Trying to explain how the rise of the United States of America happened before, during and after the Cold War is like talking about the birth of Superman. It is amazing how they conceived a super nation, with super powers, known better as hegemonic powers.
Sorry if I started with a Hollywood character comparison, but it is the best way I found to explain how I understand the development of our northern neighbor. However, is not so easy as that.
Since colonization, the citizens of that part of North America were very worried about their own definition. We have to keep in mind that the country was founded by immigrants that were looking for a better place to live, far away from the hard hands of the British government.
I think that was the beginning of the construction of a definition of North America. Then the Independence arrived and they had to settle the characteristics of their own personality as a free nation in the search of their own happiness. This included some implications that they called exceptionalism: like unique origin, historical evolution, political and religious institutions, but most important natural creed-values (Protestant ethics: individualism, liberty, equality before the law, private property and constitutionalism).
With that definition of itself, the United States of America had one mission: Manifest Destiny. This goal is referred as expansionism of its own institutions and the virtues of its people, and is always guided by God.
But, what God established that mission? Why did he choose the people of the United States of America for that mission? In fact, this is only an egocentric idea that was very useful to impel the growth of the country, and it worked. Therefore, why did we, the Mexicans, not think like that when we became independent? Did we not think like that because of our colonizers? Maybe, but let us think more about that later and go back to the evolution of the United States.
Democracy by their Samaritan role
While the American country was thinking about itself, two World Wars were happening. Some opinion leaders, like Henry Luce, said: “these wars are our chance to take the challenge: we have to stop thinking about us as an isolated country. Instead, we have to choose an international missionary policy, because the world needed us”. Thus, Manifest Destiny crossed the borders of North America in the name of what the United States called democracy by their Samaritan role.
However, this previous idea came from what C.W. Mills defined as “the power elite”. This is a ruling group composed of three spheres: political, economic and military. They have closer and dependent relationships among them. These interrelations were explained with the Military Industrial Complex, in other words, with the manufacturing and trade of weapons.
After the World War II, the scenario was divided in two parts: the USSR versus USA. This era was known as Cold War and during it the slogan of the Americans was: “you are with us or against us”. Also with this statement the government pushed hard the trade of weapons and the Star Wars program (exposed by Reagan, the United States President of that time).
United States as an empire
Nevertheless, the bipolar epoch ended with the United States as a winner. “The unipolar moment”, coined as that by Charles Krauthammer, began and continues until our days. The United States is the most powerful country in the international scenery, supported by its internal elite power. This powerful nation rules almost every economic market, and has military presence all around the world. Because of that, it is not strange the question about if the United States of America is an hegemony or an empire, as Niall Ferguson did it in the beginning of the 20th century.
The answer I think is obvious. The United States is an empire, because no other country can sustain such political and economic machine enhanced with a powerful cultural influence through the mass media. Subsequently, as people say, “if it seems like an empire and acts like an empire, then is an empire”. Conversely, the North American country did not accept this adjective, because of the negative connotation that the word “empire” contains.
In fact, this United States status carried some radical and senseless thinking like “The End of History” by Francis Fukuyama. This corporate intellectual thinks that the end of the struggle of ideologies become the end of history, because only one ideology exits: the rise of the liberal democracy spread by the American empire. As I said, this drastic theory reflects how the original idea of Manifest Destiny has mutated over this period, stretching back almost a century, since the United States decided to get involved in the international life.
Others intellectuals, as Samuel P. Huntington, are not so far from the previous ideas. He talks about a “clash of civilizations” where the predominant culture, in the middle of seven or eight regional powers, is the western culture, referring specifically to the North American culture.
So, the United States Empire is the actual scenario, which arises before the two World Wars. But the finally question is: how much longer they can keep up this empire? Samuel P. Huntington gives us some answers in his paper named: “The Hispanic Challenge”. He thinks that the Hispanic (but more precisely, the Mexican) immigration could transform the United States in a bicultural country. If something likes that happen, the internal balance of power, in other words, the elite power would change. But, who knows? There it is the next challenge as students of the North America’s scenery.
- Luce, Henry. “The American Century” in Life, February 17, 1941.
- Mills, C.W. The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 1956, pp. 3-29, 269-297, 363-381.
- Krauthammer, Charles. “The Unipolar Moment” in Foreign Affairs, America and the World, 1990/91.
- Ferguson, Niall. “Hegemony or Empire?” in Foreign Affairs, September / October 2003.
- Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History, 1992.
- Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations, Paidós, México, 1998.
- Samuel P. Huntington. “The Hispanic Challenge” in Foreign Policy, 2004, pp. 30-45.
 A statement framed in what is known as Political Realism, which is a foreign policy that establishes that: 1. Human nature want power to dominate others, so the state is a rational actor, who always is seeking maximize its power. 2. The international system is anarchic. 3. Every state has offensive military capabilities. 4. There is uncertainty scenery: nobody trusts in nobody. 5. Everyone fights for his or her own survival.