In 1952 the journalist and novelist Garet Garrett (1878–1954) took up this question in contemplating post-World War II America. The resulting essay, "The Rise of Empire," is included in his anthology, The People's Pottage (PDF). It bears close study today.
Garrett was an important figure in what has come to be known as the "Old Right," an eclectic group of writers and politicians (mostly Republican) who emerged in the 1930s to oppose militarism and the centralization of power under the New Deal. (For a history of the Old Right, see my "New Deal Nemesis: The 'Old Right' Jeffersonians" [PDF].)