Empires can end with a bang or a whimper, but the one thing we can be absolutely sure about and that is that they all, one day, end. Right now, the American Empire is in its decline. This is an inescapable historical trend.
The final end of the American Empire is on the horizon. We can almost see it. We can surely feel it.
Most empires end with a whimper. When the Goths entered Rome in 476 CE they were entering a place already in very lengthy and advanced decline. The political center of the once mighty Romans had shifted from Rome to Milan sometime before the invasion of the Goth and it had shifted to modest Ravenna at the time of its final downfall. The quietness of its ultimate collapse contrasts sharply with the vigorous militancy through which it grew to unchallenged power.
Similarly the British Empire wound down to a kind of nothingness. The Empire’s orderly departure from Hong Kong before the rising power of China presented us with a picture of a once vast colonial empire reduced to a small city-state whose transfer to the China was both inevitable and necessary. England had lost both the power as well as its interest in clinging to its last few colonial possessions. Like Rome, they moved on with the business of living as a nation, instead of an empire.
We can compare the gradual and quiet declines of Rome and England with the flaming and catastrophic collapses of the Nazi German and Japanese Empires during the Second World War. Unlike Rome and England, these empires grew with great speed and disappeared as quickly as they formed in episodes of massive violence, death, and fiery destruction.
Germany and Japan present exceptions from the course of most once great empires. The powerful empires of China, Persia, and Egypt just petered out over time. They simply ran out of gas and sputtered out on the vast plains of their now fallow fields. The empire phases of China, Persia (Iran), and Egypt were temporary epochs in the long history of each of these still living countries and societies. People and culture survive the collapse of empire.
We might infer that the speed of territorial growth equates with the speed of collapse. Also, quickly developing empires tend to be much more volatile and explosive than their more gradual and evolving historical companions.
What category will America occupy? We can hope that it will follow the example of England, which would seem logical given their cultural similarities, but I am really not so sure about how predictive that isolated fact is. The power of our weaponry and the recklessness with which we tend to use our power might support a more violent implosion. Much of America’s seeming prosperity comes from military spending. America might violently resist its own demise of empire. Also the fragility of America’s economy might not have the resilience of England’s. The collapse of the American Empire, which is happening as I write these words, could be a much more turbulent phase than that of England or Rome.
We can also see that while England survived as a middling economic force after the collapse of its empire, Rome did not. Rome fell into economic and cultural irrelevancy and it wasn’t until over 1,000 years after its collapse did it begin to regain some of its primacy as an important region and city.
We can easily imagine a rapid decline in the average standard of living in the US. Millions of the nation’s immigrants that moved here for a better life, might return to their home countries. America’s cities would continue to hollow out. With the end of the age of oil upon us, the countries aged and backward infrastructure would be unable to keep up with the fierce competition from Asia and to a lesser extent Europe. Our universities, once the standard of the world, would accelerate in decline and importance and in a historical blink of an eye, America would have become a vast, broken land with far less consequence to the more vigorous economies and societies of the world.
America, like Rome and England, and the many other empires once grand, but now forgotten, has simply run out of energy. The engines of growth that made its great rise to power, providing opportunity to millions of immigrants from all over the world, its commitment to building modern infrastructure, as well as its remarkable creativity are all in marked decline. Everything that made America important and powerful are now in reverse. Increasingly we depend on our military to express our power abroad as the reins of economic growth and creativity are passed to the now great economic powers of East Asia.
As the nation’s wealth declines, cultural divisions will worsen. This will feed internal conflict and who knows what else. But this is the very dawn of the new age of a world released from the shadow of the American Empire. Who this transition will play out is the very era in which we are now living.
Quite a few years ago, I said to my cousin, that there is no better place to live than an empire in its decline phase, for in its decline it will spout many cafes and coffee places where we can chat to our heart’s content. And so it is.
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