Monday, October 9, 2006

Musings on the so-called American Empire

What American Empire?

The idea is frequently bandied about across the spectrum of world geopolitics, both here and abroad, from the Hate-America Right to the Marxist-dominated UN and the Third World nations, that the US is engaged in "empire building" via military conquest (as in Iraq) or by the establishment of a fuzzily defined "economic hegemony", wherein the rest of the world becomes subject to oppressive American capitalists, and often, their alleged "real" masters in Tel Aviv.

For instance, let us hear from Bishop Tikhon of the OCA Diocese of the West:

After all, isn't the Emperor acting according to age-old common sense? "An ounce of preemption is worth a pound of cure?" If we would wish to emulate on a personal scale the Imperial pre-emptive Ethic, we should insure that our teen-age offspring have all their teeth extracted and new ones installed, that all the second-class citizen males [he means Arab-Americans--EHB] have their prostates removed at age 14, and the second-class citizen females have their breasts and ovaries excised at the same age, thus lifting quite a burden from the Medical Trust. Lobotomies are presently being considered as additions to the preemptive health protocols. It's also time, as long as we are bringing things up to date, to forget the word "sovereign" as in "sovereign state" and face the facts: there are none. There is the Empire's capital country, America, and there are the subject countries. The Imperial Ministers of War and Torture are completely in agreement on that one. Too bad that Messieurs Wolfowitz and Perle are not publishing so much these days: they had developed such a transparent idiom for discussing imperial affairs, especially imperial aims. I'm surprised that anyone from Berkeley, with its great university, still refers to "annexation"!! Really, it doesn't happen anymore at all. It's an impossibility. We shouldn't let Cuba think that when they are admitted to the Empire, finally, that this is an annexation. It's a REUNION! [Read the whole post here.]

In August 2006, an ecumenical statement was issued by some of the hierarchs in Jerusalem, led by the Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah: The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism. One of the statements in this manifesto was that "The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism."

Of course, terms must be defined. "Christian Zionism" really means any support given to Israel as opposed to the Islamic militants that seek to destroy her. In the case of America, the commonly-held belief among certain elements is that national government is controlled behind the scenes by Jews in Tel Aviv and Hollywood; that the overriding force in US politics is really AIPAC.

Leaving aside, however, the idiotic preoccupation about sinister Jewish conspiracies, I found the very idea of an American Empire to be, well, simply ludicrous.

My reaction to this document, speaking as someone who is actually sympathetic to the idea of Imperialism (after all, much of our Orthodox Christian history is thoroughly intertwined with the great Orthodox Empires, the last of which fell only in 1917), is to say that the statement that "the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism" is hyperbolic nonsense, and is just a new rendering of the oft-repeated and groundless conspiracy theory that the US is trying to establish a colonial imperium with hegemony over all the world, a notion that is laughable; if the US has this as her goal, her movements and progress toward it are so haphazard, half-hearted, and half-arsed that it would be ridiculous to take her seriously, going around trying to promote the Wilsonian vision of "spreading democracy and self-determination" in the very naive belief that universal suffrage is the panacea for all the world's ills.

The history of US military operations over the past 108 years can hardly be called one of "empire-building". Examples abound. We took Cuba and the Phillipines from Spain in 1898. Then we set them free. In World War I we joined the Allied Powers in an action that was to smash the the four remaining empires in the West, and give self-determination to the peoples of Europe and the Middle East. In World War II, we again joined the Allied Powers to stop the resurgence of the German and Japanese Empires, and to once again reinforce the self-determination doctrine. But when we won, what happened? Germany, Japan, and the other Axis nations were not annexed and permanently occupied, but rather reconstructed and freed to become the giants they are today. During the Cold War, we opposed the imperial ambitions of the Soviet-led Communist International by a policy of containment and in a series of proxy wars, notably in Korea and Vietnam, and more subtly in Chile, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. In the end, the Soviet power fell, and the US, rather than making a group of puppet-states out of the former Soviet Republics and satellites, supported and aided them to become functional countries in their own right.

This does not, of course, mean that we have not had our own policy failures and inequities in regard to other nations. Certainly our propping up of certain elements in Latin America (particularly in Chile and El Salvador) was morally ambiguous. And our treatment of Orthodox Serbia has been downright criminal.

Since the end of the Cold War the USA has been the sole remaining "superpower" in the world. As such, it was inevitable that we would be accused of imperial aims whenever we intervened in the affairs of other nations. But nothing we have done militarily can honestly be called empire-building. The examples of Afghanistan and Iraq, in the current struggle, show this clearly. We have annexed neither. We turned Afghanistan over to the Afghans. We turned Iraq over to the Iraqis. And in the latter case, we see the new Prime Minister setting up an alliance with the rogue Jihadist republic of Iran - and we have not scrapped the new system to install a new "puppet".

Again, if this is intended to be the creation of an empire, it is one of the most poorly conceived and executed attempts in the history of imperialism.

The other common accusation, once the silly notion of American-Empire-by-Conquest is shown to be a falsehood, is more subtle - economic hegemony.

Let us consider the words of Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All-Greece, from a speech he delivered to the Fifth Athens Summit in September 1999:

In the first place, I am asking myself whether the term globalization is correct. Is it, indeed, about globalization? We do not really have a new world order where each nation contributes its cultural, technological and financial property, so that a new, supranational, global community might be formed. Instead, we have the exportation of a model, which belongs to one country only and the imposition of that model on other countries. Hence, whoever does not wish to play with words and the reality these words signify would speak of world Americanization rather than globalization - even if it does not a priori oppose to Americanization.

Another Orthodox commentator [1] on this speech had this to say:

This is a gross generalization that anyone who travels a bit, particularly to emerging nations, would notice. Places like China and India "roll their own" mix of popular culture (you should see Chinese television -- this is quite obvious). But, an observation on the term "Americanization" seems to be in order:

There are certain American economic and cultural aspects that indeed predominate. In a lot of cases, this is not because America "pushed" them -- it was more like a dominant gene. English is the international language of commerce because of a desire on the part of the world to barter with the world's largest economy, not due to some sort of insidious hegemonic plot.

When it comes to culture, the question changes. WHY do American cultural elements dominate, while others do not?

Critics of this cultural proliferation tend to gloss over this question, because the answers to it aren't particularly comfortable for them, because the real question they want to ask is "why do American popular and economic elements predominate, INSTEAD OF THE ONES I THINK SHOULD PREDOMINATE???"

It's an interesting question. It's also probably a significant reason why the Muslims are at our throats. (The only Western culture that seems to have the gumption to raise this issue bluntly is the French.)

Archbishop Christodoulos continues:

David Rothkopf, the managing director of Kissinger Associates, participated in a debate proportionate to ours which had been organized by "Foreign Policy", a magazine of indisputable authority, published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. There David Rothkopf emphatically declared that globalization is nothing but "the dominion of the American model" which as a phenomenon is not something new, but the old and notorious model of colonialization. He straightforwardly pointed out that "it is in the general interest of the United States" that "exclusionary aspects of religion, language, and political/ideological beliefs" to be abolished. Moreover, he emphasized, that in fact "it is the economic and political interests of the United States to ensure that if the world is moving toward a common language, it be English; that if the world is moving toward common communications, safety and quality standards, they be American; that if the world is becoming linked by television, radio, and music, the programming be American; and if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable.”

That's exactly why the director of Kissinger Associates evaded the use of the term 'globalization' and chose instead the term 'cultural imperialism'.

In that very debate the well known to all of us Jacques Attali took part, and worried warned us that the so called globalization is leading to the dissolution of national identities and states, and their substitution for "aggressive non-state entities (large companies or illegal entities such as the Mafia, drug cartels, and nuclear traffickers)", who are going to impose values that are to be to their advantage. Ending up, Attali made an appeal to all of us, "The survival of ours is in our hands".

I must say that our subject has been continually troubling me for years. But the two texts above have caught my attention in particular. The one because raises the point plainly and without obscurities: in fact, beyond whatever economic or technical ambitious analyses, we are talking about an American imperialism. The other, being written by a person whose mind has been directed toward the future, and a policy maker of the European Union, gives us fair warning of something that the USA's political leadership doesn't seem to realize: it's true globalization may do away with national identities, languages and traditions but not in order to give the reins of the world to the naive (is it so?) political leaders in Washington but in order to hand them down to the invisible god-fathers of the international crime, to those powerful ones who accumulate riches through the biological and moral extermination of Man.

Who indeed, among us, cannot possibly understand in whose hands is the absolute control of media going to be? Is it likely to be in the hands of two-three American businessmen? Such a hypothesis would be incredibly romantic. Who is going to have control over political life? Is it going to be in the hands of a dozen patrons of political parties? Such a question would come near to ridicule. Who are then those that are going to control our cultural life? I'd better not venture an answer.

Our commentator notes at this juncture:

Perhaps the people will control it.

One of the reasons why American popular/economic culture predominates is that it is inherently egalitarian. This is not a comfortable concept for traditional cultures, and cultures that traditionally are comfortable with a certain level of elitism.

Returning to Archbishop Christodoulos:

However, I should show the reverse of the coin. Under these conditions, whoever resists the dissolution of national identities, and languages, he does not simply resist American imperialism but the suzerainty of international crime.

It's typical that the most powerful argument on behalf of globalization is that it's about an inescapable situation; however, there are many catastrophes which are inescapable, but this does not mean we are obliged to applaud them; on the contrary, we are obliged to find out ways, which can secure the survival of Man and civilization.

Our commentator observes:

This is quite true in all regards. Globalism is not being forced, it has been enabled by technology, just as during a prior era, business and jobs were enabled to move from the unionized northeast to the low-wage South by the Interstate Highway System.

The energy of those suspicious of globalism, therefore, ought to be directed towards structures that maintain cultural integrity despite these sorts of global changes.

The Archbishop then says:

Another argument is that globalization would facilitate the economic development, and the domination of free market. This argument the director of Kissinger Associates likens to "the primary carrot leading other nations" to accept globalization.

However, the European civilization has been the product of a parallel action of two elements: of free economy and social solidarity. And we all Europeans paid very dearly whenever we hazarded to abolish that parallel action.

But we should again see the reverse of the coin. Is globalization about to raise the poor Thailand worker, who is working for a piece of dry bread, to the level of the European worker, or is it rather about to cause the European worker to come down to Thailand's level?

Our commentator responds:

It will do both. However, since economic systems are not closed, (IOW, they do not simply redistribute a fixed amount of capital) it is completely possible (if not probable) that the Eastern gains will be significant while the Western losses will be marginal, if any at all.

Archbishop Christodoulos:

In conclusion, I would like to go back to Attali's appeal. Can we indeed prevent the plunging of our civilization into the abyss of a mighty globalization without having seen the element in our civilization which has given birth to that menace of an abyss? In the ecclesiastical language we would say: Can we save ourselves, if do we not repent? And do not ask me what we should repent of. I hope that all of us have, at certain times, asked ourselves where does a civilization go to, when it pronounces economic development to be an end in itself; when it gives the economic development the right to be the altar of Moloch.

Commentator:

I take it back -- he DID ask the uncomfortable question, that being "Why is the capital consumerist model (let's put the Moloch hyperbole aside) so much more appealing than what we prefer?" It's the same quesiton Islam asks, and they solve the problem through coercion of the populace (I'd suggest another path, perhaps good old-fashioned evangelism.....)

Archbishop Christodoulos:

Moreover, we must all of us have questioned ourselves how an economy can be called a developing one if it fails to include in its cost the devastation of the earth and of man; that is, of environment and civilization.

Commentator:

Because it lifts standards of living. If you live in India for awhile, you get hit in the face with reality -- that when millions get up every morning unsure when (or if) they will eat that day, they find it difficult to be concerned about how they dispose of their human waste -- and when goverments depend on preventing such human disaster, neither are THEY overly concerned about issues of "environment and civilization."

I cannot but agree with our commentator, and expand, to some extent, on his observations.

The Archbishop has fallen prey to the trendy anti-Americanism that infects so many in the world today, a knee-jerk reaction that sees nothing but evil in everything American, especially when it comes to commerce. The truth is that American culture and its exports are a mixed bag - it has both its savory and unsavory aspects. But the US cannot be reasonably blamed for the fact that the world's other societies want to wear Levi's and eat at McDonald's. The point our commentator made about the fact that technology, rather than any hegemonic plot, has fueled the spread of American cultural ideas and ideals (both good and bad) throughout the world cannot be stressed enough. Any dispassionate observer will recognise, however, that these things have not taken over other cultures; rather, they have affected the outlook of other cultures. At the same time, this dispassionate observer will notice that American culture itself is not unaffected by its exposure to the rest of the world. It was not so very long ago that I couldn't buy Feta or Tahini on the shelves of the local grocery, much less frozen microwaveable Aloo Chole. Or watch a cricket game on the television. Globalisation is, at the very least, a two-way street. Just ask the American workers and Old-Right Conservatives who complain that the free-trade agreements have caused the loss of American jobs to other countries (as well as having to page through any number of Soccer games and Latino soap operas on cable and satellite channels).

Mixed into this is his rightful condemnation of excessive consumerism, something that does, of course, plague American society - a culture which, once firmly anchored in a form of Christianity, has become a bastion of materialism in every sense of the word, while still writing its cheques out of the treasury of material blessing that came in days past from a solid measure of obedience to the Law of God, despite our failings - sometimes great. While Archbishop Christodoulos' remarks about "the suzerainty of international crime" are hyperbolic at best, it cannot be denied that powerful forces are at work in the world that are solely concerned with the amassing of wealth regardless of the effects of such activities. He fails to notice, however, that many of the most successful businessmen in the world, ones who are not immune to this problem, are Greeks and Greek-Americans. Or maybe he does notice, and that is part of why he is so seriously focused on this subject. If the latter case is true, what he fails to realise is that this kind of materialism is not so much a problem of "Americanization" as of the heart of man, which is so very inclined to neglect the Law of God and seek its own sinful self-satisfaction.

There is also the issue of the preservation of national cultures, which he sees being homogenised into a "world culture", American in character. I would argue strenuously that this is not because of the US imposing its ideas and ideals on other cultures, but rather the result, made possible and accellerated by technological development, of the dynamic of cultural interaction, on a global scale, that drove the formation of American culture in the first place - changing it from a relatively homogeneous British colonial zone into a "melting pot", along with all the tension between assimilation and preservation of constituent culture that has been characteristic of immigrant populations here. In other words, if the world is undergoing "Americanization" it is not because the US is imposing it; it can really only be called by that name because America, as the first major experiment in egalitarian cultural blending, underwent it first, and the levelling force of technological development is inevitably spreading it globally.

Certainly, the English language, being that of the world's largest economy, as our commentator pointed out, has, indeed, become the language of international commerce. I can remember, however, from only a few years ago, the fear that it would be supplanted by Japanese. And a great failing of Americans is that we, in a majority of cases, do not take the time or effort to learn other languages. On the other side of the coin, however, is the fact, for better or worse, that no necessity drives Americans to learn Greek. If Greece were the world's largest economy, the situation would be reversed, and perhaps some Archbishop of Boston would be complaining that globalisation = Hellenisation.

This leads to the next point, about maintaining cultural integrity to a reasonable degree in the face of a changing world. It is nothing new. The attitude that culture is a static thing that must be preserved in some pristine form is a fairy-tale that marks an ignorance of the cultural change that has always occurred due to the interaction of different societies. Greece today is not the same as Greece in 1821. Or in 1453, 325, or the reign of Alexander the Great. All cultures evolve over time due to varying and often subtle influences. The better reaction to cultural change is to ask the question, "What can we concretely do to maintain and support those aspects of our culture that are good and abiding in the face of the social flux in the world around us?" Or to put it into the lingo of the US Marines, "What do we do to improvise, adapt, and overcome?"

Perhaps also, as the Archbishop thinks, world economic growth will not raise the standard of living of the Thai worker to the level of the European. This may be so for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the attitude toward work and economic development of the Thai people and government, and the amount of relative economic progress they have made since independence. However, the main characteristic of global free-markets is that a rising tide lifts all boats. Perhaps in 50 years Thailand will be an economic powerhouse on the level that Germany is today. Comparisons of the sort that the Archbishop makes between developing and developed nations are really not very useful. If Thais undergo a significant increase in standard of living, while the Europeans, due to increasing taxation and regulation or other factors undergo a decrease, it is still a good thing for the Thais. If the Europeans, on the other hand, experience slight gains due to not adopting misguided economic policies, it is good for the Europeans. And if the Europeans and Thais are trading partners in a free market, both of them experiencing different levels of growth, neither is hurt by the fact. The thing that hurts all men, regardless of nationality, is the disobedience to God's Law inherent in the adoption of a materialistic mindset that sets self-aggrandisement above all else, and results in envy, class-warfare, and the politics of oppression generated thereby.

Archbishop Christodoulos does, in the end, hit on the right answer: repentance. Only in repentance and obedience to the Law of the Gospel and to the Great Commission, the cultural mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we go into all the world making disciples of all nations - that is, teaching them obedience to Christ and bringing to them the person- and culture-transforming power of His Gospel - baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, can we secure, by His Grace, the eventual triumph of Christian culture and civilisation, for, as He said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." We have neglected this task for far too long.

NOTES:

[1] Mike Craney, in the orthpol forum, Message # 5996, comments used by permission of the author.

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