The American Empire has been on the minds of at least some conservatives for about two decades, ever since the sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire caught us all by surprise. It isn’t that Americans haven’t argued about empire before: From the 1890’s until December 7, 1941, there was an on-again, off-again but very lively debate at the highest levels of American politics and culture about what John Dickinson had called “the thirst for empire.” The conservative position was always the prudent position, guided by the principles of Washington’s Farewell Address. World War II supposedly changed that, but it is well to remember that the machines of war and imperium in the 20th century were projects of the progressives.
However, as we entered the second half of the Hundred Years War of the 20th century, it was a man of the right (although not yet, if ever, a conservative), a former Trotskyist, who articulated a position that was soon to become bipartisan. In The Struggle for the World (1947), James Burnham wrote,
The reality is that the only alternative to the communist World Empire is an American Empire which will be, if not literally world-wide in formal boundaries, capable of exercising decisive world control. . . . The United States cannot help building an Empire.
We called it the Cold War, and...