Stephen Porter's Benevolent Empire examines political-refugee aid initiatives and related humanitarian endeavors led by American people and institutions from World War I through the Cold War, opening an important window onto the "short American century." Chronicling both international relief efforts and domestic resettlement programs aimed at dispossessed people from Europe, Latin America, and East Asia, Porter asks how, why, and with what effects American actors took responsibility for millions of victims of war, persecution, and political upheaval during these decades. Diverse forces within the American state and civil society directed these endeavors through public-private governing arrangements, a dynamic yielding both benefits and liabilities. Motivated by a variety of geopolitical, ethical, and cultural reasons, these advocates for humanitarian action typically shared a desire to portray the United States, to the American people and international audiences, as an exceptional, benevolent world power whose objects of concern might potentially include any vulnerable people across the globe. And though reality almost always fell short of that idealized vision, Porter argues that this omnivorous philanthropic energy helped propel and steer the ascendance of the United States to its position of elite global power.
The messaging and administration of refugee aid initiatives informed key dimensions of American and international history during this period, including U.S. foreign relations, international humanitarianism and human rights, global migration and citizenship, and American political development and social relations at home. Benevolent Empire is thus simultaneously a history of the United States and the world beyond.
Stephen Porter is Associate Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati.
"[T]here can be an almost indistinguishable line between humanitarian aid that is benevolent and that which is weaponized...Porter sets out this story masterfully. Alternating between bird’s-eye overviews and fascinating individual stories and details, the author shares a vivid history of the complexities of U.S. humanitarian efforts to address displaced people over the decades of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries."—American Historical Review
"Benevolent Empire is an important book that should be widely read due to its ability to translate a multidimensional, transnational phenomenon into an engaging narrative that speaks to a variety of both contemporary and historical issues...[O]ne cannot help but be struck by the importance of this book to current debates about refugees and asylum-seekers within the context of the U.S. role in the world."—Diplomatic History
"Standing at the intersection of several historiographical fields, Benevolent Empire makes important contributions to each of them. By adding to a growing literature on the histories of U.S. humanitarian assistance and . . . human rights, the book will be essential reading for historians of immigration, American political development, and U.S. international relations."—Journal of American History
"Benevolent Empire makes key contributions to a growing body of scholarship on the 'United States in the world' and across the fields of immigrant and refugee studies, humanitarianism and human rights, and US foreign policy through its illumination of a largely understudied dimension of US globalism — namely, the role that international relief and refugee initiatives have come to play in the making of a deterritorialized American empire...Porter’s insights into the developments of decades past present potential pathways for how a truly humane and humanitarian policy in relation to the world’s dispossessed might be forged."—International Migration Review
"Benevolent Empire interweaves a vast and growing literature on humanitarian relief, the international dimensions of American civil rights reform, immigration, and American political development...[A] well-crafted study...If there is any moral in Porter’s account, it would be the imperative need to more fully awaken the humanitarian sensibility among host-nation populations to admit extensive and long-lasting responsibilities for those unfortunate peoples whose homelands have been torn asunder."—H-Diplo
"Benevolent Empire is a wonderful and important book that makes original contributions on multiple fronts. Immigration and refugee historians, of course, will have this book on their shelves but so will scholars of American political development, of human rights and humanitarianism, and of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy."—Carl Bon Tempo, State University of New York at Albany
Winner of the Peter Dobkin Hall History of Philanthropy Prize from The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action