Rise & Demise: A Brief Description of Imperialism & The Empire

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What exactly is an empire? Macedonia, Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman Turkey, China, Peru, the Soviet Union, the United States, even by its enemies, the European Union have all been described as empires. We talk of “informal” and “economic” empires, of “business” empires, even of the empire of the heart or reason’s empire. “Empire” has become as much a metaphor as the description of a particular kind of society. today the word is generally used as a term of abuse, although one that is also often tinged with nostalgia. “Empire” suggest the ruthless exploitation of largely defenseless, technologically unsophisticated peoples by the forces of technologically sophisticated ones-the kinds of empires carved out first in the Americas, then in Asia, and finally in Australia and the islands of the Pacific by successive European powers. Or it conjures up images of the Third Reich or Stalinist Russia, where oppressor and oppressed come from much the same kind of cultures, and possess much the same kind of technologies. In both cases the “empire’ is represented as a mode of political oppression, a denial by one people of rights-above all the right to self determination-of countless others. Empires, it is assumed, are in some sense artificial creations. They are created by conquest, and conquerors have always attempted to keep those they have conquered in subservience. This has been achieved by a mixture of simple force and some kind of ideology: in the case of the Roman Empire, this ideology was that of “civilization,” the lure of a more desirable, more comfortable, and inherently richer way of life. In the case of the Spanish, French, and British empires, it was this too, now reinforced by differing brands of Christianity. In the case of the Ottomans it was Islam, and in the case of the Soviet Union, Marxism. It is also assumed that virtually all of those who live under imperial rule would much rather not and that sooner or later they will rise up and drive out their...
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