Kennedy’s “The Means and Ends of Empires” offers a commentary on Julian Go’s stimulating comparative study of the British and American empires, Patterns of Empire. It argues that Go’s book is strongest in its analysis of the means by which the United States forged an empire, providing fresh insights into its strategies of expansion and control. By highlighting the ways those strategies built on—and diverged from—the ones employed by the British Empire, the book provides a bracing challenge to claims of American exceptionalism. It is less illuminating or original, however, in its assessment of Britain’s imperial experience, and when Go turns from the means by which these empires are made and maintained to how they come to an end, he advances an argument that falls short both on evidentiary and interpretive grounds. The latter part of Kennedy’s essay exposes the problems with Go’s assessment of the causes and chronology of British imperial collapse, and it challenges his claim that the United States entered a similar stage of inexorable decline in the 1970s. It notes that the preoccupation with imperial decline often says more about the political and intellectual anxieties of its purveyors than it does about the empires themselves. Empires are resilient, making it difficult to differentiate temporary setbacks from lasting losses.

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