Imperialism Past and Present

In This Review

Imperialism Past and Present
by Emanuele Saccarelli and Latha Varadarajan
Oxford University Press, 2015
272 pp.
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Empires have existed since ancient times, but the term “imperialism” came into use only in the 1860s, when it was coined to describe the extraordinary burst of worldwide competition among European powers for control of markets and territory. With the post–World War II spread of national independence movements in Asia and Africa, the age of empire seemed to end, and the term “imperialism” became less a descriptor than an epithet. Saccarelli and Varadarajan seek to recover the idea of imperialism as a system of global domination. In their view, imperialism remains a constant and abiding force, evolving to fit the era. Since the end of the Cold War, they argue, the United States has pursued “neo-imperialism,” made manifest in Washington’s wars and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere. The authors are surely right that global structures of power and domination did not disappear when the Cold War ended. But the book does not advance a coherent theory of imperialism that connects the dynamics of capitalism to contemporary European or U.S. foreign policies.