Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blogging the Unthinkable

Most libertarians really hate foreign entanglements, and we quote the Founding Fathers like mad to support that position. And, considering some of the debacles we've participated in for the last 60-odd years, they have a point. And we're also inclined to describe the United States in its present form as an "empire." Pat Buchanan even titled one of his books, A Republic, Not an Empire, to emphasize that we're not supposed to be an empire. But Stephen W. Browne says no, we're not an empire in any real sense, because empires take money from the countries they dominate, while we give money to them. I never thought of it that way, but it's dead on correct. So maybe we should be an empire in the real sense, that is, right now we draft Joe Sixpack and send him off to conquer Iraq or Grenada, and then we tax Joe Sixpack so we can send money to the conquered nations. Seems like it should be the other way around.  Today's quibcag isn't directly related to this post, but it's a goodie. The term "nation" in it refers to groups that are genetically and culturally discrete, like the French people or the Japanese people or the Romany people. This definition is independent from government. A state is a government, and the point of the quibcag is that ideally, a state and a nation should be coterminous, that is, the Greek state should contain all the Greek people, and only Greek people. An empire, by definition, is a group of nations ruled over by one nation that is dominant. Anyhow, read what Stephen says from his BLOG below, and exercise your alternate-history muscles and imagine what the world would be like today if we had decided in 1945 to become  for-real empire.

I guess I’m feeling the effects of the long northern winters. I’m beginning to sound depressed, even to myself.
I promise, I’ll get back to something more cheerful soon. Or maybe not.
A while back I promised a regular feature that never quite materialized,“Uncomfortable Thoughts.” The idea was to examine ideas that made people, myself included, profoundly uncomfortable.
Maybe it was too uncomfortable, or maybe I got nervous about committing them to e-print, but it never quite got off the ground. I posted a few pieces and kind of dropped it.
But I’d like to revisit an idea I played around with a while back and a sketchy notion of why I thought it might be a possibility.
I apologize for repeating myself, but I got to thinking about it again recently, while working on a piece about courage.
It seems to me that courage comes in three dimensions: physical, intellectual, and moral. I’ll develop this later, but intellectual courage is what I was talking about, the courage to deal with ideas which scare you. I’ve got friends who are physically and morally brave – but quite frankly, intellectually pretty cowardly.
The two most common expressions of this I’ve seen are, 1) attacking a scary idea rather than addressing it, usually with insults and ad hominem attacks on whoever is stating the idea. And 2) doing what I call “making up stories.” By that I mean, as soon as the idea is presented, the hearer makes up an explanation on the spot which explains away the scary thought – based on little or no evidence at all.
At any rate, a common insult hurled at America, is the charge of “imperialism” which I dealt with in a previous post.
Webster’s revised unabridged dictionary (© 1996, 1998 MICRA Inc.) defines empire as:
n 1: the domain ruled by an emperor or empress 2: a group of countries under a single authority; “the British empire” 3: a monarchy with an emperor as head of state 4: a group of diverse companies under common ownership and run as a single organization
and imperialism:
n 1: a policy of extending your rule over foreign countries 2: a political orientation that advocates imperial interests 3: any instance of aggressive extension of authority.
By the standard definition, the US is not an empire. It is neither a monarchy nor is it a group of countries, but a single country with a recognized common culture whose legislators are chosen from every region of the country without any legal qualifications of ethnicity, religion or even native birth. By the second definition of empire (and ignoring the pejorative connotations of the word) there are only two countries of any size in the world today that match the definition: Russia and India.
As for creating an empire, after an initial period of expansion into almost empty territory[1], the US appears to have reached the limit of its territorial enlargement, the last being a few island possessions taken from the Empire of Japan at the end of WWII. And in these cases, the US grants a huge measure of local autonomy (for example the local laws of Guam are not subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court) and has made it plain that they can have complete independence any time they ask for it.
The US does indeed maintain military bases in a great many countries. However, unlike the bases maintained by the former Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, they are not used to intimidate the governments of their host countries by threat of force. When Charles Du Gaulle withdrew from NATO and demanded the removal of American bases in France, the US removed them without much protest or even economic reprisals. Similarly, US forces evacuated bases in the Philippines and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when local opinion turned against them. Etc.
Now here’s the thought which keeps me up at nights.
What if, in a hypothetical future of The Long Night I spoke of in my last post, our descendants, hell everybody’s descendants, curse us for not becoming an empire?
America seems to be drawing down, just as the isolationist Right always wanted. Sure Obama went to war in Afghanistan, probably to prove he isn’t a metrosexual wimp. But he’s announced we’re going to be completely neutral between Britain and Argentina as, yet again, the Falkland’s issue hots up. And he says we’re drawing down in Iraq, after taking credit for the success there.
I wonder what he’s going to say if it all falls apart when we leave?
Lech Walesa, first president of free Poland, has lately been warning the Poles and other Eastern Europeans that they’re on their own, don’t count on America.
Some years back, when I was picking up some extra change as copy editor for various English-language publications put out by the Polish Academy of Science, I had a conversation with a Polish paeleobiologist.
He dropped an opinion that literally stunned me.
“America should just declare itself an empire, and we (Eastern Europeans) could be second-tier citizens like the late Roman (Byzantine I think he meant) Empire.”
“Uh, uh, uh,” I wittily replied.
I think it was actually a while later I thought of what I sort of should have wanted to say.
“Nice idea, and very flattering, but integral to our ideals as a nation is the notion of a common, unranked and undifferentiated citizenship. We accomplished this over time and at great cost, and this would be a step backwards for us.”
I still believe that, with all my soul. But I also see that he was considering a far worse alternative than being second-class citizens in a mostly benign American Empire, that of again being subjects of a resurgent Russian Empire.
America will draw down and withdraw from the world eventually, because we must. Because we’re running out of money to fund our presence abroad.
Hurray! (I hear some of you say.)
And yes, this might not be an entirely bad thing – if the Europeans can recover their military tradition and become self-sufficient in self-defence again.
But what if they can’t? What if it’s too late?
Can a continent of one-child families even bear to think about military careers for their sons? And economically they are probably incapable of building and maintaining modern militaries as long as they have to support their massive social welfare states.
What if, at the end of WWII, instead of both feeding and undertaking the defence of France, Germany, Italy etc. at our expense, we had taxed them? Not right away, but after they weren’t starving anymore.
“OK, we’ll maintain our military in Western Europe and hold the line against the Soviets – but you’ve got to pay the cost of maintaining them. As you build up your own forces capable of mounting guard on Europe with the NATO alliance, we’ll draw down ours and reduce your taxes in proportion. In the end, we’ll all be equals in an alliance of free states – and that will happen in a couple of generations when we know we can trust you – yes YOU Germany, Austria, and Italy.”
That is the crucial difference between an empire and what we’ve been doing with our forces in over a hundred countries around the world. We don’t tax them.
In the end, this is of course unsustainable, like any other empire but probably quicker.
Poul Anderson once asked, “Now the British Empire is no more, and is the world a safer place because of this?”
If the Long Night draws over Europe, and the remnants of the indigenous Europeans plead to be allowed to resettle in America, perhaps with the white South Africans, and the last Israelis, I wonder what they will think about “American Imperialsim” then?

1 comment:

  1. Taking on an empire is a big responsibility. I don't think America has ever been capable of that level of responsibility. You'd have to grow up, put away childish notions, become adults (not necessarily a good thing). You wouldn't really be Americans any more.