Originally posted by Nygdan
Originally posted by Two Steps Forward
Again, that goes back to the question of what "empire" means.
Indeed, its a tricky subject and in the end its a subjective matter, not an objective one.
No, it's not subjective. No matter how we define the word, we are discussing objective facts. Whether those facts fit the word "empire" is a
matter of definition, and that is a function of will and choice, not subjective perception.
It is a fact that the U.S. exerts great power in the world for the benefit of its ruling elite, and often at the expense of those dominated. It is a
fact that, since World War II, the U.S. has maintained the strongest military force in the world, far, far stronger than would be justified by any
reasonable defensive calculations. It is a fact that the U.S. has proven itself willing to use that military power aggressively, although the
government has always been careful to provide a veneer of defensive justification, however spurious. It is a fact that the U.S. has proven willing to
overthrow governments, both elected democratic governments and nonelected authoritarian ones, to serve its own interests, either by covert operations
or by overt military force.
These are the facts that those who speak of the "American Empire" describe with that phrase. If you believe these facts would be better described
by a different phrase, that does not alter the facts themselves. When I refer to the "American Empire" on this thread, please understand that I am
referring to the above-described sphere of domination. If you would prefer to substitute another phrase in your own mind and your own posts, that's
fine, so long as we understand the facts.
Was, for example, the Roman Republic at the end really all that less imperial than the same state under Augustus?
The Roman Republic was an empire. It was an empire governed by a republic, whereas after Augustus it became an empire governed by a constitutional
monarch, but the imperial nature of Rome did not change when its government did. Even by your definition, restricted to outright occupation and
official provinces, most of the Roman Empire was conquered under the Republic, not the Imperium.
Minimally I'd think that an empire has direct military occuptation and colonization and economic exploitation of regions around it . . . Therefore we
could probably safely say that america going to war with spain and conquering places like the phillipines and porto rico as imperial moments. But I
don't think that we can call post WWII japan and germany 'provinces' in the "american empire".
I agree that Germany and Japan are not part of our empire, but not for the reason you've suggested. Military occupation isn't necessary as long as
the threat of military invasion is understood, and compliance with U.S. policy mandatory due to that threat. Also, as Germany and Japan demonstrate,
military occupation (which we still maintain in both countries) isn't sufficient, either. Germany and Japan are not part of the American empire
because they have sufficient economic and diplomatic clout to escape domination. However, that is not true of most of Latin America, most of
Southeast Asia, most of the Middle East, most of sub-Saharan Africa, and some parts of Europe.
Nor even Occupied Iraq; its just not 'run' in the way provinces are run (post bremmer), nor is anyone planning on colonizing it. Certainly, if 50
years from now there are still american troops there and some little american cities spreading around the bases, then we're looking at an imperial
Colonization isn't a feature of most imperial domination, even when it's official. The British colonized America and South Africa because those
were relatively empty places, especially America. The British did not colonize India, yet India was certainly part of the British Empire. But it was
also full of Indians. (Actually, at this point it would be more accurate to say that India has partially colonized Britain. But I digress.) The
Romans did not colonize the more civilized parts of their empire, either. There were Roman towns that sprang up in Gaul, Spain, and North Africa, but
not in Greece, Egypt, or Syria.
Iraq is part of the American Empire because it is occupied by American troops, its resources exploited for the benefit of American corporations, and
its territory used as a base of operations for the U.S. military. If we are not there 50 years from now, which we probably won't be, then 50 years
from now Iraq will not be part of the American Empire. But that's then, this is now. Cuba is not part of the American Empire. But 50 years ago, it
But if we just say that an Empire is a strong and influential country, then its meaningless and useless. Modern Isreal becomes an Empire. The kurds
are gross imperialists. Cuba is run by an imperialist, etc.
"Strong and influential country" is far, far weaker than what I described in an earlier post. An empire is a relationship among nations in which a
dominant country dictates policy to
weaker ones. We "influence" Russian, Chinese, German, and Indian policies, but we do not dictate them,
and these countries are too strong for us to dominate. They are not part of our empire. On the other hand, we do dictate policy in most of Latin
America (and believe we have the right to do so, witness the reaction to Venezuela's Chavez, who is rebelling against the Empire). That puts most of
Latin America in our empire.
To call Israel an empire requires that we see her as dictating policy to weaker countries. I don't see Israel doing that, do you?
The Soviet "evil" Empire was an anomoly as far as empires go. Look at the Khanate. Or the Empire of China. The Spanish Empire lasted hundreds of
years, control vast portions of the planet. The British Empire also lasted hundreds of years, controled a quarter of the globe, heck it only
'ended' because the british gave it up, it wasn't defeated by an external source, like spain, or colllapsed, like roman and the USSR.
Actually the Roman Empire was also defeated from without. But I see your point. It's possible the American Empire might prove as long-lived as the
British Empire. We're a good deal more like Great Britain than we are like the Soviet Union, which was practically a case study of inefficient
The republic was torn apart because the elite class, the senators, were able to have private armies, and individuals who built up enough raw military
and populist support simply installed themselves as dictators.
Excuse me, I need to dissect this at some length. It's a favorite period of history with me, and I've studied it extensively.
Senators were not allowed to have private armies. That is not true. Also, only two men in the entire history of the Republic ever marched on Rome
and made themselves dictator: Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Julius Caesar. Both men did so under extreme provocation and without prior intent,
and these actions were the tip of an iceberg of social unrest, class struggle, and government ineptitude. The process goes back a good deal further,
at least to the time of the Brothers Gracchi.
The Senators had always been among Rome's richest men, of course, but when the Republic was founded the variance in wealth among the citizens was
much less extreme than it later became. With the acquisition of provinces came a flood of wealth into Rome, and by the nature of such things almost
all of that wealth settled into the hands of those already wealthy and powerful, magnifying their power. Over time, greedy Senators and businessmen
manipulated things so as to put more and more farmland into fewer and fewer hands, driving the class of smallhold farmers (from whom Roman soldiers
traditionally had come) virtually out of existence. The brothers Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus attempted to reverse this
process by taking the "public land" (officially owned by the state, but in practice leased to large landholders for a pittance) and giving it to
Rome's urban poor. They failed. They were bitterly opposed by the entrenched Senatorial class, Tiberius was murdered, and Gaius driven to commit
Rome's government, adequate to manage the city state that it was when the kings were overthrown, was wholly inadequate to manage an empire. One area
where this inadequacy showed up repeatedly was in military leadership. Traditionally, the elected consuls had the right to serve as generals,
comparable to having G.W. Bush over in Iraq directing the war himself. To make matters worse, the consuls were, with rare exceptions, always elected
from the ranks of the Famous Families, and served for only one year, and could not be reelected until ten years after their term had ended. So there
was a lot of circulation in the office, and plenty of military incompetents (as well as incompetents in other areas) with full authority to lead
Rome's armies -- often with disastrous results.
Around 100 BCE, Rome was faced with a military crisis in the form of an invasion of migrating Germans. Rome possessed one demonstrated military
genius at that time, Gaius Marius. Because he was the only one believed capable of defeating the Germans, and because the consul of the year would
always be tempted to set Marius aside and lead the armies himself (the more so because Marius was not from an aristocratic family himself and was
looked down upon for that reason), the constitution was set aside and Marius served as consul for five years in a row. Also, in order to get the
troops he needed to defeat the Germans, Marius himself set aside certain other traditions. He recruited legions from the urban poor, rather than the
small farmers. This was militarily necessary, but it also created a class of professional soldiers, which Rome had never possessed before.
A few more decades, and Rome faced another crisis, brought on by pure governmental stupidity and mismanagement in the attitude of superiority and
exclusivity that refused to grant the people of Italy the Roman citizenship. The Italian allies rose in revolt. Again the military ineptitude of the
Republic showed itself, and several aristocratic nincompoops had to go down in defeat before the natural brilliance of Sulla won the war. Then to
make matters worse, Mithridates of Pontus decided to invade Rome's eastern provinces. Sulla was elected consul and was ready to take an army and go
wallop Mithridates, but Marius maneuvered things politically to take his command off Sulla and give it to himself (probably a disastrous move, as
Marius was ill and not the man he once was). That was when Sulla marched on Rome. After a lot more chaos, he eventually became Dictator (which was
an actual office of the Republic) for some 2 1/2 years before he resigned. His constitution attempted to freeze Roman government into a highly
conservative mode and prevent further decay. It probably did delay the Republic's final collapse, but certainly did not prevent it.
What happened later between Caesar and his enemies was not due entirely to Caesar's having control over his armies. It was also due to his opponents
being able to manipulate the Senate and the courts to force him into trial on trumped-up charges and send him into permanent exile, and to the fact
that they were willing to do this because they were on one side of the class struggle and Caesar on the other. Exile is what would have happened to
Caesar if he hadn't marched. Everything in Caesar's life, except the crossing of the Rubicon itself, indicates that he was dedicated to the idea of
the Republic and had no intention of destroying it, but destroy it he did. Why? Because he had no choice. The Republic was completely incapable of
governing the Roman empire well, but Caesar, as an autocrat, could. So either he ruled as an autocrat, or he saw his country collapse. In an ironic
way, Caesar was actually more deadly to the Republic than Sulla had been precisely because he was such a good, fair, and immensely capable ruler.
People became resigned to the idea of despotic government because the despot was benign. Unfortunately, the Romans forgot that he was mortal and that
the likes of Caligula and Nero were all too likely to follow. But in any case, a much stronger government -- and a non-democratic one -- was
necessary to keep the empire running. Caesar had no choice, and neither did Rome. Empire and liberty do not mix, because empire in itself is a
denial of liberty.
But then again it was in the Empire that all of that was settled, it was in the republic that it was a problem.
My point exactly. The Imperium, crafted by Augustus, was a disguised monarchy. Under it, the Roman Empire found a government that, most of the time,
worked reasonably well. It also abandoned any pretense of democracy. This is not a coincidence.
The problem here is, you are usign such a loose definition of empire that it really means anyone with the ability and tendency to act uniltarally on
the large scale; ie a nation that isn't being exploited terribly by someone else.
No. There are many countries in the world that are not empires, nor being dominated by the United States (which is the only empire remaining now that
the Soviet Union is gone). What is required is not only that one country be stronger than another, but also that the difference in strength be so
massive that the stronger country is able to dominate and exploit the weaker one, and also that the stronger country be willing to do this (doing it
always involves a sacrifice by the ordinary people of the strong nation, so essentially it requires a highly imbalanced distribution of power
internally to the strong nation). We cannot dominate and exploit India, say, the way we do Guatemala. We are stronger than India, but not enough
stronger that India can't hold her own, or at least not without a greater sacrifice than we are willing to make.
Perhaps a better question is, by whom would the world prefer to be ruled, America, the old USSR, the Euros, China, India, pan-arabia, etc etc??
That is indeed the question. But then, it seems to me an analogous question to the one that might have been asked in medieval France: by which great
noble house would the people prefer to be ruled and dominated? Ultimately, France came up with an answer that the old nobles might have found
Besides, I don't see the same fate of the romans happening to the US. The US doesn't need a centralized 'strongman' to prevent factions within it
from causing civil military strife.
No, but we have other problems. Look at what has happened since the end of World War II. The Constitution gives Congress the authority over whether
or not we go to war, but in practice, that authority has moved to the White House. The Founding Fathers warned against entangling alliances and
standing armies, but we now maintain massive versions of both. We are supposed to be a country that cherishes and protects civil liberties and the
rights of the people, but increasingly we are setting those rights aside in the name of national security. And now we have the so-called "war on
terror." In times of war, freedom is always compromised, but war against a concrete enemy (a foreign nation, say) has a finite time-scale. It
begins, it sees victory or defeat, peace is negotiated, it ends. But the "war on terror" is a war, not against a concrete enemy but against a
military tactic, one that has always existed and always will exist. It is, therefore, a war that can never be won or lost, and so can never end, and
it means a permanent surrender of freedom.
There are many reasons why our empire is a bad thing and should disappear. The corruption of American ideals is perhaps a subtler one than some of
the others. But to me, at least, it is a very important one.
[edit on 18-2-2006 by Two Steps Forward]