Imperial overstretch

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Imperial overstretch, also known as Imperial overreach, is a hypothesis which suggests that an empire can extend itself beyond its ability to maintain or expand its military and economic commitments. The idea was popularised by Yale University historian Paul Kennedy in his 1987 book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Might Washington, like Rome, fall victim to imperial overstretch? Could military force abroad eventually have to be withdrawn because of bankruptcy at home? Might the whole idea of America eventually be challenged and destroyed by some charismatic new faith: some fundamentalist variant on Christianity? Or will nature disrupt America's new world order?

—Robert Harris, "Does Rome's fate await the US?," The Mail on Sunday, October 12, 2003


Paul Kennedy's view has been criticised from many directions, including the postmodern historiographer Hayden White,[1] economic historian Niall Ferguson[2] and from Marxist writers such as Perry Anderson[citation needed] and Alex Callinicos[citation needed].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Western Journal of Communication, 56 (Fall 1992), 372-393, The Rhetoric of American Decline: Paul Kennedy, Conservatives, and the Solvency Debate, KENNETH S. ZAGACKI [1]
  2. ^ Foreign Affairs - Hegemony or Empire?