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The American Empire

Hank Greely says: "I did not mean that the US should be compared to China; I objected that considering the Roman Empire as the dominant force of its time is very short-sightedly Eurocentric - and hence arguably un-WAIS. The Chinese empire from around 200 BC to around 200 AD was roughly comparable to the Roman Empire in population, wealth, civilization, and military security. Although the Chinese Empire was disrupted around 220 AD, when it returned to unity several centuries later, the Roman Empire had been reduced to its eastern portion, was shortly stripped of its North African and Middle Eastern possessions, and, after the Battle of Manzikert, turned into a small rump of once vast Roman imperium. All the while, China flourished.

I also argued that China had less effective military opposition on its boarders than Rome did. I admit that this is a closer question. China did face regular incursions by neighboring nomadic peoples, probably more than the Romans did, at least until late in the Western Empire. The Han probably did not start the Great Wall as a WPA project. (As I recall, though, Sun Tsu was writing in about 500 BC, during a period of disunity in China when the wars were between ethnic Chinese states, before the Han consolidation (which gave the Chinese ethnic group its name)). On the other hand, unlike the Roman Empire, both united and Eastern, which fought for over a millennium with Persian dynasties, China did not face a non-nomadic, war-like civilization on its borders. And the complete takeover of the Chinese empire by outsiders - the Mongol (Yuan) and Manchu (Ching) dynasties - came roughly 800 and 1200 years after Rome fell.

Personally, I don't like the idea of comparing the United States to either the Roman or the Chinese empire. Its situation is more different from either of them than the two of them were from each other".

RH: Hank is a man of his times. I grew up in a time when a good knowledge of Latin was a prerequisite to get into Oxford, and the ancient classics were the "Greats". In processions, the classical scholars went first, we moderns were the tail which did not wag. The Founding Fathers had a similar education, and they rejoiced in comparisons with Rome. In the 19th century the quotation from Bishop George Berkeley was popular:

Westward the course of empire takes its way
The first four acts already past,
A fifth shall close the drama with the day:
Time's noblest offspring is the last.

The last of course is the US. Moscow was the third Rome, the US the fifth and last (presumably Britain was the fourth). The end of history is the chair in which I am now sitting, although UC Berkeley, which took its name from the good bishop, would dispute that. Now that the US is an empire, and Rome is no longer a model, Americans dislike the word "empire", which no longer has its erstwhile prestige. As Pat Buchanan says "America, a republic, not an empire". It is no longer popular to call a spade a spade. As for "Eurocentric", the world is Eurocentric, since Europe it is the center of the land masses. That is a geographical fact, and an important one. It must be remembered in planning strategy.

Ronald Hilton - 1/21/03