I’ll bet some of you read my blog post criticizing (gasp!) Ron Paul for this ad:
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My critique of the ad is limited to the very last segment, which specifically mentions the student visa issue in the context of the “terrorist nations” concept.
There are two problems with it: first, it imposes collective punishment on an entire class of individuals on account of their nationality. This is not subjecting Saudis to special security checks, or even limiting the numbers of applicants—it is a blanket ban. Aside from being grossly unlibertarian, it’s just plain mean.
Secondly, and most surprisingly, Paul is allowing the US Department of State—or whomever in the government gets to decide these things at any given moment—to define “terrorist state.” If he abides by this decision in the realm of domestic policy, then he effectively concedes it to the government in the conduct of our foreign policy. So, why not invade Iran? After all, they’re a “terrorist state,” aren’t they?
As for the entirely separate question of illegal immigration, as opposed to students who apply for visas so they can legally travel to the United States, I’m with Ron 100 percent. Secure the borders. Stop illegal immigration. No amnesty.
Those who argue that this is a good sort of opportunism are plain wrong. This “terrorist nation” business—which hits the viewer over the head at the end—alienates those brought in by his antiwar message. It probably loses more votes than it gains.
Finally, you’ll note that the comments to my post on Antiwar.com now number around 450 and still climbing: half were supportive, and the other half not very. The latter, furthermore, were outraged that I criticized Paul at all: I should have kept quiet, no matter what I thought, for the good of The Cause.
That is complete b.s., of course: I’m a writer, not a political hack, and, also, I don’t believe you can build a real, lasting political movement based on that kind of lockstep mentality. That’s what the neocons have, and we aren’t anything like them (I hope): the idea that there is some kind of political orthodoxy that “Paulians” (Paulistas? Paul-ites? Hey, the neocons call us “Paulestinians,” natch!) must follow is … well, it’s bonkers.
Have I turned against Ron Paul? Of course not. My efforts on his behalf are unabated. He is, after all, a political candidate, not some kind of all-knowing guru—and I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over at Salon.com, the heroic Glenn Greenwald has the goods on the Bloomberg-for-President hot air balloon, which is now being pumped up by all kinds of “centrist” (i.e. unprincipled) politicians and the bloviating David Broder. Aside from detailing and documenting Bloomie’s pro-war pronouncements, Greenwald has this to say:
“Clearly, this is just exactly what our country desperately needs, what it is missing most—a neoconservative, combat-avoiding, Bush-supporting, Middle-East-warmonger who sees U.S. and Israeli interests as indistinguishable and inextricably linked, with a fetish for ever-increasing government control and surveillance, and a background as a Wall St. billionaire. We just haven’t had enough of those in our political culture. Our political system, more than anything, is missing the influence of people like that. That’s why it’s broken: not enough of those.”
C’mon, Glenn, why don’t you tell us what you really think?
A frequent respondent of mine, Adriana, wrote as a comment on my most recent blog that Democrats can afford to publicize their “platform.” Republicans, by contrast, cannot do so because the masses no longer accept their real views. But this judgment is only partly true. Popular opinion on most social issues has indeed veered sharply leftward in the last forty years, as can be determined from Gallop and other relatively reliable national polls. More problematic is Adriana’s certainty that political parties and political movements identified with the establishment Right have gone with the flow of public opinion in order to survive. Supposedly we have no real choice in this matter and therefore Republicans have had to “hide their platform.”
My own view, which can be found in Conservatism in America, is markedly different from Adriana’s. Let me begin by noting that center-right parties here and more dramatically in Germany and in other European countries began their journeys toward the left decades ago. The leaders of these groups often lunged leftward out of ideological conviction and not merely to survive in a radicalized cultural environment. Already by the 1960s the Republicans were taking positions that were farther on the left than those held by many Democrats. It was Republican Senators who voted in much larger numbers than Democratic ones for the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and it was Nixon’s Republican administration that plunged the country into affirmative action programs.
In the 1980s, under neoconservative prodding, “conservative” journalists and Republican newspapers, e.g., the Washington Times, were strenuously advocating a national holiday commemorating Martin Luther King’s birthday. It is hard for someone who, like me, witnessed the success of this project, to believe that Republicans and movement conservatives were only pushing the MLK commemoration because they were competing with the Democrats for black votes. The Right was also moving leftward because its leaders and spokesmen had changed their thinking but not necessarily political identification. Moreover, a younger generation was supplanting an older one on the establishment right, and the new generation shared what had once been characteristically leftist views, which were popular with their contemporaries. What distinguished part of this rising generation from their peers, however, is that they continued to call themselves Republicans and/or “conservatives.”
Note that the centrist CDU-CSU Union in Germany has spent the last thirty years moving away from its onetime Christian-national principles. Some German journalists expressed astonishment that the party went in the direction that it did, even when periodic popular support existed for a Rechtswende (a turning toward the right). The Union went this way even while sacrificing part of its base and without picking up comparable support on the left. In 2005 the vote total of the CDU-CSU fell in the federal elections by three points relative to what the Union had received in 2002.
This disparity resulted from a decision that had been made at the top. In 2005, current German chancellor Angela Merkel had refused in her electoral campaign to express recognizably “Christian values” or to challenge the antinational position represented by the Greens and Social Democrats. Like the German Left, which argues that the Germans have lost the moral right to be a sovereign nation state, Merkel never hid her belief that the Germans should cede their sovereignty to the EU—and do so without a popular vote. This Saxon female politician, who had been educated under a communist government, eschewed the national and Christian Right, and she worked not to rattle her friends in the media. But her standdid not necessarily reflect electoral realities and, as the CDU researcher Stefan Eisel documented, Merkel actually hurt her party by taking her cues from the multicultural left.
What I am suggesting is that the Right’s leftward course has influenced our political culture. It does not simply mirror external circumstances. The most telling example of this trend, and one that I have spent years discussing, is the effect of the neocons” takeover of the American “conservative movement.” If the neocons had not achieved their end, it is easy to imagine that the range of permissible “conservative opinion” would be less politically correct than it is at the present time. Nor would being “conservative” center on arbitrary “litmus tests,” e.g., who is more or less in favor of the nationalist Right in Israel or whether the Republicans or Democrats revere the achievements of Martin Luther King more .
Shifts in political opinions on the part of non-leftist parties are not based simply on looking at polls. Their initiators sometimes act independently or even against immediate electoral interest because of their conviction or owing to their fear of giving offense to those whom upper-class WASPs may feel morally obliged to reach out to. Because of such gestures, the establishment Right enables the Left to be itself on social and lifestyle issues. This faux Right is itself a critical factor on why things continue to move leftward. It has joined the other side in creating fashions. I”ve no idea why so few historians have perceived this fact. It seems to me to be self-evident.
New Year’s Eve parties cannot be described in lyrical terms, recalling perhaps the elegance of poetry by, say, Beaudelaire, Oscar Wilde’s decadence being more like it. I am not among those who hate New Year’s parties, in fact to the contrary. Let’s start with the bad news. The worse New Year’s ever was December 31, 1984, in Pentonville. Now that was a real downer. Talk about a party that never took off. On that particular night it never even got started. Everyone was locked up by 7 pm, and most of the jailbirds were asleep
by the time the clock struck twelve. I stayed up by force of habit, but all it did was make me more miserable. Looking back at my description of that night in the immortal jail memoir “Nothing To Declare,” I see that particular New Year’s Eve was the first time I felt the worst was over. From then on it was only a matter of time and patience. There are certain psychological barriers while one’s doing bird, the obvious ones being birthdays of loved ones, holidays and so on. For me that night was the penultimate barrier to the countdown, which begins after the half-way point has been reached.
I went to Palm Beach about one month ago to visit Conrad and Barbara Black with other friends of theirs but was advised not to write about it until after the sentencing. As Andrew Roberts wrote in the Notebook, “It was a masterclass in displaying dignity, good humour and charm under pressure.” If only the bums who so eagerly cast stones possessed a scintilla of Conrad’s courage, I might even force myself to consider their argument. But none of them even comes close. I wonder why that is? The idea that a rat like Radler can give state evidence and plea bargain a tiny sentence in a country club shows how wrong the law is. I suppose the Bible knows best. It’s always the Judases among us who betray. My old man never broke any laws but at the same time picked executives who were stand-up guys. Rats will always sell one out, starting with people like Richard Perle, who parlayed Conrad’s munificence into a small fortune and was the first to turn against him. A new book on this grotesque rodent includes the following terrifying sentence: “There is no middle way for Americans: it is either victory or holocaust.” Talk about cheapening the latter. Perle blames disloyalty and ineptitude of the Bush administration for the catastrophe in Iraq. I had written about this, that the rats would blame the captain once the shipgot stuck, almost five years ago. Although not the greatest geopolitical thinker of my generation, I knew my man Perle. He wanted Uncle Sam to attack Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran after Iraq, and following that North Korea.
And he’s walking around free while Lord Black is about to do a Taki. For six and one half long years. But this is 2008 and a new year always brings hope. The first smart thing I did was to give my annual New Year’s Eve party not in my chalet, but in a restaurant-inn of the old style. The reason for this is my children’s friends. They are young, tend to get drunk and spill red wine all over the place. After last year’s debacle I said basta. The members of the band were no better. They actually put ciggies out on the carpet. But not to worry. This year it was someone else who had to sweep up. Mind you, for the first time since the Peloponnesian War, Gstaad is covered in snow, powder skiing to make Canadians drool with envy, but with the added advantage that there are very few Canadians
around. This, of course, is because of global warming. That’s what a friend of mine, who believes most of the bs being put out by those who might benefit from a state of emergency, told me. The fact that his wife left him for an ape, at least I think it’s an ape, and his children advertise the fact they’re orphans, has not made a dent in his belief that he’s absolutely correct. The world is finished unless private jets are grounded. I will go along with that, as long as all airplanes are grounded, and all Detroit models are turned into
hybrids, or whatever they’re called, and as long as we stop being blackmailed by the towelheads down south. Give me rail travel, trans-Atlantic liners, and electric cars and you will have Taki on your side. Oh yes, and no more super-yachts, only sailboats. But I will not stop using my private little airplane as long as Brown and Bush and the rest of the Ali Babas continue to travel in the style they were never accustomed to. Barbara Tuchman once wrote that mankind makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. That other great historian-philosopher, Taki, says that mankind has proved to be the biggest jerk ever for allowing liars and phoneys to renege on every promise they made before election time. The refusal to hold a referendum about the revised EU constitution proves the Greek philosopher’s point.
Otherwise everything is honky-dory as they say. I am looking forward to defending my world Judo 70 and over title come June, in Brussels of all places, hoping against hope it will no longer be called Belgium by then, but Flanders, because my friends the Vlaams Belang will be rooting for me. And if the lower back continues on its course, I sure will need the support, pun not intended. Happy New Year!
It’s good to see that there’s at least one candidate seeking the Republican nomination who believes in a sensible immigration policy:
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Yet another reason (as if we needed one) to be excited about the candidacy of Ron Paul. An immigration policy that treats the external threat posed by the applicant’s country of origin as reason to deny entry to the United States would not only make America safer, but, in doing so, it would decrease, rather than increase, the pressure to spill American blood and treasure overseas.
And it would inevitably result in public debate over which countries should be on the list—which might finally mean an end to the silence about the Saudi regime’s quiet support for Islamic terrorism.
This is a brilliant move by a brilliant man, who just confirmed (as if he needed to) his Old Right credentials. Let’s defend America at the best place we can: her borders.
In a piece entitled “5 Moments That Changed the GOP Race,” Reid Wilson, of realclearpolitics.com, describes number 5:
“Ron Paul raises $4 million and $6 million in individual days. The important thing to remember: Ron Paul will not win the Republican presidential nomination. His campaign does not have the organizational strength, and his message is simply not suited for a Republican primary electorate that, largely, still supports the war in Iraq and President Bush.”
Yes, it’s really really really important that you keep all of the above in mind, even almost none of it is true. First of all, how can it be that the only real small-government conservative “is simply not suited for a Republican primary electorate”? And which Republican electorate are we talking about? Look at Iowa, where the majority of GOP-identified voters want the US out before the end of 2008. As for supporting Bush—Ron supports Bush, I’ve heard him say so: the Bush who vowed to carry out a “more humble foreign policy” and inveighed against “nation-building.”
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Much of this piece is self-refuting, such as the bit about Paul’s alleged lack of “organizational strength.” The very next sentence, however, shows why Wilson is wrong:
“But $10 million in two days is astounding, and Paul’s message clearly resonates with many more than the 50,000 or so who gave as part of the “money bomb.”
Yes, it was a moment that changed not only the politics of the GOP race, but also the way we do politics in America—yet how does Senor Wilson think this happened? He’s still measuring organizational heft in terms of paid staff and lists of prominent endorsers, but this misses what is the real engine driving the Paul campaign and that is the candidate’s supporters acting spontaneously and autonomously, creating a self-generating circuit of energy. This has raised the visibility and organizational viability of the campaign in an amazingly short period of time: I don’t see Giuliani or McCain or Romney drawing thousands of enthusiastic supporters to campaign rallies.
So why can’t Ron win? Well, you see, he’s too old:
“Howard Dean, fighting against the Washington Democratic establishment and arguing that he represented the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, gave rise to Barack Obama’s outsider message that is now working so well. Paul’s financial success will probably not lead to electoral success for the same reason: Like Dean, Paul is the wrong messenger. If another, younger, more telegenic libertarian Republican comes along in the future, claiming to represent the Republican wing of the Republican Party, he or she might help redefine the GOP for a generation. Paul’s success will not change the 2008 Republican Presidential contest, but four, eight, even twenty years down the line, someone may point to Guy Fawkes Day and the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party as days that shifted the way Republicans think about themselves.”
We don’t need another telegenic Republican: I’d settle for an intelligent Republican, and in this I sense I’m not alone. As for this business of age: is it really true that we reject older political leaders, in favor of telegenic pretty boys? Is this “America’s Next Top Model” or the race for the White House?
It is almost unbelievable that we are hearing this argument: it’s yet more proof that the boys over at realclearpolitics—which started out as a partisan conservative Republican site and has only lately graduated into affecting a heavy veneer of objectivity—just don’t understand the Paul phenomenon.
They clearly see the import of the Paul campaign, but this nonsensical longing for a cuter Ron just underscores how much they don’t get it. It’s precisely because he isn’t in the least bit telegenic that Paul has motivated many thousands to get active in his campaign at some level—because of the power of Paul’s ideas. More than that, the Ron Paul Revolutionaries are taking a clear position taken against the politics of celebrity, with its over-coiffed over-coached candidates and complete absence of authenticity.
UPDATE: Lest it be said that I am supporting Ron Paul uncritically, check this out.
Just asking ….
As the executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, it is my honor to welcome our latest monthly columnist, a man who is already familiar to the readers of Taki’s Top Drawer: Taki Theodoracopulos. Starting with the January 2008 issue, which should be on newsstands by now and arriving in the mailboxes of subscribers, Taki will pen a hard-hitting monthly column entitled “Under the Black Flag.”
We’re pleased to have Taki aboard, and in honor of his new column, we’re offering the readers of Taki’s Top Drawer a special introductory rate to Chronicles: $19.99 for 12 issues. To take advantage of this special rate, simply call Cindy Link at (800) 383-0680 and mention the secret code: TAKI. (This offer, unfortunately, is not available to current subscribers, only new ones.)
For close to 15 years, we’ve weathered multiple postage-rate increases and rises in paper prices without increasing our subscription rates, but the latest increase (around 33 percent) forced on us by President Bush’s cronies on the Postal Board of Governors is too much to bear. By February 1, we’ll be raising our subscription rates across the board, and $24.99 will be the lowest introductory rate you’ll be able to find.
So if you’ve been thinking about subscribing to Chronicles, there’s never been a better time. We have (in my humble opinion) the best stable of regular columnists of any conservative magazine in America, and it just got better. (And in a few months, it may get even better still. How’s that for a teaser?)
Lock in your low rate now, and make sure you don’t miss a single column by Taki. And if you’re willing to subscribe for multiple years, simply mention that to Cindy, and she can set you up with a two- or three-year subscription that can help you beat President Bush’s inflation.
(BONUS: The first commenter who can explain why we’re calling Taki’s column “Under the Black Flag” will receive a free one-year subscription. Just make sure, when you leave your comment, to put your real e-mail address in the “Email Address” field so that I can contact you to get your physical address.)
A Republic, Not an Empire is a splendid work by Mr. Pat Buchanan bemoaning the “Imperial” tendencies of recent administrations. It boasts a well argued thesis, but is dependent upon two givens: that Empires are inherently bad, and that the “Old Republic” was inherently good. It seems to me that neither of these are actually proved; so what I would like to do here is to examine four questions:
1) are Empires invariably evil, ala Star Wars?
2) is the acquisition of an Empire an inherent betrayal of American principles?
3) what we would be required to do to make a go of it?
4) are we, as a people, suited to the job?
To begin with, we really do need to define our terms. Empire can have two meanings: either a country ruled by an Emperor, or else one that dominates other countries. Obviously, a great many polities have been both, and there is a single historical origin for the two concepts. In the Western experience, the ancestor of all Empires was surely the Persian (559-330 B.C.). Fans of the recent film 300, when they think of the phrase “Persian Emperor” will immediately think of the strange combination of Sauron and a transvestite that bore the title in that movie. Put it out of your mind.
“Sacred Kingship,” the notion that the Sovereign is either a god, a descendant of a god, or at least in a special relationship with a god (whether as chief of the national cult or simply as receiving special graces), is a well-nigh universal motif. The Persians, having conquered the area from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Greece (and Egypt as well) were faced with a tremendous challenge. Part of dealing with this was to portray their Emperor in terms of whatever the Sacred Kingship of the given province had been—heir of the pharaohs in Egypt, chief priest of Marduk in Babylon, or whatever. The Empire was divided into 20 satrapies: the governors or “satraps” were often natives of the region they ruled, but bound to the Emperor directly, one way or the other. Under the terms of the “Cylinder of Cyrus,” the set of laws enacted by the first Emperor (and often touted as the first charter of rights in the world) the rights, duties, and freedoms of the subject were laid out. Royal roads made travel easy and secure, and relatively free trade built prosperity. For all the bad press our Greek predecessors gave them, apparently life for subjects of the Persian Emperor was no worse for the average individual than in many places, and far better than in most.
Persia could not defeat Greece, nor Greece Persia: but in the end, both fell to a young barbarian king, Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Upon the foundation of the Persian Empire which he conquered, Alexander added elements that would be incorporated into the general practice of Empire in the West. While keeping the notion of local liberties, he tightened connections with the disparate province of his realm by both encouraging his soldiers to marry local women, and by settling colonies of his veterans at strategic points. Alexander made a point of wearing the Persian Imperial regalia, and, while retaining his worship of the Greek deities, similarly resorted to those of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia—actions which placed the priesthoods of those countries firmly on his side. By way of contrast, he also exported the Greek language and customs throughout his Empire, thus creating the culture scholars call “Hellenistic.” While his unified realm did not long survive him, the successor states—Seleucid Syria, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Antigonid Macedonia “ all employed Alexander’s methods of governance.
They also served as a foundation for Roman rule of their areas (well, at least the western sector, in the case of the Seleucids). The territories acquired by the Roman Republic were turned into a Near Eastern style Empire by Augustus Caesar, who himself acquired divine honors. His successors gradually acquired more of the same, culminating in Diocletian, who completely orientalized Imperial court ritual. At the same time, the Emperors while encouraging Romanization of the overseas provinces (hence the eventual rise of the Romance languages) also continued the notion of rendering honors to the gods of their subjects—in return for being worshipped themselves. The one fast-growing cult that threatened the state by refusing Emperor worship was the Christian Church, which eluded all attempts to drown it in blood; indeed, as its writers suggested, the blood of the martyrs was its seed.
Ironically, the adoption of that religion by Constantine would in the end allow the Empire to survive its political death. Theodosius the Great made baptism the entry into citizenship: henceforth, membership in the Church was automatically citizenship in the Empire. The monotheistic nature of the new religion was such as to concentrate its communicants” loyalties: thus, even when the barbarian kingdoms had swallowed up the West politically, they refused to accept that the Empire was dead; rather they continued to regard themselves as somehow subjects of the remaining Emperor in Constantinople. Thus was justified Justinian’s partial recapture of the West.
When the Byzantine Emperor was unable any longer to protect Rome, the Pope turned to a new protector; thus was born the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne. Although often unrecognized by the Byzantine Emperor, this new organization—whose effective power was limited to whatever its Emperor actually controlled at the time—was conceived as encompassing all of Western Christendom (and the Crusader States in the East, so long as they lasted). Heavily damaged by the Protestant revolt, this idea nevertheless survived until 1806, when the last crowned Holy Roman Emperor abdicated. Having already proclaimed himself Emperor of Austria, he thus ensured that something survived in the Habsburg Monarchy. Its last ghost was not banished until the deposition of Bl. Charles I in 1918.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the eastern version of the Imperial idea was taken up by the Russian Tsars. Like their Habsburg colleagues, the Russian Emperors employed the Double Eagle of late Imperial Rome (as did the Knights of Malta, the Albanians, and the Serbs—all to show that in some way they were guarding the frontiers of the by now VERY nebulous Empire). Of all the Russian Sovereigns, however, the one who most closely fulfilled the notion of a universal Christian Emperor was Alexander I, with his Holy Alliance. In any case, this variant too came to an end in 1917, with the murder of Nicholas II.
There were, of course, other uses of the term. For one thing, as Europeans explored the world they discovered a number of other countries whose organization (a divinely-sanctioned ruler presiding over a number of subordinate nations) seemed analogous to the Roman, they used the word—thus we have “Emperors” of Ethiopia (which was in fact a more or less conscious imitation of Rome), China, Japan, and Mughal India; the Persian Shahs and Ottoman Sultans were likewise accorded the title of “Imperial Majesty.” Napoleon conceived of his Emperorship as a revival of that of Charlemagne, as did his nephew, Napoleon III. In a nod to the Holy Roman Empire (though not to Byzantium or Constantine) the state founded by Bismarck was headed by a German Emperor. In the 19th century, the Imperial mania was not dead: to show their independence from their motherlands, Brazil, Mexico, and even Haiti had Emperors at various times.
Nor is the mystique gone entirely today. Conservative advocates of the European Union such as the Paneuropa Union and Identita Europea look to the idea of the Empire to “ensoul” the Frankenstein-like EU: as Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. says, “The articulation of the foundational natural and Judaeo-Christian norms of a really united Europe, for instance, would most appropriately be made by such a crown, whose legal and customary relations with the national peoples would be modelled on the best aspects of historic practice in the (Western) Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine “Commonwealth””to use the term popularised by Professor Dimitri Obolensky.” Many in Putin’s Russia wish to return to the country’s role as the Third Rome. Whether or not “Empire” in this sense is a good thing may be debated, but certainly millions around the globe have thought so.
But essential as knowledge of all this is to understanding Western history and even current events, it is obvious that this definition of “Empire” is irrelevant to the United States. Other than Norton I, the United States have never had a resident Emperor, for all that various presidents have been accused of hankering for the job.
This leaves the other version, in the sense of a colonial empire, a concept which (despite such ventures as the Venetian territories in Greece) essentially owes its origins to the 16th and 17th centuries, when France, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden decided to burst the boundaries of Europe. Although all of these nations were initially Monarchies, and the figure of the Sovereign and his representatives was very important in maintaining colonial rule; several of these countries became republics and were quite capable of maintaining their Empires. It was a great question in the early 20th century as to whether the British Empire, which had such a myriad of institutions and peoples, should even be called an Empire, given its many differences from the Roman and those which preceded it. The author of the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article on “Empire” concluded that it should: “The British Empire is, in a sense, an aspiration rather than a reality, a thought rather than a fact; but, just for that reason, it is like the old Empire of which we have spoken; and though it be neither Roman nor Holy, yet it has, like its prototype, one law, if not the law of Rome—one faith, if not in matters of religion, at any rate in the field of political and social ideals.” Of course he was doubtless thinking of the already self-governing Dominions, like Canada. In most of the Empire, Imperial rule was quite direct at that time, and would be for some while—as the Mau-Mau would discover.
As we consider this issue, it is wise to remember that all of us are beneficiaries of colonialism. The United States have been such a successful colony that they have not only become independent, but actually dominate their former metropoles. Canadians and Australians who whine that their Monarchy is “colonial” and “foreign” should remember that so is every other aspect of their public life—Prime Ministers, Parliaments, Courts, churches, universities—all must be tarred with the same brush. For that matter, so are the majority of their population. True liberation from the colonial past can only occur in such countries when every one of their citizens of European descent emigrate to the Mother Continent, leaving aborigines or Indians to enjoy their new freedom in peace. A good example of what would happen, were this possible, is Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe, having decimated the agricultural sector of the economy, is now happily destroying the industrial. Considering the part they played in putting him in, the American and British governments, rather then condemning the man, should trumpet their achievement, or at least maintain a noble silence.
Before we ask ourselves if colonial imperialism is good or bad, we need to determine how it works. There are four ways to go about it:
1)The native population may be entirely destroyed, or at least much reduced, and replaced with settlers. This was done in most of North America, and Australia, New Zealand, and republican Argentina. Obviously, these have been the most successful colonies in terms of profits and development. The one downside is that genocide may lead to bouts of conscience on the part of one’s descendants, and that the settlers may lose any sense of gratitude to their original sponsors. A sort of self-delusional independence may occur.
2) Large numbers of settlers are brought in, essentially alongside still-viable native groups: this was the pattern in South Africa, Namibia, Algeria, Israel, Rhodesia, the Crusader States, and Kenya. While certainly more ethical, it nevertheless presents a problem: in order to keep the settlers secure in the face of hostile indigenes, continuing military support from the metropole is essential. Without it, the settlers will either be forced to leave or come under the political control of their former subjects.
3) Political and economic control is asserted, and raw materials are exploited for the benefit of the colonial power; but there is no major group of settlers sent. This was the pattern in most of Africa and Southeast Asia. The plus-side is that the metropole can feel good about itself, and save lots of money on settlers. The downside is the creation of a technocratic class, bereft of its own traditions and without whatever virtues its conquerors had. Should independence occur, this class will monopolize power and rule most irresponsibly. Ethnic cleansing and other annoyances can result.
4) Relatively few settlers are sent, but much time, money, and energy is spent on converting the locals to the religion and culture of the new rulers. This was the pattern with Rome, most of Latin America and the Philippines, the Portuguese enclaves in Asia, and those areas colonized by the French under the Ancien Regime. The plus side is that even after independence the colonized areas will still identify closely with the Mother Country. The downside is that after independence they will be little economic help, and may well clamor for economic and even military assistance.
5) The colonized country is ruled indirectly, through native institutions: foreign policy and defence are left up to the colonizer, who may exert sufficient strength to stamp out local customs it finds annoying. This pattern was used extensively in the Islamic World, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts of Latin America and Africa. Unless these native states are transferred to the control of technocrats in national governments established under pattern 4, this is usually the easiest and cheapest way of doing things, and provides the least mess after withdrawal.
Looking at colonialism in this manner, if it is not an outright good, once established it is at least better than anything that results from independence, with the exception of category 1 countries; however, while these may be politically independent they cannot ever really be so culturally, no matter how they may delude themselves.
Having said all of this, I think that we may answer the question of whether Empires in either sense are inherently evil; it seems obvious the answer is no—although of course any particular one may be started or maintained in an evil way, similar to all other regimes. Certainly, if one thinks of the security and welfare of the governed as a positive good, on the whole colonial regimes have much to be said for them, when compared to their successors.
Now we must look at whether acquisition of an Empire would be a violation of American principles. As a settlement colony that took its independence from the Mother Country by force, our knee-jerk reaction might well be “yes!” But this would be something of an oversimplification. One of the causes of the colonial elite’s discontents with George III was his reversal (due to the treaty of 1763 with Louis XV) of the traditional Indian policy of “kill “em or move “em out, and take their land.” This was epitomized by the Proclamation of 1763, which rendered Indian lands west of the Appalachians virtually sacrosanct—to these worthies this was almost as bad as the Quebec Act of 1774, which gave the French in Canada and the Old Northwest freedom for their religion and language. In return, when Quebec failed to join the revolution, it was invaded by the rebels; despite their initial success, they were chased back over the border.
From the moment of independence in 1783, America’s leaders—at least of the Jeffersonian variety—were looking to expand over the frontiers. Many held that Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was unconstitutional. Whether or not it was, his successor, James Madison (principal author of that document), was even more of an expansionist than Jefferson, and immediately began angling to annex both Spanish Florida and Canada, with the help of the congressional faction dubbed “the War Hawks.” While, despite some missteps, the former attempt was successful, the latter led to the disastrous War of 1812. Nevertheless, by 1819 and the purchase of East Florida from Spain, the course of “Manifest Destiny” was set. The Oregon Treaty and the Texas and Mexican Wars expelled Britain and Mexico from the remainder of what became the 48 States, and subsequent Indian conflicts eliminated the original inhabitants of these territories as political factors.
While Jefferson and Madison (to say nothing of their successors) certainly believed in American colonialism, others took Mr. Buchanan’s view—and that, early on. If one visits the New York Historical Society Museum, he will see Thomas Cole’s monumental five piece series of paintings, The Course of Empire. Conceived by the artist in 1833, it was seen as an allegory of the inevitable course of growth and decay that imperial civilizations will take.
Such thoughtful voices were relatively few, however, and most writers of the day, such as Washington Irving, praised America’s expansion. But, in 1867, when our first acquisition overseas (Alaska) was purchased, voices in protest were numerous, if unsuccessful. The 1890s saw the United States explode upon the World scene, as we gobbled up Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines via the Spanish-American War, Hawaii via chicanery, and American Samoa through international agreement. World War I brought us no gain (though we did buy the Virgin Islands from Denmark), but World War II did net us Micronesia—though we gave independence to the Philippines in 1946. These adventures and the rise of Communism gave us reason or pretext to line the World with our bases and client states, a state of affairs much bemoaned by Mr. Buchanan.
Lest anyone think, however, that the latter development was purely a result of the World Wars, remember that ever since President Monroe sent Joel Poinsett to Mexico, successive American administrations did their best to dominate our neighbors to the South. At one time or another, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Panama have all been occupied by American forces. Our relationship with Mexico has ever been characterized by intervention, and the murder of Ecuador’s sterling president Garcia Moreno was planned in the U.S. embassy in Quito.
Latin America aside, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the American intervene to a greater or lesser degree in Japan, China, Morocco, Korea, and on and on. One of Jefferson’s most notable actions was his dispatch of a small party of Marines to Tripoli in North Africa, immortalized in the Marine Hymn (that song’s pre-World War I assertion that “we have fought in every clime and place” is no mere metaphor).
Now, I will not argue that the actions in this long catalogue were right or wrong; it were better to examine each case on its own merits. But what I will assert is that, from before its inception, this nation has striven to be an imperial power, its ability to do so limited not by ideology but by its means. As they have grown, so have America’s imperial aspirations: but this is growth, not change. In a word, the role in which we are currently cast is not inherently a betrayal of American principles.
Having said that, the next question is, how can we best achieve that role? Well, our task is somewhat simplified by the fact that, of the types of colonization earlier mentioned, we no longer aspire to the first four. Being the result of the first, we would be ashamed to commit the necessary genocide today. Although we bankroll the second sort in Israel (as we did once in Liberia, albeit with another of our exported minority groups), it is highly unlikely that we shall attempt this again; after all, we were keen in ending it in Algeria and Rhodesia (and suitably indifferent to the fate of the 1,000,000 French and 250,000 pro-French Arabs forced to emigrate thereby). The third manner has never interested us. We have had limited success with the fourth, however. In the Philippines, although we were able to de-Hispanicize the country, we could not de-Catholicize it (despite the attempts of Governor-General Taft to endow a schismatic church with all the Church’s properties); Puerto Rico and Hawaii also maintain something of an alien identity. But it is the fifth mode of colonialism, indirect rule, which we are trying to pursue.
As mentioned, this is the simplest and cheapest method of running other nations. Moreover, it is one with which American policy-makers are not unfamiliar. In Latin America it has been done in various places with some success since the late 19th century. But perhaps the most successful American efforts in this regard concern West Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy, the French Fourth Republic, and the Benelux countries from the end of World War II to the mid-60s (save in France, where our influence dwindled with the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958). In every case, local politicians who conformed to American values were placed at the top. In the case of Germany and Japan, of course, this was because of their status as defeated combatants; for the remainder, it was due to being dependent (and devastated) allies. In each case, potentially anti-American rightist elements were removed from influence either because of their role in or alliance with the Axis; having been destroyed by the Axis (as with Stauffenberg and his friends, or elements of the French and Polish Conservatives); or else their connection with failed attempts to hold on to their own colonial empires in the post-war world. Left-wing anti-American groups were discredited through possible association with Communism until the mid-60s. In any case, the post-War European Christian Democrats and Japanese Liberal Democrats were far more “American,” politically, than they are generally given credit for.
This heritage has continued to a great degree in Western Europe, although the fact that many modern European politicos are professedly anti-American does not detract from the reality that they are often our most slavish imitators in many respects. Former premiers Jospin of France, Verhofstadt of Belgium, Schroeder of Germany, Blair of Great Britain, and the still kicking Zapatero of Spain, regardless of their views of U.S. policy, were forthright in their aping of American religious, educational, social, and cultural policies, and their attempts to alter their countries in a more American mode.
But this success, both in Latin America and in Europe (Japan and Korea were special cases, the former to be examined a little bit more closely momentarily) was in large part because both the Colonial Power and its client states were closely related. Possessing similar basic values to the United States, Western Europe and Latin America were far more amenable to alteration than more foreign models would be. Japan was quite different; but in this lone exception, the Americans maintained the institution of the Emperor, and used the people’s unquestioning allegiance to it to transform Japanese society radically.
This latter occurrence has really been the most successful American effort at indirect rule of an entirely foreign culture through its own institutions. It is a useful example because most of the areas of the world the American leadership wish to dominate are as alien to us culturally as are the Japanese. At the same time, however, it is an almost perfect parallel to the methods used so successfully by the British in India and elsewhere; the French in Indo-China, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the Spanish in Indian America. If we are to be a successful empire, this ability to rule subject populations through their own institutions is crucial. As the world now stands, it is the only way our leadership can reign safely and peacefully (eventually) over their subjects.
Which brings us to the last question: are we suited to doing this, as a people? Let us remember that the key to successful indirect rule over an alien people is the ability to allow their own institutions to function according to their own methods while serving your ends. This requires, therefore, a certain tolerance toward political and religious arrangements that one might find odious if one had to live under them. So it was that the Maharajahs of India, the Sultans of the Dutch East Indies, the Emperor of Annam, and many other such folk continued to rule their peoples, albeit under the watchful eye of colonial residents and commissioners. Oh, to be sure, things like suttee might be prohibited; but by and large, life went on as it had—uneven, backward, inefficient, superstitious, and even corrupt. But so long as the native ruler met his obligations to the colonial power, he was secure.
Now, the United States have taken on three Near Eastern clients: Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The first in once sense was the easiest: its endless civil war had wakened a thirst for peace and cooperation in its people; its large Christian population and Europeanized culture predisposed it toward America and the West (as did the huge Lebanese-American population); and the United States were willing to accept its governmental structure as is, despite that structure being sectarian-based. Thus, with the Cedar Revolution of 2005, Lebanon shook off Syrian influence and stepped into the American camp. All of this collapsed, however, with the July War of 2006.
In that conflict, our more closely tied State of Israel, deciding, in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers, to destroy their Hezbollah foes at one blow, bombed and invaded Lebanon. While they succeeded in neither rescuing the soldiers nor smashing their foes, the IDF did manage to shatter Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and destroy most of the progress achieved since the Civil War. Worst of all, from our point of view, is that American silence in the face of this gave the Lebanese the impression that being a client of the United States does one little good. The war also dealt a rather devastating blow to the IDF’s prestige, essential in maintaining the myth of invincibility colonial armies require.
But it is in Iraq and Afghanistan that our essential flaw as indirect colonialists was exposed. As observed earlier, to indirectly rule a very alien population, it is necessary to do so through their own institutions, however repugnant they may be to the colonial power in themselves. Thus, while redesigning Japan, General MacArthur was even able to legalize abortion in the 1949 law code, promulgating it with the Emperor’s authority. But this was a unique experiment in American history. There is a messianic element in the national psyche. As we have become ever more secular, the desire to spread Christianity to the heathen has been progressively replaced with a need to make them “democratic.” In that sense, we have become less like the Empire builders of the 19th century, and—in this respect—more like the Caliphate of 7th century (though in time later Caliphs and Sultans would figure out the usefulness of indirect rule). Whatever was non-Islamic was simply evil, as that which is non-democratic appears to us. Moreover, we cite the example of Germany as proof that it can be done—forgetting that they were already close to us in culture, and that were a number of Germans who wanted for their country what we wanted. We are no longer flexible enough to use MacArthur’s Japan as a model.
So it was that instead of using local faction and apparatus to guide our new subjects in Iraq and Lebanon, we dismantled the Iraqi State (while refusing to countenance restoration of the country’s monarchical constitution of 1925—historically, its only legitimate, non-violent regime), and dismissed the Afghan King as he was on the verge of being restored. Worse still, in the latter case, this dismissal was done by an American envoy very publicly, thus delivering the Barzai regime a blow to its legitimacy from which it may never recover.
Further complicating events in Iraq is the fact that the only organized group that wanted a secular, unified, Iraq as we did was the Ba”ath Party. Rather than attempting to use its least objectionable parts, we tried to treat it as we did the Nazis in 1945-50. Moreover the secularism of our leadership makes it difficult for them to understand our foes or to make use of their internal divisions. The Crusaders could understand Saladin, for they were as willing to die for their faith as he was for his. But this is a mindset entirely foreign to the rulership of America. Moreover, a lack of care and understanding in this area makes it difficult for us to exploit the rift between the Sunni el Qaeda and the Shiites, or between the pro- and anti-Iranian Shiites. These are precisely the areas where colonial powers of the past would have shone, and we do not. We lack either the finesse or the empathy for the role. The attempt to remake the Near East, and the World as a whole, into peace-loving democratic states, is a chimera that has coast us dearly and will cost us more.
So, to answer the questions posed earlier:
1) Empires are not invariably evil, ala Star Wars
2) the acquisition of an Empire is not an inherent betrayal of American principles
3) the ability to rule a people through its own institutions is required to make a go of the imperial game; and
4) we, as a people, are not suited to the job.
I believe that, the latter being true, our attempt at conversion to democracy through force is doomed. Unless the leadership adopt a more realistic technique, our efforts there will fail. The most tangible result of this will be the likelihood that Israel will one day follow in the path of French Algeria and Rhodesia. One would much prefer a peaceful evacuation of the Israeli population to the United States rather than a bloodbath; but a far happier solution would be a policy that recognizes current realities, and manipulates them for the ultimate benefit of all concerned. That was ever the goal of “enlightened” imperialism, and it should be ours.
Charles A. Coulombe is a papal knight and freelance writer residing in Los Angeles.
Check out the collapse of the latest attempt to smear the principled, honorable, and honest Ron Paul—the only conservative in the presidential race. Kudos to Justin Raimondo and Lew Rockwell and the thousands of “pesky” Ron Paul supporters who Fisked Virginia Heffernan’s sophomoric blog smear (which now runs complete with retraction). For fun, read the torrent of finely written comments in the Times’ forum, holding Heffernan’s pedicured feet to the fire.
Now it’s time for the NY Times to do its professional duty—and fire the hack who tried to torpedo a presidential candidate with a sloppy story that wouldn’t have made the grade at the Yale Daily News, or even the LSU Reveille. Heffernan doesn’t belong at the “newspaper of record.” I’m sure they can find a spot for her on the network of papal knight Rupert Murdoch….
Address any comments you’d like to share with the Times to their ombudsman, Clark Hoyt: (212) 556-7652.
P.S. For more reactions to the smear check out Technorati.com.