New World Empire Vs. New World Order
Does the current world order mirror the imperial dominance of Rome — or a community of countries?
August 1, 2002
U.S. television preachers are fond of interpreting current events in the light of prophecies found in biblical texts like Daniel and the Book of Revelation.
One of their recurrent themes is that the successor to the Roman empire is not a single country, but an international bloc of many countries such as the European Union or the United Nations.
Are they divinely inspired? Probably not. Still the TV preachers have stumbled onto a truth that eludes all too many of the world's leading foreign policy pundits.
As odd as it seems, the present-day United Nations system is the child of the European society of states.
And it is the grandchild of Latin Christendom — as well as the great grandchild of the Roman empire.
The end of the Roman empire in Western Europe is usually dated to 476 C.E., when the Germanic chieftain Theodoric deposed Romulus Augustus. Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire — in the form of Byzantium — survived until it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 C.E.
But the Roman empire in the West did not so much fall as melt into a softer, medieval empire in Western Rome, which both Popes and Holy Roman emperors claimed to rule.
It was only after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that Western Europeans got used to the idea that the Roman empire would not be restored — although its ghost lingered on until 1806 when the Napoleonic wars restructured Europe. Instead, there would be a non-imperial version of transnational order: a society of states.
Of course, the European society of states that existed from the 17th century until World War I was limited for the most part to Christian societies in Europe and the Americas. As Montesquieu wrote: "Europe is a nation composed of many nations."
The British philosopher David Hume similarly viewed Europe — and its American and Russian outliers — as part of a great commonwealth made up of "a number of neighboring and independent states, connected together by commerce and policy."
Once Europeans and Euro-Americans grew used to the idea of a society of sovereign states, the consolidation of all power in a single empire like that of Rome came to be seen as the greatest threat to civilization.
That explains why Europe-wide coalitions were formed to defeat Charles V, Louis XIV and Napoleon. The latter all sought to replace the system of independent states with a new empire like that of Rome.
Their attempts to grab power also explain why, in the 17th century, Samuel Pufendorf wrote that all European states were "obliged to oppose with all their power" what he called "the monarchy of Europe — or the universal monopoly — this being the fuel with which the whole world may be put to flame."
But how did what essentially was a European society of states convert itself to a global system with equal rights for non-Europeans? That cause was first championed by Japan. It became the first non-European nation to become a modern great power.
At the Versailles Conference in 1919, Japan argued for an international ban on racism — a reform which the United States and Britain tragically opposed.
During World War II, however, President Franklin Roosevelt made the abolition of white-supremacist European empires and the creation of a global society of states (one that would include nations of all races) one of America's war aims.
In 1942, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles put it as follows: "If this war is in fact a war for the liberation of peoples, it must assure the sovereign equality of peoples throughout the world — as well as in the world of the Americas.
“Our victory must bring in its train the liberation of all peoples. Discrimination between peoples because of their race, creed or color must be abolished. The age of imperialism is ended."
Following World War II, the United States supported the end of European rule over Africans, Asians and Middle Easterners.
And in the 1990s, Americans welcomed the dissolution of the last great multinational empire in Europe — the Soviet empire.
The goal of U.S. statesmen from Roosevelt to Reagan thus was not a coercive U.S. empire to replace the coercive empires of the past.
It was a global community in which the goods that had been provided by empires in the past — integrated markets, widespread civil liberties and peace — are achieved by the cooperation of independent nations.
Sure enough, some nations — like the United States — would be more influential than others. Because of their greater wealth, they would be leaders — not lords.
One thing was always for certain: Americans did not fight and die to free fascist and communist satellite countries in order to turn them into U.S. satellites.
As a matter of fact, U.S. television preachers and the greatest U.S. statesmen of the past half-century do agree on one very crucial thing: The successor to the Roman empire is not the United States — or any other country.
It is the world community, symbolized by the United Nations and linked by international institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Group of 8 (G-8) and NATO.
To be sure, fundamentalist Protestants may regard the world order that the United States of America and its allies have made as a negative development.
There are even some who believe that the United Nations along with other international institutions, in alliance with Freemasons and international bankers, are agencies of a global conspiracy owning a fleet of mysterious "black helicopters."
But mainstream Americans think that our global society of states — imperfect as it is — is preferable to a global empire. Even a global American empire. On this point, they are in agreement with much of the rest of the world.
Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program, New America Foundation Michael Lind is Policy Director of the New America Foundation’s Economic Growth Program. He co-founded the New America Foundation with Ted Halstead and Sherle Schwenninger, and was the first New America fellow. Mr. Lind has taught at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University and writes […]