What Makes the American Empire Tick?

To understand the impact that the fall of the American empire would have, it is crucial to understand what global empires are historically, how they operate and what causes collapse.

| June 2014

  • The American empire doesn’t exist because its the only nation interested in goods, services or resources, but because those resources pump wealth from other nations into its own.
    Photo by Fotolia/lar01joka
  • "Decline and Fall" by John Michael Greer attempts to start a conversation that needs to happen, especially, but not only, in America — a conversation about the end of American empire and what will come after it.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Can the American empire survive? In Decline and Fall (New Society Publishers, 2014), author John Michael Greer reasons that it cannot. Shedding new light on the misunderstood idea of empire and the costs of imperial overstretch, Greer shows how the US has backed itself into a corner in the pursuit of political and economic power and explores the inevitable consequences of imperial collapse. The following excerpt from the prologue, “Understanding Empire,” details what defines an “empire” and provides historical references for those that came before the United States.

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Understanding Empire

The decline and imminent fall of America’s global empire is the most important geopolitical fact in today’s world. It is also the least discussed. Politicians, generals, diplomats, and intelligence analysts around the world are already wrestling with the immense challenges posed by America’s accelerating downfall, and trying to position themselves and their countries to prosper — or at least to survive — in the impending chaos of a post-American world. Outside the corridors of power, by contrast, few people anywhere seem to be aware of the tsunami of change that is about to break over their heads.

That needs to change. This book is an attempt to start a conversation that needs to happen, especially, but not only, in America — a conversation about the end of American empire and what will come after it.

In order to make sense of the impact that the fall of America’s empire is going to have on all our lives in the decades ahead, it is crucial to understand what empires are, what makes them tick, and what makes them collapse. To do that, however, it will be necessary to bundle up an assortment of unhelpful assumptions and misunderstandings of history and chuck them into the compost.

We can start with the verbal habit of using empire — or more exactly, the capitalized abstraction Empire — as what S. I. Hayakawa used to call a “snarl word”: a content-free verbal noise that’s used to express feelings of hatred. The language of politics these days consists largely of snarl words. When people on the leftward end of the political spectrum say “fascist,” or “Empire,” for example, more often than not these words mean exactly what “socialist” or “liberal” mean to people on the right — that is, they express the emotional state of the speaker rather than anything relevant about the object under discussion. Behind this common habit is one of the more disturbing trends in contemporary political life: setting aside ordinary disagreement in favor of seething rage against a demonized Other on whom all the world’s problems can conveniently be blamed.

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