Jackson Lears is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers, Editor in Chief of Raritan, and the author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920, among other books.
 (February 2019)


Imperial Exceptionalism

Theodore Roosevelt, center, during construction of the Panama Canal, 1906

Empire in Retreat: The Past, Present, and Future of the United States

by Victor Bulmer-Thomas

Republic in Peril: American Empire and the Liberal Tradition

by David C. Hendrickson
It is hard to give up something you claim you never had. That is the difficulty Americans face with respect to their country’s empire. Since the era of Theodore Roosevelt, politicians, journalists, and even some historians have deployed euphemisms—“expansionism,” “the large policy,” “internationalism,” “global leadership”—to disguise America’s imperial ambitions. According to the exceptionalist creed embraced by both political parties and most of the press, imperialism was a European venture that involved seizing territories, extracting their resources, and dominating their (invariably dark-skinned) populations. Americans, we have been told, do things differently: they bestow self-determination on backward peoples who yearn for it.

Aquarius Rising

A rehearsal of the musical Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, September 1968

In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea

by Danny Goldberg

New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative

by Paul Goodman
Certain years acquire an almost numinous quality in collective memory—1789, 1861, 1914. One of the more recent additions to the list is 1968. Its fiftieth anniversary has brought a flood of attempts to recapture it—local, national, and transnational histories, anthologies, memoirs, even performance art and musical theater. Immersion in this literature soon produces a feeling of déjà vu, particularly if one was politically conscious at the time (as I was).

Rome on the Hudson

Illustration by Harry M. Pettit from Moses King’s guidebook Views of New York, 1908

Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919

by Mike Wallace
The apparently hedonistic culture that emerged before World War I was a muddle of flagrant gestures toward personal liberation and subtle new forms of social coercion. Early-twentieth-century American society was on the verge of a reshuffling of values and power relations in which the rich would come out just fine. And New York City was where that new synthesis would be worked out, in all its messy and contradictory details.

How the US Began Its Empire

‘The Great Naval Battle Off Cavite (Manila Bay),’ in which the US squadron led by Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in the first major engagement of the Spanish-American War, May 1, 1898

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

by Stephen Kinzer
For decades, anti-imperial thought has been largely absent from public discourse. So has the word “imperialism.” The chief substitute for it has been “internationalism.” The rhetorical shift from imperialism to internationalism suggests a sanitizing process at work during the twentieth century, as the United States moved away from a formal empire based on the occupation of foreign territory to an informal empire based on proxy governments backed by occasional US invasions.