Response to Chirol on "2nd Generation Empires" – Part 1

Fifth Generation Warfare?,” by William Lind, from Defense and the National Interest, 3 February 2004, (from Zen Pundit).

A History of Empires,” by Chirol, Coming Anarchy, 28 July 2005,

John Ikenberry’s Pissed,” by Daniel Nexon, The Duck of Minerva, 30 July 2005,

Chirol from Coming Anarchy has begun an interesting discussion on 2nd Generation Empire. His extremely well written post deserves attention, and I hope I am bringing enough in this reply.

Without further wait, my thoughts for Chirol…

The answer is what I will call a “Second Generation Empire” or 2GE for short (to be fully defined later).

I look forward to your definition. Remember Lind‘s definition of “generation,” as a “dialectically qualitative shift” or that “absent a vast disparity in size, an army [empire?] from a previous generation cannot beat a force from the new generation”

realism, namely that there is no world order and that nations exist in the world in a state of anarchy

Duck of Minervagave the definition of “realism” as

“Realism comes in a wide variety of flavors, but its adherents generally agree on a number of principles:

1. International politics are, at heart, characterized by a struggle for power.
2. Attempts to transcend power – through, for instance, international institutions – are at best misguided and, at worst counterproductive.
3. The primary actors in international politics are states and the leaders of states.
4. They ultimately pursue “state interests” (‘raison d’état’).”

As realism assumes that states are the primary actors, realism thus implies that the world order can be understood by examining states.

Osama bin Laden and others strongly refute this claim.

Might there be a pattern in the phrases: Pax Romana, Pax Mongolica, Pax Britannia and Pax Americana?

That three of them were largely connected through internal waterways, high-tech roads, and/or oceans, while a fourth is a revisionist defense of a temporary barbarian occupation built-to-fail?

You’ll not find many, if any, examples of the Russians or the British tossing people from towers, gouging out their eyes, keeping them in rat and flea infested underground pits, removing body parts and so forth as the result of policy. While extreme things often happen during battle and the darker side of men sometimes gets the better of them, countries or regions outside the control of empires have hardly had a better track record, if not often a worse one.

The more desperate the fight, the more desperate the measures. Neither the Czar nor the Queen was fighting for existence. The Khans were.

Empires have always begun in successful states

The European Union, which Niall Ferguson calls an “Impire” was formed by Italy, France, and Germany, three Axis dictatorship losers of the Second World War (of course this is unfair to Italy, which retained some capability for internal debate during the war).

Lastly, there is nothing more crucial to an empire than its strength. Sheer military might is the backbone of its credibility .

The Romans were unable to militarily pacify Germania. This did not stop the Romans from integrating the Germans into a world order which transcended Rome itself. Just as the Americans lost the Vietnam War but won the Vietnam Peace, the Roman trade system extended past the frontier of the Empire proper, bringing Roman civilization into places the military could not penetrate.

The military formidable but culturally bankrupt Mongolians, by conquest, absolutely failed at their attempt to rule by force.

Every game needs a Referee and we are it.

Just as every undertaking requires a plan?

The individual hand guides markets, so it is so unreasonable to expect an invisible hand to guide nations?

Other commentators also wrote provocatively:

Mark Safranski from ZenPundit opined:

Minimal rule-sets are very economical – fewer strictures to require enforcement ( which has costs) and fewer unintended consequences as the effects of Rule-sets interact. Maximal Rule-Sets sap strength and waste resources ( USSR).

True. However, minimal rule-sets may impose a very high psychological cost. Maximalist pedophilia rulesets may be easier for a state than minimalist pedophilia rulesets, even if they increase terrible crime, because of the human pressure to “do something.”

Jing Who Dares states:

If we see the past as a guide, empire may have brought prosperity but the seeds of their demise were also sown within that success. As the saying goes, prosperity brings complacency, and no matter how prolific the prophets of empire may have been their power and the order they established eventually collapsed under the weight of entropy and chaos only to be succeeded by a new order.

However, the Roman Peace did not bring complacency. It brought internal struggle — a fourth-generation religious movement. Struggle is natural for humanity, so, if anything, prosperity brings non-complacency.

2 thoughts on “Response to Chirol on "2nd Generation Empires" – Part 1”

  1. Quick comment: realism is not necessarily “disproven” by al-Qaeda. This is a much more complicated argument, but the brief version is

    (1) that saying that states are the “most important actors” in world politics is not the same thing as saying they are the only actors or the only actors who will influence world politics
    (2) realists, believe it or not, make pretty sophisticated arguments for why what al-Qaeda does is just not all that significant compared to what great powers, or even lesser powers, decide to do.

    Mark Lynch doesn't buy this line of reasoning. Read his view here.

  2. PS: the importance of “anarchy” varies in realism; for structural realists, anarchy is the central reason why power cannot be transcended in world politics. For human-nature realists, anarchy might be a permissive condition, but all politics is a struggle for power because we're all pretty much unpleasant animals (see Machiavelli).

  3. Dan Nexon,

    Agreed that realism was not disproven by al Qaeda. My sentence was ambiguous — I meant that Mr. bin Laden himself would argue against this claim, not that bin Laden and his tactics disprove the claim. I see from one dictionary that “rebut” was the appropciate word choice, while another tells me that “refute” is accurate.

    *curses the ambiguity of language*

    In my opinion, Lynch's post is wrongheaded. I will put it on the ever increasing stack of stuff to address.

    *curses the richness of the blogosphere*

    Agreed that anarchy is a problem. Norms and ideology, what Chirol might call a regime systemizing itself, is the only way out.

    Thanks for the insights!


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