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Friday, March 31, 2023

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American Umpire, by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, Harvard Press. Video and image by James Shelley.

American Umpire

An SDSU history professor's new book reinterprets America's role in the world.

Commentators frequently call the United States an empire: occasionally a benign empire, sometimes an empire in denial, and often a destructive empire. SDSU History professor Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman reinterprets this view, and argues that America has actually performed the role of umpire since 1776 by demanding international adherence to rules that gradually earned collective approval.

Provocative reinterpretation


Lisa Hoffman's new book reinterprets America's role in the world.

In her new book, "American Umpire," Cobbs Hoffman traces America’s role in the world from the days of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt to the present.

She argues that the United States has been the pivot of a transformation that began outside its borders and before its founding, in which nation-states replaced the empires that had dominated history. The “Western” values that America is often accused of imposing were, in fact, the result of this global shift.

"Current events are so tumultuous that it's sometimes hard to get the big picture. My goal is to help Americans see that the role we play in the world today goes back our founding, when the writers of the Constitution created a federal government to act as umpire among the original thirteen states. The states had common goals, but they were rivals as well."

Distinctive leadership

"American Umpire" explores the rise of three values since 1776—access to opportunity, arbitration of disputes, and transparency in government and business—and finds that the United States is distinctive, not in its embrace of these practices, but in its willingness to persuade and even coerce others to comply.

America’s leadership is problematic as well as potent, Cobbs Hoffman asserts. The nation has both upheld and violated the rules. Taking sides in explosive disputes imposes significant financial and psychic costs. By definition, umpires cannot win.

Amid urgent questions about future choices, this book asks who, if not the United States, might enforce the new rules of world order?

"American Umpire" is now available from Harvard University Press, on-line and in bookstores.

A related op-ed piece by Hoffman entitled "Come Home, America" was published in the New York Times. She also appeared on the NBC News program "Morning Joe" to discuss the book.