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Empire Series II: The Nature of Empire

Cross Posted from The Archdruid Report
The Trajectory of Empires
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The structure of empire anatomized in last week’s post is a source of considerable strength for any imperial nation that manages to get it in place, and a source of even more considerable difficulty for anyone who opposes the resulting empire and hopes to bring it down. Nonetheless, empires do fall; every empire in history has fallen, with one present day exception, and for all its global reach and gargantuan military budgets, the American empire shows no signs of breaking that long losing streak. Thus it’s important to understand how empires fall, and why.

It sometimes happens that the fall of the last major empire in any given civilization is also the fall of that civilization, and a certain amount of confusion has come about because of this. The fall of Rome, for example, was the end of an empire, but it was also the end of a civilization that was already flourishing before the city of Rome was even founded—a civilization that had seen plenty of empires come and go by the time Rome rose past regional-power status to dominate the Mediterranean world. The example of Rome’s decline and fall, though, became so central to later attempts to understand the cycles of history that most such attempts in the modern Western world equated empire and civilization, and the fall of the one with that of the other. [Read more...]

How Empires Fall

Charles Hugh Smith  Cross published from OfTwoMinds.com
The imperial tree falls not because the challenges are too great but because the core of the tree has been weakened by the gradual loss of surplus, purpose, institutional effectiveness, intellectual vigor and productive investment.


Comparing the American Empire with the Roman Empire in its terminal decline is a popular intellectual parlor game. The comparison is inexact on a number of fronts, starting with the nature of empire: Rome ruled a territorial empire, while the U.S. is a hegemony that doesn’t need to hold territory (other than key overseas military bases); its dominance is based on the global projection of hard and soft power, diplomacy, finance and the monetary regime of the reserve currency. Despite the apparent difference, the two empires share the key characteristic of all enduring empires: they extract the cost of maintaining the empire from client states and/or allies.
The mechanisms differ, but the results are the same: the empire’s cost is distributed to those who benefit from its secure trade routes. Two of the key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline are complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what I have termed a failure of imagination. [Read more...]

Empire Series I: The Nature of Empire

Cross posted from The Archdruid Report

Niall Ferguson is arguably the most uneven of our living historians. His The War of the World is perhaps the best one-volume survey of the era of global war that began in a flurry of bullets at Sarajevo in 1914; his The Ascent of Money, by contrast, is little more than an exercise in cheer leading for the same misguided economic notions that are setting the stage right now for an explosion that may well rival the one that followed Sarajevo, and the same divergence can be traced straight through his work. Still, Ferguson’s writing makes an excellent starting place for any attempt to make sense of the phenomenon of empire—though this is something of a backhanded compliment, as his misses illuminate the subject at least as well as his hits.

It would be useful if the same thing were true of the other misunderstandings of empire that jostle one another in the collective conversation of our time. Regrettably, that’s anything but the case. In order to make sense of the impact that the fall of America’s empire is going to have on all our lives in the decades ahead, it’s crucial to understand what empires are, what makes them tick—and what makes them collapse. To do that, hovever, it’s going to be necessary to bundle up a mass of unhelpful assumptions and garbled history, and chuck them into the compost. [Read more...]

Are Empire and Democracy Compatible?

Charles Hugh Smith  Cross published from OfTwoMinds.com

 The status quo claims Empire “supports” democracy. But what if Empire is intrinsically incompatible with democracy?

 Let’s take a quick look at the American Empire.

I use the word “Empire” because to avoid it would be artifice. What word other than Empire describes a nation with a commercial, diplomatic and military presence in most of the planet’s nations?

I use the term without ideological spin: for the purposes of this analysis, it is not a structure to deny, deplore or glorify but one which must be carefully described as a unique and thus key context of all global issues, even those which on the surface appear to have little connection to military matters. [Read more...]