Rise and Fall of Empires

With thanks to my old friend, Tim Parry, for this contribution to our blog

Ancient and Modern History is littered with the rise, and inexorable fall, of Empires.

As the 'known' world grew, so too did the geographical spread of Empire. Egypt, Greece and Rome ruled in the Ancient World, and throughout modern history, Spain, Portugal, Holland and France sailed into the New World and Asia. Under Napoleon, France dominated Europe, The British Empire - driven by industrialisation, efficiency, technical innovation, and the search for raw materials and markets - was probably the most widespread in modern history, at its height covering approximately one-quarter of the worlds population and land area. Its fair to regard the rise of Britain as roughly coinciding with the defeat of Napolean, in 1815, and its decline to begin a century later with the opening shots of WW1.

But as unstoppable as the rise of Empire can be, so too is its decline inevitable. Lethargy, distance, and expense are key negatives in a physical occupation. And it is by occupation that history generally judges the extent of empire.

But these days, even the use of the word 'Empire' is used cautiously. Its intimations of oppression and subjugation are no longer acceptable, and the military annexation of territory frowned upon (though by no means impossible, as we saw with the Russian occupation of the Crimea in recent times). The mere existence of the United Nations serves as a deterrent to such ambitions.

But the reality is that since the end of World War One, there HAS been a dominant global power. An Empire in all but name, with all-powerful influence in military power, political ideology, manufacturing, trade and culture. 

As Britain's power faded after WW1, and fell away in exhaustion after WW2, it was America that stepped in to fill the vacuum. Russia, under the Communist theology, was fenced in, and as China took a different path in its communist strategy, America became the guardian of democracy, liberty and capitalism.

But, after a century in which America, and American interests, 'colonised' the globe ( the Coca-Colanisation, if you like) it too is facing its inevitable decline. As so often, it is economic decline, and to some degree a loss of innovation and manufacturing that has set the tone...

Handling the end of Empire is never easy.

The lessons of history tell us much...

But in modern times, this loss of 'status' is very similar to the 6 steps of grief...

Shock...

Denial...

Anger...

Bargaining...

Depression...

Acceptance...

Britons dealt with them all of these...it probably took them almost 50 years to really get to it all. Starting with India in 1946, and ending with Hong Kong in 1997...a long line of divestments, handled with varying degrees of ability and success.

America? America has only just started...

They are possibly, unwittingly, through Shock, and are somewhere between Denial and Anger.

Which might be why Donald Trump, with his 'Make America Great' call, appealed. 

But as one 'Empire' falls, and goes through its phase of lashing out, as America is now, the vacuum is created.

Next to step up is surely China...

Its influence has increased enormously in the past 2 decades. Its economic influence and asset purchases in Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia, points to it firmly capitalising (perhaps a poor choice of words for a nominally communist country?) upon its centralised Government economic planning and manufacturing capacity. The sheer size of its population and domestic demand makes it a massive market, and its increasing willingness to flex its muscles militarily, and to comment on global events politically, clearly points to a determination to be heard and to establish itself in what is increasingly sees as its rightful place at the top table of global authority.

What happens next is anyone's guess!