In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

The Empire is over!

Posted by seumasach on November 15, 2008

Cailean Bochanan

15th november, 2008

Ever since 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the world has been suspended between two possible outcomes: on the one hand, a reinforced US hegemony and on the other a sort of counter-globalisation movement at the core of which lay the reassertion of national sovereignty in the face of empire. Even as the coalition got bogged down in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrifying possibility remained of an escalation towards global war provoked by an attack on Iran, and at certain points this scenario may have been a lot closer to becoming a reality than the wider world realized. In addition, the collapse of the Anglo-American financial system opened the possibility of a wave of financial chaos spreading out from the imperial heartlands destabilising the world economy and inaugurating a neo-feudal dark age. The aggressive and arrogant stance of Washington and London and doubts about European leadership, in particular, left one fearing what further cards the empire had left to play. That has now been clarified: they have none.

The empire is dead, and, as with the Roman Empire, historians will struggle to define the exact date and hour of death of its decease, but the occasion of a little remarked declaration by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s secretary general Abdurrahman bin Hammad al-Attiyah will be an excellent candidate:

“We support Iran’s nuclear program, which is completely peaceful,” al-Attiyah categorically stated, adding that he was “surprised” that the world had turned a blind eye to Israel’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

So ended the Bush administrations long standing campaign to isolate Iran. Applying the logic of the Bush doctrine that “you are either with us or against us” it transpires that most of the world is against us. Are we then to bomb them all. I think not. Further bombing would be unproductive. What about another 9/11 type attack? Couldn’t that turn things back our way? I’m afraid too many people are wise to that one. It’s a strange feeling as we look out from the imperial heartlands, so long the dictators of the world’s destiny. We are staring into the abyss: there are just no more soft targets.

On the economic front things are looking no better. Brown’s bailout schemes seemed to be inducing a totally unforeseeable development, Brownmania, which had other countries flirting with the notion of bankrupting themselves by giving inordinate handouts to favoured financiers. But sanity seems to be reasserting itself: Brown has bitten off more than he can chew and his rendering of “I did it my way” will scarcely draw polite applause at this weekend’s G20 summit. Consequently, they won’t be presenting a huge cheque to the IMF to “save” the world economy under the direction of Washington and London. Instead, it is China which is showing the way with an economic plan focusing on the real economy rather than its destruction. A severe global economic recession is unavoidable but China’s example in the context of, especially, regional cooperation shows that the worst can be avoided. In fact, it is an opportunity for a new economic paradigm based on investment in the real economy, providing the basic needs for all, as opposed to endless luxury consumption for the few, and a rebalancing of economies distorted by the role assigned to them within the division of labour of the Anglo-Saxon financial imperium.

It’s one thing the empire being over; it’s another thing noticing it. Have we noticed? I suggested in a previous editorial that the recall of Mandelson, longtime scourge of the Murdoch mob, may be a sign that we have. Another is  the taming of some of the wilder elements inside the British cabinet such as  foreign secretary, David “Boy” Milliband who has now been able to bring himself to recognise the sovereignty of China within its existing borders. This is a step in the right direction and we can open up possibilities for further cooperation by  making similar moves to establish more friendly relations with Russia, Africa and the Arab world. In this context the run on the pound and the death spiral of a reverse multiplier effect carrying us to national bankruptcy Icelandic- style should focus the mind wonderfully. Britain and the USA the twin poles of an Atlantic empire must now recast themselves as, respectively, European and American nation states.

We can begin to look forward with greater optimism but we have a strange feeling that events themselves are leading us rather than some human agency. Of course, the Iraqi national resistance has played a key role, as well as the ability of Russia and other nations to reclaim their sovereignty in a way which  is not only about narrow self interest and identity. How else could we have seen countries as culturally and ideologically diverse as Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Russia, China enter so successfully into cooperation? Still, there is a feeling of consciousness lagging behind development. If the military and economic power of the anglosphere has now been decisively checked its ideology power seems intact, the futility of Bush’s final desperate appeal for “free markets” notwithstanding. There are many aspects of our respective traditions which we can invoke to guide us through the times ahead but the anglo-enlightenment in its myriad forms and recastings isn’t one of them. The ideology forged at the foundation of empire is not a tool to serve us in the construction of a post-imperial world. At some point we are going to have  caste off the “mind-forged manacles” of the physical, political, social and cultural atomism of Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Smith and Bentham in its multiple reincarnations if we are to successfully  create a new paradigm and  humanise our world.

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