Dream of Empires|
Dominic Campbell considers the nature of Empires and Imperialism
AN EMPIRE, the Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells us, is "supreme and absolute political dominion" and figuratively "absolute sway, supreme control". When we try to control something we usually try to obtain total control, over our limbs for example, over our faculties. The effects of taking drugs or alcohol are habitually described as "losing control", likewise the effects of losing one's temper or falling in love: "I lost control". In business, "control" is a key word: controlling production, the money supply, the market, wages, prices etc. What is out of control is dangerous. Literally and figuratively there is nothing of the democratic about an empire: control implies leadership and absolute dominion implies someone or something to be absolutely dominated. Twice the word absolute in a definition: the empire is uncompromising: it is non-sharing, a monopoly. But when is the "absolute" achieved? There are always new lands to be conquered, new markets to be won. An empire is fuelled by ambition. Without ambition it shrinks and decays. Its ambition may be romantic and idealistic or materialistic and greedy. It may well be all of these. An empire is an achievement (ambition fuflilled) and purpose (ambition to be fulfilled). To realise the dream, fulfil the ambition to build an empire, I need a technique and I need technics. I may will myself to sail across the Ocean but I need the technics to build the ships to do it or else I am only day dreaming. Equally I may have the ships but not the ambition. An Empire is realised through the combination of will and technics. If one of these is lacking there can be no empire. Technics themselves are applied will. We can express it more poetically: an empire begins as a realised ambition to control reality.
Dream and reality, empire is also a dream of reality. The imperial enterprise is simultaneously romantic and pragmatic to the core, a boundless longing for glory and hard-nosed business sense, a quest for fame and a search for profits. The forgers of empires are pirates and priests, buccaneers and businessmen, idealists and men with no ideals at all, explorers and exploiters, reckless adventurers and anxious men of property investing for their old age. An empire proclaims itself altruistic: it intervenes on the side of the weak, it launches crusades against "heathens", "pirates", "infidels", "the uncivilized", "the barbarians" in the name of "God", "civilization", "progress", "democracy", "the born-to-rule", "the true faith", "the civilized world". Altruistic in name an empire is self-seeking in its ambition, claiming all power for itself and tolerating no economic or political rights independent of its own laws. It enforces altruism at the point of a sword and it puts a stop to "barbarian practices" through the exercise of exemplary terror and the power which comes from more effecient military or technical logistics. An empire is mother, monitor, policeman, creator of laws and guardian of order, arbitrator and moral guardian; but also looter, rapist, humilator, alienator and exposer, a giant whose dark shadow falls on the threshold of the vulnerable, a robber and a dispoiler of the wealth of others. To its enemies outside its borders an empire is a threat when strong and a temptation when weak, a source of anxiety or of provocation; to its enemies within its borders it is a condescending force, hypocritical, deadening, exploitive, monopolistic, parasitical, impious, oppressive, the denier of rights, whether individual, national or natural; but for its friends it is the bringer of light, the bearer of superior culture and of progress, the liberator from savagery, the tamer of the wilderness, the hygenist, the buildier and the law giver, the destroyer of disease and ignorance, the settler, the peace giver, the rationalist, the cleanser, the torch-bearer of civilization.
Empires have a Janus-like character. Common to every empire and every kind of empire is the claim to represent an order with universal validity. An empire sets itself no limits; its frontiers (one seldom talks of its borders) exist in a state of tension with the non-conquered lands without. Either the frontiers are due to advance or they feel threatened from the little known, "non-civilized" world without, the world of the hunter and gatherer, the world of the lawless savage, in a word, the barbarian. The world where the imperial insignia does not hold sway is viewed as the pre-civilized chaos, and the empire builds walls and dikes to keep the half-human, the barbarian, out. Nationalism it regards as ochlocracy. In Die Hermannschlacht by the German Romantic dramatist Christian Dietrich Grabbe, an incident in the first scene illustrates the contrast well. The Roman commander Varus has been invited by Thusnelda, Hermann's queen, to join her and her subjects at dinner:
VARUS With the servants?
THUSNELDA Is that not where I am sitting? My servants honour me and I honour them in return. So do lords and servants balance each other.
VARUS Ethnic, moral but not Italian.
The nation is firstly the people and the land, the empire is firstly the idea and the power. National hierachies seek their legitimacy from the people, from the earth; imperial hierachies seek their legitimacy from the gods, from the sky. Nationalism is a female political principle, imperialism a masculine one. The empire is in a permanent state of confrontation with what it does not control. The very word frontier suggests the front line, a confrontation with the yet unconquered world.
However well maintained a peace, the existence of frontiers is a reminder of never absent political tension. An empire aspires to total control and the existence of the frontier reminds it that total control is lacking. An empire is propelled by the dynamics of growth. When an empire stops growing it is in danger of decaying, for to make good its claim to be universal it must continue to press forward until the whole known world and even more than the known world falls under its dominion. Therefore the boundaries of an empire are not fixed as a nation's are. They may be defined by geography in fact but never in theory: an ocean or a mountain range does not define the limits of an empire, it imposes them. Mosche Dayan's comment that Israel's frontier is wherever her power reaches was an exemplary affirmation of imperialist power. Empires have in common with clans and mafias a reluctance to admit to a natural order above their own power, with the difference that the power which an empire seeks is total, exclusive. A sect may grow within an empire and finally transform it into something new but in its own image. Christendom is a case in point. The internationalist "West" which is replacing the European nations is another.
On the pragmatic or realistic side, an empire takes shape in the course of a great national, tribal or religious quest for security or acquisition of wealth. Control of ports, strips of coastland, trading monopolies, control of sea routes, mountain-ways or channels, controlling share of a company or business, these are all attempts to exclude competition from a given domain in order to ensure maximalisation of return for time and money invested. In other words the imperial quest is a striving for a monopoly, a monopoly of rights, of possession, of power. Imperial sway may be defined as being where this monopoly is effective. Here empires often face a dilemma: on the one hand they are reaching out beyond their own frontiers in the perpeptual quest for new wealth, under the relentless force of their own growth. On the other hand monopolies naturally tend to exclude others, to shut themselves off. Consequently it is common for empires to preach protection for the home market and free-trade for the rest of the world, economically as well as politically to be conservative at home and liberal abroad. But in all empires there is always a conflict of opinion and interests over the subject of "open" or sealed" borders. Most empires become increasingly porous during their lives. An insatiable demand for greater luxuries obtained for less expense sends them looting around the world. The dislocated home populations change from being producers to consumers: everyone wants to belong to the empire but noone wants to pay the price.
Some Empires in the past were able to close themselves off from a barbarian world which they considered untameable or not worth civilizing: such were the Chinese and Aztec empires. They establish a non-growth economy in which the imperial will to grow has become stunted. Ambition has fled. Here the economic system, founded on armies of anonymous peasants and slaves respectively, achieved a kind of timelessness where no notion of progress existed. But still myths persisted of the outside world and of a past when the empire began. Ignorance is a source of weakness as well as bliss and events proved both empires extremely vulnerable to outside pressure. The Aztec Empire was so top heavy as to be easily toppled by a handful of direspectful desperadoes who defeated its leadership. The Celestial Empire of China was not able to resist the force of British commercial interests. The decision by the Emperor Tao-kuang to strengthen the anti-opium laws in the early nineteenth century set the Celestial Empire on collision course with them. The Chinese were soundly defeated and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 forced the Chinese to revise their restrictions on the opium traffic. The official cause for which Britain had been fighting in the Opium war was, as T.B. Macauley, secretary of state for war, declared in the House of Commons, the protection of the safety of English subjects. For any empire, the protection of the liberties of its subjects abroad and the protection of their commercial interests and therefore of the empire itself are the same thing. In fact the military history of an empire begins with a government deciding to protect its merchants or settlers from harassment or to clear a monopoloy for them. The bottom line is commerce.
Hobbes among others made the comparison of a kingdom to a body. The comparison works for an empire too, excepting only that a body has natural limits and an empire does not. There are certain vital organs to the body and certain useful but expendable ones. A living organism operates a cooperative system of cells for the acquisition of wealth. An empire does no differently. All must contribute to the whole. Competition within the body is wasteful and the body's mechanism seeks to extirpate it. An empire always seeks a monopoly, in fact many empires begin as a quest by a small nation or city state to impose and extend trading monopolies. The first concern of an empire is the successful imposition and maintenance of a universal will emenating from a centre for the purpose of obtaining a given monopoly or monopolies. Empires establish codes, laws, bureaucracies. Their universal laws and taxes, administered by their bureaucracies, constitute from the imperial standpoint "the framework of civilization". Separate identities are tolerated within such a framework but not independent ones.
The material interests of an empire do not necessarily include the material interests of all the subjects of an empire, indeed they seldom do. One of the major paradoxes of empire is that in the course of its growth it increases the number of subjects, who, from the nature of the operation undertaken (the enrichment of the imperialists), have more to lose than to gain materially form an imperial strategy. These fall broadly into two categories: the economic losers at home and the economic losers abroad. The losers at home are the former citizens or natives of what was once a nation or city state, free farmers, craftsmen, small producers and artisans who in former times produced and supplied for the home market. They are impoverished by the increased competition from foreign labour/slaves and the lowering price of their products (because of the increase in supply of products). The few adapt successfully to new circumstances and become commercial or industrial magnates, the many sink to wage bondage. The economic losers abroad are the natives of the conquered lands in so far as they lose their land or their rights to it, and have probably their religion and certainly their culture curtailed or even destroyed, by their new masters. While apologists of empire underplay the deprivations of the first kind of losers, hostile critics of empire exaggerate the material losses of the second kind. When peoples are conquered by an empire it is normally in large part precisely because such peoples are economically more vulnerable ("backward") and seen to be so: the temptation to imperial conquest arises when scouts, traders or explorers discover a land whose potential wealth is not reflected in a concomitant strength or will on the part of its natives to exploit and/or defend it. That is to say, relative economic backwardness is not the result of imperialist exploitation but an invitation to it, hence the claims by tribal peoples for "land rights" and economic equality must for an imperialist seem hypocritical, since the tribal identity and rights which such peoples claim relate to a state of economic backwardness which they equally reject. In short, they want to have their cake and eat it. The nationalist response to this is that all peoples have a right to be different. But the imperialist does not recognize or even understand such a right, it contradicts the essence of what empire is all about. The nationalist bases territorial rights on jus sanguinis and the imperialist on jus solis. The difference is profound.
Empires are seldom planned. More often they grow out of a reaction to circumstances. Their greatness is often "thrust upon them". The British Empire began as a commercial enterprise by a few companies and swashbucklers whose adventures were usually financially underwritten by speculators, notably the monarch. Its growth was largely a matter of chance acquisition- the Bermudas for instance became British as a result of a shipwreck, an "accidental colony" Sir Thomas Gates called them, and there were many others. Far from consciously seeking to conquer the world, the British government voluntarily abandoned West Africa to the defeated French in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The British government took over responsibility for India from the East India Company in 1784 only thanks to the efforts and machinations of determined imperialists like Warren Hastings. Singapore, according to that typically imperialistic figure Thomas Stanford Raffles, founder of London Zoological Gardens (themselves an appropriate sign of imperial curiosity, collecting instinct and universalism) was "acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness". Similarly, the history of Roman expansion is that of a city state being dragged into neighbours' quarrels, (Caesar's Gallic campaigns began as a defensive measure against the Helvetic tribes, even the invasion of the "Tin Islands" was a response to British help to the Belgae). The Carthaginian Empire was a trading empire defended by an armed fleet, the American Empire was acquired by purchase and fraud, the gun being used to blast away those Indians who had neglected to read the small print of legal documents. An Empire may grow out of fear of being shut in and excluded from access to raw materials- Imperial Japan comes to mind. The "Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" was a stark example of how imperial militaristic interests are driven by economic necessity. By 1941 Japan had no choice other than between expansion or decline in living standards. But expansion may be "peaceful" instead of militaristic. Since the war Japan has pursued the same end by non-military means, to establish a co-prosperity sphere in Asia and increase living standards in it generally at the expense of European and American ones. Japan's imperial strategy is now commerical/financial.
Even where an empire expands through military conquest, this conquest may well be a reaction to being boxed in (eg Japan, Germany) or as a result of defending important colonial outposts. For example, Clive's victory at Madras in 1751, which marked the beginning of the history of India as a British colony, was a defensive victory: the withstanding of a siege. Much of the rest of the conquest of India was the response to an appeal for assistance from Indian princes to the tiny force of British. But it is also true that a response to an appeal for assistance is a time honoured pretext for an Empire to advance under the banner of altruism. Helping a weak ally was the standard pretext for the Roman invasion of new lands, more recently for British, Japanese, Russian and American interventions. (My friends call it "intervention" my enemies call it "invasion".) British and Russian imperial armies acted in defensive wars against Afghan "barbarians" but total victory against the Afghans, never achieved, would have resulted in Afghansitan being absorbed into the empire it was fighting. Imperial expansion results from "defensive" measures which retrospectively may look extremely agressive, especially to the victims. Hitler's attack on Poland was announced by the statement "as from 4.45 am today our troops have been shooting back". The urge to justify its actions is typical of empires. A mere nation claims its rights as a matter of blood and soil. Pirates and wandering tribes do not think of justifying anything. But an empire, whose bounds are never permanently fixed unless it be on the ever retreating horizon, seeks to justify its actions to world opinion and to posterity. A political empire claims to be the high point, even the embodiment, of hitherto existing human civilization and often an attempt to restore an idylic byegone civilization. While discovery and devestation, exploration and exploitation, cruelty and conquest in the early days are matters of heroism or banditry by individuals, later, when an empire whose flag the heroes or bandits raised, claims its prerogative to rule, it does so in the name of a universal order which is above the interests of mere individuals. In other words, an empire, while originating in and based on pragmatic self-interests of individuals, claims the inspiration of a spiritual mission and with success comes confidence that faith in the spiritual mission is valid. What is the historical, providential plan, which elected the empire to be the ruler of men, which makes the imperial order the nearest to human perfection? That is the question the empire must answer, for empires, unlike nations, seek to explain the order of the world in such a way that their own imperial order may be seen as a reflection of cosmic order. Nations are ethnic or they are not nations. Empires are in the broadest sense religious or they are not empires.
After the battle is all over bar the shouting, the lawyers arrive. The rights of the empire are carved in stone, and like everything else, codified. So it was with Babylon, Rome, China, the Empire of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, the European colonial Empires, and so it is with the Empire of the West today. But as the imperial way of doing things establishes itself as the normal way of doing things, as indeed the two seem for the great majority of subjects indistinguishable, so does it seem with hindsight as though imperial triumph was pre-ordained and the legal code not the impostion of the will of a conqueror but the reflection of divine or cosmic justice. Imperial law decks itself out as the eternal law of nature and of civilization. Other systems are "tribal" and "superstitious". Imperial power is the fulfilment of destiny. Superior technics becomes superiority tout court. What seemed like chance is now providence in the imperial world.
The fulfilment of destiny is explained in myth. Apologists for empire provide it with legitimization with a mythical account of origins, myth in this case being neither invented nor historically verifiable, but a symbolic truth. The myth provides historical legitimacy and continuity: the empire traces its origins as well as its future into the distant reaches of time. It claims to bring universal peace and the end of history. Usually it is both a breaking out and a return. Virgil's Aenead linked Roman destiny to that of the resurrected Ilyium. Imperial myths stress origins which go back before recorded history: the Tan, the Trojans before Rome, Britannia, Jahweh's chosen people, the Aryan root race. Empires arose with the earliest human conception of the existence of time. The most primitive hominids, the Australian negroes, the only people in the world not to have worked out for themselves how biological reproduction works, had no notion of historical time and are the only members of our species never to have formed empires, for which a concept of time is essential.
An empire often understands itself as resurrection. When Pope Leo III placed the imperial crown on Charlemagne's head he was sanctifiying what was seen to be the rejuvenation of the Christian West, and the Christian West, with its seat in Rome, saw itself as a resurrection of the Imperium Romanum. Much of European power politics since Constantine has been a struggle over the Roman inheritance; it is no coincidence that the founding treaty of the Common Market was signed in Rome. Two thousand years of European history have been haunted by dreams of recreating the Imperium romanum, which itself took most of its Gods and Godesses from Hellas. The American constitution harkened back to Rome, republican Rome in this case, Russian potentates too linked themselves to the history of the Eastern Roman Empire through the Orthodox Church and pan-Slavism. The pan-Slavic mythos, blessed by the Orthodox Church and later taken over by the Soviets: Russia as crusader for world peace, lies in the belief that it is Russia's mission to build the empire of the Fourth Rome, in defiance of Judaic, Muslim and Roman Catholic aberrations.
Empires are notorious plagiarists and borrowers, of myths, religions, customs, eating and drinking habits, architectural styles and laws, from the ruins of empires which have gone before them and from conquered peoples. Former empires are often examples or inspirations to them. Whatever may be said of the reality, the dream of the Roman Empire never left Europe and is still with us. The seat of Christendom is Rome and the language of the Catholic Church is Latin, not Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew. The imperial seal of Charlemagne bears the legend: Renovatio Romani Imperii. The Holy Roman Empire claimed its legitimacy through Charlemagne to Rome and in the early years the Empire enjoyed the blessing of the Pope. The famous coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III as "Emperor of all the Romans" and his demand for universal allegiance made in Aix-la-Chapelle two years later, along with a series of theocratic pronouncements in which sin and crime are indistinguishable, was a pivotal public event of the Middle Ages; according to James Bryce (The Holy Roman Empire, MacMillan London 1884), it placed the Roman imperial dream firmly at the centre of European history. It ensured that the dream of a universal European Imperium was not lost: Romuleum Francis praestetit imperium. (Elegy of Armoldus Nigellus).
But the national worm was already in Charlemagne's imperial apple and his empire did not endure: the Holy Roman Empire was never to rule over the Kingdom of France. When later monarchs-John of England, Philip le Bel of France, the German emperors Henry II and Friedrich Hohenstaufen, began to assert an esentially royal national prerogative (though in the case of German emperors this was complicated by their parallel imperial title and ambition), then Pope and monarch clashed. If God's was the Imperator coelestis and the Holy Father his vizeroy on earth, then temporal government should be represented by an Imperator terristris. The eighth century forgery known as the "Donation of Constantine" is an instance of the wish of the Papacy to be free of temporal interference while at the same time echoing the dream of that reborn Imperium romanum. The document alleged that Emperor Constantine, cured of leprosy by Pope Silvester, resolved to reallocate the new imperial capital to the Bosphorus, in order to leave the Popes with a free hand, so to speak, in Rome. In other words, Rome, the eternal city, would be the heart and Byzantium the head, of the Empire in whose sign Charlemagne had conquered, the Empire of Christ. The fall of Byzantium to the Turks in 1476 was therefore an event of deep psychological importance for Europe. Europe began to think of itself less as "Christendom" more as "the West" or simply in terms of "my country". Imperial ambitions beyond Europe were given a fillip, whilst in Europe itself the dream of the European Imperium gave way to national consolidation and separatism.
Royal prerogative, especially in matters of taxation and the election of the clergy, was asserted with greater insistence. Kingdoms and dukedoms came to replace the Imperium romanum, yet the European imperial ambition persisted. It continued within the Holy Roman Empire, with Wallenstein and his multi-confessional, "imperial", implictly anti- Hapsburg army, with Russia's ever recurring Messianic claims, with the rallying cries of Napoleon, Hitler and of course Mussolini. Mussolini's Fascisti in name, symbols and ambitions bathed in imperial nostalgia. Hitler's self-styled Third Reich recalled the existence of a Second and First Reich and the First, the Holy Roman Empire, itself evoked "the glory that was Rome". What was new in the case of fascism was not the nostalgic evocation of Rome but nostalgia for the pre- Christian empire, the empire of the Pagan Caesars, with which every fascist leader more or less consciously identifies himself. Had not Aurelian Restitur mundi as he was proclaimed on coins, instituted the cult of the unconquered sun? And the call to the pre-Christian empire was a call too to the mythical golden age in which the golden age was not the Christian Garden of Eden and pre-Lapsian man, but pre- Christian, unadulterated Aryan man. The Pagan Roman Emperor was not seen as a magistrate but as a descendent, or representative at least, of the Gods, a law unto himself, beholding to no other mortal, beholding only to divine Providence. Marxists idealised the future, fascists idealised the past, but whether past or future, the "new man" was behind and beyond "the revolution". This new man represented the new order of civilization in the making, the barbarian, that is to say the uncivilized, thrived in the present (dis)order of "chaos", "decrepitude", "injustice". Political ideologies are half-religion and half the politics of necessity, but fully imperial in most cases, materially in their struggle for land and resources, religiously in their struggle to convert.
A return to rule by Caesars which is what fascism wants, contains a danger unknown to past empires. In this century, with science having opened the way to control of the secret power at the sun's heart, (that power from knowledge of which scientists of Ancient Hellas are said to have voluntarily backed away, the key to the destruction of all life), the reassertion of imperial divinity is a very hazardous path to tread, especially when that assertion is made through the distorting lens of nationalism, as it was in the case of the fascist Risorgimenti. Ned turpe est quod dominibus iubet (Petronius: Cena Timalchionis). It was one thing for a Nero to massacre a few thousand or even tens of thousands, it is quite another for a new Emperor-God to dispose of weapons which can destroy everything and everyone. The rodomontade of Russia's would be dictator, Schirinowskij, illustrates the point.
Dream and reality, theory and action are interwoven.
Once established, the empire is the sworn enemy of the non-tax payer, the bandit, the swashbuckler, although just such people are imperial trail blazers. The British were relentless in their hunting down of Thugees, the Redskin could not be tolerated in the American empire, whose growth, like that of all empires, was the seizing of land and resources to accommodate a growing population. Those who stand in the way of imperial claims face slavery, deportation or death upon defeat. An empire may tolerate pre-imperial religions, customs even laws, but not claims by others to its property. Its property is its life.
Empires are notorious wasters. They do not cherish or nurture. The Romans stripped the Mediterranean of much of its woodland and its wildlife and certainly contributed to the advance of the desert in North Africa. The American trail blazer seems to have had no respect for the land he was conquering whatsoever other than as a piece of real estate. The British Isles were stripped of forests to build ships of the Imperial fleet. Neither Japan's military empire nor later its commercial empire has shown any concern for the husbandary of the natural resources of the Far East. The economic policies of the mini-empires of Indonesia and Brazil is indistinguishable from pillage. Imperialists are fanatical hunters too and spend a considerable part of their time and energy exterminating as much of the local fauna as they can. Wild animals as well do not belong to "civilization", unless they are stuffed, put in zoos, tamed and ordered. Imperialists like to give names to everything new they find and are meticulous about identifying what they see. Colonial imperialism in the previous two centuries was a time of codifying and labelling nature. The European hunter in the tropics was not infreqeuntly a keen insect collector or classifier of the grammar of native languages. The imperial world is the collector's world: from butterflies and beetles to stamps and coins, from hunting trophies to native artifacts.
Civilized man wants more than enough to survive and he wants more than just the "daily round". That is precisely what distinguishes him from the savage. He has the imagination and the will to conquer. In an empire's beginning was that ambition, that ambition to conquer and grow. Ambition is the "great man's madness". Without ambition there would be no history. Ambition is the word we give to a dream of power coupled with the will to bring the dream to earth, to make day dreams hard reality, imposing one's will on others. An expression of power, an empire is the supreme expression of life and death, destroying and creating, destroying and doomed in its turn to eventually perish. (The religions of the Book preach against this yet they too preach an empire, the eternal empire of God.) The imperial struggle is a struggle for power over the self and other selves and over the entire environment. But there are other selves expressing themselves in like manner. So the empire encounters resistance. Empires, posing a challenge to others, are themselves under constant threat from without and within. Frontiers which are set by trials of strength may as easily be shrunk by trials of strength. Where are the limits to an empire? A nation has geographical, linguistic, tribal, cultural and religious boundaries but an empire and the idea of the empire embraces all these. The limits of imperial rule are marked out as places where the forces of empire have been obliged for reasons which are tactical and practical, not natural, to cry halt. Of course, empires are constrained by geopolitical factors and may be hindered from expansion by natural barriers, an ocean, a range of mountains..but what imperialist (as opposed to nationalist) ever insisted that certain areas were by nature "out of bounds" because the empire "had no right" to them? The "rights of peoples" is a nationalist slogan raised against an empire; and a significant cause of political confusion in the last hundred years or so has been the extent to which the destiny of empire and nation have become intertwined, leading to the very mistaken belief that they are much the same thing.
Popular wisdom, not least Christian wisdom, treats power and the quest for power with deep suspicion. Who does not know Lord Acton's dictum, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely"? But life itself is unthinkable without power. Life is power. Political and commercial empires wield power over what is essential to survival: food, and essential to prosperity: trade, and essential to growth: space. Cerebrally and physically our bodies work "imperially". There are obvious natural limits to our mental and physical powers as individuals, but our minds have devised many ways of expanding these natural limits. In this sense Spengler in Mensch und Technik defined technical appliances as extensions to the human body. (Ernst Juenger went as far as to imply they were extensions of the human body).
Limits to imperial expansion are logistical, not theoretical. An empire implies permanent war although it often brings peace, war in the broadest sense of the term, war for control of resources, control of markets, trade war, psychological war, sex war, race war, population war, financial war, the war to win hearts and minds, war for the soul...The history of an empire is one of dramatic conflict. It does not grow without meeting resistance. It must be so, for "the end of conflict is the end of the universe" (Michael Spletzer) and if we accept Thomas Hobbes' axiom that "the world (the whole mass of things that are) is corporal, that is to say, body;..and that which is not body is no part of the universe," then an understanding of empire is a key to an understanding of the universe. True, the more we are religious the more we may wish to reject this as atheistic, but even the religious ontology renders a historical account of our species which draws deeply on comparison with and reference to, very material conflicts. The religious rejection of conflict, notably in Buddhism, is a rejection of individual human existence, that is to say, life as we know it, which is tantamount to accepting Hobbes' axiom and drawing a different conclusion. The other challenge to history as history of conflict, notably in the writings of Marx and recently in Fukuyama, has rested on the argument that a given type of social organization will work so harmoniously, be so perfect, that mass conflict and certainly the conflicts of empires will be abolished, this perfect universal and just civilization brings with it "the end of history": but this is exactly what all imperialists preach. Noone is ever more passionate in predicting or proclaiming the end of history than an imperialist. It is disarming to be told by your imperialist enemy that you are "historically condemned" but nothing is historically condemned in itself since all is a matter of the will to achieve and use power.
"The true essence of life is unknown; it can only be studied through the phenomena it manifests" wrote the French biologist Francois Bichat. Early scientists like von Humboldt, Bichat and Stahl understood this as the fight against decomposition. The body is in a state of permanent vigilance. When life departs the body, the forces of decomposition take over completely, soon make the body unrecognizable and finally liquify it, unless the bones or even the entire corpse be preserved as a shell of that former "kingdom of the body". Without the key powers of appropriation, transformation, conversion, reproduction and defence, a body falls apart. The empire is like a body which wants to be immortal. It refuses the limit of space which is imposed upon the nation/body. Its success in the present is a matter of material power and superior technics. It was superior military technics which enabled Alexander to conquer Persia (the phalanx), whites to conquer America (the revolver) and Africa (the rifle), the Romans to conquer Carthage and Hellas (the legion).
But if the conquest is any way organized, as it will have to be if it is to be more than a raid, then it is done not just in the name of oneself (doing the conquering) but in the name of something greater than oneself: the King, the Motherland, Christianity, Civilization. The empire is at once embarking on conquest and crusade but the notion of crusade contains that of saving and not only destroying. The empire believes in duty, in a mission to save, hence the often remarkable alternations in the history of empires between extreme ruthlessness and extreme compassion, the ruthless exploitation of labour and destruction of economic independence on the one hand and on the other the energetic efforts to save the souls of the newly conquered from superstition and disease, or to protect them from other conquerers and shield them from injustice. The imposition of law and order is indeed a key to imperial popularity, hence imperial success, for empires are associated with the maintenance of peace: from the Pax Romana to Soviet anti-war propaganda to the New World Order, the imperial hegemony, a monopoly of power is often welcomed as the establishment of peace. Empires promise peace and exploit the fear of war. They take advantage of others' divisions to "mediate" between warring states. The tactics of the British in India was to play one warring prince off against another. Philip of Macedonia was welcomed by the Greeks because he brought an end to their quarrelling. Pax romanum, pax britannica, "Stalin is peace", "I bring you peace, my peace I bring you." While Johnny Turk sat astride the Near East, Arabs and Jews had no choice but to live at peace with one another. The British in India kept Muslim and Hindu apart, likewise Tito kept Serb and Croat apart, the Croatian dictator of the mini-empire of Yugoslavia. The New World Order calls its army a "peace keeping force". Imperial troops often have to play the role of political policemen, protecting lives and property from "outbreaks of tribal hysteria".
At the same time as providing a homogeneous economic sphere or system, with a strong bias in favour of the "home market", an empire will provide the religious stimulus and aura of prestige and pride without which any philosophy of life is vain and hectic, an energetic outburst of acquisitiveness and hunger "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Indeed, one of the major complexities in understanding the nature of any empire is grasping the inter-relationship within it of material self-interest and its religiously defined, altruistic view of itself and its mission. All empires understand themselves to be missions endowed by fate or the gods or God to build civilization out of chaos and to defend its subjects and their way of life from the darkness of those who live beyond, in the lands where the half-men live, the savages, the non-civilized, the barbarians. When an Empire loses prestige or cannot quickly demonstrate its ability to enforce order, long buried but not forgotten demands for freedom resurface. Empires are very sensitive about etiquette and the respect owing to their officers, their flag, their symbols. An empire is a procedure, which once successfully flaunted or turned over, can never be restored to full strength because its strength lies not in numbers but in prestige, hence the imperial admonition "not to let the side down".
Empires rely on an elite and their educational system grows around the exclusiveness of a small caste chosen to lead the empire. The British Public School was the training ground for the rulers of the "Empire upon which the Sun never set". Himmler's S.S., modelled in large part on the Society of Jesus, whose members Saint Ignatius of Loyala conceived as being the vanguards of the Empire of Christ, belongs to the same imperial, not national, tradition. But the refusal of the Dritte Reich (Third Empire) to treat gypsies and Jews as citizens with full citizens' rights was nationalist in inspiration, not imperialist. The typically nationalistic hostility towards what was seen as a parasitical element in society was not tempered by the pragmatic tendency of an empire to profit and learn from foreigners. National- socialist ideology lies uneasily between nationalism (its populism) and imperialism (its universalist pretensions). Empires are usually open to new experiences, new ways of understanding the world, they are flexible. The German Reich preached a new racialist religion which extolled the virtues of the blood and soil of the Heimat yet planned imperial conquest (admittedly as it had to, given its acute need for living space). Hitler's aim was to combine the organic communalism of nationhood with the universalism of an imperial vision. His national- socialist race religion of Aryan supremecy taught that cosmopolitanism was mortal sin, and exploited fully the tribal distrust of the street hawker, the errant, the stranger, the man of no fixed abode or dubious profession (on such people by contrast, the empire thrives, indeed they are the creators of empires); at the same time it appealed to providence, to science, to laws of nature, to the absolute, to an objective view of the universe in a way which is alien to nationalism. The extreme nationalist veneration of all things German in the early years of the Third Reich sat uneasily with later imperialist appeals for a "crusade against Bolshevism". Crusades are never nationalistic, always imperial-religious and the SS appeal by 1944, "no more brothers' wars", was incompatible with the German national chauvinism of the thirties.
National loyalties were also evoked by the Allies to destroy Hitler's Thousand Year Empire. The defence of an empire, whether British or German, has little mass appeal, unlike the defence of a nation, especially to women, who can be wildly enthusiastic patriots, but rarely show enthusiasm for imperial adventure. The war propaganda of all protagonists in the last world war was well aware of this and harped on a sentimental patriotism in order to stiffen morale, although the leadership of all sides was consciously striving for much more than "national defence". In fact it can be said that the common soldier on all sides in the Second World War thought he was dying for his country when in fact he was dying for an imperial idea of which in most cases he had little knowledge and less understanding. The short-lived Third Reich was unique in its conscious plan to use the German nation as launching pad for a racially organized empire. But appeals to blood and soil are inward looking, imperial conquest is outward looking. The empire looks to the sky, the nation to the earth. Imperialism is a flight from the homeland, it is a repudiation of true nationalism. Fascist agitators tend to fall between two stools, at once claiming universal values and at the same time "national rights" unique to their own nation, expressing a lack of interest in what happens beyond their borders and yet reverting to a nostalgia for a glorious imperial past which could only have come to pass through interest in the wide world. Fascist movements are inwardly torn between their imperialist dreams and their practical attempts to create a national party promising what the masses have always wanted: order, peace, understanding with one's neighbours. This is why insisting on Germany's guilt in starting the war was so important to the victors of 1918 and 1945. To be responsible for a war is something the masses can only forgive if you win (in which case the official history will in any case deny that you caused it). The propaganda in 1918 was unsuccessful in Germany itself, largely because of the large numbers of former German soldiers who organized and agitated against it. In 1945, unlike the situation in 1918, the Allies were in Germany and the greater part of the defeated enemy in their hands. This enabled them to keep soldiers in camps for years without fuss, and the danger of soldiers coming home and loudly denying their leaders' exclusive responsibility was avoided. An inward looking provincial patriotism was encouraged in all three post-war German statelets, to erase the memory of empire.
"All this Empire building, why, the whole thing is tarnished with the spirit of the hunt for gold." (Sir John Morley). The history of an empire is the history to obtain or to keep wealth (the words in some languages, German for instance, are practically the same: Reich and Reichtum) and the quest for glory is closely allied to the quest for riches. Britain's only Jewish Prime Minister to date, Benjamin d'Israeli, was a much more committed imperialist than his Liberal rival Gladstone. Queen Victoria, whom he persuaded to accept the title Empress of India and tried unsuccessfully to persuade to move the royal seat of residence from Windsor to Dehli, saw the British Empire as a Christian duty, the taking up of the White Man's burden. The task of the British Empire was to "protect the poor natives and advance civilization" and the British set to it with a will. "All to be cut up by those vile Afghans. Wouldn't think there would be much competition, would you?" remarked Kipling's Dawson in Stalky and Co.. Competition there was. It is certainly remarkable to what extent the children of Albion and others were prepared to go to defend the honour of the flag, fight to keep a small stretch of land, struggle on to do their duty in forlorn outposts of the tropics, struggle to establish their idea of justice among peoples who were arguably not worth the sacrifice. But an Empire is not only duty it is also adventure.
To serve an empire means to escape the humdrum, to escape the restrictions, and in many cases the moral or religious codes of the motherland. Imperial service offers limitless possibilities of exploration and adventure. It is a safety valve for excess populations and for the ambitious. It is also an escape hatch for those whose lives are regarded at home as soiled by turpitude. As the paederast Michael Davidson observes, there was an "amused tolerance" among the British colonials in Malaya for his delight in the company of little boys which in Britain itself would have seen the very same people crying for his hide.
Remembrance of the dead, energy, boldness, the spirit of adventure, a willingness to take risks, heroism, endurance, ambition, loyalty and uprightness, a comparitive laxness in religious and moral matters coupled with rigid military discipline, these are the qualities which an empire needs to grow. When they are lost the empire itself is doomed. Calling on qualities which are more then man's than the woman's, the imperial world is a man's world in which a woman feels ill at ease. Women are by nature suspicious of empires and empire builders. Kipling believed that women could be terrible distractors from heroic tasks. Effeminacy in all its forms accompanies the decline of an Empire, when more and more people enjoy the wealth accruing from imperial might but fewer and fewer are prepared to take risks to keep or gain the sources of wealth. The love of riches remains unchanged but the will or ability to acquire them declines, or put more bluntly, the greed remains but the courage has gone.
The soldier replaces the buccaneer then the civil servant replaces the soldier then the politician replaces the civil servant, as the forger of the empire. But the politician has to listen to "his people" and their motto is "peace at any price so long as we can hang on to what others have won". The world of the empire at this stage is no longer a man's world. It is a world of speculation, extravagence, conniving, indulgence, exaggeration. The dreams it offers are no longer dreams of adventure but of the safe contemplation of adventure, of domestic bliss, exotisism, luxuries of every kind. In the latter days of empire, the power of the eunoch or the woman increases over the statesman and the soldier. It would be interesting to learn to what extent the pioneers and leaders of empires in their early days, the frontiermen and explorers, were of a sexuality strongly inimical to normal heterosexual monogomous relationships: one suspects a very high percentage indeed. The man who will conquer the world by flame and sword is fleeing from the rule of the distaff at home.
The early days of empire are the histories of heroic, half mythological men, figures who rose from the ranks like Napoleon or who came out of the desert like Mohammed. Clive was a clerk, Mohammed was a shepherd and camel driver, Hitler was a soldier among millions and a small time police spy, Khengis Khan was a nomad who worshiped the sky, Christ came literally out of the desert to found his empire, even Alexander the Great, a prince by birth, was born the prince of a relatively small state, hardly known in the lands of Asia Minor which he was to conquer. Empire builders like to mark the world with their name: Alexandria, Constantinople. Imperial place names are designations which reflect their worth to the conqueror and they are not demotic names, for they are not taken from the desgnation which is given by the people. Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, Ceylon, the Spice Islands: the names of colonies often indicate their original commercial attraction, or they are names after the men who discovered them or "filled them in" on the map: Rhodesia, Bermudas, Cook Islands, or after a local tribe or people: Togoland, Bechuanaland. Independent nations carved out of former empires frequently react by choosing names for themselves which evoke the "childhood" of their history, their "innocence", the time before the imperial "educators" came: Sri Lanka, Baku Faso, Zimbabwe, Eire. But when an empire withdraws it is not a golden age but civil war which ensues. Whether the Roman Empire, Assyrian Empire, Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the sons of the Empire were always sent out with the same injunction: "you are there to give names, chart maps, clear up muddles, maintain the rule of law and keep the peace, our peace, but don't expect any thanks -- it is your duty as the representative of civilization, that's all."
A weakness of empires from the beginning: the reluctance to honour all work: certain kinds of work are not fit for the conquerors, only for the slaves. Exceptions are where the imperialists exterminate the local inhabitants and so have to work the land themselves. As James Morris noted in his acount of the colonizing of Rhodesia, "There was no denying the settlers' guts and courage. It took guts to go to Rhodesia at all, and many of them were now performing prodigies of land development in the bush...But too often they had a blind spot about manual, ungenial labour. That was the black man's work." The hunt for slaves is a significant factor in imperial growth and equally a significant factor in later decline. Imperial histories follow a pattern of increasing dependence on slave labour, a distancing on the part of the rulers from manual labour, a displacing of the peasant class at home by slaves. The Second Punic War, for example, swept southern Italy of its peasants. Small farms were replaced by huge estates worked by slave gangs. Inevitably many slaves or descendents of slaves become citizens sooner or later. Slaves have no homeland and are expected to forget those which they did have so when Dionysius of Syracuse freed his slaves he did so in order to increase the number of those who had a stake in the fight for the independence of Syracuse. The loyalty of an imperial fighting force and the comparatively low numbers of conquerors in relation to the populations which they conquer are made up for by superior technics, superior organization, and staying power: the imperial army can draw on vastly greater resources to those of any rebels.
Slavery, which is an important part of most imperial economies, is a disincentive to technical invention and as it is technical superiority which plays a key role in the rise of an empire, this disincentive may ultimately be fatal. Slavery ruins the home labour market just as imperial exploitation and piracy ultimately ruins the home producer. The only loyalty expected of a slave is to his master, not to a place. The empire is the persuit of power at the expense of home. Home becomes unimportant. The empire is limited not by the right of place but the right of power. It shatters other kingdoms and tribes and draws them into slavery, obliterating their homelands as it carves out new provinces determined by bureaucratic regulation, not the acknowledgement of geographical or ethnic borders. The European carve-up of Africa is a case in point. Slaves are shipped off to distant lands. Communication is speeded up. The importance of place is reduced. Important is the name, the seal, the title of ownership. The centre of the world is the empire's capital. The soldier is sent to distant wars, the civil servant posted to a place his family cannot find on a map. Empires undermine loyalty to homeland, insisting instead on duty to a sovereign, a seal, a stamp, a flag, a sign. Certainly empires are centralistic and therefore do not lose the superficial character of their origins, but in a more profound sense, the empire is a combination of idea and interest in which the mother country becomes more and more a symbol, an ideal, less and less home. The traditional Irish taunt to the British soldier "I pity you, you have no homeland" reflects this wisdom. Empires are constantly straining to ensure unity and identity against the natural geographical factors which pull towards separation. Many imperialists were poor patriots and vice versa. Kipling found Britain "cramped".
Empires abolish trade barriers and increase mobility. Trade barriers are regarded rightly as incompatible with imperial consolidation. A sure sign of imperial ambition can be heard in the cry against tariff barriers. An empire cannot tolerate them, a nation cannot long survive without them. All empires tend towards human homogeneity and specifically misegenation. The busy cities and especially the ports become ethnic melting pots. It is no surprise that the apologists of imperial policies are often promoters of racial integration. Sir Charles Brooke, Governor of Sarawak, believed that half-castes were the ideal type for the climate of South East Asia, people who would combine administrative skill with native tolerance and endurance of the climate. Empires preach a new man. The new man will be more efficient, at a "higher" more civilized level than his pre-imperial predecessor. Albukerque's policy in Goa was to encourage racially mixed marriages among Christians. Spanish policy was much the same in the New World (so long as the couples were Roman Catholics). In South Africa it was the Boer nationalists who developed a system of racial Apartheid opposed to the pragmatism of colour blind British imperialism, which also introduced Chinese and Indians to Africa.
It may be objected that the European colonial powers were racialist in both theory and practice but much of European imperialist so-called racialism had no deep roots. It was little more than class awareness in which race was seen as a mark of class inferiority, not biological inferiority. The British colonialist from the top drawer did not fraternise with his "boy" because said "boy" was of another social class. The Mensab would no more fraternise with white servants at home than with yellow ones in Malaya. There is no deep belief behind racial segregation in Empires, rather a social custom, a matter of manners. The British and American Empires did not offer serious resistance to the principle of racial equality when challenged with determination. Rome's transference from Republic to Empire opened the way for miscegenation. By the fourth century the Roman Empire had no racial segregation laws of any kind: some were later introduced by the barbarian king Theodoric the Great in order to prevent inter-marriage between Goths and less white elements of conquered Italy! The rise of multi-racialism in the United States goes hand in hand with its transformation from Republic to Empire.
Hitler's Germany, unusual in being an empire which held on to a fanatical racialism, shared with all empires the dream of a higher man, in this case one to be created by genetic straining instead of genetic mixing. Like all empires, the Third Reich had scant respect for the differences between tribes, small nations, regions, different peoples of the same race. The division of Germany into administrative Gaus recalls the Jacobin division of France into departments. Both kinds of division, like that introduced by the Heath government in Britain, paid more respect to geography than to popular tradition and cultural or historical differences, which indeed it sought to undermine. Imperial divisions are theoretical and practical. People are expected to accommodate themselves to the bureaucratic system and not vice- versa. Although working in a national framework, in all three cases, the divisions were intended to be models for the division of a future united Europe. Mr. Heath's divisions recalled the German Gau and the artificial post-war Laender and foreshadowed similar economic divisions in France which deliberately cut through provincial boundaries. Regional division, where it is accompanied by genuine economic self-determination, is the death of empires.
Not only does the imperial mind attempt to rationalise administration in all aspects but it also seeks to improve human behaviour. Only in empires such as those of Islam or the Aztec empire, where religion marks the entire structure of society, is it left to non-human powers to decide how man should be improved but in general, imperial conquerors proclaim their mission to "civilize" and otherwise improve the human material they find, whether this material, their new subjects, should wish to be improved or not. Even in Islam the notion that the empire of the faith offers the way to human self-improvement is very much part of social consciousness. And of course strict Islamic observance involves a reglementation of all human behaviour down to the details of everyday life. Being a citizen of an empire is not unlike belonging to a broadly tolerant religious community: it signifies that "I have been improved-I am priviledged and proud of my priviledge. I pity the outsider. I hope that one day he will have the same as I."
While many of the early pioneers of imperial adventure were themselves pirates, the growth of an empire is nevertheless often marked by the protection of trade routes and the need to combat piracy. Pirates, footpads, lawless robbers attack the merchant if imperial strength is not there to protect him. But peace may also be the peace of devastation or death. Carthago delendo est. Imperial insignia are seldom benevolent. The eagle, the totem bird of many empires, is not only a bird of prey but a scavenger. The Bald Eagle prefers to avoid hunting if it can find carrion instead. Empires are more likely to move into a vacuum or come to power through mediation and economic domination than through full frontal military assault. Much of the military history of an empire is couched in terms of "intervention", "peace keeping" "defensive measure", "retaliation".
For those who live outside it, the empire often casts a long shadow. The order and quiet of an empire is often sinister. "Mordor", "the Empire of Darkness", "the Empire strikes back", "Shmersch" (the name means "death" in Russian), "the Empire of Death" etc. Natural or national affiliation is replaced by the law, for the cement of imperial cohesion is a universal legal system and universal taxes. As imperial power is wielded by a tiny group over myriads, the totems of authority and the symbolic act are all important, from Charlemagne's cutting down of the sacred oaks of the Saxons to the anointment of the Holy Roman emperors. The sign of the Empire must be everywhere: the stamp, the crest, the seal, the flag, the imperial head on the coin, the lingua franca, the universal coinage itself. In 1500 B.C. the political and diplomatic language of the Orient was Babylonian. The British made English the language of the educated in India and introduced in 1830 a common currency, the rupee, which is still used today. Those who do not speak the language of the law givers are regarded as "backwoodsmen", "stubborn" and "without ambition", although an empire rarely enforces knowledge of the imperial tongue. Economic necessity ensures that. But in contrast to a nation, the imperial units or currencies, language or law does not replace what already exists so often as they are super- imposed. Here empires are more tolerant than nation states, for imperial uniformity may well be no more than a superstructure: not one law, but one supreme law, not one language but one supreme language.
Empire builders are literally that: builders. The Taj Mahal and the Pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (20 walls 22' thick with a radius of 50 miles according to Herodotus), the Great Wall of China (the only man-made feature on this planet visible from outer space), the Piles of Samath, Nero's Rome, Jenan's Delhi, Emperor Frederick's Castel del Monte, the Vatican Palace, the Kremlin, the palaces of all the imperial rulers of history, the stupendous never-to-be realised designs for Imperial Berlin: monuments to victory, to their own magnificence and the magnificence of their rulers, but also monuments erected to proclaim to the world and to posterity that this is civilization. While proclaiming that they are eternal, empires are still mindful of what a future time will think of them however anxious they are to insist that theirs is the last empire, they will last for a thousand years or even that their way is the perfection of social order, life everlasting and peace on earth. Often the imperial architecture survives the fall of the imperial administration and is a monument to past glory (the British hotels and railway stations of East Asia, the Spanish churches of South America), but often the architecture is deliberately allowed by new masters to fall into disrepair - the beautiful city of Algiers - or deliberately destroyed to erase the memory of imperial rule - the destruction of hundreds of British farms and gardens in Kenya. In what was the German Empire after 1945 nearly all still surviving architectural monuments of the Third Reich and many of the Second were removed by the puppet republican regimes installed by the Allies. The neglect and abandonment of the British country house in the 1950's appropriately coincided with the abandonment of the British Empire, of which such houses were the symbolic as well as material product. Of Ancient Carthage not one stone was left standing on another after the Third Punic War.
The empire preaches: "that which lies beyond our frontiers is stunted, unfinished, uncivilized, raw nature, undeveloped, unexplored, barbarian". Beyond the furthest outposts lie the wastelands. Here we shall build to show that civilization has finally arrived. We are going to put this place on the map. What belongs to the empire is chartered territory. Empire builders love maps: they are for ever redrawing them and colouring them in. The globe "with large parts of it marked in red" must have made an indeliable impression on many who grew up in Britain in the days before she had abandoned her empire. The empire fills empty spaces on the map with the names of its harbours, settlements, roads, lanes, forts and frontiers, cities, garrisons, harbours, bridges, viaducts. Natural barriers must be broken down. The Orient and Trans-Siberian Express were the realisation of Ottoman and Russian imperial dreams respectively. Cecil Rhodes' dream of a Cairo to the Cape railway still remains a dream but it could become reality one day. Imperial were the great trans-continental railroads of North America, the Burmese railroad of the Japanese, Napoleon's routes nationales, the Roman roads, Hitler's Autobahnen. Imperialists are erecters of bridges, charters of seaways, defiers of natural barriers of jungle and mountain range. One of the first things which a newly established imperial administration is expected to do is improve communications. Trade must be secured and protected, goods despatched as efficently as possible and armies must be able to switch rapidly from one hot spot to another. More sea and air routes, roads and railways serve the double purpose of facilitating trade and increasing mobility, including military mobility. A nation is tribal, representative, repetitive, sedentary, conservative, rooted; an empire is contractural, turbulent, roving, changing, innovative.
We are publishing this article in two parts. The next part will appear in Issue 18 of The Scorpion