More and more people seem to be aware of how precarious civilization is in 2022. At least our current civilization as an effective near-worldwide system.
And of these people, the belief is growing that the last of the empires of the 20th century are failing. There are three: the remnants of the Russian empire, the Chinese empire, and (last but absolutely not least), the American. We read of the bad, even terrible, conditions in each of these, and how the various powers-that-be are unable to overcome the challenges they face.
(The European Union? Perhaps, as the Holy Roman Empire was an “empire/” As my historian father was fond of saying, neither Holy nor Roman nor Empire – a seriously deadly practical joke, maybe.)
All this ties into the concept of the fall, the collapse, of civilizations. The destruction of society. Many observers talk about one or two empires or civilizations and their instability but sometimes refuse to recognize the same signs in their own. Americans and Europeans are particularly bad at this.
Consider two different ways that empires can collapse: one is the sudden, catastrophic shock: The neo-Chaldean empire falling to the Medes and Persians in a matter of days (539 BC), even in a non-mechanized world. The Azteca empire’s collapse in 1521. The death of the Weimar Republic’s final stage (the Dritte or Third Reich), which took a year (mid-1944 to spring 1945). Call this a hard crash, although there are other examples of lengthy but catastrophic collapses: the fall of both the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires, for example. Or the Ottomans.
The other? Let’s call it the soft crash: sometimes quickly but generally over a relatively long period. Though there may be considerable bloodshed and physical destruction, society and the civilization are not wiped out. Examples? Alexander’s empire after his death, the original Muslim/Arabic caliphate, and the Soviet collapse (including the Warsaw Pact).
Many empires have risen and fallen in our “Western Civilization” since about 1450 or so. The Spanish and Portuguese empires, both victims of a soft crash, Several French empires (worthy of a lengthy discussion: I personally count at least four, two crashing hard and two softly), Austrian (Hapsburg), Swedish, German, and Russian/Soviet. And several British/English ones. All with fascinating and important histories and lessons for those who love liberty. Indeed, the gradual dissolution of the last British Empire under the “benevolent rule” of HM Queen Elizabeth II is a classic soft crash.
So, what kind of empires do we have today? And what kind of collapse can we expect?
The first is the Russian empire, rather like the Byzantine empire or the Neo-Chaldean (Babylonian) Empire of the ancient past. It is a successor to the Soviet Union but still an empire in nearly every way, because of the huge mix of national and ethnic populations under its de facto control. Its rule reflects not just its majority Russian rulers and Russian society but the society of many of the subject peoples: harsh, strong-man rule. It reflects Russia’s sad history just as much as the Czarist and Communist empires did. Many people are predicting its rapid demise, triggered by its efforts to save itself.
The Chinese empires are perhaps best understood as a series of dynasties, with interregnums between them. The latest version, latest dynasty, is of course the Chinese Communist Party. The last interregnum was the Chinese Republic and Sino-Japanese War (1912-1949 era). It has been harsh in many ways, but we must recognize that it has the “mandate of heaven” – the general consent (submission) of the governed. It is, like many of its predecessors, built on bureaucracy and even tradition, while claiming not to be. Again, lots of folks are forecasting its speedy end, while others fear its lust for global hegemony may succeed, even for a short time.
Although Americans are loath to admit it, the American Republic founded in the 1770s has been an empire virtually from the get-go. Sometimes gentle, or at least sold that way to its citizens and masters and subjects: in the last decade of the 19th Century, it went from a continental empire to a near global one, and became global as a result of WW2. It has been considered generally benevolent, to casual observation. We leave that discussion for some other time. It is supposedly a more limited government, and can be compared to the first Roman empire (the SPQR) as it often is. It has evolved, perhaps less cataclysmically than its British mother/sister.
What is likely to happen? Remembering no empire lasts forever, we assume that all three present empires will collapse. Hard or soft, fast or slow. Some will perhaps morph into new empires. (As the SPQR became the Principate became the Dominate and part became the Byzantine, or how various Islamic empires replaced one another.) There may be long or short dark ages or “eras of warring states” in between. Others could vanish away.
Generally, most of what we here at TPOL are seeing is predictions of rapid, catastrophic, and complete collapse. But that may be because really bad news sells advertising and loyal supporters. Everybody loves doomsayers, it seems. Of course, the ultimate bugaboo today is nuclear war. “Game Over.”
Here are some predictions. Tell us what YOU think.
For Russia: external war leading to external invasion, followed by internal conflict and revolt. Maybe. Seizure of much of it by neighbors, with a few small rump states.
For China: economic collapse followed by social collapse and chaos, a period of warring states – an interregnum followed either by total breaking up of China (think pre-unification Italy) or a new dynasty.
And for the Americans? National divorce? Perhaps followed by one or more nasty civil wars or wars between the states. And rebirth as an admitted and more brutal dictatorial empire which perhaps has some chance of true world domination?
Guess and argue with us!