Tag Archives: empires

The Global Ruleset for Processing Poltically Bankrupt Empires

Empires have fallen before. The British, French, and Portuguese empires all fell in the second-half of the 20th century. Our “global ruleset for processing politically bankrupt empires” has been to encourage the center of the old empire to act as a responsible country, and forget its imperial ambitions. So we purposefully went out of our way to encourage Britain, France, and Portugal to lose their imperial positions. This process was occasionally painful, for instance during the Suez Crisis which caused the collapse of the British government. However, because the center of the old empire was esentially “Core” in nature, the process was eventually successful.

When the Soviet Empire fell, the same “global ruleset for processing politically bankrupt empires” was run on Russia. This encouraged the center of the old Soviet Empire to act responsibly, while encouraging Russia to forget its old empire. This process was occasionally painful, for instance during the Kosovo War, when their client lost some territory. However, because Russia was essentially “Gap” in its nature the process failed, and we are left with a belligerent successor state — an angry version of Portugal after her empire.

Map of Japan and the Chinese Empire

While browsing today in the wake up my odd honor, I came across this map from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection‘s Cambridge Modern History Atlas, 1912


This map struck me because it reverses the standard view of China and Japan. Instead of a whole China and an expansionary Japanese Empire, it shows the Rising Sun’s lands as just “Japan,” while being careful to separate China from Chinese dependencies. Observe the rump China:


And the majestic Japan


A good reminder of what a Gap was a century ago, and that Japan had built a Core with Creating.

Empires of Connectivity and Generations of Empire

All Roads Lead to Rome,” by Jeff Vail, A Theory of Power: Jeff Vail’s Critique of Hierarchy & Empire, 5 October 2004, http://www.jeffvail.net/2004/10/all-roads-lead-to-rome.html.

The blogosphere is abuzz with empires. Chirol started it by talking about themtwice. Zen Punditthree times. Jewish Blog jumped on the bandwagon. Even Dr. Daniel Nexon, someone with formal education who actually knows what he is talking about, offered his thoughts.

I offered my humble thoughts earlier. So for this I’d just like to highlight an article I found that discusses how Empires manage connectivity.

Author Jeff Vail first notes that Rome was a new type of Empire. Previous empires were largely thirst-based, but Rome became connectivity-based

Many of the major empires that preceded Rome shared a common source of formational energy. As described by historian Karl Wittfogel, they were all “hydraulic” empires. The mechanism of centralization [of the old Empires] was their shared need to pool massive labor and resources to build and maintain the irrigation works upon which their agricultural sustenance depended. Rome formed in the absence of great public-irrigation projects. As such, it required a new mechanism of political centralization to provide formational energies and counter the distributed spacing and centrifugal tendency of economic organization. Rome pioneered a new form of Empire, a connectivity empire, laying the groundwork for modern hierarchical state-economies (See Figure 4).

If we use Chirol’s concept of “generations,” we might call a Hydraulic Empire a “Zeroth Generation Empire” or a “Pre-Modern Empire.” In a Pre-Modern, Hydraulic, of 0G Empire, the most important “flows” are the flow of labor into the center and the flow of water into the periphery. However, in a Connectivity or 1st Generation Empire the flows become much richer. Now the main flows are wealth and security, with a flow of wealth into the center and a flow of security into the periphery.

However, this is not done in a vacuum. In the Roman Empire, for example, this was done through roads.

If Rome had allows the market to function naturally, the power of the City of Rome would have gradually been reduced as other cities enjoy the economic benefits of security. A natural ebb-and-flow of exchange creates a decentralized Empire.



However, the Romans did not want this. The Romans did not want ;the Empire’ to become a decentralized polity. They wanted the Empire to remain a tool of Rome.

So the Romans purposefully warped their economy through their road network, purposefully undercutting minor hubs and linking as many nodes as possible directly to Rome.


So, some open questions

  • Chirol described First Generation Empires as defined by “hard power” and Second Generation Empires as defined by “soft power.” But the fact that Pre-Modern Empires exported water, without which a painful death is almost immediate, shows that their power was even “harder” than Rome. So instead of “hard power” and “soft power,” do we simply have a continuum of “power hardness”?
  • Likewise, the arteries of Pre-Modern Empires were canals that carry water, and the arteries of 1st Generation Empires were roads and ocean-routes that carried goods and men. Does this mean that the arteries of 2nd Generation Empires are telecommunication lines that carry ideas? But we know thatideas spread through the Roman road system. And many claim that information itself can be deadly. Is this another example of a continuum of power-hardness?
  • If America wanted to “calcify” (in Vail’s words) her world power, could she arrange ultra-high-speed fiber-optic lines to all run through the continental US? Or is this form of geographic power now obsolete?
  • How does Rome’s strategy of isolating competitive nodes harmonize with Chirol’s statement that “Great empires don’t compete against other systems per se, they strive to become “the system.””

Update: Mark at ZenPundit alerted me to Dr. Daniel Nexon’s new post on Empires

As he agrees with me on the Mongols

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?

(compared to)

Chinggis Khan, for example, combined steppe cavalry techniques with a reorganization of the tribal structure of his forces, a not-so-healthy does of sociopathic paranoia, and, eventually, Chinese siege techniques. Despite Chirol’s assertion about the Mongol imperium (which lasted, as such, for an extremely short period), it is pretty hard to know whether it was really a net positive. The Mongols did enormous damage to regions of China, destroyed the Kievan Rus’, crushed the Abbasid Caliphate, and just plain killed a lot of people. The factors that led to Mongol success in warfare had very little to do with whatever contributions they brought to the world by making the east-west trade routes safer for a time.

he’s clearly a genius. He also picks up this post’s theme of a hydraulic Empire, if critically

I wasn’t aware of Vail’s work – and his book – until Dan linked to it; Vail shares some of the same sensibilities that Patrick Jackson and I have articulated in some of our collaborative pieces. That being said, the hydraulic theory of empire is, as a comprehensive account of the formation of ancient empires, probably wrong

Go read!

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

Fifth Generation Warfare?,” by William Lind, from Defense and the National Interest, 3 February 2004, http://www.d-n-i.net/lind/lind_2_03_04.htm (from Zen Pundit).

A History of Empires,” by Chirol, Coming Anarchy, 28 July 2005, http://www.cominganarchy.com/archives/2005/07/28/a-history-of-empires/.

John Ikenberry’s Pissed,” by Daniel Nexon, The Duck of Minerva, 30 July 2005, http://duckofminerva.blogspot.com/2005/07/john-ikenberrys-pissed.html.

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.