Friday, December 17, 2004

I smell a romantic comedy coming on...

VDH (a gentleman and a scholar, as mentioned previously) has an article up. Laura Rozen takes issue. The sparks fly. Jack Nicholson and Debra Winger are in talks for the movie adaptation.

I guess I've got a couple of things to add (As far as casting goes, it's a toss-up between Bruno Kirby and Kevin Pollack...).

First off, I am largely agnostic on the matter of whether or not the USA is an imperial power. Frankly, I don't much care, so long as the 101st Airborne isn't marching down Whitehall. Lots of high quality work has been produced mulling the issue over and it is a distortion to claim that this is confined to the political left (much of the most thought provoking output comes from the right and centre).

Second, I think VDH (God bless 'im) makes a mistake in trying to launch a simultaneous takedown of the idea that America is not "hegemonic". Let me be quite plain: If you go into print suggesting that America is not an hegemony, in a publication that makes a cottage industry out of reminding us all on an almost daily basis how vastly powerful and omnipotent America is and what a bunch of slackers the rest of us are, you are, quite frankly, taking the piss (I could go Freudian on this phenomenon on an epic, epic scale).

Third, there's the section that Laura Rozen takes issue with:

“Imperialism” and “hegemony” explain nothing about recent American intervention abroad — not when dictators such as Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein were taken out by the U.S. military.

This is a standard line of rhetoric in some circles ("Don't you call me an imperialist while I'm killing dictators!"). Rozen critiques VDH for a selective reading of events. I just feel that it makes no sense. When it came to taking out bad guys, nobody did it with more style, aplomb and enthusiasm over an extended period of time than the British Empire. Stamp out piracy? Check. Free more slaves than pretty much anyone else (after being at the centre of the slave trade for quite some time! That double standard remind you of anything more recent?) in the world? Check. Batter Islamic fundamentalists about the head with a big stick? Check. Overthrow native strongmen and replace them with a relatively progressive system of liberalism (though not democracy)? Check. Wipe out the thugee and various other marauding kill merchants? Check. Put people like a certain M. K. Gandhi on an upwards educational, social and employment escalator and then let them wander around openly telling us we should all bugger off? Check. Provide rights to previously persecuted minority groups? Check. I could go on. But the British Empire did all this sort of thing and still managed to be... er... an empire. The quality of some of the things that took place under that umbrella doesn't invalidate that fact. I could say similar things about Zell Miller's speech at the GOP conference about how ballistic it sent him to hear American troops referred to as "occupiers". Well if we aren't occupying Iraq what are we doing? What were we doing in West Germany? What were we, er, you, doing in Japan? It's all about the context, Zell baby. As far as I'm concerned, "occupier" is value neutral. Take a chill pill. Be hip to the groove daddy-o.

There's a model of empire development that can be provocatively applied to the United States. This employs the British Empire as a template. The British Empire was not, on the whole, the result of a calculated policy. It accumulated over time, like a glass jar full of small change. One of the key aspects of this evolutionary pattern was the transition from hegemony to empire. Britain was a hegemon before she was an imperial power. Countries under British influence more or less got on with things their own way, though in terms of trade and external security (British troops were often asked by native rulers to be based in the country to held defend against outside aggressors.) the British called the shots. Nobody necessarily said this in an explicit fashion, that would be dreadfully vulgar. But everyone knew it to be the case. It was an "understanding". However, the thing about hegemons is that sooner or later their hegemony will be challenged - either from within dominated subordinate political units due to resentment or from without by foreign enemies keen to muscle in on a piece of the action. At this point, the hegemon has two options. First, it can accept the bad news, take a bow and withdraw from its hegemonic status and take on board the ensuing loss to its interests in terms of money, trade, security, prestige, influence and geopolitical position. But then there's a second option. It can become an empire. If we accept that America is an hegemonic power - and I would argue that most of the people on the right who rush to denounce this sort of talk as a left wing conspiracy theory are acting suspiciously like one of those "traditional morality" politicians who always seem to end up getting caught being spanked by of their male interns - it is only a matter of time before it faces a challenge to its hegmony in one form or another and that will be the tipping point.

Will America go down this route? I have enormous faith in America and the American people and I suspect that it probably won't. I also know that if it does I'd rather it was America doing it than almost anyone else in the world (apart from my own country of course...).

But regardless, it warms my heart with kinship because America has inherited two of the greatest of all British values.

Liberalism and well-intentioned hypocrisy.


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