The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
October 25, 2006 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Empire Falls. "They called it 'the American Century,' but the past hundred years actually saw a shift away from Western dominance. Through the long lens of Edward Gibbon's history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Rome 331 and America and Europe 2006 appear to have more than a few problems in common." By Niall Ferguson, whose views on the American hegemony have been discussed previously.
posted by homunculus (46 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Interestingly, Gibbon blamed the "fall" of the Roman Empire on one thing that may be relevant today: the decline of civic duty and the outsourcing of defense. Roman citizens simply stopped signing up to fight and so they had to hire "barbarian" mercenaries who eventually took over from the inside. Since we have no modern Germans crossing the Canadian border to sack Washington, in our case "barbarian" is the corporate takeover and control of government from the inside.
posted by stbalbach at 9:27 PM on October 25, 2006

BTW - great article. I should have read it first before making the above post :-)
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 PM on October 25, 2006

Actually on closer inspection I would have to say this article is somewhat flawed. Gibbon was not the first or last to theorize on why Rome "fell", he is perhaps the most famous, if not very old (before professional historians existed). Many of his ideas have since been discounted - there are over 300 published academic theories why Rome fell, and many more recent and up to date with the latest scholarship - an appeal to Gibbon is an appeal to mass popular culture. Drawing historical analogies and cherry picking is history by deduction, the worst kind. Rome fell due to some very particular conditions unique to it, to try and layer that on the present is called "modernism". I'm a bit skeptical of the conclusion, but the ideas and perspective are interesting. I wonder if this is not some kind of apology for conservative policy.
posted by stbalbach at 10:05 PM on October 25, 2006

posted by homunculus at 10:09 PM on October 25, 2006

posted by homunculus at 10:10 PM on October 25, 2006

i do agree that the american empire will experience a similar decline to that of the one suffered by the roman peoples. however, i do think that it is silly to draw paralells from their time to ours, asserting that those same things that brought down rome will bring the west down too.

it's silly to think that in a world which has changed so f'ing much, that a few general ideas (rome was overstretched, rome was arrogant, rome was too drunk on wine) could motivate a person to argue that the us and the west will suffer the same fate as rome because of all these analgous happenings in the us and western states.

don't get me wrong. the us will fall like andre the giant and his posse being knifed from behind by two foot tall gnomes.

but a real explanation as to the real reason for the fall of rome is, by most accounts, unagreed upon. we don't even know why rome fell. how can we use this ignorance of the end of rome to prove or somehow give us perspective on the coming fall of the us?
posted by localhuman at 10:11 PM on October 25, 2006

to echo stbalbach, i also think this is a great article.
posted by localhuman at 10:14 PM on October 25, 2006

Great article. I read a bit ago. I've been stealing from it for a couple of weeks.
posted by tkchrist at 10:18 PM on October 25, 2006

I dunno about that. I can buy the demographic, economic and military arguments, but when he starts into the cultural stuff--well, something tells me future historians aren't gonna be tut-tutting about how America would have survived if only they'd stayed in church and played less Grand Theft Auto.
posted by arto at 10:21 PM on October 25, 2006

Sayeth one of my profs in college: History doesn't move in circles. It's much more like a curly-q.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:22 PM on October 25, 2006

scaryblackdeath: go outwards or inwards? long-term macro-historical trends are getting shorter and shorter or the other way around?
posted by trinarian at 10:29 PM on October 25, 2006

homunculus : did you get this from Political Theory Daily Review like I did? If so, it's cool to cite sources. Good read.
posted by trinarian at 10:33 PM on October 25, 2006

All of a sudden I've been hearing lots about Theor Mommsen's take on the late Roman Empire. Even the New York Times printed a piece that used Mommsen--that most formidable of historians--to consider the question of imperial over-reach.

The times piece above quotes Mommsen on Roman militarization in the face of terror, but just as relevant would be Mommsen's broader analysis of Roman decadence, much of which (I believe he argued) was due to the the concentration of wealth and land into fewer and fewer hands.

Ring any bells?
posted by washburn at 10:46 PM on October 25, 2006

Very interesting article. For those who haven't read it- Ferguson says that Gibbon said that Rome's decline had four primary causes: military overstretch, inner decadence, religious conversion and barbarian invasion. He then, kinda strangely, pins the first two on contemporary America (which he considers analagous to the Roman Empire) and the second two on contemporary Europe (which he considers analagous to its successor, the Byzantine Empire) . The fact that the sequence of empires is thus backwards in his analogy, along with the fact that neither the U.S. nor Europe is evidently doing too badly individually, weakens the comparison, IMHO. But as stalbach said, Gibbon is just thrown in there for marketing. Ferguson's main point is that Americans have grown selfish and Europeans have grown lazy.
posted by gsteff at 10:46 PM on October 25, 2006

did you get this from Political Theory Daily Review like I did? If so, it's cool to cite sources. Good read.

No, I stumbled across it after following a link from Crooks and Liars to Vanity Fair's new article on Haditha. I was surprised I missed this one, actually.
posted by homunculus at 10:55 PM on October 25, 2006

Ferguson's main point is that Americans have grown selfish and Europeans have grown lazy.

As a selfish American who enjoys the lazy European lifestyle, this Ferguson fellow just might be on to something...
posted by three blind mice at 10:59 PM on October 25, 2006

One of the least discussed (in part because it is also a fairly recent revelation, but also because it is politically charged) causes contributing to the fall of the Roman empire was the shift in wealth away from a strong middle class in the Republic and early empire (first century bc and first century bce) towards a higher concentration of wealth in a smaller number of hands at the top, and a declining standard of living for the masses.

The causes were many, but government policy was one obvious source. The Roman empire was fond of stamping out business competition - sometimes by force, often by legislation and government allocation of resources, e.g. establishing trade centers to compete with and suffocate non-Roman trade centers. Also, monopolies were often granted for businesses, trade, etc. based on political favors.

And of course there were plenty of fiscal problems. Huge armies and endless foreign wars were a tremendous and continuous strain on the budget, never mind the political instability of civil wars. Deficit spending wasn't something ancient economies could get away with for long, so the results were often much more direct – devaluation of the currency, inflation, economic contraction, etc.

Rome also suffered from huge trade deficits with places as far away as India (and beyond) as early as the first and second centuries (Tiberius complained about the huge outflows of Roman coin to India, which archaeologies find still find throughout India – from the north all the way to the southern tip where many of the large coastal cities had ‘Latin quarters’ even then).

Tax policies could kill local economies - in the 4th century, you can read examples of farms and orchards being abandoned because the tax laws made them unprofitable. Or just as bad, the military would sometimes come in and confiscate food and services and destroy livelihoods.

The large standing army took a big chunk out the available manpower. Throw in a plague, political instability, or a war, and your economy could be devastated and have little real chance of rebounding anytime soon (if ever).

And of course, there was the corruption - huge, wasteful expenditures by the emperors also added to the tax burden often without any real benefit to the economy (parties and palaces vs. public works and jobs programs).

Anyway, the short of it is that bad governmental policy helped suffocate the economy and destroy the middle class to such a point that "barbarian invaders" became welcome in later centuries because the regime change meant lower taxes, less corruption and less abusive rule.

If you want to draw parallels, the pressures on a stagnant if not shrinking middle class are increasing despite growth in the economy (which is being enjoyed almost exclusively by the wealthiest 10% or less). We have huge expenses from wars (unlike today, in ancient Rome a conquest might actually pay for itself), massive debt, and huge trade deficits. We’re not suffering much in the way of inflation or currency devaluation – not now, anyway. But the pressures on our currency are similar; the effects are simply being delayed and masked by the more modern construct of debt. The same might be said for our taxes – borrowing money we’re spending today is simply a deferred tax that our kids and grandkids will have to pay with interest.
posted by Davenhill at 11:22 PM on October 25, 2006 [4 favorites]

As a selfish American who enjoys the lazy European lifestyle, this Ferguson fellow just might be on to something..

I KNEW we had something in common.
posted by tkchrist at 11:33 PM on October 25, 2006

I read the first page and then I got bored because I ran out of whiskey. Here's the way this shit works. First the U.S. falls, then China takes over and quickly falls because the environment is too fucked. Meanwhile, the dolphins are evolving (this has something to do with the warming of the oceans) and they rise from the sea and take over for a few thousand years. Eventually, humans repopulate the earth, kill off their dolphin overlords, redevolope civilization and historically dicover this very comment on Metafilter and then worship me as a god. Then the asteroid hits.
posted by jefbla at 11:47 PM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

jefbla: Almost right. People invent time travel as do the dolphins, both, seeing your comments as the start of everything engage in subtle and almost undetectable comment wars on MeFi that determine the fates of the ueber dolphin and human races.

Ever wonder why this place is referred to as the blue? It's not the colour scheme, it's the metaphor for time travelling super dolphin and human conflict from the waves of the future.
posted by sien at 12:20 AM on October 26, 2006

Good article, but the premise that if we all shouted praise jeebus more we'd be a stronger state strikes me as the author's opinion masquerading as a historically-based premise. I feel that it's the militant members of the praise crowd who are enabling the wholesale gutting of the middle class that is currently approaching its zenith.
posted by maxwelton at 12:46 AM on October 26, 2006

Yes, I though it was a good article, until I got to the mystifying part about religion. Is Ferguson seriously suggesting that a lack of belief in Christianity is somehow going to doom us? I prefer to see it as part of a New Enlightenment where science, not religion has the upper hand.
posted by salmacis at 1:07 AM on October 26, 2006

How many books on Empire has Ferguson done now? Four? Five? And yet he's still basically a historiographer and pontificator on the topic, rather than a historian. That's fine if you want to be part of the public debate, which Dr F. is unashamed about; but even Paul Kennedy's grand sweep of power politics had a big wodge of primary economic history, akin to Ferguson's original specialisation.

I'll note, in passing, that Niall Ferguson is a friend and former colleague of David Womersley, editor of the recent Penguin scholarly edition of Gibbon. Not that this should imply anything other than the occasional review logroll; Womersley's edition is extremely well done. And I'm not just saying that because he was one of my tutors.
posted by holgate at 2:30 AM on October 26, 2006

Niall has become a bit of a Teledon and his latest War of the Worlds series was compelling but crude. However, he remains a challenging and gifted historian whose ideas I always take seriously. One of the things I like most about living in the UK compared to the US is how much more secular it is – God is much, much too busy and omnipresent in America. I feel much less alone being atheistic (though my values have also been shaped by parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition). But I can see what he means with about the replacement of organised Judeo-Christian religion with a more chaotic, less rational grab bag of beliefs and superstitions ranging from feng shui to ‘Dr.’ Gillian McKeith and her poo sniffing (it’s a hard world and its hard to say no to comfort). I would amend his thesis somewhat to say that the US has become selfish, religiously zealous and lazy while the EU has become lazy, excessively introspective and crippled by self loathing. Not a recipe for success – and the demography thing is worrying. Maybe if more nations became truly family friendly like the Nordics while maintaining the female reproductive freedom that is a perquisite for any claim to civilisation this trend would reverse? Is it so terrible anyway when London seems so crowded and I need more space??
posted by The Salaryman at 4:11 AM on October 26, 2006

I also started to choke at the same point as Salmacis and share the hope that reason and a sense of wonder about the ongoing journey of scientific discovery could be a better organising principle than holy rolling and speaking in tongues. Maybe he believes the cynical Straussian idea that elites can have access to pur reason and masses need mystical bread and circuses to be managed?

Nonetheless with numbers and zeal on the one hand, tireless labour and ambition on the other, parts of the world that have strong organising priciples as societies cannot help but outcompete a tired, doubting and confused West in many ways. The Suicide of the West by former MP Chris Smith and Richard Koch makes some cogent points about our loss of belief in more important things than just celestial beings - like basic Enlightenment ideals and freedoms - as being kind of collective suicide before the rest of the world.
posted by The Salaryman at 4:20 AM on October 26, 2006

I like to think that there has been a series of empires: Rome, Ottoman, British, Holy Roman--and now, at present, the US. they come and they go or decline, but we are in a different situation and comparisons to Rome are at best questionable. Example: if there is to be a major rise of China as empire, what of gloabalization, the fac t that Chinese economy will be dependent upon the West and us on them. Then there remains demographics, another important issue not discussed as serious matter when discussing earlier empires etc etc etc. The Russian "empikre" fell but it still has nukes etc so that they are important on the world stage.
posted by Postroad at 4:30 AM on October 26, 2006

I have yet to read the article in its entirety, but I want to address the topic of Christianity and how turning away from it may be causing causing problems for America.

I don't know if it is the turning away from Christianity per se that is the problem, but it may be the impending loss of a common moral fiber that is the problem that is being addressed. Traditionally, Christianity provided a very strong glue and a strong moral compass from which the early settlers grew upon. It's that vaunted "Puritan work ethic" that is claimed to have helped to build America, and it was Lincoln's appeal to a higher power that he used as justification for the abolishment of slavery.

I'm using relatively weak and broad-brushed examples here, but I'm in a rush. The point is that "Christianity" could be replaced with any other form of cultural/social mechanism to bond people and to spread a common thread. The Judeo-Christian ethic was important for the foundation of North America and the creation of a cohesive society with common values, mores and norms (let's just overlook that whole slavery thing for the moment...).

Now, many people turn to Europe and say that Europe is currently in a decadant, lazy stage of its history, where they've thrown off religious bonds that are resulting in a splitting of society across multiple fault lines. Not having gone into detail on this, on the surface that seems like a reasonable theory to posit, but I've not read anything to back it up yet. I would say that Europe, having suffered two disastrous wars in the 20th Century, is still in the process of reinventing itself and casting off two thousand years of history that have shackled it since Rome conquered France and England.
posted by tgrundke at 5:30 AM on October 26, 2006

it's cool to cite sources
No it isn't. Academically rigorous perhaps, but not cool.
posted by bonaldi at 6:19 AM on October 26, 2006

The US empire is already declining, but what will replace it will not be china.

The next empire will be a web of transnational corporations, run by the increasingly smaller number of people who actually own capital. They'll increasingly depend on more and more automated business processes, until the corporations run almost entirely without human intervention -- hirings and firings, new branches, strategies, marketing-- everything decide by algorithms and computers -- even wars will be fought and 'elections' decided by drones and robots.

Corporations are already considered persons under US law. Eventually, they'll start ACTING as persons, and the entire world will essentially run as a colony, serving the needs of these near omniscient corporate entities.

Rising China doesn't mean the chinese people are going to gain any power. They won't. China is merely being integrated into already existing corporate hegemony. Very little will change for the vast majority of Chinese and Indians. Americans and Europeans are in for a long and hard fall, before they're reduced to slave labor, as they inevitably will.
posted by empath at 6:42 AM on October 26, 2006

Womersley's edition is extremely well done. And I'm not just saying that because he was one of my tutors.

Wow lucky you. Womersley's edition has replaced J.Bury's edition (about 100 years old now) as the new standard. It really is very good (the Greek quotes are not as good, but who reads Greek).

See also Ferguson "Empires with Expiration Dates" in Foreign Policy (Sep/Oct 2006).
posted by stbalbach at 6:48 AM on October 26, 2006

I, for one, welcome our new Gothic overlords...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:08 AM on October 26, 2006

Great article.

I agree with tgrundke's assessment of the author's intended point with regards to the West turning away from Christianity. The issue isn't Christianity, it's the loss of a unifying force, a traditional rallying point for the West, a guide to behaviour and world view.

I'm wondering though, how to account for the very real differences in the broadly painted Muslim/Christian worlds.

It's not like Sunni and Shi'a get along perfectly, right?
posted by Merlyn at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2006

Sure, the American Empire will fall eventually, just as Rome did. But Rome took a long damn time to fall. Like, several centuries. There were periods that seemed pretty bleak. There were periods of reconsolidation. And even after the fall, half the Empire still survived in the East.

I remember reading something to the effect that there wasn't a real sense of crisis, a real sense of Doom, until about the 430s-450s. Up to that point, most people -- people who cared, at least -- believed that the Empire would survive.

My prediction:

Barring any dramatic increases in lifespan, nobody with a current Metafilter account will live to see the collapse of the American Empire.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:26 AM on October 26, 2006

> I don't know if it is the turning away from Christianity per se that is the problem, but it may
> be the impending loss of a common moral fiber that is the problem that is being addressed.

I doubt that it's even "moral fiber," so much as the loss of commonality and general agreement on anything. To prevent a given culture/civilization from fragmenting and breaking up, no one has ever found a substitute for commonly held myths. It doesn't matter that they're myths, only that they're commonly believed by a dominant majority.
posted by jfuller at 9:30 AM on October 26, 2006

jfuller - good point. In a graduate school course on the development of nations and states we examined how many countries have developed great myths during their infancy, and how these myths and ties to great figures and great stories is in many ways what helps to bond a people and give them some pride in themselves.

Commonality and general agreement is exceedingly important to the strength of a people, and thus a country. When you lose that cohesive backing, your society begins to collapse. In this vein, I can understand why some conservatives (albeit, I would suggest, naively) attack social issues in the way that they do. What they are forgetting is that when one underlaying theme decays, another can rise to replace it. You just need to be certain that the right values, norms and beliefs are brought into the light.

If we look at the history of the United States, men like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were revered. We created great myths about them to prop them up and make them more grand (Washington's cherry tree or Franklin's kite), we build massive statues and monuments to these great figures and their deeds become legend. We tell our children they were great, moral men of upstanding character and that this is what you want to strive to be. These are the stories that help make for a cohesive society, and they are important.

In the case of a country such as Romania, I learned some interesting things. For example, many moons ago the country adopted the name "Romania" in an effort to closer associate itself with the West and to lend some credibility for having "Roman ties", in lieu of being associated with the (then thought to be) backwards Byzantine empire. The myths of greatness and ties to Rome were important in creating this.

During the Reconquista in Spain, the driving call of unity was Christianity to push the Muslims out of the Iberian peninsula and to keep them from invading north into France (which they very nearly did). Ferdinand and Isabel in particular used this as a unifying force to congeal the otherwise disparate kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Catalonia, Valencia, etc. into what became the Spanish Kingdom in 1492 after the Muslims were expelled.

So I would argue, again broadly speaking, that these kinds of social ties are utterly important to society. Today we see religion ebbing and flowing still as a source of strong social cohesion. My question is, especially in a country like the United States, what are we going to use as a point of cohesion into the future? Sadly, I do not see it being good (consumerism? a shared decadance? porn?)
posted by tgrundke at 10:31 AM on October 26, 2006

only that they're commonly believed by a dominant majority.

you're assuming that the Greek believed in their gods then. they didn't
posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2006

that the Greeks
posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2006

(the case for the Romans is a bit more complicated)
posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2006

The Greeks held substantial shared values that were symbolized and personified by the gods.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:15 PM on October 26, 2006

> you're assuming that the Greek believed in their gods then.

Didn't say the commonly-held myths had to be explicitly religious. And the case of the pagan Greeks is complicated by the fact that they weren't all that unified, being divided into city-states each with its own peculiarities. (Quiz question: compare and contrast Athens and Sparta from the founding of each to the exile of Demosthenes. Discuss relevant political, economic and cultural factors completely but succinctly. Papers will be collected in 30 minutes.)

For the Hellenic world as a whole the sort of unifying cultural beliefs I mean would be things like only weirdos wear clothes when they exercise, and there are basically only two languages--Greek and bar-bar-bar. Logically unjustifiable, these, but Hellenes from Iberia to Colchis agree about them so they must be true.
posted by jfuller at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2006

Nevermind the fact that speaking of the "fall" of Rome at all is a historically dubious proposition. Deciding that barbarians sacking an Rome long since toppled from glory is some tidy bookend for the Empire is foolish. Besides, Byzantium did just fine for another 1000 years or so.
posted by absalom at 2:04 PM on October 26, 2006

Yes, I though it was a good article, until I got to the mystifying part about religion. Is Ferguson seriously suggesting that a lack of belief in Christianity is somehow going to doom us? I prefer to see it as part of a New Enlightenment where science, not religion has the upper hand.
In fact, as Ferguson acknowledges in the article (end of section VI), the Gibbonian view is that organized Christianity was one of the developments that doomed the Roman Empire. Many Protestant modern Roman historians supported this view, such as Theodor Mommsen and Jakob Burckhardt. Gibbon and Burckhardt defended Diocletian, who started a persecution of the Christians in 303-11, and condemned Constantine the Great for converting and showering privileges on the Church.

In the twentieth century, left-leaning Roman historians also held Christianity to blame. A. H. M. Jones' The Later Roman Empire 284-602 (1964) viewed Christianity as multiplying the "useless mouths" (privileged non-producers) of the Empire, in the form of tax-exempt clerics, monks and nuns. Jones claimed that he had never read anything by Karl Marx. The overtly Marxist Roman historian Geoffrey De Ste. Croix, in The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, is even harsher on Christianity, which he regards as perverted by the organized Church from Paul onwards.

It's hard to say whether, if there had been no organized Christianity or if it had never been made the state religion, whether the Roman Empire would have survived. Certainly more funds might have been available to the state and more highly intelligent and capable individuals might have been attracted into secular governance rather than the Church.

But the structural weaknesses of the Later Roman Empire were economic and (after a couple of plagues, one in the mid-third century AD, another in the 500s) demographic, according to twentieth-century historians.

I don't believe that Christianity made the inhabitants wimpy, as Ferguson represents Gibbon as saying. The Byzantines fought off their eastern enemies for roughly a thousand years after the fall of Rome to Attila (410 A.D. to 1453). But the Byzantine Empire had a smaller area to defend.

(sorry for being so damn long, but I have read a good deal on this subject).

If I could get it online, I'd post the page from Alexander Demandt's Der Fall Roms (1984) in which he lists all the one-word answers that have been proposed as causes for the fall of Rome. Here is a sample (translated):
Abolition of gods, abolition of rights, absence of character, absolutism, agrarian question, agrarian slavery, anarchy, anti-Germanism, apathy, aristocracy, asceticism, attacks by Germans, attacks by Huns, attacks by nomads on horseback.
B to Z at Crooked Timber (the Langford link no longer works).
posted by bad grammar at 2:06 PM on October 26, 2006

The US is not an Empire in the sense that the Roman, British, Holy Roman or Persian Empires were.

It does not directly rule over friendly states. Only since the end of the Cold War, in which America's allies were of great importance, has the US acted Imperially.

The founding fathers did not want the US to engage in Imperial adventures.

Also, times have changed. The other historic empires gained something from their empire. It is not at all clear that an Empire is an advantage any more. The US is currently needlessly bleeding in its quasi Imperial venture in Iraq. Wars costing trillions of dollars may hasten the US's relative economic decline. The role of the Afghanistan war in the collapse of the Soviet Union should be a strong warning to Washington.

Chalmers Johnson is a writer who abhors the current American prediliction for attempting to establish some kind of empire and has written about the dangers of it. He has been mentioned here at MeFi a few times, including an interview
posted by sien at 4:26 PM on October 26, 2006

Only since the end of the Cold War, in which America's allies were of great importance, has the US acted Imperially.

You have got to be kidding me.
Hello? Mexican War? A war of choice that we provoked so we could annex the land from Texas to California? Spanish-American War anyone? Where we said the Spanish blew up a ship of ours that they didn't and then conquered the Philipines, slaughtering as many as a million people in the process? This country has been imperial from the outset, mainly for the purpose of opening up new markets and getting more natural resources. And the way the UN is set up and the international trade organizations are devised to keep third world countries in permanent poverty so we can harvest their minerals is nothing if not imperial.

The United States is an incredibly unhealthy society. Yes, it's easy to dismiss the author pointing out Grand Theft Auto as simply a snobbish historian's personal tastes, but think about it: this country makes nothing. We manufacture almost nothing. We are completely debt-ridden to the tune of trillions. Our military prestige has been utterly shamed by Iraq and we have no military flexibility to respond globally - hell, we can't even save our own asses from Katrina. Our people can hardly be bothered to change out of their pajamas when they go out in public; the education system is an utter failure, for the most part because we need ignorant consumers, not crafty innovators. Binge drinking and gambling has become not only socially acceptable but, in fact, one of the few social behaviors left. This is looking less like Rome and more like Russia...
posted by bukharin at 4:59 PM on October 26, 2006

And whiners, don't forget them. Enough whiners to sink Madagascar, if they all went there. (Please!) The most whiners all at once of any nation since Atlantis, and we all know what happened to those guys. OMG we're doomed, DOOMED.
posted by jfuller at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2006

I'm not quite sure you can call the Mexican-American War an Imperial war. It was a war of expansion, true, but an imperial? Not really. There was no motivation to rule over the Mexican people or belief that the United States could shoulder a part of the White Man's Burden. I think the fact that the United States let the Republic of Texas sit on its hands for nearly ten years says a lot as well.

The Spanish-American War is perhaps the best example of an "imperial" war and it was quite contested. Cuban rebels tried to get the United States to intervene years earlier and the U.S. refused. During the Grant administration, Grant's own attempts to basically buy the Dominican Republic failed because Congress refused to adhere to the idea that the U.S. should do such a thing.

Essentially, America and Imperialism is not one smooth line that can be followed through history. Its a line that goes up and down depending on the time period and the circumstances surrounding the matters in question.

As for Ferguson, he's made himself a cottage industry as of late of predicting the fall and demise of the American "empire." It seems more like he's become jaded with America's reluctance to assume the imperial stance that he's argued for in two books, and thus, his later work has since become increasingly pessimisstic.

America is not going to fall any time soon, but it will find its power relative to other nations drop somewhat. The world of the future will not be one of a sole hyper power switching places, but is going to be a multi-polar world, a world with many similiar powers as it was around turn of the century 1900.
posted by Atreides at 6:00 AM on October 27, 2006

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