The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight


July 31, 2005

I’m sure Chirol has no idea what he’s done, but he waved an enormous red flag in front of my face by posting “A History of Empires.” Sadly, I can’t really respond (yet). I’m two weeks away from moving to Ohio for the 2005-2006 academic year, I owe a coauthor a redraft of a piece on hierarchy in international politics before I leave, and the paper that really addresses these questions is currently sitting in revise-and-resubmit limbo. But, as I noted in his comments section, Chirol’s really got to define the category “empire” if he even wants to begin to discuss the history and putative inevitability of imperial modes of rule.

[UPDATE: I should write something substantive about Chirol’s post. Chirol is right to suggest that there is nothing inherently worse about empires, as a form of political organization, than sovereign states. But we do have to be careful here, in that certain kinds of sovereign states, namely liberal democractic ones, tend to not do things that most empires do, such as directing mass violence against their own people and denying them an acceptable level of freedom. This isn’t, as Chirol suggests, simply a matter of policy.[fn1] However, as I mentioned earlier, I think Chirol would be on sounder footing if he provided a rigorous way of conceptualizing empires. Right now, his approach seems to be phenomenological – if it was called an “empire,” than it was an empire. This isn’t satisfying. Perhaps he will clear this up in his next post.

There are also some interesting thoughts on Chirol’s post at tdaxp.]

On that note, here are some good readings on the subject:

1. Tilly, Charles. “How Empires End” in After Empire: Multiethnic Societies and Nation-Building : The Soviet Union and the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg Empires, edited by Mark von Hagen and Karen Barkey. Westview Press, 1997.

2. Motyl, Alexander. Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires. Columbia University Press, 2001.

3. MacDonald, Paul. “Imperial Ambitions? United States Foreign Policy and the Language of Empire”. Unpublished manuscript (do not quote without Paul’s permission!).

4. Rosen, Stephen Peter. “An Empire: If You Can Keep It”. The National Interest, Spring 2003.

1No, this does not mean I’m endorsing the democratic peace. Different argument.

Filed as: , and

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.