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.

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Who and where is the enemy?

I was looking at some books on the ancient world. A few of the books were on Rome, specifically the changes that happened after Christianization.

People often talk about the Barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome. But the fact of the matter is that the German tribes that ‘invaded’ were already there living in the empire. They had been mercenaries for generations and were trained by the Romans. They weren’t really ‘Barbarians’, in the sense of being a foreign pagan population that showed up from the wildlands beyond the Roman frontier.

These Germans were even already converted to Christianity, but it was at a time when Christianity was splintered in diverse traditions and beliefs. It’s quite likely that those in power feared the Germans because they adhered to heretical forms of Christianity. As far as that goes, most early Christians would be labeled as heretics by the heresiologists. That was fine until the heresiologists attempted to oppress and kill all competing Christian adherents. Maybe the German Christians took that personally and decided to fight for not just their sovereignty but also their religious freedom.

So, it was really just one population of Christians in Rome deciding to take power from or simply overthrow another population of Christians in Rome. Those Romanized and Christianized Germans would become the great monarchies and empires of Europe, such as the French Normans that turned much of Britain into England. And it was the Norman-descended Cavaliers who reinstated the monarchy after the English Civil War, creating modern England.

All that was meant in the ancient world by someone being Barbarian was that they were of a different ethnicity. It literally meant someone outside of one’s door, which is to say outside of one’s community. And in the Roman Empire, many ethnicities maintained separate communities. The Jews were Barbarians as well and the Romans feared them as well, although their earlier revolt failed.

It is interesting to think about those early German Christians that helped topple the Roman Empire. Maybe they were practicing for the later Protestant Reformation.

The original Lutherans, Anabaptists, Pietists, Moravians, Mennonites, Amish, etc were Germans. Calvin’s father came from the northern borderlands of the Roman Empire, in a town established by Romanized Gauls, and after Calvin escaped France Calvinism took hold in Switzerland. Huguenots also lived in the border regions of what once was the Roman Empire. The population out of which Puritanism arose, influenced by some of these German Christians, was of German descent. The English Midlands where the Scandinavians settled gave birth to Quakers and other dissenter traditions.

German Christians, along with other Northern European and British Christians, were constantly causing trouble. This challenging of religious authority lasted for more than a millennia. And to a lesser degree it continues. In the majority Germanic Midwest of the United States, this struggle over Christianity continues with much challenge and competition. The Midwestern Methodist church where my Germanic grandfather was once minister ended when some in the congregation challenged central church authority.

Christian authority is on the wane these days, though. American fundamentalists like to think of the United States as the last great bastion of Christian authority, like the Christianized Roman Empire once was. But if Washington is to fall as did Rome, it will likely be from an invading army of non-believers, of secularists, agnostics, and atheists. Maybe similar to those Germanic mercenaries but minus the Christianity, the defense contract mercenaries will grow so powerful that in their Godless capitalism they will turn against their weakened American rulers. Corporatism will be our new religion, as the American empire collapses and disintegrates into corporate fiefdoms. Some would argue that corporatism is already our new religion.

Anyway, if history is to be repeated, the so-called barbarians at the gates are already here. And they have been here for a while. They won’t need to invade, as they were welcomed in long ago and were enculturated into our society. The mercenaries of our society, whether taken literally or metaphorically, might turn out to be a fifth column. The enemy within might be those we perceive as protecting us, until it’s too late. Mercenaries aren’t always known for their loyalty. So, who are the mercenaries in our society, the guns-for-hire? And who is the real enemy in this situation? The mercenaries of our society would answer that question differently, as did the German mercenaries living in the Roman Empire.

Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed.

“It’s not the Americans, what they are doing in this country or that, or the Germans or the French or such. It’s the dominant interests in that country. If anything, the common people in these countries are themselves also the victims. It’s their taxes that are used to raise the armies. It’s their sons and brothers and now daughters and such who go in and pay the price in blood.

“The empire feeds off of the republic’s resources. The people end up doing without essentials so that Patricians can pursue their far off plunder. Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed. And you see that very same thing happening today. You see, for instance, an estimated 200 to 250 billion is going to be spent on Iraq. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress is proposing about 300 billion in cuts in human services, in public services, in healthcare, in aid to public education, and the like.

“Every time they raise your tuition you are paying for the cost of empire. Every time they cut funds to the state of Wisconsin you have to make up the difference. Everywhere I go… and, when I pick up the local newspapers, it often seems like the same paper and every paper has the same story for a while, factoring when the fiscal year was ending, it would say: ‘State facing huge deficits’, ‘City council voting cuts in budget’…

“That is the cost of empire. What happens then is our economic democracy is under attack.

“Not everyone, as they say, pays the costs. Some people profit immensely.”

That is from a talk given by Michael Parenti at the University of Wisconsin.

What he spoke of here was part of a larger point he was making. Empires don’t happen by accident or by absentmindedness. Empires are built and that happens intentionally with immense effort and costs. We imperial subjects don’t always notice the costs because we aren’t used to thinking about our country as an empire. But the costs are always there, however hidden by mechanisms that externalize them, that defer and displace them.

Yet there are also benefits, powerful interests that are being served. The purpose for imperialism isn’t simply about brute power, though. It’s about control toward specific ends.

Parenti explains that, even without Western domination, many non-Western countries were more than willing to sell oil and participate in global trade. Still, that isn’t enough. The Western oil cartels want to be able to control the oil supply in foreign countries. Here is the problem presented by those like Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t sell his oil but that he insisted on selling his oil that was driving down oil prices. That is contrary to the interests who want to control and manipulate the oil markets, to artificially set the prices so that they will bring in the largest profits.

Also, the problem wasn’t that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. It was the US who put him in power in order to ensure the destruction of Iraqi democracy, an action that required the death, torture, and imprisonment of Iraqis fighting for their freedom. The US wanted a brutal dictator and supported him most strongly (with money and weapons, including weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons) precisely when he was at his most brutal, for he was being brutal in serving Western interests. What sealed his doom was his ultimate refusal to play the role of a subordinate puppet dictator. It turned out that, as leader, he wanted to serve the interests of Iraqis instead of the interests of Western powers. That is the one thing Western powers can’t tolerate.

All of that is obvious, to anyone who isn’t entirely propagandized by Western education and media. The main issue remains what I quoted. And it isn’t a new insight. Parenti is simply rephrasing what Dwight D. Eisenhower stated earlier last century, in his famous Chance for Peace speech. But it bears repeating, until one day the American people finally grasp the horrific injustice that has been forced on them, costs that aren’t just monetary but human. As Eisenhower explained it,

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

“This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Irreparable Damage, Voting Subjects, & Direct Action

I get the feeling that Barack Obama has done irreparable damage to the political left. So many Americans genuinely believed in and were excited by his message of hope and change. I bet even many people from the political right voted for him.

There was such a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal once he had been in office for a while. It turned out he was just another professional politician and that the hype had meant very little. He continued many of the same policies from the Bush administration. Worse still, he passed healthcare reform that was originally a Republican idea which favored insurance and drug companies, rather than the leftist single payer reform most Americans wanted.

Obama’s presidency has made many Americans far more cynical than they’ve been in a long time. No one expects Republicans to genuinely care about the poor and needy, to fight for the rights and opportunities of the lower classes. But many do expect this from Democrats, however naïve that might be.

I know of those who supported Obama in 2008. Some of them now support Clinton, Obama’s nemesis back then. The heir of hope and change is Bernie Sanders. Yet many have lost faith that hope and change is possible. It’s not just fear of Trump. These Clinton supporters, in many cases, have simply resigned themselves to the notion that Clinton is the best that the Democratic party will ever offer. It’s either take that pathetic choice or get nothing at all, so it seems from this jaded mindset.

Older voters, in particular, feel wary about trusting that genuine progress and reform is possible. They don’t want to be betrayed again. They’d rather go for the cynical choice because at least that way they’ll know what they’re getting. When cynicism overtakes the citizenry, that is the most dangerous moment for a democracy.

That is what Sanders is fighting against.

* * *

For US citizens, voting is a right. But it is also a privilege.

For one thing, not all US citizens have the right to vote, besides the young. Convicts and many ex-cons don’t have the right to vote. Many others who technically have the right to vote are politically disenfranchised and demoralized in various ways, by both parties in elections and in the presidential nomination process.

Another issue is that, for all intents and purposes, the US is an empire. Most of the people directly and indirectly effected by US policy aren’t voting US citizens. Who and what you support with your vote impacts not only non-voting Americans but also billions of people around the world.

This includes millions harmed, millions made homeless refugees, millions starving, and millions killed. Those impacted, mostly innocent victims, come from wars, including wars of aggression, proxy wars, and drug wars; CIA covert operations, such as inciting of governments coups, propped-up puppet dictators, US-backed authoritarian regimes, arming of paramilitaries, and School of the Americas military training; post-colonial resource exploitation, unfree trade agreements, US-aligned IMF-enforced austerity policies, and harmful sanctions; et cetera.

As a subject of the empire, you benefit greatly from US policies. It is other people, mostly poor and brown people, mostly in other countries that have to pay the full costs of these imperial benefits.

You are never making merely a personal decision when you vote. You are part of a privileged class of people on this planet. Your vote matters and the results are powerful. This is true, even as the system is rigged against American voters. The last thing you should ever do is support a candidate who supports the corrupt status quo of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

We Americans should take all of this much more seriously. For those who have personally experienced US power, this isn’t idle campaign rhetoric. What is at stake is their lives, their families, and their communities. This isn’t about your party or candidate winning. It’s about morality and justice. Be sure you’re on the right side of history. You are complicit in what you support. Choose wisely.

* * *

When I was a child, I played soccer. My main talents were that I could run fast and take pain. I often played defense because I was good at stopping things. I demonstrated this talent during one game when in elementary school. I was probably playing halfback that day, as it requires a lot of running around. A halfback’s purpose is to be a go-between, to go where and do what is needed. It requires adaptability to the situation, whether defense or offense is required.

Anyway, in whatever position I was in, it was further up the field. The game had just begun. The other team had the ball. One of their players dropped it back and got out of the way. A giant girl came forward and kicked the ball all the way down the field. She was their one great weapon. It forced everyone on my team to immediately run back down the field. After a second time of this, many on my team were already running before the ball went flying. After observing this predictable situation, a brilliant idea popped into my mind. Why not simply stop the ball before it goes flying? So, at the next opportunity, I ran full speed right at that girl and took a body blow. Every time they did it again, I took another body blow. It stopped the ball and allowed my teammates to push the play forward, instead of backwards.

It was a proud moment of my childhood. But I’ve always wondered what the life lesson was from this incident. Well, besides the willingness to take a hit for the team. A few things come to mind. A basic lesson is to look for the obvious. Another is that direct action can be a good thing. Also, it’s much easier to prevent something than to react to it once it has already happened.

I’d apply these lessons to the entire society I live in. Politics most of all. I’ve come to realize how rare it is for people to see the obvious. Partisan politics shows the power of groupthink. Everyone sees the situation as inevitable and then reacts to it. This feels justified, as every0ne else is reacting as well. Strategy usually consists of trying to react more effectively. It doesn’t occur to many people that, if there is an obvious problem, maybe we should do the obvious thing to stop the problem.

Our society is full of obvious problems. The solution or prevention to these problems is often just as obvious. Yet we seem stuck in a mentality of endless reaction, always chasing the ball down the field. But what if we simply threw ourselves in front of that ball. Would it hurt? Yes. Would it stop the problem and make life easier for all involved? Yes, a thousand times over.

If we want to reform our society and make the world a better place, then we should do it. In the simplest, most direct way possible. We’ve already wasted enough time tiring ourselves out by running the wrong direction down the field, again and again and again. One would think that we as a society would finally grasp the obvious.

Let’s stop the problem first. Then we can act as a team to move forward.

The Hidden Desire of the Imperial Subject

Anti-Federalists were to Federalists as Marxists were to Stalinists. The Anti-Federalists considered themselves to be the real federalists, similar to how some Marxists have thought of themselves as the real communists.

The Federalists and Stalinists turned out to be just different varieties of imperialists, something the Anti-Federalists and Marxists opposed. That is what the Cold War ended up being about, which imperialism would control the world. Oddly, the rhetoric of Anti-Federalism and Marxism was sometimes used to this end, as a rationalization of and distraction from the real purpose of accumulated power.

People are so easily deceived by rhetoric. But I wonder if there is more to it than that. I’ve recently thought that people accept the rhetoric even though at some level they know it’s propaganda. Many people simply want to be lied to by their political officials because it gives them plausible deniability. That way, they don’t have to admit they too want an empire.

It’s understandable, this divide in the public mind. We’ve been taught that empires are supposed to be bad. And no one wants to think of themselves as a bad person or as part of a bad society. Yet as imperial subjects, we gain many benefits: cheap products, freedom to travel, a protected life, etc. As long as an individual doesn’t challenge that power, the individual can live a good life within the empire. We grow accustomed to such benefits and they make it easier for us to quiet the voice of our conscience.

It’s hard to gain the self-awareness, social understanding, historical perspective, and moral courage to speak out against injustice and immorality. Few ever do so.

The Sun Never Sets On The American Empire

Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”. The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed. (John Pilger)

It used to be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. That is no longer true. But this has been true of the American Empire for quite a while now.

The US presently has over 900 military bases in 130 countries in every region of every continent, not to mention probably naval ships patrolling every ocean and sea. We shouldn’t forget the numerous satellites overhead and the largest missile arsenal aimed in every direction. Plus, there are covert agents in governments all over the world, along with bribed and blackmailed politicians and along with allied governments and puppet dictators. There are probably even US operatives in every major foreign organization and media outlet.

The US is the largest and most powerful empire to ever have existed. And it is maintained with violent force, both as threat and actual implementation. Every time the US starts yet another war of aggression, think of the judgment given by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg:

War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Let that sink in. This brutal military imperialism is the most important issue we face.

This one issue relates to all of our major problems: failing democracy and concentrated power, corruption and cronyism, plutocracy and corporatism, legalized bribery and big money lobbyists, biased corporate media and neoliberal globalization, growing inequality and entrenched poverty, Social Darwinism and systemic racism, police militarization and mass incarceration, CIA covert operations and wars of aggression, climate change and externalized costs, refugees and terrorism, etc.

Call it what you will, imperialism is the linchpin issue.

Now consider this. Some of the candidates that have been running for the presidency support American imperialism and some don’t. Ask yourself the following: Do you support American imperialism or not? Would you rather the sun to go on shining on the American empire or are you ready for it to set? Then vote accordingly.

It’s that simple.

It is strange the disconnect that exists in the minds of so many.

In my lifetime, the US government has killed millions of innocent people worldwide through implementing or being involved in heartless sanctions, wars of aggression, proxy wars, CIA covert operations, overthrowing governments, assassinating leaders, training and funding militaries and paramalitaries, generally destabilizing regions for power and profit, etc.

If this was earlier last century and I was describing Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany, or Fascist Italy, few Americans would pause for a second to call such a government an evil empire or at least an authoritarian regime. But why is it so hard for Americans to look objectively at their own government and see it for what it is? And why are so many willing to support politicians who have political records of promoting war hawk policies and military imperialism?

Are Americans afraid to face such a harsh truth? I’m sure the citizens of those other ruthless governments were also afraid. That is no excuse. Future generations won’t look back upon our moral cowardice with kindness and forgiveness.

I find myself often ending with thoughts about what future generations will think of us. The legacy we are leaving will likely be horrific, from a massive permanent debt to the endless costs of maintaining an empire, from growing global violence to climate change. I’d like to be able to envision a positive future, but it’s getting harder as time goes on.

A Vast Experiment

Early America was a different world. There was a lot more going on back then than typically makes it into history textbooks and popular historical accounts. It was a world or rather set of worlds that was in a constant state of turmoil and conflict. Wars, rebellions, riots, and other fights for power were regular events.

The diversity both within, between, and at the edge of the imperial territories was immense. This diversity was racial, ethnic, national, religious, and linguistic. The vast tracts of land, populated to varying degrees, were controlled by various empires and tribes. Several different countries had colonies in the Mid-Atlantic region of New York, New Jersey, etc—a key region fought over in the seeking to control the Eastern seaboard. Of course, there was the French and Spanish settlers all over the place—in Canada, the Ohio Valley, Florida, New Orleans, Southwest, and West Coast. Even the Russians had colonized or otherwise claimed large areas of North America, from Alaska down to Northern California.

Many Native Americans had adopted some of the culture from or developed particular kinds of relationships with these other Europeans (and they influenced European culture in return). William Penn was able to have peaceful relationships with the tribes in the region because he was building off of the trust the French traders had developed. But Penn deserves much credit, as he was a tolerant guy. Even though he was English, he welcomed people from all over into his colony, which led Germans to be the majority in Pennsylvania. Places like South Carolina also had a non-British majority, which in this case was black majority that lasted until after the Civil War.

African-Americans, it could be easily argued, had more freedom before the American Revolution than immediately after it, more freedom before the Civil War than with the ending of Reconstruction. It wasn’t a continuous increase of benefit and opportunity for all involved—far from it. Race and gender identities were more fluid prior to the Revolution. There was a surprising amount of tolerance or simply gray area. It took the American Revolution to more clearly begin the process of demarcation of social roles and the racial hierarchy, which then was further solidified a century later during Jim Crow. In particular, the American Revolution had the sad result of effectively shutting down the growing abolition movement, until it was forced back to mainstream concern with the events that led to the Civil War. It turns out that African-Americans who fought for the British were the greatest defenders of liberty, as they had the most at stake.

Plus, in early America, there was less government control. Individuals and communities were to varying degrees left to their own devices. This was particular true in distant rural areas and even more true at and beyond the frontier. The colonies and later the states weren’t isolated from the other societies on the continent (imperial, native, and creole). Mixing was fairly typical and being multilingual was a necessity for many.

A significant number of Native American tribes retained independence for most of American history. Large scale federal oppression and genocide of natives didn’t begin until the major Indian Wars following the Civil War. The last free Native Americans weren’t fully suppressed, either killed or forced onto reservations, until the first half of the twentieth century. In the century or two before that, there was no certainty that the European immigrants and their descendants would rule most of the continent. If a few key battles had been won by the other side, history would have gone in entirely different directions. Native Americans and other independent societies didn’t give up freedom without a fight. It is easy to imagine Native Americans having combined forces to develop their own nation, and in fact that is precisely what some visionary leaders tried to do.

Even for white women and men, there was in many ways more freedom in early America. There was often a live-and-let-live attitude, as people were maybe more focused on basic issues of daily living and survival. Local issues and personal relationships were often more determinant on how people were treated, not large-scale societal norms and laws. There was also a growing movement, during the late colonial era, for rights of women, the poor, and the landless. This included a push toward universal suffrage or at least closer toward it. During the American Revolution, women in some places had won the right to vote, only to have it be taken away again after the oppressive patriarchs regained control.

Early America included immense diversity: racial, ethnic, religious, linguistic, political, etc. This is on top of the diversity of gender, marriage, and family life. This was at a time when social norms hadn’t fully been set. Such things as the independent nuclear family was first established among Quakers. Also, premarital sex was typical, many marriages following after pregnancy, but some people simply lived in sin. Single parents and ‘bastards’ were common.

Enforcement of social order was relatively minimal and mostly remained a responsibility of neighbors and communities. There were no prisons and police forces until after the American Revolution. Also, the promotion of family values as part of religious morality and patriotic duty didn’t fully take root until this later era, when the ideal of making good citizens became more central. Prior to that, the focus was on communities and they often were loose associations. Many people lived far apart. Churches and established congregations were fairly rare. Most Americans didn’t attend church regularly and one’s religion was largely a personal and private issue, except in certain urban areas where people were highly concentrated, especially where the local ruling elite demanded and had the power to enforce religious conformity.

It’s not that there weren’t punishments for transgressions. But it just wasn’t systematic and fully institutionalized. People tended to take care of their own problems and so it depended on how a local population perceived behavior, dependent on personal and communal experience. People living near each other were often times close relations, such as kin and long time friends, and they were highly dependent on one another. These people were more forgiving and tolerant in certain ways, even as vigilante justice could lead them to be cruel at other times, especially toward perceived outsiders.

A more general point is that early America was a time of nearly constant change. The world often dramatically shifted from one generation to the next. Social order and social norms were in constant flux. Along with the autonomy of relatively isolated lives, this led to a certain kind of freedom in how people lived and organized their communities. This is what attracted so many religious and political dissenters and hence much radical politics leading to regular challenges to power and the status quo, including riots and rebellions, along with peaceful protests and petitions.

It was a highly unstable society, even ignoring the constant fighting with Native Americans and other imperial subjects. England, in trying to maintain its own stability, ended up initially sending most of its convicts to the American colonies. Around a fifth of all British immigrants during the 18th century were convicts. This included political prisoners, but also common criminals and simply the desperately poor.

For the first centuries of American society, there were regular waves of poor immigrants, political dissidents, religious dissenters, indentured servants, and slaves. These were the defeated people of the world and the dregs of society. That is the broad foundation that America was built upon. These people were survivors in a brutal world. In response, some became brutal in kind, but for others they saw opportunity and hope. Either way, they were forced to make the best of their situation.

It was a fertile time of new ideas and ideals. Diverse people were thrown together. They experienced ways of life and ways of thinking that they otherwise would have never known about. Without fully established authority and entrenched government, they had to figure things out on their own. It was a vast experiment, quite messy and not always ending well, but at other times leading to fascinating and unpredictable results.

Early America held great potential. The world we live in wasn’t inevitable. Forces collided and in the struggle a new social order began to take shape, but the contesting of power has been endless and ongoing. The consequences of that prior era still haven’t fully settled out, for good and ill.

* * *

For your edification and reading pleasure:

England on Edge: Crisis and Revolution 1640-1642
by David Cressy

The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661
by Carla Gardina Pestana

Fire under the Ashes: An Atlantic History of the English Revolution
by John Donoghue

The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution
by Christopher Hill

The Web of Empire: English Cosmopolitans in an Age of Expansion, 1560-1660
by Alison Games

Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World 
by Alison Games

Diversity and Unity in Early North America
by Phillip Morgan

American Colonies: The Settling of North America, Vol. 1
by Alan Taylor

The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution
by Alan Taylor

The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America
by James Axtell

Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America
by James Axtell

Strangers Within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire
by Bernard Bailyn (Editor) and Philip D. Morgan (Editor)

The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction
by Bernard Bailyn

The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
by Bernard Bailyn

Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution
by Bernard Bailyn

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodard

The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America
by Kevin Phillips

Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans
by Malcolm Gaskill

Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776
by Jon Butler

Crossroads of Empire
by Ned C. Landsman

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763
by Jane T. Merritt

The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815
by Richard White

Cultures in Conflict: The Seven Years’ War in North America
by Warren R. Hofstra (Editor)

Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire
by Jay Gitlin (Editor), Barbara Berglund (Editor), and Adam Arenson (Editor)

The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent
by Kathleen DuVal

At the Edge of Empire: The Backcountry in British North America
by Eric Hinderaker and Peter C. Mancall

Breaking The Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War In Virginia And Pennsylvania 1754-1765
by Matthew C. Ward

Into the American Woods: Negotiations on the Pennsylvania Frontier
by James H. Merrell

William Penn and the Quaker Legacy
by John Moretta

Wild Yankees: The Struggle for Independence along Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Frontier
by Paul B. Moyer

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815
by Kerby A. Miller (Editor), Arnold Schrier (Editor), Bruce D. Boling (Editor), and David N. Doyle (Editor)

The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764
by Patrick Griffin

The Planting of New Virginia: Settlement and Landscape in the Shenandoah Valley
by Warren R. Hofstra

The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia
by Michael A. McDonnell

The Virginia Germans
by Klaus Wust

The Story of the Palatines: An Episode in Colonial History
by Sanford H. Cobb

The Germans In Colonial Times
by Lucy Forney Bittinger

Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration: A British Government Redemptioner Project to Manufacture Naval Stores
by Walter Allen Knittle

German Immigration to America: The First Wave
by Don Heinrich Tolzmann

Foreigners in Their Own Land: Pennsylvania Germans in the Early Republic
by Steven M. Nolt

Palatines, Liberty, and Property: German Lutherans in Colonial British America
by A. G. Roeber

Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America
by Susanah Shaw Romney

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley
by Jaap Jacobs (Editor) and L. H. Roper (Editor)

The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America
by Jaap Jacobs

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America
by Russell Shorto

Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture
by Roger Panetta (Editor) and Russell Shorto (Foreword)

Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664
by Janny Venema

Mohawk Frontier: The Dutch Community of Schenectady, New York, 1661-1710
by Jr. Burke Thomas E.

Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York
by Donna Merwick

Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York
by Judith L. Van Buskirk

A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790
by Edward Countryman

Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City during the Revolution
by Ruma Chopra

The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City, 1763-1787
by Joseph S. Tiedeman (Editor) and Eugene R. Fingerhut (Editor)

Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776
by Joseph S. Tiedemann

The Other Loyalists: Ordinary People, Royalism, and the Revolution in the Middle Colonies, 1763-1787
by Joseph S. Tiedemann

Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War
by Thomas B. Allen

Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution
by Kathleen DuVal

Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the Seventeenth Century
by April Lee Hatfield

Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America
by James D. Rice

The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia
by Wilcomb E. Washburn

Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina
by Marjoleine Kars

Farming Dissenters: The Regulator Movement in Piedmont North Carolina
by Carole Watterson Troxler

A Very Mutinous People: The Struggle for North Carolina, 1660-1713
by Noeleen McIlvenna

The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina
by David S. Cecelski

These Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey
by Brendan McConville

Hubs of Empire: The Southeastern Lowcountry and British Caribbean
by Matthew Mulcahy

On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World
by Paul M. Pressly

The Short Life of Free Georgia: Class and Slavery in the Colonial South
by Noeleen McIlvenna

The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America
by Richard R. Beeman

The Glorious Revolution in America
by David S. Lovejoy

1676: The End of American Independence
by Stephen Webb

Lord Churchill’s Coup: The Anglo-American Empire and the Glorious Revolution Reconsidered
by Stephen S. Webb

Marlborough’s America
by Stephen Saunders Webb

The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution
by Owen Stanwood

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution
by Thomas P. Slaughter

When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation
by Francois Furstenberg

The Radicalism of the American Revolution
by Gordon S. Wood

Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation
by Alfred F. Young (Editor), Ray Raphael (Editor), and Gary Nash (Editor)

Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution
by Alfred F. Young

Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism
by Alfred F. Young

A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence
by Ray Raphael

The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord
by Ray Raphael

The Spirit of 74: How the American Revolution Began
by Ray Raphael and Marie Raphael

Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution
by Terry Bouton

American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People
by T. H. Breen

From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776
by Pauline Maier

The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams
by Pauline Maier

Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic
by Seth Cotlar

Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World
by Janet Polasky

Desperate Sons: Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, and the Secret Bands of Radicals Who Led the Colonies to War
by Les Standiford

The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America
by Gary B. Nash

Between Sovereignty and Anarchy: The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era
by Patrick Griffin (Editor), Robert G. Ingram (Editor), Peter S. Onuf (Editor), Brian Schoen (Editor)

The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution
by Benjamin L. Carp

Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the Lower Sort during the American Revolution
by Steven J. Rosswurm

Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia
by Jessica Choppin Roney

The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding
by Eric Nelson

The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America
by Barbara Clark Smith

The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America
by Chris Beneke (Editor) andChristopher S. Grenda (Editor)

The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past
by Margaret Bendroth

Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism
by Chris Beneke

Liberty of Conscience and the Growth of Religious Diversity in Early America, 1636-1786
by Carla Gardina Pestana

On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren
by Donald B. Kraybill and Carl F. Bowman

Jesus Is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America
by Katherine Carté Engel

Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem
by Craig D. Atwood

Two Troubled Souls: An Eighteenth-Century Couple’s Spiritual Journey in the Atlantic World
by Aaron Spencer Fogleman

The Methodists and Revolutionary America, 1760-1800
by Dee E. Andrews

Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution
by Joseph S. Moore

Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690
by Antoinette Sutto

Puritans and Catholics in the Trans-Atlantic World 1600-1800
by Crawford Gribben (Editor) and R. Spurlock (Editor)

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic
by Matthew Stewart

The Public Universal Friend: Jemima Wilkinson and Religious Enthusiasm in Revolutionary America
by Paul B. Moyer

Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend
by Herbert A. Wisbey Jr.

The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy
by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark

Gender and the English Revolution
by Ann Hughes

The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty
by Jean Zimmerman

The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World
by Emily Clark

Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834
by Emily Clark

Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia
by Karin Wulf

Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England
by Susan Juster

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750
by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

First Generations: Women in Colonial America
by Carol Berkin

Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence
by Carol Berkin

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
by Cokie Roberts

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation
by Cokie Roberts

Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America
by Linda K. Kerber

Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World
by Mary Beth Norton

Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800
by Mary Beth Norton

Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society
by Mary Beth Norton

Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820
by Susan E. Klepp

Women & Freedom in Early America
by Larry Eldridge

These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia
by Susan Branson

Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic
by Susan Branson

Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830
by Clare A. Lyons

Sexual Revolution in Early America
by Richard Godbeer

Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
by Rachel Hope Cleves

Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina
by Kirsten Fischer

Rape and Sexual Power in Early America
by Sharon Block

The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South
by Catherine Clinton (Editor) and Michele Gillespie (Editor)

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
by Thavolia Glymph

The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South
by Catherine Clinton

Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South
by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South
by Martha Hodes

The Road to Black Ned’s Forge: A Story of Race, Sex, and Trade on the Colonial American Frontier
by Turk McCleskey

Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America
by Peter H. Wood

Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion
by Peter H. Wood

Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680-1800
by Allan Kulikoff

Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry
by Philip D. Morgan

Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora
by Edda L. Fields-Black

Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas
by Judith A. Carney

Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina
by Daniel C. Littlefield

For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England
by Allegra di Bonaventura

Almost Free: A Story about Family and Race in Antebellum Virginia
by Eva Sheppard Wolf

Against the Odds: Free Blacks in the Slave Societies of the Americas
by Jane G. Landers

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves
by Andrew Levy

Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation
by Rhys Isaac

Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730-1810
by James Sidbury

Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802
by Douglas R. Egerton

“Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676
by T. H. Breen and Stephen Innes

Black Society in Spanish Florida
by Jane Landers

Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization Louisiana
by Arnold R. Hirsch (Editor) and Joseph Logsdon (Editor)

Romanticism, Revolution, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1868
by Caryn Cosse Bell

New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan
by Jill Lepore

The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence
by Alan Gilbert

Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America
by Douglas R. Egerton

Negro Comrades of the Crown: African Americans and the British Empire Fight the U.S. Before Emancipation
by Gerald Horne

The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America
by Gerald Horne

Confronting Black Jacobins: The U.S., the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic
by Gerald Horne

Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions
by Jane G. Landers

The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution
by Sidney Kaplan

Race and Revolution
by Gary B. Nash

Eighteenth-Century Criminal Transportation
by Gwenda Morgan (Editor) and Peter Rushton (editor)

Emigrants in Chains. a Social History of the Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-Conformists
by Peter Wilson Coldham

Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America
by Anthony Vaver

Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775
by A. Roger Ekirch

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America
by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

To Serve Well and Faithfully : Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800
by Sharon V. Salinger

By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority
by Holly Brewer

Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America
by Ruth Wallis Herndon (Editor) and John E. Murray (Editor)

Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution
by David Waldstreicher

Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England
by Ruth Wallis Herndon

Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America
by Jen Manion

Rum Punch & Revolution: Taverngoing & Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia
by Peter Thompson

In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts
by David W. Conroy

What Is A Superpower To Do?

There is a recent piece on American military superpower and its decline. The author is Tom Engelhardt. He concludes with these thoughts:

Under distinctly apocalyptic pressures, something seems to be breaking down, something seems to be fragmenting, and with that the familiar stories, familiar frameworks, for thinking about how our world works are losing their efficacy.

“Decline may be in the American future, but on a planet pushed to extremes, don’t count on it taking place within the usual tale of the rise and fall of great powers or even superpowers. Something else is happening on Planet Earth. Be prepared.”

The very last sentence is silly. I guess the author was trying to offer a glimmer of hope or something. I don’t think there is any preparing for the unknowable and unpredictable.

As for the rest, it resonates. There is no doubt that, in many ways, power is power and nothing really ever changes. However, something does feel different compared to past empires.

Still, Engelhadt in this piece isn’t up to tackling the full complexities. It’s not clear that the US military is actually failing. Most likely, it is simply serving a purpose other than what is stated. The global markets and access to foreign resources is being maintained for US corporate interests. The US military doesn’t need to win any wars to accomplish that.

Besides, I don’t think the military is the most basic issue. It’s just an expression of present conditions. The world doesn’t turn on mere military power.

Yet the point remains. Something seems different. We are up against walls that didn’t exist in the past. The world never before felt like such a small place. The superpowers are chafing against the constraints of earthly existence.

* * *

I noticed the article in question was posted in multiple places on the web, under different titles. I’ll give the link to two of these because you should read the comments sections.

The Superpower Conundrum: The Rise and Fall of Just About Everything
(Common Dreams)

America’s Got the #1 Military in the World — and It’s Increasingly Useless
(Alternet)

American Empire

The Immorality of Preventive War
by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., History News Network

“One of the astonishing events of recent months is the presentation of preventive war as a legitimate and moral instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

“This has not always been the case. Dec. 7, 1941, on which day the Japanese launched a preventive strike against the U.S. Navy, has gone down in history as a date that will live in infamy. During the Cold War, advocates of preventive war were dismissed as a crowd of loonies. When Robert Kennedy called the notion of a preventive attack on the Cuban missile bases “Pearl Harbor in reverse,” and added, “For 175 years we have not been that kind of country,” he swung the ExCom–President Kennedy’s special group of advisors–from an airstrike to a blockade.

“The policy of containment plus deterrence won the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone thanked heaven that the preventive-war loonies had never got into power in any major country.

“Today, alas, they appear to be in power in the United States.”

Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon

“All in all, the U.S. drug war in Mexico has been an abject failure. In spite of high-profile arrests, including in 2014 Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who ran the Sinaloa group, and in 2015 Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, head of the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacán, the cartels seem as strong as ever. They may occasionally split and reassemble, but they are still able to move plenty of product, and reap at least $20 billion a year in sales in the United States. In fact, this country remains the world’s premier market for illegal drugs.

“The cartels are responsible for the majority of the methamphetamine sold in the United States today. Since 2006, when a federal law made it much harder to buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in this country, the cartels have replaced small-time U.S.-based meth cookers. The meth they produce is purer than the U.S. product, apparently because it’s made with purer precursor chemicals available from China. The other big product is heroin, whose quickly rising consumption seems to be replacing the demand for cocaine in the United States. On the other hand, marijuana legalization appears to be cutting into the cross-border traffic in that drug.

“The Washington Post reports that almost 9% of Americans “age 12 or older — 22.6 million people — are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” That represents a one-third increase over the 6.2% in 1998. It takes a lot of infrastructure to move that much product.

“And that’s where U.S.-based gangs come in. Urban gangs in the United States today are not the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. Certainly, there are still some small local groups formed by young people looking for family and solidarity on the streets. All too often, however, today’s gangs represent the well-run distribution arm of the international drug trade. In Chicago alone, 100,000 people work in illegal drug distribution, selling mostly into that city’s African-American community. Gang membership is skewing older every year, as gangs transform from local associations to organized, powerfully armed criminal enterprises. Well over half of present gang members are adults now. The communities where they operate live in fear, caught between the gangs that offer them employment while threatening their safety and militarized police forces they do not trust.

“Just like U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs has only left a larger problem in place, while producing blowback here at home. A particularly nasty example is the cartels’ use of serving U.S. military personnel and veterans as hit men here in the United States. But the effects are far bigger than that. The DEA told the Washington Post that Mexican cartels are operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities. In all those cities, the failed war on drugs has put in prison 2.3 million people — in vastly disproportionate numbers from communities of color — without cutting demand by one single kilo. And yet, though that war has only visibly increased the drug problem in the same way that the war on terror has generated ever more terror organizations, in both cases there’s no evidence that any other course than war is being considered in Washington.”

The New American Order
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People”
by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com

“[B]ased on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

“And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

“Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

“Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray. [ . . . ]

“Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

“While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

“Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
Chalmers Johnson, pp. 1-3

“As distinct from other peoples on this earth , most Americans do not recognize— or do not want to recognize— that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.

“Our country deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations and just under a dozen carrier task forces in all the oceans and seas of the world. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another. Our globe-girding military and intelligence installations bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales. On the eve of our second war on Iraq, for example , the Defense Department ordered 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock (SPF 15), almost triple its 1999 order and undoubtedly a boon to the supplier, Control Supply Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its subcontractor, Sun Fun Products of Daytona Beach, Florida. 1

“The new American empire has been a long time in the making. Its roots go back to the early nineteenth century, when the United States declared all of Latin America its sphere of influence and busily enlarged its own territory at the expense of the indigenous people of North America, as well as British, French, and Spanish colonialists, and neighboring Mexico. Much like their contemporaries in Australia, Algeria, and tsarist Russia, Americans devoted much energy to displacing the original inhabitants of the North American continent and turning over their lands to new settlers . Then, at the edge of the twentieth century, a group of self-conscious imperialists in the government— much like a similar group of conservatives who a century later would seek to implement their own expansive agendas under cover of the “war on terrorism”— used the Spanish-American War to seed military bases in Central America, various islands in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

“With the Second World War, our nation emerged as the richest and most powerful on earth and a self-designated successor to the British Empire. But as enthusiastic as some of our wartime leaders , particularly President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were for the task, the American people were not. They demanded that the country demobilize its armies and turn the nation’s attention to full employment and domestic development. Peace did not last long, however. The Cold War and a growing conviction that vital interests, even national survival, demanded the “containment” of the Soviet Union helped turn an informal empire begun during World War II into hundreds of installations around the world for the largest military we ever maintained in peacetime.

“During the almost fifty years of superpower standoff, the United States denied that its activities constituted a form of imperialism. Ours were just reactions to the menace of the “evil empire” of the USSR and its satellites. Only slowly did we Americans become aware that the role of the military was growing in our country and that the executive branch— the “imperial presidency”— was eroding the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic. But even at the time of the Vietnam War and the abuses of power known as Watergate, this awareness never gained sufficient traction to reverse a Cold War-driven transfer of power from the representatives of the people to the Pentagon and the various intelligence agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency.

“By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the rationale for American containment policies, our leaders had become so accustomed to dominance over half the globe that the thought of giving it up was inconceivable. Many Americans simply concluded that they had “won” the Cold War and so deserved the imperial fruits of victory. A number of ideologists began to argue that the United States was, in fact, a “good empire” and should act accordingly in a world with only one dominant power. To demobilize and turn our resources to peaceful ends would, they argued, constitute the old-fashioned sin of “isolationism.”

American Imperialism: Freedom and Democracy

“Unfortunately, the United States has done for freedom and democracy what the Soviet Union did for socialism.”

Related quotes (not from video):

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith

“Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy.”
— David Korten

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“Look, America is no more a democracy than Russia is a Communist state. The governments of the U.S. and Russia are practically the same. There’s only a difference of degree. We both have the same basic form of government: economic totalitarianism. In other words, the settlement to all questions, the solutions to all issues are determined not by what will make the people most healthy and happy in the bodies and their minds but by economics. Dollars or rubles. Economy uber alles. Let nothing interfere with economic growth, even though that growth is castrating truth, poisoning beauty, turning a continent into a shit-heap and riving an entire civilization insane. Don’t spill the Coca-Cola, boys, and keep those monthly payments coming.”
― Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

“Many believe that capitalism is synonymous with free enterprise and democracy. Capitalism is neither free enterprise nor democracy. After all, China is now a capitalist country. No one believes that China is a democratic country. This conflation has allowed all attempts to attenuate the deficiencies of capitalism to be construed as that grand evil, “socialism” or communism.”
― Egberto Willies, America’s form of capitalism kills free enterprise and democracy