The United States Empire Is Falling. What Does That Mean?

| Podcast

In his latest book, “In the Shadow of the American Century: The rise and decline of US global power,” Alfred McCoy writes about the tools used by the United States to maintain global domination and how its status is declining. McCoy predicts that China will replace the US as the dominant global power holder by 2030. We speak with him about US Empire, what the decline will look like and how it will impact people in the US and around the world.


Listen here:

Relevant articles and websites:

The World According to Trump; or how to build a wall and lose an empire by Alfred McCoy

In the Shadows of the American Century by Alfred McCoy

A book review of In the Shadows of the American Century by Paul Street

Ensuring Justice in the Era of Transformation by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers



Alfred McCoy is the Harrington Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the author of many books on the global opium trade, the CIA and its use of torture, surveillance and the Philippines. Here is his bio from the UW website:

After earning a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at Yale, my writing on this region has focused on two topics — Philippine political history and global opium trafficking. My first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (New York, 1972), sparked controversy when the CIA tried to block publication. But after three English editions and translation into nine foreign languages, this study is now regarded as the “classic” work on the global drug traffic.

My more recent work on covert operations, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York, 2006), explores the agency’s half-century history of psychological torture. A film based in part on that book, “Taxi to the Darkside,” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008. My latest study of this topic, Torture and Impunity (Madison, 2012), explores the political and cultural dynamics of America’s post 9/11 debate over interrogation.

The Philippines remains the major focus of my research. An investigation of President Marcos’s “fake medals,” published on page one of the New York Times (January 23, 1986) just weeks before the country’s presidential elections, contributed to the country’s transition from authoritarian rule. Analyzing the many coup attempts that followed, my book Closer Than Brothers (New Haven, 1999) documents the corrosive impact of torture upon the Philippine military.

Three of my edited volumes on Philippine historiography have won that country’s National Book Award. In 2001, the Association for Asian Studies awarded me the Goodman Prize for a “deep and enduring impact on Philippine historical studies.”

My recent book, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison, 2009), draws together these two strands in my research — covert operations and modern Philippine history — to explore the transformative power of police, information, and scandal in shaping both the modern Philippine state and the U.S. internal security apparatus. In 2011, the Association for Asian Studies awarded Policing America’s Empire the George McT. Kahin Prize, describing the work as “a passionate, elegantly written book that owes its mastery to McCoy’s narrative and analytical gifts, his years of painstaking research and his sure sense of the ominous global implications of his story.”

In 2012, the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association awarded me the Wilbur Cross Medal which is presented annually to “a small number of outstanding alumni” to recognize “distinguished achievements in scholarship, teaching, academic administration, and public service.” Simultaneously, the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave me the Hilldale Award for Arts & Humanities for 2012.

My most recent book, In the Shadow of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, focuses on the key instruments in its exercise of this hegemony—including, geopolitical dominion, control of subordinate states, covert operations, worldwide surveillance, torture, and military technology. The work concludes by analyzing China’s challenge and the complex of forces that will likely lead to an eclipse of U.S. hegemony by 2030.

My teaching interests include: Modern Philippine social and political history; U.S. foreign policy; colonial empires in Southeast Asia; global illicit drug trafficking; and CIA covert operations.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Kevin, as you mentioned PR would be focusing more on Empire — you and Margaret certainly are doing a fine job in that direction, both here at PR and at other left progressive sites.

    Congrats to you both, and this is my applause to you both as I commented on TD:

    Kevin and Margaret, ‘thumbs up’ for your comprehensive ‘thumbs down’ on Empire.

    And BTW, Kevin, as I have said here and elsewhere, including your very effective, progressive, even revolutionary site, “Popular Resistance” — surprisingly, and very pleasantly surprisingly, I have recently found that “Old Grey Lady” the NYT to be very open to serious discussion, analysis, and even understanding of this oft taboo topic of Empire.

    As you may know, I have even suggested that this surprised opening in our times and of the “Times” might well offer a platform as progressive on this critical topic of Empire, as many of the left, progressive, alt-media sites for people like you, Hedges, Paul Street, McCoy, Blum, and the few dozens of others who more deeply understand the nature, structure, and form of this first in world history; ‘effectively-Disguised’, dual ‘Vichy Party’, ‘truly-Global’, and crony ‘Capitalist-fueled’ EMPIRE — which is only nominally HQed in, and merely ‘posing’ as, our former country — and which can only be accurately defined, diagnosed, confronted, and over-thrown by ‘exposing’ this global cancer simply named “EMPIRE”.

    I continue to be nearly amazed at the ‘exposure’ of that taboo cancer of Empire in our ‘body politic’ that the “Times” allowes to be electronically printed among ‘all the news worth printing” in the educational comments that they publish:

    I’m hopeful, Kevin, that “The “Times” they are a changin”

  • kevinzeese

    We discused the issue of how emprie is viewed inside the empire and I mentioned that the US may have its empire end without many of the people in the US ever knowing it was an empire. McCoy told us that was not uncommon and that it is when the empire begins to falter and come to an end that it becomes an issue discussed in the body politic. So, if you are right about the NY Times (and I am not sure you are) than it could be another sign that US empire is failing because it is finally being discussed.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Good to hear Kevin — and I concur with you and McCoy that this Empire will fall, even though it is the first Empire to be ‘effectively-disguised’ and truly-global (while only being HQed in America).

    However, wouldn’t it be great if its fall/collapse were to come sooner and with less damage if 3% to 5% of the American people were instrumental in accelerating the ‘exposure’ and fall of this Empire sooner, with less damage, and in the interests of sparing more people here and abroad the suffering and “Sorrows of Empire” as Chalmers Johnson would wish?

    If ‘we the American people’, who after all are most directly responsible for this damn new and uniquely global integrated and well camouflaged Empire to ‘arise’, and who are the only people who can confront it without being slaughtered in unlimited numbers and with complete impunity (as others have been slaughtered), could help to overcome the Empire (as our fore-fathers did) that wouldn’t that seem to be a role that the American people owe to the rest of the world citizens?

    Anyway, Kevin, I am delighted that PR, and your and Margaret’s articles at TD, et al. left alt-media sites are a powerful voices against Empire.

    Congrats, Bravo, and Thanks.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Here are some thoughts I wrote about the domestic security oppression of FICA and the broader issue of the Empire within and abroad on an aligned web-site, which I’m glad to share with readers on “Popular Resistance”:

    Yes, both faux-parties merely disguise the underLYING
    dual-party Vichy-political facade of faux-democracy —- which the
    OSS carefully studied during the Second World War of Empires in
    France where the Nazi Empire had; invaded, captured, and “Occupied”
    the former country of France and then (1940 – 1944) installed a phony
    government, the single party ‘Vichy regime’ which the OSS successor,
    the CIA, implemented as Rel 2.0 in the dual-party Vichy-political
    facade here starting in 1947 under the unTruman administration — as
    completely researched and documented in Michael Glennon’s fabulously
    revealing “Double Government” as the National Security
    State, qua “Occupying” EMPIRE.

    While the single party Vichy facade of government did not fool
    most French people the improved modern version of a dual-party
    Vichy-political facade of faux-democracy has fooled the American
    public by ping ponging back and forth between dual-Vichy parties
    since the Second World War of Empire quite smoothly (but with a few
    exceptions; Eisenhower recognizing the MIC, JFK detecting the
    ‘commie’ faux-threat, etc. — with both ‘exposures’ buried) and only
    requiring the Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE to ‘amp-up’ it’s
    game by using ten increasingly extreme ‘least worst voting cycles’
    since 1980 to further deceive and scare the American
    citizen/’subjects’ into “seeming to vote” for their own
    further surveillance, oppression, detention, looting, and tyranny by
    this EMPIRE.

    While serious academic research, such as Gilens and Page’s
    “Democracy in America?” and Levitsky and Zibatt’s just
    released “How Democracies Die” have done an exceptional job
    of accurately diagnosing the complete extinguishment of any real
    democracy in America, there has unfortunately been a paucity of doing
    an equally accurate diagnosis of what has replaced the our now-dead
    democracy. Both these excellent books, along with many efforts by
    other public intelkectuals, academics, historians, and expert
    ‘students of Empire’s’ cancerous political decay of “democracy
    in the USA” (apologies to Leonard Cohen) inject more than a
    little confusion and lack of focus, by variously mis-naming this
    killing cancerous cell metastasizing into tumors, which has actually
    killed and is now replacing democracy.

    Often the condition of democracy’s death in America is incorrectly
    called; oligarchy or plutocracy — both terms of which are only a
    domestic disease in the ‘body politic’, do not define any foreign
    imperialistic tendencies, and are essentially the same being only
    ‘rule by a powerful elite’ or ‘rule by a wealthy elite’ (which is a
    distinction with no difference) — and various other confusing,
    complex, ill-understood, pseudo academic, and ‘flipible’ terms like;
    “deep-state”, corporate-state, police-state,
    totalitarianism, inverted-totalitarianism (which would appear to be
    the polar opposite), authoritarianism, fascism, and all manner of
    contradictory ‘terms’ which merely further; distract, dis-empower,
    and most dangerously ‘Divide’ we the people of America from
    recognizing, clearly and simply understanding that what has subsumed
    and killed ‘democracy in America’ today is the exact same effin thing
    that attempted to strangle our new-born democratic Republic governed
    of, by, and for the people governing by consent of the governed 243
    years ago —- which is and can only be called EMPIRE, and which can
    only be over-thrown by an informed people in a Second America
    people’s peaceful and patriotic Political/economic and socialist
    “Revolution Against Empire” [du Rivage].

    Effin around with less accurate, confusing, distracting,
    dis-empowering, and ‘dividing’ terms, words, or silly phrases to
    describe what our founders fully understood to be the “disease
    of democratic Republics” — which is simply and only ‘EMPIRE’,
    will inexorably keep the systemic cancer of Empire in force in

    Only ‘we the American people’ are responsible for the metastatic
    growth of this disguised global capitalist EMPIRE nominally HQed in,
    and merely ‘posing’ as, our former country.

    Only ‘we the American people’ can over-throw this effin Empire.

    And ‘we the American people’ can only successfully accomplish this
    over-throw of Empire through non-violence —- and by ‘shouting it
    down’ as being what it really is: a disguised global capitalist

  • kevinzeese

    We would love the people of the United States to rise up and demand an end to empire. This is one reason we bring it up regularly and why we helped organize the No Foreign Bases conference. Figuring out how to end empire with the least damage possible — to the US and world — should be one of our tasks.

  • Jay Hansen

    US out of North America!

  • Southern

    I understand what you’re saying – where shall I suggest sending the US military scattered around the globe?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Kevin, I can’t help feeling that even that Old Gray Lady, the New York “Times”, is starting to think along the same lines as you and I, if they allow this to be e-printed as a comment on Peter Baker’s front-page reporting on the Davos meeting of the ‘Empire Club’, eh?

  • jemcgloin

    A “Disguised Global Empire…nominally HQ’d in the U.S.?”

    That has been my favorite hypothesis for a few years now. Global corporations and the billionaires that own them seen to have hijacked our foreign policy (which they use to attack countries with resources they want) the banking system (which they use to “print” themselves free money, see Quantitative Easing), the energy sector (propping up fossil fuels and attacking renewables), etc.

    If it is true that global billionaires are using their vast resources to manipulate governments, it seems like to me that Chinese, Russian, and other billionaires are part of this global capitalist empire, since their interests coincide with American billionaires.
    Yes they all compete and engage in power struggles, but those differences pale in comparison to their shared interest in weakening democracy to make themselves richer at the expense of the other 7 billion people on the planet..
    If all this is true, than it would easily explain why people with ties to Russian billionaires might help Trump, a global billionaire to get elected and and install more billionaires in his administration.

    Why anyone who believes in democracy would attack investigations into these billionaires and how they got into office is beyond me.

  • jemcgloin

    One angle to closing foreign bases is to use the second amendment, the first, neglected clause of which demands citizen militias as the defensive military. No part of the constitution authorizes an aggressive standing army .