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American Politics Of Empire
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Matthew Paris
 

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Post Sat Nov 22, 2003 11:54 am - American Politics Of Empire
Whenever my friends and I get together and talk about politics I always find I my own contributions to this discourse speak another language altogether. My colleges find me amusing and indulge me in my philosophic excursions as they discuss how inept the president of the day is, how others have better ideas about how to run our country. They are always talking about tactics, not directions; I am always wondering whether they are speaking about whether one ought to use a snow sled or a rowboat to fly to Atlantis.
I know what they think are the presumptive intents of the United States in these times. Even if they are Leftists out of sentimental homage to their own past with a ceremonial embrace of the old populist values they think by now that in a large and global economy that nobody can back away from unless they want to live on a desert island we should run our business empire more equitably, have more respect for our colonists, stop using force as a stratagem of preference when we can accomplis more with quiet and more civilly subversive influence in remote spas we control, make sure there are plenty of jobs, lots of easy money and a plentitude of goods at home, a plenitude of baksheesh for the weak and old; charity and pity for the not fully competitive spirits among us and so on.
Then they move on to important matters like the parade of new movies, the glories of plastic surgery, new diets and their sacred search to take up means of making more money. I donít travel in the corporate world; these people are our humanists.
Once in their youth severe libertarians or Marxists, even on trivial matters these stalwarts are in concordance with the government though they claim to be fiercely critical of it.
Though almost everybody I know smokes or has smoked marijuana and others are veritable repositories of legally prescribed drugs they donít even want our drug laws chained. They arenít too worried about the millions of Americans that are locked up for indulging their private tastes either. The American school system may be a raging decider but these veteran adults are long out of school.
Most are divorced at least cone but they are beyond that too. In the end all the lovers they had plighted their troth with wanted was Welfare money. In this society thatís easy to come by and give away with no pain. It seem to my friends a lot of baroque bedroom effort along with hiring a team of lawyers just do get on the dole.
As la Rochefaucauld says, the misfortunes of others always leave us with a sense of indifference or glee that we have escaped them. Of course if I were talking to people in the slums Iíd hear a different story. When you and people you know are getting locked up for nothing after being forced to go to school for sixteen years and coming out illiterate and good for nothing, at the very least you complain.

When I bring up what I think are political problems people look at me as if I am mad or clowning, that there is nothing we can do about them. We can't even make marijuana legal I should say I am not advocating marijuana smoking as any taste of mine; I havenít smoked a reefer since 1967. Iím saying inferentially in these discussions that we ought to have laws that reflect our natural desire for freedom and our inevitable rookeries to take it legally or illegally or devour ourselves with rage, death, cancer and despair not living free adult lives. Itís not a very fashionable argument.
Itís the one that Thomas Jefferson made in the Declaration of Independence and put into the American Constitution. My friends tell me that the country isnít ready for legal marijuana. I say they were ready for it in 1963 and it never should have been illegal in the first place. Nobody even shot anybody with a reefer.
If weíve all smoked it, if nothing bad happened to us, if weíre all glad we did it, why shouldnít it be at least as legal as cigarettes, a taste that is addictive and few are glad they embrace? They say, look at the Supreme Court Justicies candidates that were knocked down because they were all models of sobriety in their maturity they had admitted they have occasionally smoked some grass as youths. I say, it was a largely punch of ordinary lushes who put the legal kibosh on them.
So it goes. At bottom people know donít want any change at all. People in the slums I know want change but are sure they can't get it. Though they donít think of themselves as slaves or soldiers in an empire they want to keep it all intact, just as infantrymen always knock the army even when they are lifers and canít do without it.
With nobody but a few faithful of a thus far marginal Libertarian Party organized to be advocates of freedom, we arenít likely to change our imperial ways and notions of how people should lead their private lives sometime soon. I would hope only that in my private conversations with people we have some of the sanity about who and where we are in the world that the Romans and Europeans have always embraced when they ran their ancient and modern empires. I wish some people I know would sop talking about freedom and empire as they are two sides of a two dimensional geometric paradigm.
They arenít. Freedom is about controlling oneís person, property and thought. Empire is about stealing from everybody one can, taking everyoneís pretty one can rob and corrupting their mental process to the point ware they either accept it or donít embrace the organized or private means to apse it. One can have freedom or slavery with two people on an asteroid or in a diverse, vast and crowded empire. There are empires and there are empires.

The only thing one can be sure of is that on that asteroid or in an empire everyone will try to be free adults no matter what the political system. Of course one can have an empire with a limited government and legal franchises for citizens and ene colonials; itís probably preferable for everyone if we had such a direction instead of our current policies of overt and covert greed, band aid remedies for our vices in the most egregious of the harvests of imperial avarice, aggressive destruction of any franchise of anybody in and out of the empire by an expanding government, no matter who runs it.
If you listen to the Left they want to bring back their way of sitting on your face: Welfare, easy and plentiful divorce with presumptive indenture for men, no families, life monitored and run by a professional class just out of a playpen college armed with Liberal arts degrees as white collar soldiers in a socially engineered paradise, ideas that brought us the war zones of our inner cites and broken homes out of formerly intact ones.
If you listen to the Right they arenít stealing from strangers, they are promoting freedom and democracy with global business and their plastic aesthetic, their wily or supine satraps arenít managed by bloody warlords massacring the populace, they are our friends and uncles who haply all speak fluent English and love our American values if they arenít good enough for their own people.
These two cadres of Left and Right claw furiously at each otherís throats with rhetoric that remands me of a couple of scholastic schools in the 12th century arguing about minor contentions in the Ptolemaic theory of the universe. The trouble with Ptolemy isnít minor. Itís that the whole inverse doesnít revolve around us; heís flatly, largely, egregiously wildly worn about his central premises.
We in turn are as wrong in our politics about who we are, what we are doing, what our alternative directions might be, what real freedoms we have that we donít have to take while risking our existence out of the slammer. We donít need the usual suspects in our seasonal elections to tell us how we could embrace the doctrines of Ptolemy much more effectively. We need Copernicus.
Sometimes when I am in more of a candid mood I ask my friends how much real freedom they have? How much for that matter does anybody in the United states have?
They look at me as if I am daft. All right, American Indian arenít exactly citizens, maybe they donít have a full franchise here. Weíve after all rid ourselves of colonialism, slavery, lack of womenís suffrage and passed ever civil rights law we could. What is left for us to do to expand freedom any more than we have, give dogs the right to vote too?
I say, since any judge can put the life, property and kids of any American father in indenture at his whim even to the details of how he spends his pennies, thatís half of the American citizenry out of legal franchise right there. There are probably about eight million illegal aliens among us, twenty million convicted of a felony, Black and Hispanic Americans still donít got a tolerable addiction mostly, are still redlined economically ene if they do a good deal of the time unless they play professional basketball, jobs that give one a franchise are disappearing into Europe, Asia, anyplace else but here, there must be fifty million Americans in deep debt, therefore in de facto receivership.

What and who is left among us that can say they are free? Two frugal and healthy White middle class feminists living on Swiss bank bonds at the most. If they are among us they are quite sensibly not telling us who they are.
Moreover, how many people want freedom? Certainly the ones who are running the country donít want to give anyone freedom. Itís impossible to manage people efficiently who can do whatever they want. The ones who are being ruled by these natural and inevitable tyrants donít want freedom either. They calculate they can't take up the very contentious and sometimes violent means one must embrace to be an advocate for legal freedoms even if they are written into the law in clear language by the founders of the country.
Itís easier to scramble and lie oneís way like a sociopath on a tear though a weak and ineffectual big blunderbuss tyranny than to risk oneís life and comfort taking up even the elusive legal liberties one is supposedly guaranteed. Maybe Calvin Klein should run the country with no law at all. Maybe he does. He understands as our current lawyers donít how to orchestrate a flow of money and consumer goods for no reason at all as if it were an act of a communal faith.
I can't say I blame anyone for having these remarkable opinions. Iíve been only successful in my long life onto t toe degree that I mixed virtue with sociopathy myself. Anytime I stood directly for what now or later everyone will inevitably see as a clear boon for everybody I was punished, even arrested b y the government each time I went at some of the same intents clandestinely as if I were a resident cockroach in the body of Leviathan I was rewarded.
I am sitting here writing this essay because in my working life, such as it was, I was known with justice as one of the masters of making large bureaucracies labor for me. For me to preach one should be transparently virtuous in this empire is really not worthy of me.
Therefore let me only speak about our current American empire in the cause of sanity, not change, not even advocating a peep out of anyone about the loss of freedom and legal franchise. Sometimes it does make a person more free and powerful to operate illegally. One doesnít have to have a constituency, pay taxes or explain oneself to anyone. One protects oneself with the same tools any animal does in Creation. One identifies oneís agendas, friends, allies, foes, prey, predators and natural enemies. Then one makes a plan based on those assessments, then goes into action.
The world of law and morals only begins when one or a group stop acting out of such pure interests and tactics and take up thoughts and actions that organize life around a contract between rulers and the governed freely and honorably agreed upon. Itís an overlay of a covenant upon an older form of action that has traditions powerful and memorable enough for all of us to embrace it when our laws and contacts and those we hope to enforce our pacts with others fail us.

One might sketch an unwritten book The Rise Of the American Empire out of fatigue with the illusions under which many of my peers are living. Itís hard to say when our empire began exactly. Some might say it was always in place. The colonialists of England were banished to make way for the new tyrants. Most of us what not be that clever in our analysis of history. Certainly when Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803 no referendum was taken of its inhabitants to discover whether or not they preferred to live under United States rule.
The various Asian influences the United States had from Admiral Perryís visit to Japan, our part in the colonization of China along with much of the Pacific acarid in the first half of the 19th century as a classical imperial move. Itís certain as well nobody voted in what was once a good part of Northern Mexico when we took that over in 1848.
The South had fought a war to stop the North from running it their way in 1860. Gore Vidal, an old Confederate, says this was the beginning of the African empire. Maybe it didnít have a beginning.
Yet most of our historian feel rightly or wrongly that our empire began in the Spanish America War of 1898. Certainly that was the time of the generation of Brooks Adams and Theodore Roosevelt, men who actually used the world empire, saw themselves vying for imperial rule of the world with England, France and Germany, thought of themselves as Darwinists and imperial scientistic, were enthusiastically organizing the naval forces they hoped would enforce American imperial aegis much in the classical manner of Britain.
Yet another group of analysts could claim that only after the Second World war in 1945 when they other empires had amiably bled themselves to death in that long and hardness conflagration and were as a consequence no longer Americaís competitors. Certainly the last serious contender to the American Empire was the Soviet Union, collapsed and perished for mysterious internal reasons by 1987.
However one chooses to honor or dismiss such theories we should have no doubt that by the lip of the cede century the United States was the biggest and baddest motherfucker in the valley, as the classic American Marine aphorism, parodying the 23rd Psalm, puts it succinctly.
Nature being what it is, an indefatigable design for balancing resources to limit, thwart and defeat the most seemingly invincible efforts of the will of any life in the cosmos, it didnít take long for Creation to produce the checks on the American empire that obvious God takes a personal interest in offering to such imperial enterprises in a seemingly immortal if bellicose dialogue.
Some of them were familiar; some were new. Any student of Rome wasnít surprised to see the Salem dissolution of family life, morals, honor, and all other old time virtues among our citizenry, the rise of epicurean egoism, a confusion of interest with ethics and the rest of the Roman michugas.

One should remember the Romans werenít pushing an ideology at anybody as we are. The Romans didnít care how anybody lived, thought or died or even where they went if anywhere afterwards. They offered a fair trade of low taxes for quelling the enemies of the local colonies and keeping order, pure and simple. The United States sometimes has run Christianity, sometimes business, at other times capitalism, a system of focused and pious debt people confuse with business, one that runs on loans and debt as business may operate merely on liquidity and profit.
In countries like Argentina with large middle class capitalism can both make wealth out of nothing, nothing out of affluence. The muscle comes form jobs that either do or do not exist in corporations in debt up to the eyeballs. At some point it is up to the caprice of the bankers to allow such operations in perpetual receivership to continue or to collapse and die. Since power not used is not power at all, itís necessary to make this empire work that force or contract somewhere in the world, even many places where one would have to give the entire population shock treatments to make them amenable to the whims and pleasures of corporate life.
These desperate fast food enterprises are pushed by the vulpine banks to expand madly or die; businesses at the level of debt they are in commonly fail because they are not doing what the bankers want them to do. As they do, the employees are out of work, they become desperate in a way their remote ancestors who were content if not quite happy with a bit of land and food could not have imagined.
Thatís the kind of subtle and indict empire the United States has at its best. Of course it has to deal as Rome did with its old employees who have rebelled against its wishes after the empire has armored them with power, legitimacy and most important, a standing army ready to take up atrocities and casual pillage with classical enthusiasm such hunger for booty and theft always inspires. The natura enemy of both the empire and the satraps is of course the common people. They might and often do have other definitions of how they want to live their mortality. Then the empire calls them lunatics, intractable and mulish fools as Rome did its rebels in its time. So far that is a classical enough situating.
Yet our technology has brought our American empire not only new pleasures, new vices formerly the province of the rich and few, new crimes from which all were protected formerly by a lack of tactical means, not only new ways to commit suicide but new modes of harassing self-destruction, profiting from it as previously one only garnered income from injuring others oneself. The responses of nature are correspondingly more radical. Rome never had suicide bombers to blow up its infrastructure. Rome had never heard of gunpowder. I think generally Rome never had the massive options for degeneracy we have in spite of the colorful testimonies of its historians that it had plumbed the ultimate pits of vice, madness and decadence.
Rome had evolved once from a limited state to ordinary skeins of dictators who run their nation autocratically for ten years in perpetual national emergencies. We havenít reached that wonderful apogee of chaos. The United States is closer to its republican roots than Rome was under the dictators of its late republic. Our executive power hasnít made the dramatic expansion that Rome did though we complain about it often enough. It moves against the weak without support systems; it doesn't yet go out with iron force after everybody.

How this all resolves itself we will all either live or not live to find out. It seems to me that both business and capitalism has a volatility that the Roman deal with their colonies never had. An empire wants stability. When things are mutable something evenly goes wrong in a lethal way.
Rome never had progress; in fact when Belgian companies in its day wanted to take up steam power it crushed the innovation and the industrial Revolution that would have happened in 200 instead of 1780. Progress and stable empire donít mix.
One has to be a prophet and a genius to know the difference in the middle of any situation between progress and degeneracy, a move toward a clear boon, a tangent or a pit that takes up long term suicide with a smile. Itís hard to make out the past, impossible to know the future, and we are a species that often misjudges the present grievously, seeing it as an extension of its will rather than a realm utterly outside and indifferent to its provincial aegis and intents.
At least for now we ought to understand that though we could be spreading democracy and freedom around the world as Jefferson and Hamilton both dreamt, we arenít doing it.
If we look at the history of empires we can see that some last longer than others, some do better labor for humanity than others, some are naked operations of genocide, slavery and theft whose atrocities have tainted everyone and everything connected with them forever, some are of covert mixed value though their virtues are rarely acknowledged by their former colonists. The former residents of the English empire including ourselves celebrate our departure from England raucously yet rarely honor our former rulers with their gifts however accidental of limited government and mechanisms of parliament.
We as a species are not notable for our gratitude. One rarely hears anybody thanking Jews for example for giving most of the world their sacred books, prophets and ethical values. The most decisive empire in history, the Third Reich, with technological superiority lasted twelve years; the Roman empire with no technological advantages but offering low taxes, home rule, franchise and support against the local traditional enemies of their colonists lasted 1300 years. There is obviously much latitude and chose for us in what our empire might be.
As a country that is a singularity in extant history, a republic of diverse peoples escaping from what amounts to local mini-empires elsewhere, we should as an empire have the same annexes that we have had in our internal affairs. We donít have to be awesomely greedy as the Spaniards and Portuguese were, racist and class conscious as the English were, even existentially embracing tyranny of others as the ultimate free act as the French empire was.
Our corporate caliphs who run our current empire donít have to be hungry for pure profit as these other scurvy empires were. We have a tradition of neighborliness and charity we can extend to the world ether our of philosophic affection for our brothers or if we want to avoid the harassment of rebels and doom of other empires.

The real cleavage in political history has always been not between competing empires but the rulers of any empire and the governed. If we can ally ourselves with the common people everywhere we can take up the political geography of the very classical enemies of empire that garner their strength from being the very support systems of common people that we are not. We cantí do that merely through a tactical departure.
We arenít Romans with ultimate embraces of interest as optimal tactics. We need a severe moral change among us that could take the form of a corporate commitment to taking much less profits in a world in which nobody at the top or even the middle really needs any more money than they have; we need a feeling at the bottom of our culture that we have an ethical obligation to tithe some of our comparative riches to the vast armies of the poor of the world.
At times one sees this lack of morals and focus on greed in dramatic terms; they can conceal the ordinary indifference to contempt that we can have as Haves in a largely Have Not world. We see American drug companies allowing tens of millions of poor Africans to suffer and die from AIDS without simply giving them the drugs for nothing. Somebody at the head of these pharmaceutical cooperations who would not lose one instant of access to as much money as he needs makes that decision again and again.
Yet this ultimate sign of ethical bankruptcy can disguise a general tendency in the American public to ask no questions about conventional colonial wars in Asia, Araby and elsewhere while listening to the usual Hitlerian style propaganda about surgical strikes. They donít realize their willful ignorance about what they know must be happening in these outlands sets into motion the classical dissents of thought and action against the American empire and in passing, themselves.
If we were without our current political leadership to say at the grassroots: let us tithe ten or twenty percent of our income to the poor of the world, we would find after some bumpy moments if our means of delivering aid to the poor were real and not all lost in the usual corrupt administrative costs, a different wold out there which would be much happier with our empire.
We really can't expect on the evidence that any of our leaders are or should be visionaries or offer us real change form business as usual. Our supposed champions are nearly all lawyers who will advocate any cause for money as whores will sleep with any man for pay. They donít as such have the presumptive notion that reality is an objective phenomenon; they see it as an ultimate enigma surrounded by diverse vaporous advocacy. We canít expect in general the sort of people who want power and money and act to get it in a next of competition like themselves to be the champions of charity and lovingkindness.

When an empire meets enemies as it always does whom nature deems worthy of it, it must and does turn to intelligent military minds who will come up with decisive if killing modes of confronting the foe and defeating it. They arenít paid to worry about the life and happiness of the enemy. Since we all have antagonists we shouldnít demean this capacity and talent. We canít diminish the value of lawyers or corrupt tigers or for that matter whores either. There usually comes some time in life when we need an advocate who takes no prisoners, even if we are right and virtuous in our lives.
The gift for organization of corporate bigwigs is fundamentally whether we like it or not what we who are Haves are living off. It would be insanity as well as ingratitude to say otherwise. They have to be what they are. One can't blame any of them for filling niches in a political ecology they were merely born into.
We need a moral regeneration to make our empire work and last; it probably can only begin at the bottom or perhaps the middle, not the top. We have to find in some spiritual way, it doesn't matter what way, a basic adhesion in our spirits to the value and importance of all humanity or we will continue to cede that base to our enemies, all of whom must be thankful we are always on the side of ferocious and harsh warlords, ensconce-bearing expensively robed hierophants and any itinerant thug whom we believe can bring the order of a jail to any region we colonize.
We need to advocate the values of the loose and impolite world of our own nation for everyone on the planet or we risk our foes marking the same very attractive pitch.
We had a good chance to do it in 1945 all over the world; we mostly bungled the opportunity. As a result we face more suspicion from others now than we did. If we donít make that alliance with the bottom and intelligent middle we will suffer the doom of all empires that didnít do so.
Iím not saying we should take up world Welfare. Obviously there are egregious excesses to organized charity. Itís also clear to me from my life that much of adult freedom, power and intelligence is won by taking it, by pain, endurance, conflict and industry, not by benign regal franchise. Yet if we took up a moderate charitable and neighborly empire, who would be our competitors for imperial aegis anywhere? If somebody else did it, would we or could we be competitive with them?
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