Justifications and criticisms of empire have often focused on the effects of empire on imperial “subjects.” But an older criticism of empire equally focuses upon the way the possession of empire transforms the identity of the imperial state itself by altering its constitution, implicating its people in projects that happen elsewhere, and forcing them to define their relationship to applications of power in a radically new way. On this view the real danger of empire often is the effect it has on the state possessing the empire. In our times in particular, empire is thought to have a profound impact on the functioning of democracy in the imperial state itself. This article seeks to recover the moral sensibility that lies behind this form of moral criticism. It also seeks to examine, briefly, whether America is vulnerable to the “corruptions” of empire and the weight we should place on this moral consideration.
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