On Might

"I chant the new empire . . . "
—Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman sang what he saw—in 1860, he gave a name to Madison's and Jefferson's vision of the new commonwealth. "[Our success]," Jefferson had said in 1801, "furnishes a new proof of the falsehood of Montesquieu's doctrine, that a republic can be preserved only in a small territory. The reverse is the truth." Despite Jefferson's belief, however, the American Experiment will probably be remembered as the only reluctant empire in history: no Homers, Vergils, or Kiplings, but a Whitman, sang its praise. Theodore Roosevelt, the only unabashedly imperialist President, saw America as an international do-gooder that spoke softly and carried a big stick.

Yet, as Brooks Adams wrote: "Nature is omnipotent; and nations must float with the tide. Whither the exchanges flow, they must follow." Theodore Roosevelt's friend and advisor, Adams may not have been nurtured an imperialist, but, like Whitman, Roosevelt, or even Jefferson, he could not deny what he beheld: an immense, rich, populous country, in a world that had become no more meek than in Themistocles' time. His fear of a glacial America, slipping towards rot and destruction, finds its echoes in the hearts of many conservatives. A melancholy generalizer and a visionary. Brooks Adams tried to tell us that destinies,...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here