Empire Institute

For those who are lazy readers and/or unable to remain longer than 30 seconds on a webpage ...

what we are doing (usullay every last Friday in the month)
as short as possible:


We get attentive on this nice term in the New York Times.
For their BOOK REVIEW DESK in the July,25 2004 edition the term “imperialistics” was merely used as superscript.

We think this notion deserves an explicit definition as a potential discipline.

We define “Imperialistics” as the “historical and comparative study of empires


Finally, for the more patient - here is our more extended mission statement:

Since the rise and fall of empires are great revolutions in human affairs, we are taking up two contemporary historians “case for placing imperialism and empires at the center of the study of world history and specifically the history of globalization.” [Cain & Hopkins (2001), 664] Dialectically, empires are a natural response to chaos or innovative revolutions, because in each case significant social change is the end result. In the struggle to cope with radical change, the first strategic response for every civilization is centralization, which is necessary for survival not to mention expansion. Lewis Mumford in his classic two volume The Myth of the Machine has suggested how the agricultural, urban, intellectual, military, financial, democratic, capitalist, managerial, communication, status, as well as the sexual and drug revolution have each more or less been subjugated to the pentagon of power. In other words, revolution releases energy, which needs to be economized if public order is to be maintained. Our radical hypothesis is that the dialectic between empire and revolution (in the largest sense) is the key to world history, and that empire is the constant, its everpresent cyclical invariant throughout. Some power (regardless of form) will always rise as others fall, for ‘power abhors a vacuum’ is a simple but profound truism. In contemporary international political thought, this notion is based on the balance of powers and exists as a descriptive law. For as long as international anarchy exists in a competitive multi-powered system, a balance-of-power will persist regardless of shifts in the distribution of power and transformations in technology. Accordingly, the United States current strategy of preponderance has changed certain aspects of the international system, but so long as a condition of anarchy survives--every state must play the game of power politics.

If history is portrayed as a play of recurring forces, tendencies and trends, then it is axiomatic that any power will assert itself as soon as an opportunity arises. Since no single European state was able to politically dominate the entire regional system, when proto-capitalism and the modern state-system emerged, a highly competitive dynamic--based on a balance-of-powers--was created. This in turn drove the great powers to expand (for security or economic interests) until they each reached their respective point of ‘imperial overstretch.’ When a state’s ambitions abroad undermine its own resources, then financial contradictions between center and periphery have become too great. The historical record suggests that ‘overstretch’ occurs, “if a particular nation is allocating over the long term more than 10 percent (and in some cases—when it is structurally weak—more than 5 percent) of GNP to armaments ...” [Kennedy (1987), p.609, note 18] . Alas, once these historical forces are set in motion, the tendency towards imperial decline ensues as well as increasing power rivalry. From the point of view of empire building, when domestic military costs of protecting frontiers and trade routes produces extravagant fiscal and balance-of-trade deficits, then domestic weakness is implicitly connected to foreign policy. Though this parsimonious cycle--based on the organic metaphor of growth and decay--simplifies variance between specific historical cases (which is open to criticism), it nonetheless reveals the general pattern of the advance and decay of great powers that analytical approaches to political history on both sides of the ideological spectrum have analyzed since the 1970s. Though their analysis of units differ, theorists from both the Modern World System and the Theory of Hegemonic Stability schools explained the dynamics of history until the end of the cold war in terms of this enduring leitmotif.

If the present reveals any historical novelty, then according to Michael Ignatieff, “the 21st century imperium is a new invention in the annals of political science, an empire lite, a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known.” James Kurth argues that “the first decade of the 21st century, like the first decade of the 20th, is an age of empire.” Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, keen commentators have noticed the end of ‘the age of globalization’ and the rise of American militarism and imperialism. Historically, the United States has shown a priority of geo-economic over geopolitical concerns. “This is an astonishing reversal of previous prophecies, which assumed that international peace would be assured by the spread of liberal democracies in a postcolonial world of emerging nation states. According to this view, the age of empires is not dead; it has just been resting between engagements.” [Hopkins (2002), ix]. Indeed, in the West it only now seems possible to see the hidden history of empire, as the United States shifts from informal influence to formal rule.

From the dawn of decolonization to post-imperial transnational capitalism, the rhetoric of liberal democracy and globalization has acted as the Trojan horse for the occultation of empire. Most supporters of liberal globalization have simply overlooked the historical fact that globalization has been promoted by Western imperialism. “What is universalism to the West is imperialism to the rest.” [Huntington (1996), 186]. In many parts of former empire, globalization appears as neocolonialism; for the mechanisms of colonial governance have simply been replaced by corporate ones, and  partnerships between capitalists centers and the periphery have created current versions of colonial policy by forming dependent passive local collaborators. Decolonization and the rise of the multinational corporation, based on a cosmopolitan ideology of politically sovereign nation states, has invisibly prolonged the logic of empire.

The notion of an American empire is a contentious topic today and seems to depend on power and word usage. Stephen Howe, a leading British scholar on empire, in Open Democracy has pointed out that the debate actually revolves around three issues: history, language, and ideology; likewise, Michael Cox, political scientist at the London School of Economics, argues that there are three serious objections to the idea; issues concerning territorial control, America’s promotion of national self-determination, and America’s lack of influence or inability to impose its own system of democracy and free markets on the rest of the world. The answers to these sorts of issues and objections help form the axioms of imperialism for the 21st century and outline the nature of the American empire. We deal with the issues of history, language and ideology through the disciplines of geopolitics, rhetoric and the ‘sociology of knowledge’.