The topic of empire has experienced a strong revival in recent years. Some of this has to do with debates about whether and to what extent America is an empire. But there are other, perhaps deeper, causes. Empires were and are certain kinds of experiments in the management of ethnic and national diversity. They are also generally global in their reach and outlook. I should like to argue that one of the reasons why empires are making a come-back, at least in the intellectual sphere, is that they seem to have much to offer by way of experience and ideas to a world that is increasingly concerned with managing ethnic and cultural differences, and where the nation-state may be increasingly a hindrance to this goal. At the same time empires past and present have sometimes acted simply as "super" nation-states, pursuing the interests of the dominant ethnic groups in the empire. Empires and nations are variable forms of the political imagination and point in different directions, but the overlaps and similarities in their actual practices sometimes prevent them from displaying their different principles. It might be important to insist on those differences.
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia, USA
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