17A044 The Empire's Rise and Fall by Jim Davies, 12/12/2017    


Government is always evil, because everything it does violates the absolute right of everyone in its domain to rule him- or herself. But some are more evil than others, and at first, right after 1776, the American ones were better than most. Their aim was to get residents out from under the thumb of a government then far more oppressive: that of the British Empire.

A couple of centuries later it had evolved to run an empire of its own, and today that empire is far more powerful than the British one ever was, indeed than any other in history. That was, like Rome, not built in a day; it's worth a look at the highlights of how it happened.

I don't allege that the founders planned it all this way. That would be foolish; they would be predicting how their great great grandchildren would behave, and that's real tricky. But they were all lawyers and/or politicians, so they knew about getting, holding and conveying power, and they did have a wish that their new nation, the United States, should prosper politically in the world - both during their own time and afterwards. That's what founders do. So they set up the structure, not knowing how or when the empire would develop, but making sure that it could.

First, they had to lock in their hold on central power, so as not to be subject to the whims and fancies of the voters or even of the State governments. This they did by leaving blank Article 3, so that whenever push should come to shove, the Supreme Court could rule the way the inner core of government desired. Since the "judicial power" was neither described nor limited, it had a blank check; and that check was cashed by the ingenious trick of Marbury v Madison.

Then later, their successors had to deal with the fractious South, which was antsy that the majority Northerners were bleeding it to death with import taxes. They cleverly did so while vastly expanding their powers in relation to business; railroad companies and others were badgering the central government to finance so-called "improvements" with taxpayer money, always easier to get by confiscation than are freely chosen investments in shares, and Lincoln with the newly-formed Republican Party gladly obliged.

So by 1865 the central, FedGov was well installed and financed and feared. The original formula under which the States had established it and could call it to account any time they wished, remained on paper but only on paper. From then on, real power resided in D.C.

Fortunately the doctrine of laissez faire was still being partly honored, so the Industrial Revolution took place throughout the 19th Century in America as in Britain and elsewhere; wealth enjoyed a massive multiplication and was spread nicely throughout a very rapidly growing population. All that government had to do was to confiscate some of the wealth that the people had so obligingly created. By 1900, a centralized America was therefore an economic as well as a political powerhouse. The FedGov was ready to throw some weight around overseas.

There had already been some exercise of military might in 1846 when large swaths of land were added at the expense of Mexico, in a very one-sided fight; and in suppression of native Americans, which was far more one-sided yet. So in 1898 they were ready to take on the creaking old empire of Spain, and did so with resounding success. Cuba (for a time), Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines were added to the Empire, though not as full member States, just as "possessions" and bases. That was to be a pattern for the future; unlike most empires, the American one battles for influence and military bases, not for the responsibility of administering conquered nations. Clever.

Enter Woodrow Wilson early in the 20th century, from the halls of acedeme; I don't think he planned war. But he was a Democrat, a party enjoying donations from J P Morgan and his wealthy friends; and Morgan also invested massively in 1914 in armaments for the Anglo-French side in WW-1. A year later it had become a stalemate, placing Morgan's money at risk, along with the jobs in US munitions factories on which it was being spent; he vigorously pressed for US participation in the war so as to protect it and them. So Wilson went to war, tipped the balance against Germany and the result was an exhausted Europe and a triumphant USA. Almost by accident, the US emerged as the only power still standing. The Empire was greatly enhanced.

The lesson was not lost on the far less principled Franklin Roosevelt, and when another war loomed in Europe he did his utmost to foster and join it, so as to repeat the process. In one week of December 1941, his cunning caused both Japan and her ally Germany to initiate war on the USA; an achievement that would have left Macchiavelli drop-jawed in admiration. By 1945 (though he was fortunately dead) the US stood taller, even more prosperous, and alone. By entering the war FDR had earned the gratitude of Brits, even while crippling and supplanting their Empire by arriving late. Clever.

The US Empire had reached its zenith. For the next half century it consolidated its victory by stringing military bases around the globe, bankrupting its only credible rival by pursuing an arms race, and by securing worldwide government compliance not by outright conquest and occupation but with "foreign aid."

Came the new century, and that zenith appears to have peaked. 2001 showed how vulnerable it is, not so much to nuclear-armed foreign rivals but to a bunch of 19 amateur hijackers. 2008 showed how shallow is its financial foundation. Currently the dominance of the US Dollar as the world's currency, a key part of maintaining imperial power, is facing serious challenge - from China, Iran and from crypto currencies.

This spells major opportunity: the monolith is vulnerable. It will decline, as the Roman and all other empires have, but you and I have a priceless opportunity not just to help speed its descent but to replace it altogether with a society free of government, like a peaceful and immensely prosperous phoenix risen from its ashes. Carpe diem.


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