Thursday, May 27, 2004It is easy to criticize the pursuit of empire in the Bush administration. Easy, but worthwhile. It is important not just to point out the imperial dreams of the neoconservatives. For a lot of people, the word "empire" doesn't conjure up much more than Darth Vader and Great Britain. It is important to talk about why empire is so fundamentally repugnant to the American vision of the world and our ourselves.
I think Al Gore's speech yesterday is important in this regard. He talked a lot about domination, and the effect that domination has not only on its victims but on its perpetrators. It is an unfortunate but valuable truth that Lincoln's criticism of slavery was most persuasive to his contemporaries not in its compassion for the enslaved, but in arguing what enslaving others would do to us. Iraq has become a breeding ground for tyrants as well as terrorists. Domination is the utter opposite of liberty, which is why you cannot dream dreams of regional or global hegemony while doing so in the name of liberty.
Gore Vidal is not one of my favorite thinkers, but he made a telling point when he said that America was born trying to become Greece and ended up Rome. It might be more accurate to say that we began as the Roman Republic and are in danger of becoming the Roman Empire. I've never been very interested in how empires fall- they are all structures of oppression and therefore not very interesting for a democrat. But the Roman Republic was like us in many ways. They fell because of consitutional rigidity, ferocious political conflict, and the erosion of its middle class at the hands of ambitious and ruthless proto-capitalists who cloaked themselves in military glory and religion.
Let's not make their mistakes.