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The Course (or is that 'Curse'?) of Empire

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posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 09:04 AM
Between the years 1833 to 1836 Thomas Cole, an English-born American artist, created a five-part series of paintings entitled The Course of Empire - 'notable in part for reflecting popular American sentiments of the times, when many saw pastoralism as the ideal phase of human civilization, fearing that empire would lead to gluttony and inevitable decay.'

The series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of an imaginary city, situated on the lower end of a river valley, near its meeting with a bay of the sea. The valley is distinctly identifiable in each of the paintings, in part because of an unusual landmark: a large boulder is precariously situated atop a crag overlooking the valley.

The Savage State


The Arcadian or Pastoral State


The Consummation of Empire


The Destruction of Empire




Whilst visiting Europe, Cole witnessed first hand the ruins of civilisations and empires that had come and gone, civilisations and empires that at the time had seemed indestructible and unremitting. This led him to ponder the seemingly inevitable fate of his own empire - the American Empire.

Although many scoff at the thought of America being an empire, (Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, found the notion of the US as an empire "grotesque, bizarre or laughable"), others see the definite associations, such as historian Niall Ferguson who describes America as "an empire in denial."

As author Jim Garrison noted; "The transition (of America) from republic to empire is irreversible, like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly." Which begs the question: Is America destined to fall?

Will America be the next (and last) lost Empire? Or will the next empire be a global empire...a New World Empire?

There is the moral of all human tales
Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory - when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption - barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast, Hath but one page.

- Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18)

(Note: I decided to put this in Ancient & Lost Civs because of the obvious hypothetical questions it poses regarding this subject

edit on 20/9/10 by LiveForever8 because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 09:58 AM
I see this almost daily, but not by the hand of man but by the hand of Nature. I live in the Desert Southwest. If anything that man has created is left unattended for any length of time here in the desert, the desert reclaims it. It is a combination of the Sun, the heat, the cold, the winds/sand, and the occasional rain; eventually the elements are so extremely opposites that those things man creates cannot cope and suddenly fall apart and turn to dust.

This isn't generations of time, but only over a few years of time. This is partially why I cannot see value in man's handiwork at the level of "investment". Rarely do you ever see a home over 80-years old in the desert unless someone has continuously maintained it, once left to sit the "breaking down" begins.

Sometimes this is a benefit to some things like metal. What typically wastes away fast in other parts of the world takes much longer because of a lack of precipitation and the use of salts for icy roads. So finding an old car of 40-50 years is possible here, but almost impossible elsewhere unless they are stored. However, even the most cared for vehicle will deteriorate over time if someone does not accidentally destroy it.

It seems like a bit of a "foolish" thing to invest in things like homes, cars, and other such worldly things. Everything man creates is destructible and yet there are those who hold onto things as if the value will continue to grow and grow. Even we are destructible and yet mankind acts as if we can "conquer the World".

If man invests in anything he should invest in trees. Plant trees in such abundance and diversity that the World heals itself from the outside in, rather than the inside out. Now that is a worthy investment of Spirit and Nature.

To the OP: Thanks for sharing that Art sequence, it is unique to see such a process through the eyes of an Artist. I love how Nature comes to clean up after us!

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 10:05 AM
Natural instinct tells me that everything which has a beginning also has an end, why should it be any different from empires? We've seen it with Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, etc., all once the main players on the world stage, reduced to almost nothing. Empires are volatile and subject to those who reside within its boundaries. Empires are not willing to change and adapt, they are lead by emperors and empresses who's sole position is not to govern but to rule, there is a clear distinction. In the end they are their own murderers, as empires simply crumble under what is an ever changing world. I don't consider the U.S. an empire because it cannot exercise global hegemony, it still requires the support of allies and is very susceptible to global forces.

Interesting topic!

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 10:26 AM
reply to post by Greensage

Thanks for the great reply

I suppose I wasn't really thinking in terms of natures innate ability to clean up after abandoned civilisations but you make a great point. It doesn't take the forces of nature very long to revert back to 'default' conditions unless there is human intervention, which begs the questions; How many times has nature done this and what else is it still hiding?

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 10:46 AM
reply to post by serbsta

Very true serbsta, hence Sic transit gloria mundi.

As for America's status as an empire, I'm not so sure I agree with you. Yes, it is not an empire in the ancient sense of the word - it does not hold geographical dominion over extensive states, provinces and peoples - but it does wield extensive power over the globe militarily, economically and culturally.

Although I agree that they do need the assistance of allies which does count against their possible 'empire' status, something Joseph Nye calls "the paradox of American power."

But I would definitely call America a 'modern empire' in that comparing it to the great empires of the past (Ottomans & Romans for instance) is a lesson in futility in a modern world. So yer, a 'modern empire' or perhaps even a 'hidden empire', I'd go along with both definitions

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 11:14 AM
reply to post by LiveForever8

As author Jim Garrison noted; "The transition (of America) from republic to empire is irreversible, like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly." Which begs the question: Is America destined to fall?

Will America be the next (and last) lost Empire? Or will the next empire be a global empire...a New World Empire?

All Empires rise and fall.

The question should be is America a real Empire? In the truest since of the word, No it's not. The territory it has conquered that includes Iraq have been and will be turned over to it's people. Japan, South Korea and Germany are prime examples. American Hemogeny / Sphere of influence is not forced on most of the planet. Many choose willingly to watch American movies, Listen to American Music and dress like Americans. That sphere of influence goes beyond Washington's control IE Coca Cola-Arnold Schwarzenegger-Madonna etc

Sure one can look at the American dollar and blame the present global financial crises on the US but the flip side of that coin [Pun intended] is the fact that the US economy up till recently was a great investment. It has served the world well for the preceding decades with massive global growth. For the most part it was very stable.

Yes Empires fall. Then in time some rise again.

Look at the ancient Chinese, India etc. On the rise again.

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 02:19 PM
reply to post by LiveForever8
What a good thread and well laid out too. Still...I'm not biting on the American 'hook.'

Joseph Conrad was a 19th Century who wrote a great novella on the subject of Empire. It was called 'Heart of Darkness.' Conrad equates the Roman conquest of England with the same motivations that saw the British (and Belgian) Empire move into 'darkest' Africa.

He captured the scale of history in some evocative passages and likened 'empire' to nothing more than a lightning flash in the vast darkness of time...

Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.
Heart of Darkness

Empires are like bubbles that break the surface of slow streams and vanish again...leaving only ripples.

Our world is littered with the monuments of the empires that have lit the way to where we are today. They've created laws and customs that subsequent empires have plagiarised, enhanced and called their own. Each generation of emperor, king and leader has strived to leave a legacy that helps to continue their creation and leave their existence as a fact for future generations to admire.

So many have their eyes on history without understanding the transience of the times and the fall from grace of all their predecessors. It's inevitable.

Although the poem Ozymandias does a good job of capturing the futility of these emperors and their monuments to brief success, Shakespeare gets the head shot...

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 04:48 PM
reply to post by SLAYER69

I agree that in the truest sense, the ancient sense, America is not an empire. But it does share many of the needed facets of empires as I said earlier - I suppose the only difference today is that the other sides have nuclear weapons too! And self preservation is paramount to any empire.

I suppose what we used to call empires we now call 'superpowers', with America being the modern exception because I would call it a hyperpower. And although, as you say, Hegemony is not necessarily forced upon other nations it is acquiesced only after being sold the American Dream, which we all know to be a lie.

Great point about empires rising from the ashes

Having said that - you said 'in time', but time is running out

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 05:19 PM
reply to post by Kandinsky

The very same Joseph Conrad who once said; "Life is very long..."
But yes, that's a great passage from Heart of Darkness, I've never heard of that one before. We are but the blink of an eye

I suppose the monuments of fallen empires are the time stamps of history, it's just a shame nobody learns from them!

If Shakespeare didn't say it, it isn't worth saying. Although Napoleon had some very concise comments regarding his empire, one being - “In the eyes of empire builders men are not men but instruments”. Which then reminded me of R. L. Sharpe's poem, 'Bag of Tools'...

Isn't it strange, That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper In sawdust rings,
And common folks Like you and me, Are builders of eternity?
To each is given a book of rules, A shapeless mass and a kit of tools;
And each must make - Ere life is flown -
A stumbling block, Or a steppingstone.

edit on 20/9/10 by LiveForever8 because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 20 2010 @ 07:06 PM
I was surfing a bit because of this Thread and I found this site that is a pictorial album of many abandoned places around the globe.

Abandoned but not forgotten

I have seen the Italian Village before on a TV program, it was quite interesting to see a town that stood for hundreds of years needing to be abandoned simply because the residents have forgotten how to maintain it. No money and no masonry craftsman. From my recollection it was said that this town was ruled over by a unscrupulous Land-owner that acted as a Lord to the poor people and he strapped them in their existence by holding them hostage. Sad really! Makes me want to go live there as a hermit and slowly transform it back to something wonderful!

posted on Oct, 18 2010 @ 05:22 AM
Paul Craig Roberts Interview: Decline of The American Empire

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