“All empires fall, eventually.”
― Max Barry
Funny thing about empires, like all things else, they’re born and, in time, they die. Some great ones lasted thousands of years. Many more, not so much. And we can learn a lot from each, if we choose, to see just what caused them to fall. The circumstances may differ, in part, but the end result remained the same for each – they came to an end and, inevitably, another arose.
Such is history.
Being something of an amateur history buff, and as America just celebrated its birthday yesterday on July 4th, I wondered where America is in its life span as an empire. And it is an empire by definition, if one accepts the synonym of “dominion, rule, supremacy” – the United States has been the dominate, most influential (culturally and economic), and militarily strongest, nation on Earth since the early 20th century.
Instead of empire, perhaps we should use the term, “hegemony”, which refers to a dominate influence over others by their consent, as the U.S. has enjoyed from the rest of the “free” world – they have welcomed our military strength as a shield and buffer from our shared enemies. And they’ve avidly adopted our culture (of everything from Coca Cola to pop stars. And that even applies to the peoples of our enemies, such is our influence.)
But where are we, in the life span of empire/hegemony? Many long-lived empires in history, from birth to end as an empire, include the Khmer (632 years), Kanem (676 years), Silla (992 years), Venice (1,100 years), Kush (1,420 years), and Roman (1,480 years), for an average of 1,050 years.
But what of more modern empires? The British Empire, for about 300 years; the Portuguese, 584 years; Ottoman, 623 years; Ethiopia, 665 years; Holy Roman, 844 years. Their average age was around 600 years, something more than 1/2 the age of those of antiquity. Credit technology and speed of communications for the difference.
And if America is now 241 years old, we can be considered middle aged. Or, with the exponential increases in technology and communications in the last 30 years or so, we may be at our end.
And we all know what can happen when, in an individual’s personal life, with the subconscious awareness of approaching old age and demise, people sometimes mentally regress and – dresssing 20-year-oldish chic and adopting their lingo, buying impractical sports cars, taking up risky sports – start acting like adolescents again.
“I’ve had a great deal of experience with adolescents…and I’ve discovered that as a group these awkward half children take themselves far too seriously. Moreover, appearance is everything for the adolescent. I suppose it’s a form of play-acting…Most people go through this stage and outgrow it. Many, however, do not. The pose becomes more important than reality, and these poor creatures become hollow people, forever striving to fit themselves into an impossible mold.”
― David Eddings
And I think Eddings makes a good point. Americans are notorious for their cult of youth. We hold on to it. We refuse to grow up and old graciously. We are teenagers at heart. We strive to be what we once were, but are – in truth – no more.
We are in denial.
Individually, and as a nation, as an empire.
Our time is coming to an end, but we strive to mentally fit ourselves into the impossible mold of what we were.
The rest of the world is growing up, there are new nations or blocs growing more stronger and worldly influential as I write. How much longer will the United States have a significant say in world events?
I’m not ready to predict when. But the day will come, whether we are ready for it or not.
Such is history.