Haug pursues two objectives in this essay. First, he wants to develop a better understanding of the global conflicts at the beginning of the twenty-first century. To reach that understanding, it is, he argues, necessary to get beyond the crude empiricist language of the mainstream. Secondly, therefore, he elaborates and further develops certain key aspects of Antonio Gramsci's theory of hegemony (consensual leadership through multilateralism vs. mere supremacy, “hegemonic sacrifice,” etc.) in order better to grasp the lines of conflicts in national as well as international politics.
Haug takes as his starting point the guiding question of a 2006 conference in Athens, namely whether the current political conjuncture should be interpreted as one of imperialism or, in Hardt and Negri's sense, as empire. He recasts this question from one of interpretation to one of history, and in so doing he rearticulates the concepts of empire vs. imperialism. He sees transnational high-tech capitalism as having arrived at a crossroads. One path from this crossroads, he argues, leads to rival imperialisms; and the other path leads to the formation of a regulated world market flanked by world ecological and social politics, to, in short, an “empire” of transnational capitalism.
The big question underlying Haug's project is this: Will the United States succeed, after the political, military, and economic debacle of the phase of the unilateral “imperialist” politics of George W. Bush, in recovering a political leadership role in the world? The effort of the United States under President Obama to do so must contend with the Bush legacy, consisting of two unwinnable wars, a deep economic crisis that began as a financial crisis, and a politically and culturally divided nation. Haug's essay does not pretend to answer this larger question; its more modest purpose is foundational, that is, to articulate the question more clearly and to establish the prerequisites and criteria for a proper answer.