The militant unilateralism of the George W. Bush administration has revived interest in such closely related and contested terms as “superpower,”“hegemon,”“empire,” and “imperialism.” This article identifies four different but somewhat overlapping approaches to defining “empire”: ideal type, self-consciously empirical, constructivist, and overtly normative. The author's personal view is that any notion of American Empire or indeed U.S. hegemony or even superpower is profoundly misleading. Although the United States still ranks high on the scale of most traditional realist power factors, United States capabilities appear to be gravely waning today and its exercise of both hard and soft power has recently been so inept as to limit its current influence and possibly future role in global politics.

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