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You don’t have to be a neo-conservative to take the idea that an American empire exists today seriously: the idea is a useful tool of comparative analysis but has so far been relatively unexploited. The future of the empire appears precarious, however, since in the final analysis the United States lacks true ‘self-awareness’ as a world power. Indeed, to establish whether the empire exists or not, we have to address (as was the case for the great empires of the past) the problem of how American leaders perceive or, more tangibly, understand the role of their country and how, in turn, the world views the United States. Today scholars are divided between those who believe in the strength and vitality of the American empire and those, instead, who believe that its best days are already over. To clarify things, it is necessary to distinguish the factors that continue to support US hegemony from factors that are beginning to limit the last great power’s capacities.