Sunday, August 29, 2010
The End of the Republic Is Not the End of Empire
There's an immodest tendency (especially in the Blogosphere) to equate the difficulties the United States is going through these days -- what with the various wars of aggression, the Endless Recession, a government of, by and for the plutocrats, and the tattered, pissed upon Constitution -- as some sort of modern day parallel with the end of the Roman Empire.
And this misses the mark badly.
What's happening is a somewhat murky parallel to the end of the Roman Republic and the inauguration of the Roman Empire, not its end at all.
The United States went through an earlier Imperial Era (we could argue "Empire" is at the root of The American Dream as promulgated by the Founders, but that's another topic for another day). The American overseas imperial ambition began with the overthrow of the Native Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 by American planters and adventurers. In 1898, the United States seized by force -- a war of aggression, gee -- an entire (rotting) Empire from Spain and so joined the tail end of the Imperial free-for-all that characterized the ambitions of (mostly) European powers during the 19th Century.
It didn't work out well.
Not for anyone. Not the Natives who were starved, brutalized, exploited and oppressed throughout the era, and not for their colonial masters, either, who found themselves embroiled in ever more catastrophic World Wars for global hegemony and domination.
The 19th and the first half of the 20th Centuries were disastrous for Natives and for Imperial ambitions in turn. There may have been progress in some other realms -- materially, certainly, for the imperialists -- but not so much progress in terms of humanity.
A bi-polar global political arrangement emerged out of the chaos and wreckage left in the wake of WWII (it's hard to believe just how awful conditions for the survivors were in the aftermath of World War II -- except in the United States, which had escaped the destruction wrought nearly everywhere else.) On the one hand were the Godless Communists led by the weakened but extraordinarily resilient Soviet Union, and on the other were the Free Peoples of the World, led by the United States.
Soon enough, the bi-polarism broke down to accommodate the growing nonaligned independence movements that liberated former imperial enterprises of various European and American powers from their colonial fetters. The Third World was born.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, this tripartite arrangement has broken down. Especially since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, DC -- extraordinarily simple and effective when results are measured by "predictions," but again, that's another topic for another day -- the United States, in concert with much of the rest of the English speaking world, has set about reviving and reimposing aspects of the British Empire in certain sectors where its lessons were not learned back in the day.
While what's going on resembles the days of the British Raj, and certainly today's targets are the very ones the British didn't quite get right when the Sceptered Isle reigned supreme, it is a basically American Imperial enterprise under way, with a basically political rather than a more pointedly economic objective (ie: steal from the Natives to enhance the wealth and power of a handful of British aristocrats and the Crown). That's not to say there aren't such crass economic motives, for there certainly are. It is merely to point out that the primary objective of the Imperial Wars of Aggression currently under way is the establishment and perpetuation of a "peaceful" political order in these restive lands without serious resistance to US Power.
Boiled down, all this is about is crushing resistance. Permanently. Of course it is an impossible objective to achieve, and that's part of its beauty. By being desirable but impossible, it can be pursued forever. It becomes a mythological quest, pursued for its own sake, and conveniently enhancing the power and wealth of the Oligarchs and Plutocrats along the way while step-by-step ensuring the extinguishment of even the pretense of Constitutional self-government.
This is the introductory phase of the establishment of a New Empire at the end of the Republic; it is not the End of the Empire by any means. Instead, it is the opening phase of the establishment of an Enduring Anglo-American Empire.
Perhaps the confusion arises from the conflation of the American Republic with its earlier Imperial thrusts -- which were not enduring and which were conducted from the premises of a Republic. Rome was a Republic throughout its early Imperial expansion, don't forget. Consolidation of that Empire and stabilization on the domestic front required the extinguishment of the Republic -- in the guise of "saving it" of course -- in order to proceed successfully. Which the Romans did. For hundreds of years.
Remnants of the Roman Empire still survive and operate.
The establishment of an Enduring Anglo-American Empire is what I see going on now. It's very halting and imperfect to say the least, but it is proceeding bloodily and relentlessly. It is being financed by the exploitation -- and progressive impoverishment -- of the American masses who are simply and efficiently being relieved of their wealth with breathtaking speed -- and by the likeliest rival to Anglo-American hegemony, China.
This situation actually puts me in mind of what was going on in Ancient Greece, the Peloponnesian Wars and all that. The Persians -- the rivals of the Greeks, right? -- though actually defeated by the Greeks at Marathon, were according to Thucydides, very active players and financiers in both Greek imperial expansion (under an ostensible "Democracy") and in the Peloponnesian Wars that wracked Hellas and the colonial holdings of the Greeks for a generation. The Greeks couldn't have done what they did without Persian influence and especially without Persian finance. And of course the exploitation and impoverishment of the masses, but they were never well off to begin with.
So it is now, the Anglo-American quest for a New Imperial hegemony is being financed by China, which appears to have no additional imperial ambitions (they seem happy enough with what they've got, don't they?) so they're content to let the British and the Americans work over resistance groups wherever they find them.
Which is probably the underlying reason why the Chinese continue to finance this Imperial adventure. The Chinese don't want to have to deal with these resistance groups, either, do they? But they have more important things to deal with at the moment, let the Outer Barbarians serve as mercenaries to the Middle Kingdom and at least keep the fiercer Barbarians at bay.
Working out just fine... for the Chinese.
What a tangled web, eh?
But back to my point: this is the End of the Republic, not the End of Empire.
The Anglo-American Empire will endure for at least as long as its peoples can continue to be exploited and impoverished (another generation or more), and for as long as its Chinese financiers believe it is worthwhile to fund it (another several generations if the signs are to be believed.)
Americans will be little the wiser.