The United States is a superpower that never entirely sought empire’s glory. It has sometimes looked like an empire—but a clumsy, awkward one; sometimes too heavy-handed, at other times too quick on the draw. Imperialistic, yes, but often of necessity, as when no one else was left to confront the Nazis. Since its emergence as a world power, it has not engaged in wars of conquest for the sake of territorial expansion, such as Persia, Sparta, Macedonia, Rome, or Babylon. So it cannot be ruled out that with its present retreat, America is returning to a state that, on balance, it finds more natural than the position of world policeman it has occupied for a little less than a century.
Some may find this retreat reassuring. Others, heartbreaking. Yet others might say: Aren’t you crying over yesterday’s American empire? The real empire is busy exerting its global domination through GAFA—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple—which were born on the West Coast of the United States and have become states within a state, empires within the empire. This America that you are not the first to say is in decline, isn’t it the center of a revolution that has changed the face of humanity and made America more dominant than ever?
Yes and no. Yes, because these companies—though they are so completely unrooted as to be almost governed by no law, not even that of the United States—are in their culture and language unmistakably American. At the same time: No, because the new empire with a digital face has no interest in spreading or maintaining what were once called American values.