Nationalism was a prevalent ideology worldwide by the late 1800s, and as the industrial revolution allowed the United States to emerge as a world power at this time, there was an urge to compete with Europe in territory as well as technology. In the late 19th to early 20th century, “empire-building” allowed for U.S. capitalistic expansion, thinly veiled by nationalistic rhetoric of “the white man’s burden” and a moral necessity to extend American culture to “inferior” races. The discourse of imperialism necessitated an American national identity, which revolved around the virtues of capitalism and democracy, expressions of masculinity, and the supremacy of the white race.
New technology and the advent of mass production had so radically altered U.S. culture that capitalism and consumer markets came to been seen as synonymous with progress and civilization (Lears 202). The rise of industry resulted in rapid urbanization and an influx of immigrants seeking work opportunities in the burgeoning U.S. economy. Westward expansion on the continent was thus seen as imperative to provide cheap land for a growing population and room for the abundance of workers in the late 19th century (88). When the frontier was officially closed in 1890, American expansionists turned their attention to the establishment of foreign colonies and the creation of new markets to balance-out industrial overproduction (200, 201). Historian Jackson Lears writes that American capitalists sought “free access to foreign markets, raw materials and investment opportunities” (201). Such access gained legal justification through the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Munroe Doctrine, which claimed U.S. interventionist rights in any nation deemed “unstable,” in est, resistant to U.S. capitalism (285).
While the extension of U.S. capitalism was integral to imperialistic motives, public rhetoric stressed a moral duty to spread democracy (Lears 203). Nations such as Haiti, which had seen much political upheaval at that time, were viewed paternalistically, as nations that could benefit from the moral and political guidance of American troops. Of course, the “political stability” offered by occupying forces in Haiti also benefitted the United Fruit Company, an American corporation in Haiti that had been threatened by past revolutions (Renda 98). The U.S. crafted a new constitution for Haiti, on the premise of extending the benefits of democracy, while in fact allowing for easier foreign investment (10). President Woodrow Wilson insisted that the export of American culture would raise living standards abroad, as U.S. politics and culture should serve as an ideal for developing nations to aspire to (Lears 322). The glorification of American democracy as stable and modern was but rhetoric to justify imperialism, however; U.S. occupation destabilized foreign governments, rather than strengthening them, in order to facilitate economic control and opportunities (279).
The notion of paternalism,...