Even at their most powerful, states are rarely ever able to remake life in their
own sovereign image.1 The difference in the case of an imperial state is not
simply that it has incrementally more power to control, but that its scale of
intervention and fantasies of mastery doom it to ever more desperate inter-
ventions that seek to postpone its overextension and demise. Imperial states
extend tentacles of intervention into varied domains of life in order to displace
the crises of reproduction and legitimacy they inevitably generate.
Given this precarious, adaptive, and expansionist form of empire, it is un-
surprising in the early twenty-first century that basic controversies about the
protection of biological life have become major concerns of a United States
that brands its own rule as a defense of democracy and thus both freedom and
life. Indeed, as in past eras of empire, many of the most intimate bodily experi-
ences of living and dying drive political debate.2 With steady media attention
to health care policy, humanitarian intervention, abortion, prenatal genetic
testing, drug patents, assisted suicide, animal rights, environmental regula-
tion, and biosecurity, the idea of the vulnerable body as an object of gover-
nance—its transformation for better or worse through state policies, techno-
logical intervention, and ecological forces—is today quite conventional.
One element common to this biopolitics of empire is an anxiety about the
dependence of the human body on forces that appear inhuman, even inhu-
mane: medical technologies to extend, optimize, or end life; markets and in-
stitutions that unequally distribute resources for sustaining life; environmen-
tal processes that support, deprive, or injure bodies. Such concerns were, of
course, entirely common to twentieth-century modernist fears of alienation
from nature, as well as to liberal, socialist, and fascist states that each pro-
claimed to defend the life of the people in the major imperial wars. Yet due to
the ongoing expansion of government into life through technological, eco-
nomic, and environmental interventions, a growing number of crises that ad-
vertise dreaded risks to life as we know it—climate change, nuclear toxicity,
disease pandemics, biological weapons, and financial speculation, to name
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