CHIROL’S BLOGOSPHERIC EMPIRE
” All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what
have the Romans ever done for us?”
– John Cleese, The Life of Brian
“Deos fortioribus adesse “
“Response to Chirol on 2nd Generation Empires Part I” by Dan of tdaxp
“Empire” by The Jewish Blog
“Empires!!!” by Dr. Daniel Nexon of The Duck of Minerva
Chirol at Coming Anarchy has set off an a very interesting discussion with his series on 2nd Generation Empires and a full post is required for a critique ( you hit gold as a blogger when you write something and your comment section is not enough for your readers). I’m going to touch on some points here and I ecourage you to click the above links for the thoughtful responses Chirol’s post has already accrued.
1. Empires as a positive phenomenon:
I tend to agree with Chirol and Nexon here. The reflexive attitude floating in the culture is to presume ” imperialism” is a bad thing having been used as a perjorative for most of the previous century but you have to ask – relative to what ? What preceded the empire before it subjugated the ” other”. Often times what preceded empire was less than admirable.
For every straightforwardly avaricious and retrogressive colonial regime like the one in French Indochina you have numerous others stamping out headhunting, the suttee, slavery and other aspects of barbarism while building modernity and connectivity. Like most forms of governance, the historical moral record is mixed for empire but regimes that are not capable of non-zero sum outcomes are not likely to be sustained for any length of time. You also need to compare that record with what would have prevailed in the empire’s absence. A medieval Jew was far better off living under the Caliphate of Cordova or in Muslim Granada than in the petty duchies of backward Germany at the time. Or under Ferdinand and Isabella’s monarchy that came after the Moors.
The Belgians were among the worst of the lot of the European colonizers exceeding in cruelty even the Germans in Southwest Africa – and this is saying a lot. Yet prior to the arrival of the Belgians the Congo basin was dominated by Afro-Arab slavers from Zanzibar and cannibal chiefdoms of the interior that built fortified towns lavishly decorated with human skulls. A culture that is on a moral par with the Aztecs but without the astronomy and fancy architecture frankly deserves to lose.
Empires that disprove the rule by being phenomenal paragons of physical destruction and looting rather than economic order – Tamerlane’s, Attila’s, The Third Reich, the Soviet Union – were all exceptionally short-lived. Ah, but Alexander’s empire too was short-lived ? Yes, but he ushered in the Hellenistic Age and his successors all founded dynastic states.
2. What is ” Empire”? Are there generations of Empire ?
Classical empires on the Roman model built by conquest and annexation define the common understanding of the term. J.A Hobson and Lenin by critiquing modern European capitalist states and their economic relations with their colonial possessions redefined imperialism for the Left to include. eventually, normal transactional market relations as a form of coercive
” imperialism”. A politically self-serving and economically illiterate argument but one with remarkable longevity. For some writers today, an ” empire” is simply a large and powerful polity engaged in policies the author vehemently opposes.
Chirol has defined his 2GE as:
“Simply put, a second generation empire is one that increases its “network coverage” by means other than military force. They include economic, political, legal and cultural forces. The power to increase or decrease network coverage is also not completely one-sided as both partners tend to have the ability to create, adjust or sever ties, though as usual, the stronger states tend to set the rules and have considerable advantages over smaller ones.”
In other words, a 2GE is a dynamic civilizational network system greater than the sum of its parts. A 2GE could have a hegemonic dominant power or a set of powers where some are more equal than others but the ” empire” is the overarching system itself and not a particular state. Dan of tdaxp asked if a state could be 2GE and 1GE simultaneously ? It would seem that logically a 2GE could have a 1GE or several cohabitating within it fairly harmoniously since the 2GE is primarily an economic and soft power associational grouping.
Is there any logical tie between Chirol’s 1GE and 2GE concepts that merit referring to the latter as an ” empire”. The fundamental quality the two entities share in my view is that they are both strong centripetal geopolitical forces – they both attract or pull outside political entities into their system, albeit by different means. Calling the 2GE an ” empire” per se is a bit of a typological romanticization and is, politically speaking, unhelpful assuming that you support the establishment and growth of such entities because the term invites hostile ideological attention and opposition.
But substantively, the networking phenomena described by Chirol as “2GE” exists as a subset of globalization. The transnational characteristics of 2GE groupings like the EU and NAFTA are challenging traditional conceptions of the scope of national sovereignty under international law and shifting decision-making power over economic policy from national leaders to market forces and to international rule-set making institutions. It’s a discernable process and one that is apt to accelerate so long as globalization is allowed to continue progress to deeper and deeper levels of connectivity.