Imperialisms: A Critique of International Relations and International Political Economy
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Theories of empire and imperialism have a long history in both the International Relations (IR) and International Political Economy (IPE) literature. Yet both literatures have significant theoretical and methodological problems. IR scholars assume the American empire has a progressive role in the global system, promoting peace, security and prosperity. They divorce the ideals of America from its history of violence and exploitation. Alternatively, the IPE literature recognizes that capitalism is a driving force behind imperialism, but tends to ignore other determinants of American foreign policy. This dissertation aims to use an interpretation of Karl Marx’s method of historical materialism to reconceptualize imperialism in the 20th and early 21st century. Building upon theories offered in the IPE literature, it argues there are three interrelated types of imperialisms at work: geopolitical, geocapital and capital imperialism. Geopolitical imperialism is when geopolitics is the main determinant behind foreign policy. This process is driven by international security concerns or domestic politics and often has few direct economic motivations. Geocapital imperialism is when the needs of capital accumulation coincide with the policies of the government. The third type is “capital imperialism.” This process conditions countries and institutions through transnational corporations and international finance, such as bond markets, the repo markets, currency speculation and investment flows. The recent financialization of the international system has made this process of imperialism a much more rapid and disruptive international process. This thesis will place an emphasis on relations, context and history in order to provide a thorough understanding of the forces of imperialism with a particular focus on the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.