History changing

Imperialism: Lessons From History

from Imprimus,
July/August, 2023:

The word “imperialism” comes from the Latin word imperium. It refers to a nation or a state implanting its rule on other states, treating them as subordinates and in an inferior fashion. Some suggest today that America is behaving imperialistically—we do, after all, have some 600 military bases around the world. So it is worth recalling some historical examples of imperialism to understand what the idea entails (Athenian, Roman, Spanish, British).

Looking at empires through history, we can identify several things that most of them have in common. One is that their leaders often say or seem to believe that their imperialist policies have little to do with self-interest.

Another trait empires have in common is obviously their dependence for enforcement on some type of superior military power—most often a navy.

A third characteristic empires share in common—perhaps the most interesting and thoughtworthy—is that for all the supposed advantages to be had through imperial rule, a historical case can be made that it has never quite penciled out. The costs of control seem to outweigh the benefits.

One corollary to the unprofitability of empire is that it tends to corrupt the character of the imperial power.

The British empire probably reached its peak sometime between 1850 and 1860. But if we read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, published in 1852, we see that at the heart of the empire in London, there were vast numbers of people who were in poor-houses at the same time the country was spending its resources far and wide on its great imperial civilizing mission. This in turn might make us think of present day San Francisco, where people are injecting themselves with drugs, fornicating, urinating, and defecating on the streets, and downtown businesses are closing in large numbers; or Chicago, where the murder and crime rates are making life there unbearable for so many. Our major cities are going to rot at the same time we are pledged to giving $120 billion to Ukraine, already making its military budget the third largest in the world. And the decay goes beyond the large cities. Think of those gruesome scenes in East Palestine, Ohio, after the train crash that enveloped the town in a toxic chemical cloud. East Palestine is full of working-class people whom few of our establishment political leaders were willing to go visit.

The people of East Palestine form the demographic that died at twice the numbers of the general population in our overseas wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet few in our leadership class—many of whom had made one or more recent trips around the world to Ukraine to visit the Ukrainian people and pose for photos with Mr. Zelensky—went to East Palestine. I don’t know if one can properly call the United States an imperialist power, but this phenomenon of neglected and hollowed-out cores coupled with widespread overseas investments and commitments tends to be characteristic of empires. Looking outward, we can see two clear manifestations of imperialism today. One is the Chinese brand of imperialism. China de facto now controls 15 of the major ports in the world—ports that the Chinese have leased, rebuilt, and refashioned. The Chinese are very farsighted, so these ports are not just random acquisitions. They control the Panama Canal. They monitor the entry into the Mediterranean at Tangiers and the exit at Port Said. The two largest ports in Europe, Antwerp and Rotterdam, are in the hands of the Chinese, as are the artificial islands in the South China Sea, a gateway for 50 percent of global oceanic traffic. In other words, the Chinese control 15 points at which, in a global crisis, they will be able to shut off trade and access to commercial goods, oil, and food, not to mention the influence they have gained over local governments.

The other imperial power we see on the rise today is more insidious. George Orwell’s nightmare dystopia in 1984 was a world in which there were no nation-states, but rather three powers wielding absolute control over three land masses into which everyone had been aggregated. Something like this is the dream of Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and his fellow globalists (many of them American) who meet annually in Davos. Their vision is of a transnational ruling class, consisting of elites drawn mostly from the business, political, media, and academic worlds, with the power to issue edicts on climate change, public health, diversity, human rights, and even taxes, that override the will of national majorities. If Chinese imperialism follows the tradition of the Ottoman Empire, the globalist vision of Davos imperialism is in the tradition of utopian empires gone astray.

"Lest we forget—lest we forget!

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