In his provocative cover story “Why Liberalism Means Empire ” for The American Conservative, Daniel McCarthy makes a rather astounding claim: that liberalism, or rather laissez faire secular order, needs a state hegemon to be long-lasting. I call this argument astounding because McCarthy often advocates non-intervention in foreign affairs. He’s never one to shy away from damning the bellicose transgressions of the United States government. Yet he, at times, seems to be defending Washington’s vice grip on global affairs, and claims that such mastery is necessary for liberal democracy and the free flow of trade. He writes:
“Liberal imperialism is not directed toward gratuitous conquest but toward maintaining a global environment conducive to liberalism.”
Whether McCarthy’s argument is correct or not will not be addressed here. Rather, the question of intentions behind empire will be examined, as they receive scant attention in McCarthy’s polemic. It’s certainly true that governments are driven by people trying to shower their universal values upon the planet. But is it really the case that the U.S. government is interested in promoting liberal democracy abroad?