To reflect on the decline of American influence in the geopolitical sphere, its internal fracturing and polarization, atrophying commitment to liberal democratic values and persistent tendency to confront global conflicts with military solutions raises crucial questions about whether American empire is sustainable, and whether it is in fact worth sustaining. First, how is it that a nation founded on liberal principles such as checks and balances, limited powers and individual rights has come to embrace its opposite—that is, virtually unbounded executive authority to stamp out security threats without regard for legal and ethical limitations? Second, what does an executive monopoly on a militarized national security state portend for liberal democratic institutions in an increasingly polarized, fragmented and unstable political climate? In this essay I build on the argument advanced in The American Warfare State: I suggest that a constitutional framework built on liberal principles like separation of powers and democratic accountability has failed to reliably limit power or uphold the rule of law—and that evidence of the tilt toward a more authoritarian alternative has been apparent for many decades. Although previous administrations upheld verbal affirmations of liberal democratic norms, neither discourse nor institutional procedures alone guarantee fidelity to human rights and legal imperatives.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.