Blue Water. A Thesis
The historical framework that Bruce Robbins draws up for rethinking ‘the newness of the New World as opposed to the oldness of the Old World’ is a cosmopolitan rather than a transatlantic one, though Robbins is concerned not only with cosmopolitanism in space, but in time, too. Moving from a consideration of the political work done by the notoriously bizarre ‘Blue Water Thesis’, according to which only sea-based conquest would count as colonialism, Robbins asks what happens if we do not limit our critical work to studying modern colonialism, but include non-European, pre-modern colonialism into the picture. This is what he means by cosmopolitanism in time—a ‘radical expansion in the time frame’ that inevitably ‘ends up undermining our moralized geographies’. Such unsettling of time-honored historical and moral categories is of course open to the charge of allowing America to forgive itself for its empire building, which considered on a much larger time scale, may appear just as bloody and immoral as older, non-American and non-European imperialisms. On the other hand, this might be a risk worth taking. Rethinking America in a much longer unit of time is a way to escape from the grips of American exceptionalism, and a way to remind ourselves that America may not be ‘meant to be the glory and instructor of the world’.
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