Imperial Nostalgia

Who Did It Better—And Why It Matters

The Ottoman ambassador and his page at a ball, 1838

In bookstores around the world, there are undoubtedly Marxist professors eager to talk at length about the evils of U.S. imperialism. But only in Turkey, it seems, are they quite so eager to hold up Ottoman imperialism as the more enlightened alternative: the American and British empires dominated the Middle East through military force, the lecture goes, purely to exploit its resources. The Ottomans, by contrast, secured the consent of the governed by providing them with stability, justice, and prosperity. Really, in light of the Ottoman government’s inclusive political practices, you could hardly call it an empire at all. 

An American more confident in being able to translate the phrase “arsenal of democracy” might have countered that it was really the United States that had the empire so great that it wasn’t really an empire at all. If anything, the American Empire was an empire of liberty

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