Perceptions of Imperialism and Empires

Feb 2019
1,012
Serbia
Created so it doesn't derail existing threads.

In relatively recent history Imperialism and Empire building were seen as something good. Calling a country an empire would be seen as something positive and even an indicator of a certain level of power and prestige. However during the Cold War the terms have acquired a much more negative meaning. Now calling a country an empire is seen as an insult or a negative remark. What caused this shift? Why did the terms gain a negative meaning and when exactly did this shift occur? Furthermore, should the terms have a negative or a positive meaning today.
 
Nov 2019
186
United States
The term itself seems to have an amorphous meaning; was the Soviet Union not an empire? Is the PRC an empire? In some formulation is the EU an empire?

In the politicization of words we've created a hash of words and their meanings, people with political bents create a psychological value whether the term provided meaning contains merit or not.

The greater determination should be "how are the people's rights protected within any body politic". Locke defines this quite admirably:
"In the Two Treatises of Government, he defended the claim that men are by nature free and equal against claims that God had made all people naturally subject to a monarch. He argued that people have rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, that have a foundation independent of the laws of any particular society. Locke used the claim that men are naturally free and equal as part of the justification for understanding legitimate political government as the result of a social contract where people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their rights to the government in order to better ensure the stable, comfortable enjoyment of their lives, liberty, and property. Since governments exist by the consent of the people in order to protect the rights of the people and promote the public good, governments that fail to do so can be resisted and replaced with new governments. Locke is thus also important for his defense of the right of revolution. Locke also defends the principle of majority rule and the separation of legislative and executive powers. In the Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke denied that coercion should be used to bring people to (what the ruler believes is) the true religion and also denied that churches should have any coercive power over their members. Locke elaborated on these themes in his later political writings, such as the Second Letter on Toleration and Third Letter on Toleration. "
 
Jul 2019
124
Pale Blue Dot - Moonshine Quadrant
Created so it doesn't derail existing threads.

In relatively recent history Imperialism and Empire building were seen as something good. Calling a country an empire would be seen as something positive and even an indicator of a certain level of power and prestige. However during the Cold War the terms have acquired a much more negative meaning. Now calling a country an empire is seen as an insult or a negative remark. What caused this shift? Why did the terms gain a negative meaning and when exactly did this shift occur? Furthermore, should the terms have a negative or a positive meaning today.
I believe that the good press that Empire building once received came from the successes of the British Empire at a time when Western Civilization was still expanding, not only militarily but culturally as well – personal liberty, freedom of expression, travel, and markets, pluralism, democratic political systems, etc.

Thus, the British Imperialists saw themselves as bringing the benefits of civilization to those it perceived as un-civilized. A line from one of the speeches referencing England’s frontier wars given by Salisbury, the British Prime Minister as the nineteenth century became the twentieth, expressed the attitude: “They are but the surf that marks the edge and the advance of the wave of Civilization.”

As a product of the British system, Americans also saw themselves in a similar, if obviously more crude, manner. An editorial by the Progressive William Allen White in the March 20, 1899 edition of The Emporia Gazette expressed the tone of the era:

Only Anglo-Saxons can govern themselves. The Cubans will need a despotic government for many years to restrain anarchy until Cuba is filled with Yankees…It is the Anglo-Saxon's manifest destiny to go forth in the world as a world conqueror. He will take possession of all the islands of the sea. He will exterminate the peoples he cannot subjugate. That is what fate holds for the chosen people. It is so written. Those who would protest, will find their objections overruled. It is to be.

There was a problem, however. Western Civilization’s expansion was slowing and was moving from what historian Carroll Quigley, in his Evolution of Civilizations, called a stage of Expansion into a stage of Conflict and he picked 1929 as the time when Expansion in the West had clearly ceased.

By Expansion Quigley meant that a civilization was growing in four ways: (a) in population; (b) in geographic area; (c) in production of wealth per capita; and (d) in knowledge. He noted that Conflict was characterized by (a) decreasing rate of expansion; (b) increasing class-conflicts; (c) increasing imperialist wars among the political units which make up civilizations; and (d) growing irrationality. In his description of Conflict, a more concise summary of the 20th century up to the time Quigley wrote is difficult to imagine.

Quigley’s view was not new. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky were two whose writings highlighted deep-seated anxieties over Western cultural problems. American sociologist William Graham Sumner (died 1910) who closed his career on a pessimistic note, "I have lived through the best period of this country's history. The next generations are going to see wars and social calamities."

Sumner’s justly famous The Conquest of the United States by Spain was an unheeded warning about the dangers of imperialism and empire:

"Now what will hasten the day when our present advantages will wear out and when we shall come to the conditions of the older and densely populated nations? The answer is: war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery — in a word, imperialism."

When Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of the West just before the slaughter of WW I many questioned his historical methods, but few challenged his conclusion. José Ortega y Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses a decade later touched on the same theme:

“It is illusory to imagine that the mass-man of to-day will be able to control, by himself, the process of civilization…The simple process of preserving our present civilization is supremely complex, and demands incalculably subtle powers. Ill-fitted to direct it is this average man who has learned to use much of the machinery of civilization, but who is characterized by root-ignorance of the very principles of that civilization.”

Etienne Gilson’s 1937 book The Unity of Philosophical Experience saw philosophic skepticism as a root cause of the irrational 1930’s when Quigley’s Conflict stage had become extreme.

In 1944 John T. Flynn powerfully described our civilization’s nemesis, Fascism, in his seminal book entitled As We Go Marching - a three-part analysis of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the budding parallels in America he detected in the crisis-culmination of Progressive thought embraced by the policies of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration – a claim that has been repeated by numerous others since then.

Another warning about the condition of the West came in The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek; and yet another came in 1948 when Richard M. Weaver began his surprisingly popular Ideas Have Consequences this way:

“THIS is another book about the dissolution of the West. I attempt two things not commonly found in the growing literature of this subject. First, I present an account of that decline based not on analogy but on deduction. It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we are now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice. Second, I go so far as to propound, if not a whole solution, at least the beginning of one, in the belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea of moral impotence."

In 1996 a political scientist named Samuel P. Huntington addressed much the same theme of decay when he published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order – a book that in some respects took up where Quigley’s left off. Huntington focused on inter-civilization clash and covered in considerable detail the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, a full five years before the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Huntington’s book, also argued that World War I marked the high-water mark of Western expansion and the relative weakening of the West had enabled the inter-civilizational conflict that was his subject.

A part of his extended analyses of a weakening West, Huntington, reflecting a modern quantitative descriptive analysis that characteristically was descriptively rich but often short on causal analysis, documented that land area controlled by the West declined from 48.5 percent of the world to 24.2 percent between 1929 and 1993 and that Western population dropped from 48.1 percent to 13.1 percent of the global population between 1920 and 1995. The economic drop was not as severe but clearly trended in the same direction.

The views of Sumner, Spengler, Gasset, Gilson, Hayek, Weaver, Quigley, Huntington, and others strongly suggests that the American Globalist vision of exporting western values worldwide, an institutionalized, active effort since at least Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations and however well-intentioned in some respects, is now a failed project because Western Civilization has been retrograde since the World War I period and its Eurocentric assumptions are no longer valid, if they ever were. A couple of quotes by Huntington makes his perspective clear:

“Every civilization sees itself as the center of the world and writes its history as the central drama of human history.”

“In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous.”


The cold facts with which all these people wrestled are that with its cultural fragmentation and accelerating economic weakness now obvious, other cultures see no reason to acquiesce to Western claims of moral, social, and economic, superiority or the Empire building that seeks to push these claims outward.

The murderous Communist Chinese tyrant Mao Tse Tung made the point explicit long ago when, embroiled in rancorous public posturing when the United States experienced its first shock over its suddenly halted expansion in Asia, he called America a “Paper Tiger” – a charge that America’s mountain of unpayable paper debt make truer now than Mao ever knew. As a result, the West, especially the United States, has been increasingly reduced to the use of raw military force unsupported by muck else to further its goals overseas – with a backlash that is wholly predictable, understandable, and growing in intensity.

With Western Civilization in retrograde, it is not surprising that people inside and outside the civilization no longer admire the forces of expansion – now almost completely reduced to military dominance that China may well challenge at some point – and consider Empire evil. I would say it started inside Western Civilization around WW I and by the outbreak of the Cold War almost everybody knew something was wrong.
 
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