Why Empire?

5026548507_c06c91b515 “Why would a nation become imperial?,” Steven asked me. “I mean, why would you want to take that on?”

The conversation had been on Japan leading up to World War II.  The question was important.  Why would a nation conquer dissimilar nations?  Why accept that burden and risk? 

My answer, which I’ve grown more fond of as time’s passed, was something like this:  Imperial people view everything as a fixed pie. 

More importantly, if you view the world as fixed, you’re right.

If an acre of land produces enough food for a family of four, what do Mom and Dad do when baby number three is on the way?

If they live in an imperial, fixed-pie world, they have to get more land—or get rid of one of the kids.  But if they believe in innovation, ingenuity, and initiation, a whole new world of opportunity arises.  They can find ways to produce more from their single acre.  They can sell products or services to farmers with a surplus of food. They can form an exchange with several farmers, merchants, and artisans. 

Whatever path they choose, the little farmers don’t have to take up arms and annex a quarter of their neighbor’s one acre.

What made America (even when it was still Terra Nova) unique was our diehard belief that we can grow the pie bigger. We realize that doing so means hard work, painful mental focus, trial and error, and risk.  That’s why we do it. The pilgrims set sail for the New World to seek something greater, not to avoid something.  They believed in growing the pie, and their behavior after arriving proves it.

When we see examples of fixed-pie thinking, such as the union vandals destroying Madison, Wisconsin, we see how dangerous and destructive that archaic thinking can be.  The fixed-pie mentality makes every moment of life a fight to the finish for survival.

But our view makes life an endless opportunity to grow, secure, bond, and create. 

I like the American view better, don’t you?

Are We the Last Americans?

Sometimes nightmares end well. 

Sometimes they don’t.

Salon carries a depressing story for the lower 48 of North America. Author Alfred McCoy writes:

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

He proceeds to examine four scenarios that would turn the USA into a minor nation by the year 2025.

Is McCoy right?

He could be.  If our purpose is or becomes imperialism, then we are doomed. Deservedly so. Empires fall because they are unsustainable, to coin a phrase. Imperialism relies on continued spread of power.  Once there’s no place left to conquer—or the supply lines stretch too thin—the house of cards collapses.  Quickly, as McCoy points out.

On the other hand, if our purpose as a people is to protect life, defend and advance the cause of liberty, and to allow just men and women the unbounded opportunity to pursue happiness according to their will, then the disaster scenarios Professor McCoy details will be avoided.

The reason the Tea Party ideals continue to grow and spread is because those ideals begin with the people.  A government that serves the people who formed it and sustain it will be too weak to become an empire.  A government that lords over its people has already become worse than empire; it has become a tyranny.

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if
persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the
courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is
thus with what you show me!"

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

                                                       ---Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


No other nation was founded on a belief in such a profound truths as was this nation.  Our beliefs, brought to life through the Constitution and sustained by an informed electorate, produced wealth beyond our imagination. But that wealth and our power are by-products of the America Ideal, not its end.

Let’s make McCoy’s wonderfully chilling article serve us the way the Ghost of Christmas Yet to come served Scrooge. Let’s return our government and our people to those founding principles before it’s too late.