Monday, April 25, 2011

Sleepwalking into the Imperial Dark; What It Feels Like When a Superpower Runs Off the Tracks

This can’t end well.

But then, how often do empires end well, really? They live vampirically by feeding off others until, sooner or later, they begin to feed on themselves, to suck their own blood, to hollow themselves out. Sooner or later, they find themselves, as in our case, economically stressed and militarily extended in wars they can’t afford to win or lose.

Historians have certainly written about the dangers of overextended empires and of endless war as a way of life, but there’s something distant and abstract about the patterns of history. It’s quite another thing to take it in when you’re part of it; when, as they used to say in the overheated 1960s, you’re in the belly of the beast.

I don’t know what it felt like to be inside the Roman Empire in the long decades, even centuries, before it collapsed, or to experience the waning years of the Spanish empire, or the twilight of the Qing dynasty, or of Imperial Britain as the sun first began to set, or even of the Soviet Empire before the troops came slinking home from Afghanistan, but at some point it must have seemed at least a little like this -- truly strange, like watching a machine losing its parts. It must have seemed as odd and unnerving as it does now to see a formerly mighty power enter a state of semi-paralysis at home even as it staggers on blindly with its war-making abroad.

The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word. We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory. Yet who doesn’t sense that the sun is now setting on us?

Not so many years ago, we were proud enough of our global strength to regularly refer to ourselves as the Earth’s “sole superpower.” In those years, our president and his top officials dreamed of establishing a worldwide Pax Americana, while making speeches and issuing official documents proclaiming that the United States would be militarily “beyond challenge” by any and all powers for eons to come. So little time has passed and yet who speaks like that today? Who could?
Read the rest here.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

An excellent article, and what a perfect title!

How does it feel? It feels like, "I give up. The forces at work here are much greater than I can possibly affect in any way." It feels like the whole thing is so corrupt and so insane that it needs to end. The whole thing is so violent, so brutal, that the world needs it to end.

My country, my country, you were such a short-lived experiment! And all from having failed to learn even the most obvious lessons of history.

What a sorrow.

That's what it feels like.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I completely concur. This is one of the best articles I have read in a while.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

My last hope (politically, I mean) was Obama, who, you recall, preached hope. And change. Change we can belkieve in.

That was so, so cruel.

"Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

DNY said...

Decadence. I'd always imagined, at least from the point of view of the old, fallen man, that decadence was fun.

Not so.

Anonymous said...

Do you guys travel much? Bad as things may be, there still ain't nuttin' better than da US of A.

and, to top it off, the Phils have the best record in baseball, and the sixers and flers avoided elimination, all on an Easter weekend celebrated by both East and West. I mean, c'mon man, read the tea leaves!


Fr Theodore said...

A very thought-provoking article, from a point of view with which I was not well acquainted. It seems to articulate things that I have "sensed" but not been able to spell out.

Anonymous said...

Has no one heard of Ibn-Khaldun, the Moslem historian, ( the first true historian in terms of theory)?

The first generation of an empire are brilliant,the second generation not so much and the third and fourth generations are essentially wastrels, given to enjoying decadence.

Why should the U.S. be exempt?

Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter,Bush I, first generation.

Bush II, Clinton, etc; second /third generation.

Now we're in the fourth degenarate generation.

DNY said...

Unfortunately for Ibn-Khaldun's analysis, we have an example of an Empire that managed to last over 1400 years, albeit dwindled to a city-state in its last few centuries, to say nothing of one a bit further east which lasted about 2100 years, with some dynasties spanning three or four centuries.

Anonymous said...


You might have to rethink your argument.

Ibn-Khaldun was not describing the collapse of empires as much as the collapse of ruling dynasties. He has an interesting description of how "desert" forces take power from corrupt ineffectual dynasties ruling the cities.

This was pretty much the pattern in the Byzantine empire, ( how many of the emperors were actually "Greek" and not, say, from border areas?).

China also had dynasties whose origins were from "non-cultured" outlying areas.

In any case, they pretty much followed the pattern described above.

The only real exception was in Japan.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Suffice to say, all empires eventually devolve into their constituent nations. I'm not hopeful the US will be the exception.