The Empire Writes Back (to Michael Ignatieff)

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This article critiques the re-legitimisation of empire evident in recent writing by Michael Ignatieff. It begins by locating his work within the larger debate on empire emerging today. Focusing first on Ignatieff's more general comments on empire, it suggests that his defensive case for empire is misleading: it ignores the extent to which the circumstances allegedly necessitating `new' empire are themselves a consequence of older empire, and indeed older US empire. Focusing next on Ignatieff's largely consequentialist case for the 2003 attack on Iraq, it argues that the `success' of the imperial project — to the extent that this requires the cooperation of Iraqis — will depend crucially on the motives of the imperialists. Without engaging directly with Ignatieff's work, the final section addresses some of the questions that the foregoing critique may have raised. In particular, it examines critically the claim that empires are legitimised by the public goods they provide.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145–165
JournalMillennium: Journal of International Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


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