Our imperial altruism has been a distinguishing feature of both the great Anglophone Empires. We insist that we are acting in the best interests of the people that we subjugate. It is part of our charm. It is our share of culture. It may become our downfall.
Niall Ferguson is Herzog Professor of Financial History in the Stern School of Business at New York University, and Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University. He is the author most recently of Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Basic Books, 2003). This essay is adapted from remarks given at the American Enterprise Institute on 17 July 2003, sponsored by the New Atlantic Initiative.