The United States occupies a disctinct place in world history. There have been other great colonial empires in the modern period, and at the present juncture of history the US exercises an overwhelming influence on the affairs of the world in nearly all spheres of life. As is frequently remarked, no country has ever been disproportionately powerful as the United States is at this moment; and yet many serious commentators are inclined to think that the United States cannot be characterized as an empire in the ordinary sense of the term.
It is the argument of this essay by Vinay Lal, who teaches history at the University of California, that all prevailing conceptions of the singularity of the American experience, including what is termed 'American exceptionalism', fall short of conveying the unprecedented ways in which America has seized hold of people's imagination and colonized not only our present but the futures of peoples around the world. Americans have also excelled at dream-creating factories. The 'American Dream' doesn't indulge your dreams, it only insists that you believe that no other dream is desirable or even necessary. This essay explores the idea of empire in conjunction with the dream-work of America.