Empire Week VI: Back to the Colony

Posted by sepoy on June 10, 2005 · 9 mins read

Well, it's been fun doing this Empire thing [I should have called it Empire Days {why do clever things always occur to me post facto?}]. I have a lot more to say and this isn't even my field which makes all that I have to say, circumspect from the beginning. But, there will be other times for all that. Let's wrap this up, shall we?

My concern really is to engage with the discourse of empire about America. I am pretty comfortable calling America an imperial formation. I know that within and without the academy, that is an intensely disputed claim. Which is exactly why Porter's work becomes a valuable tool. The one lesson to take from Porter is that imperialism, however one defines it, manifests itself differently from political policy to cultural practice to belief-systems. It varies as well through the levels within which citizen-subjects are engaged with the state. It varies even among the social hierarchies operating within the society. Hence, there is no need to make a check-list of "empire" and see if America 2005 fits the bill or not. Just as futile is the facile comparison with the British one. Dacoit's brilliant post shows the dangers [and political gaming] involved in a prima facie comparison. So, while I call the Americans an imperium, I do not think that they are merely latest reincarnation of the British one.

For those that noticed, Britain and US made an announcement today to give relief to African nations. By the overall reticence in WH's body language, I see the aid package as a reward for Blair's dedication to the Chosen One. It is primarily a project championed by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. Gordon Brown, the man looking to succeed Tony Blair, had this to say to the Tanzanians while signing a 1.87 billion pound aid package:

"I think the days of Britain having to apologize for its colonial history are over," said Brown, who is the chancellor of the exchequer. "I think we should move forward. I think we should celebrate much of our past rather than apologize for it. I think in particular that we should talk, rightly so, about British values," Brown said. "If we look at the whole span of history, then it's time to emphasize then that's at the core of British history, that's at the core of what people think most of when they think of Britishness," he told BBC Two's Newsnight. "And that's such a powerful potential influence on our future, then I think we should be talking about it more not less," Brown said.

It is not a simply an effort to move beyond apologetics for the old regime. It is not simply one man talking either. In 2002 Robert Cooper, the foreign policy advisor of Blair, published an essay in Re-Ordering the World: The long-term implications of September 11th called The Post-Modern State. In it, he declared that "Imperialism in the traditional sense is dead, at least among the western power." And more:

What form should intervention take? The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one most often employed in the past, is colonisation. But colonisation is unacceptable to postmodern states (and, as it happens, to some modern states too). It is precisely because of the death of imperialism that we are seeing the emergence of the pre-modern world. Empire and imperialism are words that have become terms of abuse in the postmodern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, though the opportunities, perhaps even the need, for colonisation is as great as it ever was in the 19th century. Those left out of the global economy risk falling into a vicious circle. Weak government means disorder and that means falling investment. In the 1950s, South Korea had a lower GNP per head than Zambia; one has since achieved membership of the global economy, the other has not. All the conditions for imperialism are there, but both the supply and demand for imperialism have dried up. And yet the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world. A world in which the efficient and well-governed export stability and liberty, and which is open for investment and growth ñ all of this seems eminently desirable.
What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan value

This new kind of imperialism is not the lone-nation imperialism - it has to be multi-state. It is governed, akin to the First British Empire, by the desire of global markets but, like the later empires, it states as its noblesse oblige: security, democracy, and the social uplift of society. The unwelcomed agreement for Africa from the G8 meeting will come with a renewed program of development as outlined in the Commission for Africa Report. It doesn't take a genius to read [just the summaries] the buzz-words - "Public and private sector working together to identify the obstacles to a favourable investment climate, together with outside support to fund the necessary actions." or Removing the trade barriers in developed and other developing-country markets that frustrate the fulfilment of Africaís trade potential. - for the sham of corporate greed and external internvention that they are. Uncoded, they remain the words of goodwill and self-help. The discourse of the new imperium has to be doubly complex because they have all read Fanon.

My contention is that we have a Ameri-British empire of the present. Not only the colonies are split by oceans but the metropole as well. What unites this empire - makes it so - are tenets of ideology and the free market [just like before but v. 2.0s] coupled with the American demand for security [Remember that African nations like Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria are considered hot-spots for al-Q]. It is clear to even the casual observer that the two nations have unified in ways none thought possible before 9/11. Consider, for a moment, Iraq. US could never have launched the war without Blair. Consider, the Africa aid. Blair and Gordon cannot do this without the WH. It is a partnership of a shared global vision - one that recognizes the burden of spreading wealth, prosperity, freedom and democracy. It does not want direct rule, because, it is the corporations that will be ruling, in any case [would we have anything in Iraq without the manpower and technology of Halliburton or Aegis or Bechtel?]. It does not want indirect rule, because, it is the global consortiums of IMF, WB who will oversee the process. It merely wants to set the path and the roadmap for the progress - a particular type of progess - for the world that lags so sadly behind and threatens to bring it all down. There is no choice but to begin the new imperium and go back to the colony.

I have scattered more thoughts now. It is friday. And I must stop. I promise that there will be no more on empires [at least from me] for the next week. I can't see my readership dwindle day-by-day. I wish you a good weekend, gentle readers.


rob | June 11, 2005

I think you're right: the sheer depth of the "Ameri-British" alliance on certain issues would've been unimaginable pre-9/11. I wonder how contingent this is, however; whether this is a long-term structural change in world foreign policy or a product (at least partly) of the idiosyncracies of Bush and Blair. Certainly Blair has been sycophantic to the point of absurdity, evading questions or being hyper-diplomatic about things we know he is supposed to dislike about Bush policy even while even other members of his and opposition parties say it quite openly.

thbt | June 13, 2005

"Consider, for a moment, Iraq. US could never have launched the war without Blair." While it might be true that 'ideologies' are very similar, you're giving Britain far too much leverage in this new 'empire'. If there is any alliance, surely Britain is better thought of as a 'vassal', especially if you consider just how uneven the the relationship is. Take some examples: Britain cannot even fire cruise or nuclear missles without the US saying so; we have uneven extradition treaties, with British citizens faring much worse than Americans; British citizens can be incacerated without trial for three years by Americans; there are American bases all over British territories; American business dominates the UK economy (I wonder how important American business interests in the UK were in Blair's thinking to support Bush). Also, here is an intresting thought: spreading the Holy Trinity of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights -- The New Imperium as you call it -- is fashionable amongst a new breed amongst the left-wing ("liberal hawks"), whereas its old champions on the right, are turning inward, shunning such adventures. At least this appears to be the case in the UK.

rob | June 13, 2005

thbt is utterly correct. Perhaps the most striking thing about the war on Iraq was not how many people did protest but how many "on the left" didn't. Incidentally, they have an auto-response on British TV for when people accuse the Commission for Africa Report of greed/imperialism/interventions -- that half the members were Africans. See? Clean slate.

sepoy | June 13, 2005

Two broad points: 1. I think that one must look back to the imposition of sanctions and the Kosovo conflict to see the formation of this imperium. So, it is not as contingent upon current holders of power. Regardless, the paths chosen do not leave much room for negotiation even after Bush/Blair have left office [in 3 long years]. 2. There is no question that America is the hegemon on the world stage. A hegemony, though, is not quite the same as an imperium. It is British participation that provides, in my view, the necessary ideological and political pull to makes the empire possible. No, they are not equal. But, neither can exist without the other - in shapes that they desire to exist on the world stage. The Iraq War [Gitmo, AbuGharib, WMD] have for the forseeable future taken away the US ability to act unilateraly. It needs Britain. Britain, on the other hand, went through it's own post 1945 nightmare of being sidelined even from continental affairs. It needs the world-leadership that comes from the imperium. So, while you are correct, thbt, that Britain is not an equal in mights and rights, it surely is an equal in political capital and global visions. Lastly, the "left"&"right" categories are rather unsuited for discussion. Mainly because of the rampant desertion of members in either camp to the other after 9.11. I do think we need a clean slate and new membership table for the New Left and the New Right as well as better understanding of what it actually means to be any of those things.

dacoit | June 13, 2005

With regards to thbt's perceptive point, there are certainly numerous and vocal "liberal hawks" that advocate US military action in Afghanistan, Iraq and more recently Iran and Syria. Putting this in historical context, there is nothing particularly new about the Democratic Party getting behind such international interventions - what is unique is that the GOP is taking on the task of 'nation-building' as part of their own agenda. The way the scenario looks from the US right now, strengthening what we are calling the New Imperium is a common program of both the Democratic and Republican parties. At a certain point during the presidential debates, Kerry was the one doing the sabre-rattling in the direction of Iran and North Korea, and Bush responded with a plea for a more inclusive multi-lateral approach. I thought this was a very telling moment. Sepoy points out that the terms 'left' and 'right' are of little value for talking about US international policy. This is true, but only if we are using left and right in the sense that has become conventional over here - to designate the Democratic and Republican parties, both of which are knee-deep in the miasma of New Empire. As soon as Howard Dean's campaign was derailed and US liberals started talking about the importance of electability (meaning centrist politics, a strong national defense agenda, and candidates with military experience and maybe even religiously-infused rhetoric), the Democratic party ceased to have anything to do with the "left-wing" as it is perceived in most of the world. It has been probably a century since people considering themselves leftists, progressives or radicals in the US have seen liberal politicians as anything more than strategic allies (in the sense of voting for the lesser of two evils, much like the CPI and CPI-M in India generally tell their party members to vote for Congress if they are not fielding a candidate with a legitimate chance). Significant segments of the population opposed US involvement in WWII, for example, out of support for the right of residents of various world regions to self-determination. Indeed, WWII was seen by many in British and French colonies in Asia, and those sympathetic to their plights, as a conveneient means to consolidate extant imperial structures and linked economic systems that tended towards the exploitation of labor. The picture changes significantly with the onset of the Cold War, but much of the opposition to the wars in Korea and Vietnam also articulate a consistent position. If one takes the American left as an (admittedly fragmented) entity that exists independently of the Democratic Party, it may not be necessary to wipe the slate entirely clear and construct new membership tables.

s.w. | June 13, 2005

Your posts about empire were well done. To give my own eccentric view, I think the American imperium has a closer similarity with the 16th-century Spanish domination of Europe than the Pax Britannica. I have recently read Geoffrey Parker's history "The Dutch Revolt," which presents the anatomy of religious and political struggle over control of the Low Countries circa 1560-1600. The description of Dutch Protestant militants popping up to resist the Spanish professional army, as well as networks of exile churches in England and Germany, is uncannily similar to how the Iraq insurgency has been developing. The Dutch revolt financially exhausted the Spanish monarchy, and was a major cause of its 17th century decline. The Spanish commitment to extirpate "heresy" at all costs was cognate to the Bush admin.'s unswerving commitment to stopping "Islamist terror." I don't see a similar monomaniacal motive at work in the maintenance of the British empire--and I believe U.S. hegemony is already evaporating, like Spain's did, as military spending outpaces a stagnant economy. So I'd be pleased to hear anyone's thoughts on that.

ricia | June 15, 2005

Great series. Haven't had much time to comment, but I have passed it along: http://impetusonline.blogspot.com/2005/06/coffee-break-7-blog-surfn.html