cooperation and enticement instead. In the last several decades American popular culture has demonstrated the ability of the United States to attract and entice others, which has lead to a gradual and almost subtle universalization of values, cultural norms and beliefs. To say that American values have eradicated cultural differences of course would be naive, especially in the context of a multipolar world, where ideological and sub-state conflict has become the new type of war (Kaldor, 1999). But to ignore the almost imperial dimension of America’s influence in terms of values and norms is just as unreasonable.

4.5 Summary

This chapter has summarized the main aspects of American popular culture and its commodification in the age of capitalism and excessive consumerism. It has explained the connection between the American accumulation of capital, the economic framework of mass production and the export of culture as its content. It has also provided explanation of how culture can become a means of social categorization, and can lead to newly constructed forms of socio-economic normativity. To a large extent, the United States has been the manufacturer of new cultural norms, and this most pervasive aspect of its “soft power” approach has become a landmark of the post-Cold War order, as much as it has been enhanced by it.

Chapter 5

The author of dissertation had a formidable and challenging task – to quantify and to a certain extent to measure a concept which, despite its popularity and polemic attractiveness, is abstract and for many remains obscure. American neo-imperialism is not detectable, because it is not a tactics, or a particular strategy. On the other hand, its tenets have become the main sources of US foreign policy after the end of the Cold War. They were transformed from historical predispositions, resting on national ideology, into economic models of the organization of capital, and later on into democratic models and culture, which is being exported as America’s greatest commodity.

As this dissertation has attempted to show, American neo-imperialism is a mixture of power and ideals. Its deep historical roots relate to the notion of American exceptionalism. These concepts, which became primordial to the American national identity, were later on translated into economic expansionism, the accumulation of wealth and the establishment of core-periphery model, with America at its centre. The growing influence of the United States, enhanced by its strong presence in the world markets, made the export of democracy and democratic political models possible – an outcome, which many have classified as America’s liberal strategy for world peace and cooperation. Finally, the export of culture and mass entertainment became another ostensible element in the American neo-imperialist equation, and also a strong shaper of categories, norms and a whole new set of values. It is interesting to note that while in this dissertation these processes were presented as chronological follow ups, in the post war period they have existed almost simultaneously. This is because these are not historical processes, and their attempted ‘eventalization’ in this dissertation has been for the mere purpose of a clearer presentation of the arguments. In reality, the processes, which have constituted the complexity of the American neo-liberalism, do not exist in a perfect sequence, and their imprint on the world will provoke intense debate, admiration and as well as criticism in the decades to come.


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