Decline and Fall? The American Empire at Risk

Decline and Fall? The American Empire at Risk

After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order by Emmanuel Todd and Socialist register 2004: The New Imperial Challenge

After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order
by Emmanuel Todd
Foreword by Michael Lind
Columbia University Press, 2004 233 pp $29.95

Socialist Register 2004:
The New Imperial Challenge
edited by Leo Panitch and Colin Leys
Monthly Review Press, 2004 280 pp, $25

Emmanuel Todd is a prolific French anthropologist and historian, a student of family structure and its role in political and economic development. He has always cast his net wide; in 1976 he published La Chute finale (The Final Fall), one of the few books to predict the near-term demise of the Soviet Union, which he deduced from its falling birth rate and other demographic statistics.

After the Empire first appeared in 2002 and became a best-seller in Europe. No doubt its unflattering description and grim predictions about the United States did not hurt sales. But as Todd insists in his introduction to the American edition, “it would be a mistake to think of me as one more ‘typical French intellectual’ carrying the same old anti-American virus that has infected so many Parisian intellectuals.” He trained as a scholar in England, his family is partly American, and he initially opposed the Maastricht Treaty and European unification. Quite rightly, Todd has no patience with reflexive, a priori anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, though, he sometimes leaves the impression that he believes there is no other kind. For example, on the book’s first page he describes America’s role in the world after the Second World War as “the guarantor of political freedom and economic order for half a century,” a judgment he occasionally repeats and never qualifies. Au contraire, as most Dissent readers know, at various times since 1945 the United States has strongly supported governments hostile to political freedom in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Zaire, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines. American agribusiness and mining companies have wrought widespread economic and environmental havoc; tobacco exports pressed on unwilling countries by the Reagan administration under threat of trade sanctions will contribute to an estimated fifty million deaths in the first half of this century; and the forcing open of capital markets by the Clinton administration for the benefit of American financial institutions has left tens of millions of people in less developed countries without jobs, savings, or a social safety net. Still, Todd’s disinclination to dwell on (or, for the most part, even mention) these regrettable lapses should at least reassure thin-skinned American readers that he takes no pleasure in telling us the bad news.

The bad news is that A...