America’s Empire by Default

In 1645, the Dolfin sailed from London to New England with a cargo of glass, castors, and tobacco and then set a course for Barbados, where it replaced a portion of the cargo with sugar before turning back across the Atlantic, ‘‘pausing at the Canaries, where the pickled fish was removed for sale to those pious Catholics who obeyed the church’s rules concerning meatless Fridays.’’

For as long as the world has thought itself ‘‘modern,’’ great navies have been needed to protect the ocean commerce on which cosmopolitan vitality depends. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, two naval powers—Great Britain and the United States—accounted for much of the policing of the high seas and regulation of international trade. By looking at the history of this Western project, we can better understand the foreign policy Washington has adopted since 9/11. However, we must resist the temptation to draw on historical analogy in order to refute a foreign policy with which we disagree.

Read the full article here.