The End of an Empire

Let me share some thoughts about imperialism, something hard to grasp in the contemporary world. My thoughts are inspired by a comment I wrote, which was in response to a comparison of countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). We live in a large geopolitical order that no longer can be explained in national terms. The Anglo-American Empire is a project involving dozens of countries in the Western world. Even as it looks different than the old empires, it maybe operates more similarly than not.

There are many issues involved: who pays the most and who benefits the most from this geopolitical order, where is control of the social order maintained most strictly and oppressively, where is the center and periphery of the imperial project, how are alliances formed and maintained, where does the moral authority and political legitimacy come from, how does complicity and plausible deniability play a key role in participating populations, what is the role of the propaganda model of (increasingly international) media in managing public opinion and perception across multiple countries, what are the meeting points and battle grounds of vying geopolitical forces, etc.

I was wondering about how does a ruling elite maintain a vast geopolitical order like the Anglo-American Empire. It requires keeping submissive all of the diverse and far-flung populations of imperial subjects and allies, which means authoritarian control at the heart of the empire and looser control at the peripheries, at least in the early stages of the imperial project. Every imperial project maybe is in the end a Ponzi scheme. Eventually, the bills come due and someone has to pay for them. Wealth and resources can only flow in from foreign lands for so long before they begin drying up. This is problematic, as maintaining an empire is costly and ever more so as it expands. The ruling elite has little choice for it is either continually expand or collapse, although expanding inevitably leads to overreach and so in the end collapse can only be delayed (even if some empires can keep this charade going for centuries). Many people are happy to be imperial subjects receiving the benefits of imperialism until they have to admit to being imperial subjects and accept responsibility. Allowing plausible deniability of complicity goes a long way in gaining participation from various populations and retaining the alliances of their governments.

It could be interpreted that present conflicts indicate that this present geopolitical order is fraying at the edges. The formerly contented and submissive populations within the Western world order are becoming restless. Austerity politics are shifting the costs back home and the good times are coming to an end. The costs of imperialism are coming to seem greater than the benefits, but that is because the costs always come after the benefits. The American colonists came to learn that lesson, after generations of receiving the benefits of empire and then later on being asked to pay for maintaining the empire that ensured those benefits. Worse still, it rubbed American colonists the wrong way to be forced to admit their role as willing participants in an oppressive sociopolitical order. It didn’t fit their sense of identity as freedom-loving Americans.

My thought is that Europeans (along with Canadians and other allied national populations) are starting to similarly question their role within the Anglo-American Empire, now that the costs no longer can be ignored. The problem is someone has to pay for those costs, as the entire international trade system is built on this costly geopolitical order. It requires an immense military and intelligence apparatus to maintain a secure political order, guarantee trade agreements that allow the wealth to flow around, and keep open the trade routes and access to foreign resources.

So far, the US government has played this role and US citizens have sacrificed funding to public education, public healthcare, etc in order to fund the militarized imperial system. If other countries are asked to help pay for what they have benefited from, like the American colonists they might decline to do so. Still, these other countries have paid through other means, by offering their alliances with the US government which means offering moral authority and political legitimacy to the Anglo-American Empire. When the US goes to war, all of its allies also go to war. This is because the US government is less a nation-state and more the capital of a geopolitical order. These allied nations are no longer autonomous citizenries because such things as the UN, NATO, NAFTA, etc has created a larger international system of governance.

These allied non-American subjects of the Anglo-American Empire have bought their benefits from the system through their participation in it and compliance with it. This is beginning to make Europeans, Canadians, and others feel uncomfortable. US citizen are also suspecting they’ve gotten a raw deal, for why are they paying for an international order that serves international interests and profits international corporations. What is the point of being an imperial subject if you aren’t getting a fair cut of the take from imperial pillaging and looting? Why remain subservient to a system that funnels nearly all of the wealth and resources to the top? Such economic issues then lead to moral questioning of the system itself and soul-searching about one’s place within it.

This is how empires end.

* * *

Anyway, below is the aforementioned comment about trying to compare the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — the various components of the former British Empire that are now the major participants in the present Anglo-American Empire. Here it is:

There is difficulty in comparing them, as they are all part of the same basic set of ideological traditions and cultural influences. All of their economies and governments have been closely intertwined for centuries. Even the US economy quickly re-established trade with Britain after the revolution. It was always as much a civil war as it was a revolution.

The Western neoliberalism we see now is largely a byproduct of pre-revolutionary British imperialism (and other varieties of trade-based imperialism, such as even earlier seen in the influential Spanish Empire). The American Empire is simply an extension of the British Empire. There is no way to separate the two.

All those countries that are supposedly less war-like depend on the military of the American Empire to maintain international trade agreements and trade routes. The American Empire inherited this role from the British Empire, and ever since the two have been close allies in maintaining the Anglo-American geopolitical order.

So much of the US taxpayers money doesn’t go to healthcare and such because it has to pay for this international military regime. That is what is hard for Americans to understand. We get cheap products because of imperialism, but there is a high price paid for living in the belly of the beast.

There are in many ways greater advantages to living more on the edge of the empire. It’s why early American colonists in the pre-revolutionary era had more freedom and wealth than British subjects living in England. That is the advantage of living in Canada or whatever, getting many of the benefits of the Anglo-American imperial order without having to pay as much of the direct costs for maintaining it. Of course, those in developing countries pay the worst costs of all, both in blood and resources.

If not for the complicity of the governments and citizens of dozens of countries, the Anglo-American empire and Western geopolitical order wouldn’t be possible. It was a set of alliances that were cemented in place because of two world wars and a cold war. It is hard to find too many completely innocent people within such an evil system of authoritarian power.

It is a strange phenomenon that those at the center of empire are both heavily oppressed and among the most accepting of oppression. I think it’s because, when you’re so deep within such an authoritarian structure, oppression becomes normalized. It doesn’t occur to you that all your money going to maintain the empire could have been used to fund public education, public healthcare, etc.

Thomas Paine ran into this problem. When he came to the colonies, he became riled up and found it was easy through writing to rile up others. Being on the edge of the empire offers some psychological distance that allows greater critical clarity. But when Paine returned home to England, he couldn’t get the even more oppressed and impoverished English peasantry to join in revolution, even though they would have gained the most from it.

In fact, the reform that was forced by threat of revolution did end up benefiting those English lower classes. But that reform had to be inspired from fear of external threat. It was the ruling elite that embraced reform, rather than it having been enforced upon them by the lower classes in England. The British monarchy and aristocracy was talented at suppressing populism while allowing just enough reform to keep the threat of foreign revolution at bay. But if not for that revolutionary fervor kicking at their back door, such internal reform may never have happened.

Interestingly, what led to the American Revolution was when the British ruling elite decided to shift the costs of the empire to the colonies. The colonists were fine with empire when they benefited more than they had to pay. That is similar right now with the equivalent to colonists in the present Anglo-American imperial order. But if similar the costs of this empire were shifted to the allied nations, I bet you’d suddenly see revolutionary fervor against empire.

That probably would be a good thing.

22 thoughts on “The End of an Empire

  1. Good stuff, Benjamin.
    But I wouldn’t call it the “Anglo-American” empire. Since WW2 it’s really just been an American empire. Other countries like Germany, Israel, Japan, South Korea, etc. have taken on supporting roles not unlike those of the “Anglo” countries.

    • It’s not important what it’s called. I was wondering about it. But I settled on calling it the Anglo-American Empire for the sake of simplicity.

      My basic point isthat it isn’t simply a product of a single nation. Even the United States began as a Confederation of separate nation-states, although that didn’t last long. The new Federal government was an empire that forced those separate nation-states into the imperial project, despite it being unconstitutional according to the first constitution. But it didn’t take long for the former subjects of the British Empire to get used to the new American Empire.

      Since WWII, an international plutocracy took control of the American Empire and made it into an international system of social control. With the neoliberal-neocon hybrid system, national sovereignty has become meaningless and irrelevant. The international plutocracy has more loyalty to corporations than to countries. Trump is a plutocrat who, even as president of the United States, doesn’t give a shit about the United States. Trump has business cronies, investments, bank accounts, and houses in numerous countries. The United States could collapse and the plutocracy wouldn’t care.

      The imperial project continued after the Americans separated from Britain. And the imperial project would continue after the US no longer is central. Let’s just call it a plutocratic empire at this point. The empire is simply wherever the plutocrats happen to be concentrated in their wielding of power. It is largely irrelevant what is the ancestry or birthplace of most plutocrats. Many plutocrats have multiple citizenships. Their identity and the center of their power is not at the national level.

      That emerging reality of international plutocracy is hard for most people to understand. This is because most people in the world spend their entire lives in a single country. The international plutocracy is an entirely different world that few people ever see.

      • All very true. But you say, “The empire is simply wherever the plutocrats happen to be concentrated in their wielding of power.” And that’s the US. So why not call it, as many other observers do, “the American Empire.”?

        • That is fine. This post and my comments here is just me thinking out loud. I’m not overly attached to any particular aspect. For the name of the sociopolitical order, I guess I was trying to get at a distinction.

          If we call it the American Empire, then I’d simply make the argument that this is separate from the American nation-state. The two are overlapping but not the same. It seems to me that the US government is a puppet state of this larger socipolitical order, although it’s obviously the most important puppet state.

  2. Here are some of my thoughts.

    Quebec, Texas, Wales, etc are various semi-autonomous regions of the international Western hegemonic sociopolitical structure and neoliberal corporatist economic system. But the brilliance of this model of power is that it allows local people to perceive themselves as independent and free, identifying with their local and national governments. The real power, though, is an international plutocracy and the transnational corporations that give it form. Many transnational corporations are now more powerful than many national governments in the world. The US, like many countries, is now just a puppet state where many of the plutocrats happen to own homes. This model is simply a modernized version of the old imperial system. The British Empire also for a long allowed its colonists the illusion that they weren’t imperial subjects. Many colonists actually believed they were governing themselves because they didn’t have to see how the imperial sausage was made. They got more benefits than they paid for, not unlike how some US states get more federal funding than they give in federal taxes. Maybe it’s not accidental that those very states most indebted to the federal government are the ones so attracted to pseudo-libertarian rhetoric of states rights.

    Something has changed, though. The American Empire simply copied the success of the British Empire and then took over the leading role of the Western world. But after WWII the American Empire became globalized such that it was no longer fully aligned with the American nation-state. Most of what the US government now does with the military, CIA, etc is for the benefit of transnational corporations and the plutocracy they represent. As research shows, most US politicians no longer represent Americans or even care what their own constituents want. It is now the government of a transnational empire, not a government of a nation-state. The US is just the headquarters for the time being, but that is largely arbitrary as far as the plutocrats are concerned. They feel no loyalty or patriotism. The US is simply convenient for wielding their power. This is why I referred to it as an Anglo-American Empire, as it replaced the prior American Empire which itself replaced the British Empire. But it can maybe more accurately be described simply as Western hegemony, part of a half millennia project of Western civilization gaining and maintaining control of the world. The nice life built on immense wealth that is experienced for many in all of the Western countries wouldn’t be possible if not for an imperial project that began long before the United States ever existed. Europe and Britain once involved multiple interlocking imperial power structures and trade alliances. Over time, that has slowly merged into a more unified system of social control and economic management.

    Two main thoughts stick out to me. One is the flow of benefits and costs. The benefits have to keep those within the geopolitical hegemony appeased and contented. And the costs have to be externalized or at least hidden. The US selling natural resources from public lands at below market prices is one way of both externalizing and hiding the costs of imperialism. It’s basically colonial-style extraction and theft from the local public, but Americans can’t see how their own country is simply being treated as colonial territory of an imperial system that they can’t understand. It’s all hidden in plain sight. The problem is that the costs can’t be hidden forever. We are seeing the inevitable results, unintended consequences, and blowback of the imperial project: international terrorism, AGW-caused droughts, refugee crises, debt being foisted on the younger generations, austerity economics, etc.

    The other thing is how oppressive is such an authoritarian system. Those in power have also tried to keep this hidden. They do so by targeting most of the oppression on those with the least power, wealth, and voice. Western hegemony can regularly kill millions in poor developing countries and the imperial subjects don’t notice, largely because the plutocracy also controls almost all of the big biz media that the public consumes. The propaganda model of media that Chomsky talks about becomes key in maintaining ignorance and plausible deniability for the complicit public that benefits from this mass violence and imperial terrorism. But empires have always had to maintain tight control at the center of their power. Because this Western Empire is headquarterd in the US, the American population has to be tightly controlled, no different than how the British Empire was much more violently oppressive to those living in England than those living in the colonies. This is why in the US the police are so brutally violent and why there is the largest prison system in the world. American lives are sacrificed in order to maintain this transnational geopolitical order. The last thing that the imperial plutocrats can allow is for the imperial subjects closest to their center of power to get out of control because it sets a bad example and dangerous precedent for imperial subjects elsewhere in the empire.

    There is no longer a British Empire. And there is no longer an American Empire. Something has replaced both, something more vast and powerful than both combined. Call it whatever you want.

    • How about calling it just “the Empire”? After all, as you point out, it IS transnational. And no attentive person would fail to know what you’re referring to.

      But this entire discussion evokes for me Sheldon Wolin’s astute analysis in his 2008 masterpiece, Democracy Incorporated. In particular, his concept of “Superpower” closely aligns with your description of the current imperialism. Consider, for example, this passage: “Superpower’s constitution depends upon a symbiotic relation between two elements, one political, the other economic. The first is empire and consists in large measure of military might, of bases scattered throughout the globe, of arms sales, of alliances and treaties with comparatively weak client states. Unlike the Roman Empire, and its extended citizenship, Superpower has only customers and clients, dominated markets instead of incorporated provinces. The second element is the globalizing corporation. It brings to foreign countries economic goods and services as well as the softening power of cultural influences and products. As these elements take hold and develop, the “homeland” is transformed, from a self-governing, predominantly inward looking political society into a “home base” for international economic and military strategies.” (p. 132)

      Sounds pretty close to what you’re talking about, doesn’t it, Benjamin?

      • Thanks for sharing that. I’ve previously read about Wolin’s ideas. But I’m sure his writings deserve a fuller and more careful reading. That passage does sound in line with my thoughts here. The question I was pondering is this. What exactly is this “Superpower”? And what is its precise nature? How does it function?

        The connection between the political and economic is key. That is definitely something I was emphasizing. The idea of clients and customers makes sense. But some of the client-states where US bases are located are fairly powerful countries in their own right and with their own militaries. The transformation of the “homeland” to a “home base” resonates for me. A “home base” is important but of lesser value.

        I’d go further in stating that the “home base” is simply the main client-state, but many of the plutocrats who hold great power aren’t necessarily US citizens. Many foreign plutocrats, such as Saudi royalty and Israeli politicians, hold immense influence over the US government. This is why the American nation-state is separate from the American Empire. The ruling class of the American Empire would include many non-American plutocrats.

        The US as a political entity is in many ways a distraction from the real sources of power. It’s a stage for political spectacle, for a puppet show. But the real action is happening elsewhere.

      • The idea of Wolin’s that has interested me the most is inverted totalitarianism. I’m feeling increasingly confident over time that the United States has already fully morphed into inverted totalitarianism. That is one way to explain why what may appear as an ‘American’ Empire can’t be directly correlated to the the American nation-state (i.e., United States).

        US politiicians don’t do what the US public wants. They only do what the wealthiest want. And what makes the plutocracy different these days is that they are transnational. The US political system has been altered to allow dark money to flow to politicians, political projects, and political foundations with little if any accountability or transparency. From what research has been possible, it’s obvious that some of this money and probably large sums of it are coming from foreign sources, laundered and funneled through various corporations and organizations. But in the case of pay-to-play, the arrangement is fairly blatant bribery, just on the edge of evading legal prosecution.

        The trick is there is always plausible deniability, as no quid pro quo is ever stated openly. Foreign powers simply have to donate money or do other favors for the right people, make clear through various public statements of the policies they are seeking, and allow the politicians to put two plus two together. As long as politicians keep doing what those foreign powers want them to do, the money and favors will keep flowing. It doesn’t take a genius to understand. More importantly, what we see is just the tip of the iceberg, a vast transnational “deep state” operating below the surface.

        US politicians are bureaucratic functionaries to be used as puppets. If US politicians don’t play along, they will feel the full force of a transnational plutocracy put pressure on them behind the scenes. That maybe why Gore backed down from fighting for a full recount and submitted to Bush stealing the presidency through supreme court fiat. Gore either did that or there would have been consequences, including at the very least his political career being ended and all the flow of money to him drying up with no offers of a highly profitable post-political lobbyist career. If push comes to shove, I’m sure those ruling in the dark are willing to go so far as assassination, such as people often suiciding themselves right before they are about to reveal info.

        Here is one thing that has always stood out to me. The US military (along with CIA and such) rarely seems to act in either the short term or long term interest of the US, both as a nation-state and in terms of the public-citizenry. It’s obvious that the US military serves other interests, whatever they are. But it isn’t just the US military. Every US ally or, if you prefer, every imperial member/client state also does the bidding of this transnational inverted totalitarianism. It doesn’t matter how morally wrong is the new imperial war, all of these countries is quick to send it’s troops. If these were genuinely autonomous nation-states, they wouldn’t be so eager to serve transnational interests.

        That makes me wonder how this is accomplished. The US population is heavily indoctrinated and oppressed by a violent system of power: brutal militarized police, mass incarceration, Social Darwinian economy, etc. Only the top 20% or so needs to be kept content within the US population. This is different than a country like Canada where it’s necessary to keep the majority of the population much more contented. A violent system of power wouldn’t work in Canada in the way it works in the US for, as I argue, there are different sociopolitical dynamics between peripheral client-states and the “home base” of a central puppet state.

        This could change, though. If Canada became more important to the North American home base, it could be forced into the role of puppet state. And in that case, it’s nice social democracy with quality public healthcare could disappear over night. Once a country is made a puppet state, the majority of its population no longer needs to be kept contented through bribes. It’s possible that, if the US became too destabilized, Canada might entirely replace the US as the new imperial home base and the militarization of Canadian society would follow the same pattern as in the US. The imperial plutocrats have no allegiance to the US and would be perfectly fine shifting the home base elsewhere, if it was more convenient and useful to do so.

        Any national population that thinks this couldn’t happen to them is being naive. I dare the citizenry any of the imperial client-states to attempt to declare complete independence from the imperial political, military, and economic system. They would quickly see the consequences, as they were entirely cut off from all imperial privileges and benefits.

  3. I should clarify a point. I’m in no way dismissing the relevance of making national comparisons. I’ve done that many times in my blog. One of the best comparisons I’ve seen is “The Nordic Theory of Everything” by Anu Partanen. It’s brilliantly insightful. See this post:

    But part of me has grown dissatisfied with such comparisons. They can’t explain why the international order is the way it is. Comparing the US to the UK is like comparing Texas to Vermont. And comparing the US to Canada is maybe more like comparing Washington DC to California. Such comparisons can be useful in some ways, as long as you keep in mind that you are comparing two parts of a larger system.

    Sometimes the US is referred to as the world’s policemen. That is maybe more apt than many realize. The policemen enforce the law, but they don’t make the law nor do they hold ultimate power and authority. A neighborhood could overthrow its local police station and that wouldn’t change the nature of power, for the real power is at a higher level and further away. The US military is like that local police station. It’s the symbol and enforcement of power in this neighborhood of the larger world, even as the source of power exists elsewhere.

    Instead of overthrowing the police station, some of the local citizens could study it. Based on their analysis, they could attempt to determine how the larger society operates. But that analysis probably wouldn’t tell them much because all they are observing are the low level bureaucratic functionaries of the larger system. Likewise, studying the US military won’t in and of itself necessarily tell you much about the international plutocracy and transnational corporatism that pulls the strings behind the scenes in controlling the US military.

    Only in understanding the larger power structure and governing system can we understand why many Western countries have great public healthcare while the US does not. Comparisons of healthcare systems can’t explain the most important differences between these often compared countries. But once you understand that some countries are closer to the center of power and others at the periphery, then it begins to make more sense why those countries operate in far different ways.

    British colonists in America were probably healthier than British peasants in England, but you’d have to put that in the context of both populations existing within the British Empire in order to know why those health disparities existed. The point is that the imperial homeland and the imperial colonies form a single whole.

    • Again, I’m with you in your general take about transnational corporatism/plutocracy. But you’ll have to explain this statement: “Only in understanding the larger power structure and governing system can we understand why many Western countries have great public healthcare while the US does not.” The traditional view of empires is that they plunder their colonies to benefit those at home. Given that this empire you’re describing is centered in the US, why would the imperialists want to deprive those of us living here?

      • This is a connection I was making. I was conjecturing that maybe it’s not an accident that those well within but at the periphery of the present neoliberal-neocon empire get immense benefits from the empire while not paying most of the costs of empire. The exact same pattern was seen with the relationship of the American colonies to the British Empire.

        As I explained, the British colonists in America had greater wealth, freedom, and probably health than the British peasants in England. That is something I’ve known about for a long time and it’s always stood out to me. In fact, those colonists were among the most free people in the world. That is why they responded so negatively to the British government becoming more directly involved in and controlling of the colonies. That was a mistake.

        In the present imperial system, many of imperial subjects in the peripheral client-states (often called allies, for sake of political correctness) have greater wealth, freedom, and health than the imperial subjects in central client-state (i.e., US citizens). The fact that this pattern is a repeat of the early British Empire is not accidental. Maybe those in power have come to understand the importance of this.

        In not having to pay for as much of the costs, these peripheral client-states have more wealth freed up to keep their populations contented and this helps keep them subservient to the empire. As long as these client-states are allowed to have the wealth to maintain nice social democracies, they will always be willing to lend their political authority and support in all of the empire’s agendas. The deal is that they get these good benefits in exchange for always being willing to do the empire’s bidding, including sending soldiers to any imperial war, no matter even if it is a war of aggression and a war crime as was the Iraq War.

        If these peripheral client-states were forced to pay the full costs of the imperialism they benefit from, they wouldn’t be able to afford their expensive social democracies. But if they didn’t have those expensive social democracies, they would have less reason to stay subservient to the empire. The central client-state, the United States, doesn’t get such benefits because more forceful social control is required closer to power. Maybe this is simply inherent to any successful empire.

        I’d clarify the role of colonies. Exploitation is complicated. The aristocracy and plutocracy of the British Empire heavily exploited the English people and English natural resources. They dismantled traditional English society, as if they were an occupying force. The same is seen in the US where exploitation is practiced on US citizens and US natural resources. Whenever there is a colonial empire, it maybe inevitably ends up colonizing what began as the “homeland” which is how it gets downgraded to a “home base”.

        I’m wondering if empires tend to exploit most the center of the empire and the furthest territories of the empire. The British Empire didn’t seek to exploit the American colonies. Rather, it used the American colonies as staging locations for exploitation of the greater territories. When the British Empire felt economic pressure, it finally decided to try to exploit those colonies and that led to revolution. They disrupted the delicate balance of the imperial project and so suffered the consequences.

        If this present empire made the same mistake in trying to force the peripheral client-states to pay more for the empire, those peripheral client-states would experience austerity economics and wouldn’t be able to afford the social democracies that keep their populations contented. The result would be protest, civil unrest, demands for independence, and possibly revolution.

        Try to force Canadians to pay more for the imperial project so that it necessitates them to cut back to a crappy level of healthcare and such as the US population gets, Then see how long Canada remains in its subservient role to the empire. Canadians wouldn’t accept being exploited by the empire as Americans have grown accustomed to.

        That is because Canada is a peripheral client-state, which is different than an occupied territory. Much of the Middle East such as Iraq and Afghanistan are simply occupied territories, not client-states, and so allowing them to have nice social democracies isn’t needed to control them. The “home base” and the occupied territories can be exploited in a way that the peripheral client-states cannot be, if the imperial order is to be maintained.

      • The main point is this. The various countries that fall under the empire’s rule aren’t sovereign nation-states and independent citizenries.

        Countries like Canada are peripheral client-states that require benefits, although countries like Mexico have been in the unenviable position of never quite being allowed to have client-state status maybe because it’s easier to control them through other means such as militarized war on drugs. Countries like the US could also be considered client-states, but maybe it would be more accurate to simply call the US the ultimate puppet state.

        The British Empire had a homeland ruled by a British ruling elite. The present empire simply has a home base that is ruled by a plutocracy of diverse nationalities and citizenships. The US, even though important as a home base, doesn’t require being treated with the same concern as an imperial homeland. A homeland has to be defended at all costs, but that isn’t the case with a home base.

        Many of the plutocrats who are key members of the imperial ruling class aren’t Americans and so have no loyalty to America itself, except to the degree that it serves their interests. A home base is simply a convenient location to headquarter the imperial project and nothing more, but if needed relocation to a new home base wouldn’t be hard to accomplish. If threatened, the home base would not be defended at all costs like a homeland. Abandoning a home base for a new home base would be traumatizing to the US public but not to the transnational ruling elite.

        This is the most important part. It is an empire, but of a different variety. This neoliberal-neocon empire is much more amorphous and decentralized. It’s a set of overlapping power structures in different locations, rather than being ruled over by a rigid monarchy and aristocracy that is traditional and place-based.

  4. A background influence to this post is the Trump administration. Trump has told European governments that they’re going to have to pay more for maintaining the Western geopolitical order, that America is no longer going to foot most of the bill to police the world, protect the trade routes, and such.

    Of course, Trump is just spouting bullshit, as the US will continue to pay more than any other country for the operating costs of Western hegemony and transnational neo-imperialism. But some European leaders have taken the opportunity to declare that they don’t need the US, not unlike how the American colonists declared they didn’t need the British Empire.

    A geopolitical divorce is being threatened. But that is just further evidence for the longstanding existence of a geopolitical marriage. Divorces are messy, especially when the partners have mixed up their finances and now have to determine who gets custody of the kids.

    Put that on a geopolitical scale and realize that such a divorce could lead to world war. Don’t forget that the American Revolution was just one small battlefield of a world war that began before and continued after the revolution. If parts of Europe seek independence from the present Western geopolitical order, it might be not happen easily and peacefully.

  5. Europe, Britain, and the former colonies of various empires have consisted of centuries of shifting boundaries.

    England, for example, has been under the control of many different kingdoms, monarchies, and empires over the past couple of millennia. The Roman Empire and later the Roman Catholic Church once controlled much of Europe. A number of empires tried to consolidate all of Europe or large regions of it. Even some of the small Nordic countries were once great empires with colonial territories on multiple continents.

    The present national boundaries in Europe and Britain are a fairly recent invention, along with the notion of ethno-nationalist autonomy. There is a high probability that national autonomy will become ever more weakened over time, unless something causes the globalization of neoliberal corporatism to collapse.

    A similar history underlies the boundaries in North America. Presently, it consists of three countries: Mexico, United States, and Canada. But North America was once a region of competing powers, including hundreds of native tribes/nations and something like seven to nine colonial empires. North America was highly contested territory.

    That was true even once the United States was founded, as the new country fought wars not just with the natives but with the Mexicans and Canadians. The colonies that became the states didn’t even all originate from the British Empire. Several of them were originally founded by the Spanish, Dutch, Germans, etc. These regional differences made the new American Empire difficult to manage because these local governments still somewhat thought of themselves as separate nation-states. This led to the Civil War, which ironically ended up strengthening the centralized power of the American Empire.

    The Western geopolitical order is facing a similar crisis. It could lead to the dismantling of the larger power structure and balkanization of the local nations. But there is always the possibility that, like the American Civil War, an even stronger Western geopolitical order will result, whether or not the center of gravity remains in the United States.

    All of this is to say that we need to think power in new ways. Our imaginations become constrained by artificial boundaries that exist on maps. But the real force of power and those who wield it don’t care about such things. The imagination of the plutocracy knows no boundaries. Or rather they create the boundaries however they so choose to imagine them and they act accordingly, no matter what maps might indicate and local populations might think.

    The American Civil War is particularly interesting in this context. It ultimately was a crisis of empire, whether or not the US would continue on the path of expansionist imperialism. It was two visions of empire, slave-based agriculture and capitalist industrialization. But the economies of both regions were built on the same slave economy. It’s just that one region was finding that slave economy less profitable than it once had been. Moral reasons were mostly later rationalizations.

    If other Western countries now find the authoritarian economy less profitable than it once was, which is to say a greater cost to benefit ratio, then they might decide to throw their support behind a new kind of economy. But as the US example demonstrates, the new kind of economy might be even more imperialistic than what came before, just with a new locus of power.

    European governments might consider the Anglo-American Empire (or whatever one wants to call it) no longer useful. Instead, they might choose to create a new European Empire, maybe using the UN as a governing body to assert autonomy and to challenge the US and its British allies. This might be an attractive option with Brexit, as the UK was helping to maintain the ties between the US and the UN.

    Interesting times.

  6. I was thinking about my tendency to write posts like this. I have immense talent in knocking over sacred cows. Give me enough time and I probably will knock your sacred cow over, even if you didn’t realize you had a sacred cow. In this single post, I was able to criticize the populations of the entire Western world.

    I guess I’m ruthless. I don’t let anyone off the hook. But it’s not that I’m trying to attack and kill people’s sacred cows, but neither am I trying to tip toe around people’s sacred cows. If a sacred cow falls over as I go about my business, I take no responsibility for it.

    The problem is that I simply don’t see the world in the way most people do. Such things as autonomous nation-states can’t explain the global reality we are living in. Complicity ends up being a broader and more complex situation, as all of us in the West are part of this larger power structure. Pointing that fact out makes a lot of people extremely uncomfortable or even irritable. It’s not a happy thought.

    It just is what it is. I’m not trying to be a critical asshole. But apparently I’m highly gifted in this area. It comes naturally to me, without any effort.

    None of this is to say that I’m right about all of this. Still, I’m going to call them as I see them. All I’m doing here is throwing out ideas and possibilities, considering different ways of looking at the situation we find ourselves in. We need to shake our minds loose and, of course, that is rarely an easy thing to accomplish. All I know how to do is throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

    I mean well, in my own way.

    • The Pentagon has warned about many things, from climate change disaster to dwindling global resources. The Pentagon’s plans appears to be to accept that global civilization will erupt into world war and possibly fall into mass collapse. And the strategy is for the Pentagon to maintain it’s control of the world’s geopolitical situation long enough to wait out the destruction of other nation’s. Then the Pentagon can swoop in and take whatever it wants.

      But at that point the Pentagon will no longer be serving US interests and the US public and instead it will have become its own entity defending its own survival. The Pentagon will show itself to be a tool of plutocratic and corporatist interests, as it becomes unmoored from all national concerns and rationalizations. If I’m correct, the Pentagon is already working at the behest of a transnational empire. And that might become ever more apparent as time goes on.

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