An empire is
"a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or
other powerful sovereign or government: usually a territory of greater extent
than a kingdom, as the former British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire,
Byzantine Empire, or Roman Empire."
It is pertinent
that Alexander Hamilton consistently thought of the pre-constitutional
confederation of thirteen sovereign States as an empire. In Federalist 13
of men who speculate upon the dismemberment of the empire seem generally
turned toward three confederacies – one consisting of the four
Northern, another of the four Middle, and a third of the five Southern
States. There is little probability that there would be a greater number.
According to this distribution, each confederacy would comprise an extent of
territory larger than that of the kingdom of Great Britain."
speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less
than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which
it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting
in the world."
Hamilton said in Federalist
22 that the existing structure under the Articles of Confederation
was infirm because it did not rest on a vote of "the PEOPLE." He
wanted American empire to be more solidly based:
of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE
PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that
pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority."
James Madison in Federalist
14 sees an empire in place in America prior to adopting the new
to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit
together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live
together as members of the same family; can no longer continue the mutual
guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellowcitizens of one
great, respectable, and flourishing empire."
If America was an
empire in 1787, how much larger an empire is it today?
America an empire and knowing that America is an empire, which indeed it is,
does not resolve important questions that affect the lives of those who are
ruled. An empire is ruled by a "powerful sovereign or government."
How powerful? How far does its rule extend over the lives and activities of
its subjects? The rule of American government keeps expanding, over many who
dissent from it.
Do these subjects
of empire consent to be ruled? Do we Americans consent? By what means?
If the government
is powerful, what restrains it? What is to stop a government from gaining
Who are the
persons who have this sovereign power that creates an empire? How do they
decide what to do with it? Who is "the PEOPLE" that sanctions their
power? Is it all Americans? Who says we are one people with this sovereign
Wherein lies the
consent in those persons who do not regard other people (and thus the U.S.
government) as sovereign over them? Why should some people have the power to
boss everyone else around ad infinitum if the former do not approve?
Wherein lies the consent in those who believe that it is a mistake to elevate
any man to a position of power unless under constraints that are not in
evidence in an existing empire?
What happens if
the sovereign reinterprets its constitution without the direct involvement of
Is a person
automatically a subject of a sovereign by virtue of where he is born? Is he
automatically part of "the People"? Wherein lies his consent?
power actually rest and emanate from "the PEOPLE"? If so, how does
that come about? What of the people who do not accept this notion?
reveal that empire does not rest on a solid theoretical basis. Empire has no
basis in a reasoned understanding, nor does it rest on agreement, morality,
or even a freely-offered consensus. The American civil war made that clear of
the American empire. Compulsion is an important supporting pillar to American
empire. Raw force, domination, and power are key ingredients in American
empire. Without these, the empire would quickly dissolve, and new structures
would emerge. That power includes the power to tax. It includes the power to
regulate and legislate in every sphere of American life. It includes the
power to communicate and heavily influence communications to the American
people. The government has the tools to create enough approval and consensus
among enough people and institutions to support its acts of domination. It
has the tools to assure that whatever virus of empire is in the blood stays
there and multiplies.
Bush’s attack on Iraq in March, 2003 was an act of empire. It was an
act of a sovereign attempting to extend its sovereignty to a foreign land. At
a minimum, it sought the goal of changing Iraq’s form of government.
The attempt to institute democracy or otherwise control the affairs of a
foreign state via war is not a charitable act of giving. It is an act of an
empire using force. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld used the term "shock
and awe" to describe its effects.
and others took advantage of the 9/11 massacre to promote the Iraq War.
Neither the American government nor the American people have learned from the
Vietnam experience to stay away from interminable and costly wars with unachievable
objectives. Neither places much value on lives lost, bodies injured, or on
families, livelihoods, and structures torn asunder, so long as they are not
American. A minimum of 100,000 Iraqis have died. In most cases, no one knows
who killed whom, or why. Terrorists were attracted to Iraq. Various groups
within Iraq begin to kill each other. The American attack and victory
unleashed forces beyond its immediate control.
another country that was no threat without provocation and justification, or
with a host of false justifications. Americans were subject to a propaganda
campaign. Bush revved up an incredible and false propaganda machine. It fell
on many accepting ears. He had no compunctions about attacking a country that
was no threat to the United States. Clinton’s bombing of Iraq and his
war making in Yugoslavia were a prelude.
the war. Congress approved the war. The war is an act of the American
government as a whole. Warfare between the U.S. and Iraq did not begin in
2003. It has been going on since August 2, 1990, when Iraq attacked Kuwait.
Leading up to that war, America armed Saddam Hussein, even with the means of
creating biological weapons that he used against Iran and his own people.
American empire has been operating in Iraq and other countries of the Middle
East for a long time. Empire has gotten into the American blood, not without
a receptive host and an active effort by government and others to assure its
virility. Empire does not meet with anything more than token resistance or
disapproval from most Americans.
The United States
has significant and influential war lobbies, oil lobbies, construction
lobbies, weapons lobbies, and Israel lobbies. The lobbyists influence
Congress, which funds the wars through taxes, borrowing, and inflation.
Lobbyists have been effective in influencing Congress. They have been
effective in gaining media exposure to support their causes. This influences
public opinion. The government itself goes to great lengths to influence public
opinion. The acts and powers of empire rest on a machinery of money,
influence, communications, and legality.
The ambitions of
American empire are alive and undiminished today under a new President and a
new Congress. How well they are, given the financial problems of the
government, is another matter. The government acts as if it still has access
to plenteous resources to fund its adventures abroad and at home. As
expected, Democrats are less interested in Iraq than in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, but it’s still empire. The press carries accounts of the
Israeli option to attack Iranian nuclear facilities without American
approval, but it is extremely unlikely that such an attack is possible
without outright American approval or perhaps signals that America would not
seriously sanction Israel for such a campaign.
The concept of
American empire has deep historical roots, going back as they do to 1787,
including the American civil war, the continental expansion, and the coming
of age as a world-class power. American empire has deep institutional roots.
It has deep financial roots. And it has deep roots in the hearts of
British empire, the French empire, the Southern states, the Spanish empire,
the German empire, the Japanese empire, nor the Russian empire have checked
the American empire. The American empire may have reached and passed its
apogee. At present, it’s on a downhill slide. Its policies are
increasingly rigid. The business success that formed its financial foundation
is increasingly hamstrung. The American people are increasingly subservient
and dependent on transfer payments. Their governments are increasingly
powerful and yet dysfunctional. The leadership is increasingly shallow. High
debt and depreciation of the currency are facts of life. A marked tendency
toward concentration of power is present. Large business corporations and
lobbies increasingly turn first, last, and always to Washington. Now, with
the bailout programs, even venture capital firms are looking to public funding.
A resurgence of
empire, an increase in its status and vitality, is not out of the question.
There are few signs of it in the political sphere at present. The empire has
apparently passed its prime. Empire is something that poisons the blood of
the body politic. Empire brings about its own demise. There are signs of
increasing fragmentation, as in the case of some legislators in some
individual States beginning to resist the national government and speak of
secession. The worse that things get for the empire, the more such movements
going someday to have to live with the end of their empire. They will have to
get it out of their system. This will be a very good thing, because a
renaissance in American life at all levels will accompany a diminishment of
American empire. Making the transition away from empire and back to a healthy
society will be an important and tough challenge, far more so than sending a
man to the moon, because this involves such deep changes in thinking and institutions
at the personal, social, and political levels. Empire is in the blood of
Americans. Purging it is going to be a traumatic experience.
Michael S. Rozeff is a retired Professor of Finance
living in East Amherst, New York. He publishes regularly his ideas and
analysis on www.LewRockwell.com .
Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission
to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is