Morefield contends that at the times of their decline, elites in both nations utilized the attributes of an imagined past to essentialize the nature of the liberal state. Working from that framework, they bemoaned the possibility of liberalism's decline and suggested a return to a true liberal order as a solution to current woes. By treating liberalism as fixed through time, however, they actively forgot their illiberal pasts as colonizers and economic imperialists. According to Morefield, these nostalgic narratives generate a cynical 'politics in the passive' where the liberal state gets to have it both ways: it is both compelled to act imperially to save the world from illiberalism and yet is never responsible for the outcome of its own illiberal actions in the world or at home.
By comparing the practice and memory of liberalism in early nineteenth century England and the contemporary United States, Empires Without Imperialism addresses a major gap in the literature. While there are many examinations of current neoliberal imperialism by critical theorists as well as analyses of liberal imperialism by scholars of the history of political thought, no one has of yet combined the two approaches. It thus provides a much fuller picture of the rhetorical strategies behind liberal imperialist uses of history. At the same time, the book challenges presentist assumptions about the novelty of our current political moment.
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