Waking at four every morning seems to provide me with a reflective perspective on life, as if the pre-dawn hours are meant for contemplation. While the world around me sleeps and only the cock crows prematurely, I can think. And my thoughts have settled today on the will-to-empire. For it occurs to me that humanity has now entered a new era, certainly the new age has dawned but not on a lovely sunny day, more on a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
This morning I realised that the limits of empire are always the whole perceivable world. Empire will always expand as far as it can reach, as far as what is known. The whole world for the Incans, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Egyptians or the Ancient Greeks was most likely smaller than that conceived of by the Romans, the Chinese or the Ottomans. The Spanish world was larger still, thanks to the invention, by the Portuguese, of the ocean faring caravel. Then at last the British Empire came along and took control of far off distant lands. The British saw the whole world and wanted it. But even the British had to concede that there were rival nations and empires competing for territory. Britain could not rule the whole world in its entirety even if it managed to gain and maintain supreme power across a vast spread of nations for around four hundred years.
Empire is always contested. There will always be nations who are non-compliant and nations with a will-to-empire of their own. So where there is empire there will also be war. And there will always be human suffering.
One empire supplants another. As one empire falls another rises to take its place. And humanity has not transcended the dynamic. But it seems too many of us are incapable or unwilling to face the reality of empire, the consequences of empire, the sheer destructive stupidity of empire. And so we are doomed to repetition.
After WWII and upon the invention of the Cold War it appeared there were two competing Superpowers on the world stage, America and Russia, with a third, China, in wings waiting for its big chance. Today this appears no longer the case. While China and Russia will continually contest and seek to undermine the power of America, it is America that is the single Superpower of our age. It has attained Empire status and is on a quest for complete global domination by any means. In keeping with the aims, objectives and methods of empire, the domination it seeks is economic, the means used are both ideological and military (There is perhaps only one difference between the American empire and the empires of the past. It is formed of corporate rather than state (whether born of government or monarchy) interests). And today we witness the consequences of American Imperialism’s will-to empire in conflict with those who oppose it in Iraq, in Palestine, in the Ukraine.
So far I don’t think I have mentioned anything that is not obvious and not the point I seek to make here. What hit me this morning is that Empire has a tendency to run its course. It has a lifespan generally of hundreds of years. In other words, this is only the beginning of the American empire, we are still in the early stages of its life. Even if I track the genesis of the American empire to the beginnings of the Cold War, decades, not centuries, have since passed.
I think of empire as humanity’s greatest evil. I think when empire is the grail in the hearts of humankind, the suffering of others is guaranteed.
Empire always fails. Empire seems always to self-destruct as if its expansionism were a bubble that will finally burst. I fear, however, that we have a very long way to go along the trajectory of the current empire. And there is every chance that when this empire does self-destruct it will bring us all down with it.
Why would the American empire seek its own destruction? For it must realise the probability of its destruction, it cannot possibly believe otherwise in the face of limited natural resources and the severe dangers of climate change. One answer lies not in the insane myopia that clouds the vision of the elite, but rather in the adherence of parts of this elite and large sections of ordinary Americans as well, to a Last Days fundamentalist Christianity. That for some at least, the destruction of the world is sought so that the chosen few may rise again. When I first heard of such beliefs, that Reagan supported Rapture back in the 80s, it seemed to me ludicrous, surely an isolated example. Now I know otherwise.
Meanwhile, since this empire will likely go out with a bloody big bang soon enough and in the interim things will be business as usual and go on and on and on along the same path, then so will I. I shall continue to wake at four and have my say.