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Spengler & Imperial America

Robert W. Merry says the great German pessimist Oswald Spengler, in his Decline of the West, got a lot right [1] about how Western civilization would develop — and that should make us think hard about the road we’re on. Merry:

But modern Westerners—and Americans in particular—might want to ponder the implications of Spengler’s prediction that the first nation of the West would lead that civilization into an era of imperialism in corollary with serious erosions in its democratic structures. Is it possible that the mystical German thinker was right about that, just as he was right in so many other predictions regarding Western behavioral and cultural patterns? And isn’t the great foreign-policy debate of our time—whether America should continue its post–Cold War policy of interventionism in the name of American exceptionalism and Western universalism; or whether it should abandon that mission in favor of a more measured exercise of its military and economic power—fundamentally a debate over whether Spengler had it right?

What’s interesting about today’s foreign-policy debates is the disconnection between the country’s national leaders and the populace at large. The Republican Party is dominated by a neoconservative sensibility that favors widespread American involvement in overseas places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran, while the Democratic Party is influenced heavily by a Wilsonian sensibility of moral imperative that often leads to the same interventionist advocacy, though sometimes for different reasons. And yet public-opinion surveys show that the American people harbor strong reservations about such interventionist vigor of either stripe.

Thus, it sometimes seems as if America is on autopilot as it moves haltingly but with seemingly inexorable force toward ever-greater involvement in the world even as discomfort increases within the electorate. But what about Spengler’s corollary prediction that the West’s democratic forms will erode as it fulfills its civilizational push to empire? Certainly, there is no popular sentiment for such a thing. Yet here too we see signs that the country is headed in that direction, reflected in a growing tendency toward arrogation of power on the part of the nation’s executive, at the expense of Congress, and Congress’s supine acquiescence in this trend. It’s seen also in the Federal Reserve’s remarkable power grab of recent years whereby it has circumvented the congressional appropriations process in making funds available to banks to execute its “quantitative easing” policies of loose money. Again, Congress has quietly accepted this incursion into its constitutional domain without so much as a whimper.

More:

And so we come to the truly haunting question that confronts America in these times of growing global instability—whether, as the last nation of the West, America is destined to fulfill Spengler’s vision of hegemonic zeal mixed with a push toward dictatorship. Here’s where the natural aversion to Spengler’s dogmatic determinism will likely come into play. The answer is no, America’s future is in American hands. But Spengler’s audacious work stands as a great warning to Americans bent on protecting the hallowed civic institutions established at the founding of their Republic. The era of Western cultural health is dead, and it died pretty much as Spengler predicted it would. And no doubt his study of previous great civilizations did in fact accurately identify pressures and forces that emerge at particular points in civilizational development and push toward empire and Caesarism. This push can be resisted by a free people dedicated to the protection of their institutions of old. But they won’t be protected if events are placed on autopilot.

A journalist colleague asked me today what I expected out of Obama these next four years. Nothing, I said. Nor do I expect anything meaningful out of the Republicans. We are at a standstill, and I don’t foresee anything changing until and unless there’s a severe crisis, which is inevitable. I find I labor under a strong sauve qui peut fatalism — but isn’t that what Merry warns against? It doesn’t work to tell oneself to have faith in a political party because the alternative is too depressing.

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31 Comments To "Spengler & Imperial America"

#1 Comment By Lord Karth On January 4, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

Mr. Dreher writes: “A journalist colleague asked me today what I expected out of Obama these next four years. Nothing, I said. Nor do I expect anything meaningful out of the Republicans. We are at a standstill, and I don’t foresee anything changing until and unless there’s a severe crisis, which is inevitable.

You’ll see it, Mr. Dreher. We most of us will. The next four years will see, if we’re lucky, a great big can-kicking, with all sorts of “crises” attached. One wonders what the bond markets are making of all these fun-and-games in the Throne City.

The really fun part about the current situation is that, for the first time in Human history, a collapsing culture (ours) has managed to distribute weapons of mass destruction, of all sorts of flavors, on a fairly wide scale. When the Meltdown does come—-8 years and counting, troops !—does anyone really think those weapons won’t be used at some point, by somebody ? For politics, economic gain, or (as I think increasingly likely) for the sheer pleasure of the act ?

As to whether the species survives the shenanigans—-I will make no cash bets, either way.

It’ll be interesting to watch unfold, though. Hours and hours of Solid Entertainment Value !. And at a sensible price.

Pass the popcorn; the show’s about to start !

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#2 Comment By JohnE_o On January 4, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

Two things might stop the Military Industrial Complex – a complete US economic collapse or a realization amongst the 18 – 25 year old set that risking your life in an attempt to support other countries is not a winning proposition.

#3 Comment By Lord Karth On January 4, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

And as to the whole “American Empire” thing…..I don’t think we’re going to do all that well at it. America is not really an “Imperial” society; we don’t have the level of confidence in ourselves, the level of hubris combined with certainty-of-motive, that a really good Empire needs to have to last.

Rome had the Colosseum, gladiatorial games and pride of Roman citizenship. People who were citizens of Rome were envied. Does anyone really envy the modern American ?

America has “multiculturalism”, reality television and constant, merciless self-criticism. Sorry, troops, but compared to our imperial predecessors, we don’t stack up. Man vs. Lion, live in the arena, beats Here Comes Honey Boo Boo any day.

Sorry !

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#4 Comment By JonF On January 4, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

Re: Does anyone really envy the modern American ?

Huh? Granted levels have fallen off a bit, but what about all those people who immigrate here, legally or otherwise? Maybe envy isn’t the right word, but they certainly do find America desirable.
Also, look around the world. Find anywhere better? A very few places, maybe (Canada, Australia…). But not many

#5 Comment By Thomas Andrews On January 4, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

Well, Psalm 146:3 sums this one up rather nicely, no?

I grew up during WWII. Spent my early manhood under the threat of ‘inevitable’ nuclear annihilation

Saw the rise of the imperial presidency under Nixon.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in the Jewish cemetery in Prague. Young Jews were cleaning the yard. Live jazz was playing down the street so loudly even I could hear it walking among the graves.
Watched Sunday TV on which the German chancellor voice both her opposition to full gay rights and her insistence that this was her personal view, but should her coalition lose in court, she’d make life hell on earth for any civil servant who infringed on those rights.
Saw restored Dürer panels. Walked through streets in parts of Ireland which I would not have dared to tread only a few years back.

Yes, it certainly seems as though the sands of our culture are running out. Then again, we just emerged from a century of such unspeakable horror and almost certain destruction. I think it’s just as likely that we lack the perspective to see all the wonderful new growth as that we truly have come to the end of the line.

But, then, I place not my faith in worldly princes. I do not see us as the be-all and end-all of God’s creation.

Karth, every time a conservative like M_Yawn makes me want to scream: Told You So! at Rod, you come along with your dark, darker, darkest and most jaded view of everything and cheer me right up. If you believe it to be so, it simply can’t be all that bad.

#6 Comment By William Leach On January 4, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

“It doesn’t work to tell oneself to have faith in a political party because the alternative is too depressing.”

Bravo, you have boiled American politics down to one concise sentence.

#7 Comment By SusanKG On January 4, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

Oh, please. We are living in one of the freest, wealthiest countries in the freest, wealthiest time in human history. Let’s all get a grip.

Would I have wanted to have been born in 1915, the year of my father’s birth? WWI, Bolshevik Revolution, no women’s suffrage, Spanish Flu–great times those. How about 1872, the year my paternal grandmother was born? Ever thought about the infant mortality rate in 1872?

Our “cultural health” is dead? Because “Honey Boo Boo” is worse than slaveholders raping and lashing their “property,” something perfectly legal approximately 150 years ago? In fact, we moderns have a far greater concern for universal human rights and human dignity than did any ancient civilization.

We are coddled and spoiled if we think these are anything other than extraordinarily privileged times. Whenever Rod posts a “View From Your Table,” I am blown away by our abundance. We live better than kings did in ages past.

Finally, for all its flaws, the U.S. has shown a remarkable tendency to bounce back. Do conservatives really think Obamacare is going to destroy us, when the Civil War didn’t? Let’s show an attitude of gratitude, and quit the pity party.

#8 Comment By Joseph R. Stromberg On January 4, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

Amaury de Riencourt’s *The Coming Caesars* (1959) and *The American Empire* (1968) were two interesting meditations on the American problem by a French Spenglerian. They are still worth reading. Broadly speaking, he concluded that 1) Americans couldn’t or wouldn’t (and shouldn’t?) get off the imperial path and 2) it might be a fairly benevolent empire.

So far he has been proved right about 1 and very wrong about 2.

#9 Comment By Noah172 On January 4, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

Two things might stop the Military Industrial Complex – a complete US economic collapse or a realization amongst the 18 – 25 year old set that risking your life in an attempt to support other countries is not a winning proposition.

I disagree with the second of these.

1) The entire active-duty military is about one half of one percent of our population, with less than that (IIRC) in reserve; even if we are talking about young adult men only, it is still only a small fraction. Conscription is a political non-starter (I wish that were not the case, but I know that it is the reality). Most Americans do not have a blood investment (though a huge financial one) in our nation’s overseas commitments, and they will not without a new draft.

2) The modern military is very capital-intensive, not labor-intensive, doing the historical missions of armed forces everywhere: defeating enemy armed forces, patrolling sea lanes, guarding plots of territory. The types of missions contemporary political elites tend to favor — converting the heathen to “democracy” and “human rights,” with gender equality, gay marriage, and liberty and justice for all! — are indeed labor-intensive, except that our elites do not want to commit the necessary labor. Coalition troop levels in Iraq averaged about 200,000 (mostly US, of course) at any given time from 2003 to the beginning of the drawdown in 2010, or one coalition soldier for every 125-135 Iraqis in a territory the size of California; coalition troop levels are even lower in Afghanistan, peaking at about 150,000 (IIRC), or 1 infidel per nearly 200 Afghans — and this in a country slightly larger than Iraq, with much, much rougher terrain, and then only after a decade had passed since the initial invasion!

Neocon/neolib imperialism is not at all cheap money-wise — quite the opposite — but our political class has figured out that they can get away with waging their wars on the cheap labor-wise.

#10 Comment By Rod Dreher On January 4, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

SusanKG: Oh, please. We are living in one of the freest, wealthiest countries in the freest, wealthiest time in human history. Let’s all get a grip.

Did you read Merry’s description of Spengler’s theory? I’m betting not, because liberty and prosperity in this stage of civilizational decline do not disprove it.

#11 Comment By David J. White On January 4, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

America is not really an “Imperial” society; we don’t have the level of confidence in ourselves, the level of hubris combined with certainty-of-motive, that a really good Empire needs to have to last.

I remember after the Sept. 11 attacks when there was much hand-wringing about how our intelligence services could have missed it, someone affiliated with the CIA remarked on the lack of on-the-ground intelligence efforts in Afghanistan by saying, “Operations where diarrhea is a way of life don’t happen.”

Contrast this with the British, who for along time seemed to be able to come with individual adventurers, often freelancers, who would be willing, or even eager, to go to some far-flung corner of the world, live there long enough to learn the local language and something of the culture, even at times go native for all intents and purposes, and who were willing to put their skills and expertise at the disposal of the government. Of even the colonial administrator types in jodhpurs and pith helmets, who, while not necessarily going native to the same degree, at least were willing to spend enough time on the ground in a far-flung country to learn something useful about it.

A classic American failing, I think, is to try to turn every problem into an engineering problem, which can be solved with technology. If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we … But not every problem can be solved with a technological magic pill or magic bullet that doesn’t get your hands dirty.

Americans want the benefits of being an imperial power without doing any of the real work. We don’t have the guys in jodhpurs and pith helmets.

#12 Comment By AZS On January 4, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

For an excellent overview of Oswald Spengler and his theories, see John Farrenkopf’s PROPHET OF DECLINE. Spengler had his weaknesses but he is still an extremely important author who should be read by everyone.

#13 Comment By SusanKG On January 4, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

No, I didn’t read it. I was just reacting to your fatalism, which can start sounding whiny to those less predisposed to it.

#14 Comment By Kirk On January 4, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

That’s the second time this week I’ve seen Spengler mentioned. The first came in this passage from Gregg Easterbrook’s, ‘The Progress Paradox’ (p. 161):

“Eighty years ago, elites of the United States and Europe gushed in praise over the social historian Oswald Spengler’s work ‘The Decline of the West’, which argued not only that American and European civilization ‘one day will lie in fragments, forgotten’ but that the downfall of Western civilization was imminently at hand. . . . Eight decades later, the West is far stronger, richer, more secure, more diverse, and more free than when Spengler declared it a decaying relic about to vanish. Nevertheless, his work and similar predictions of impending Western collapse are still spoken of reverentially among intellectual elites, a portion of whom delight to hear anything American and European called bad.”

I have to admit, I’m more a fan of a Gregg Easterbook, Matt Ridley, and Peter Diamondis, than I am of Spendler.

#15 Comment By Ignominious On January 4, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

Quote: “Does anyone really envy the modern American ?

Last time I checked, everybody from other countries was climbing over and under fences, or tunneling beneath them, to get into the United States, in order to enjoy all our benefits.

They do envy us, no matter what they might say. Why else is everybody trying to come here?

#16 Comment By J On January 4, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

Did you read Merry’s description of Spengler’s theory? I’m betting not, because liberty and prosperity in this stage of civilizational decline do not disprove it.

Merry didn’t provide strong substantiation that civilizational decline is actually occurring.

One arguably obsolete set of forms and thinking of Western Civilization is in decline. As these collapse there seem to be viable ones that emerge.

#17 Comment By Bugg On January 4, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

In a quiet moment, if Mitt Romney has a functioning brain, he must know that had he put even a heistant toe into the water of nonintervention, he would be President Elect today.

#18 Comment By Mr. Patrick On January 4, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

A decline not disproved by increasing wealth and liberty…sort of a vertical upward decline, then?

#19 Comment By AZS On January 4, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

“A decline not disproved by increasing wealth and liberty…sort of a vertical upward decline, then?”
Yes, actually. From Farrenkopf’s Prophet of Decline:

“In his late work, Spengler retains his basic pattern of cycles of cultures. Yet instead of merely existing autonomously and in a more or less random sequence, they combine to form a pattern. Integrating the two historical-philosophical paradigms of The Decline of the West and his late work, he emerges with an upward-spiraling model of world history that climaxes in catastrophe.”

#20 Comment By John E_o On January 4, 2013 @ 10:59 pm

Hey Noah, just so I understand – are you saying that no matter how many folks come back with severe injuries and PTSD, there will still be enough qualified volunteers so that the military will continue to put enough (qualified) bodies into undermanned occupation forces?

I don’t entirely disagree, but also wonder if after 10+ years of returning casualties even kids who think they’ll live forever might see how badly they could get hurt and decide that they’d rather not risk it.

#21 Comment By Charles Cosimano On January 4, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

No, a severe crisis is not inevitable. Nothing is inevitable except the Sun going nova and that is not going to happen for a long time.

#22 Comment By Leo On January 4, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

Spengler did not actually write much about America. He had a reference to the persistence of Native American ways in American society at large. He did not consider either Russia or America part of the West. Still, an interesting article.

#23 Comment By AZS On January 4, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

Spengler, in most of his works, did consider America to be a part of the West, though a product of a later (and thus, in his organic system, already older) part of the cultural cycle than Europe. His view of America became negative in his last published book, The Years of Decision (alternatively titled The Hour of Decision).

#24 Comment By cecelia On January 5, 2013 @ 12:38 am

Spengler is rubbish . His analysis of the decline and fall of various civilizations was based on an understanding of those ancient societies in 1918 – and we know a lot more about those societies now than people did back then. So his conclusions are based on fatally wrong notions about the societies he analysed. And then there is his use of concepts like blood, soul and destiny – not exactly what we would think of as empirical nowadays. He despised industrialization – preferring an agrarian past. I guess he failed to notice how poor and short lived most people were in that mythical agrarian past.

Finally – it was not the US he was talking about – it was Germany. “first nation of the West would lead that civilization into an era of imperialism in corollary with serious erosions in its democratic structures”. That first nation is Germany and while I find Spengler silly – when one looks at what is happening in the EU now – under German leadership – the loss of democracy seems likely.

Lord Karth – you make Eeyore sound like a cheery donkey! What is it about conservative temperment that results in the excessive enjoyment of doom? It strikes me as the opposite to some liberals excessive expectations of never ending progress. Both perspectives are out of balance. Spengler and Toynbee – the two great mega cycle historians – are opposite sides – one the pessimist one the optimist. To my mind – I do not see how a Christian can accept Spengler – he utterly rejects the possibility of free will – human initiative – the action of grace – in human affairs.

I agree what he has to say has some insight – his notions about space and mathematics are intriguing. But mostly he seems an example of how one’s temperment affects one’s perspective – the man was a recluse and depressive. And despite his depressiveness – he is more than anything a romantic. His works are full of the sort of German myths that were so prominent in German intellectual circles of the day. The “hero” as leader – the blood and soil thing – the appeal of tragic endings. He also completely fails to see how new things rise out of the ashes of the old.

I’ll end my rant with a quote from Chesterton – his reaction to Spengler “”The pessimists believe that the cosmos is a clock that is running down; the progressives believe it is a clock that they themselves are winding up. But I happen to believe that the world is what we choose to make it, and that we are what we choose to make ourselves; and that our renascence or our ruin will alike, ultimately and equally, testify with a trumpet to our liberty.”

#25 Comment By The Anti-Gnostic On January 5, 2013 @ 9:03 am

Sorry folks, but when you have to print money to buy your own debt the clock is ticking. Lots of people were riding high in 2008 until October of that year. The Iron Curtain was a mighty edifice until November 1989. On the day it fell, I told my roommate the Soviet Union would be gone in five years, he said ten. It took two.

When things are highly leveraged, as with the present West, events can accelerate toward the worst case in a very compressed time frame. The good news is that the collapse need not be cataclysmic, and determined, organized people have always found a way to carve out a decent life for themselves and their families.

I know Rod came back from France with a new appreciation for rich (in the non-monetary sense), integral and involved culture. I think the challenge for conservatives going forward will be how we carve out these areas for ourselves in a world that is frankly going mad. The paleo-Right has lost the meta debate, so now we must focus on the micro. Family, food, community, the spiritual life, aesthetics, and yes, the firearms we will have to maintain these redoubts (NB: just having them can be sufficient deterrence) are all pertinent topics.

Keep up the good work, Rod! The glass is indeed half full.

#26 Comment By Thomas Andrews On January 5, 2013 @ 9:43 am

cecelia, thank you!
Change the context, change the results.

One of the oldest principles and yet conservatives in general and conservative Christians in particular always strike me as living in their mind’s eye in a dusty Hollywood set of late Imperial Rome (with color by Technicolor).
Or in central Europe of the outgoing 19th century, inhaling the sweet stench of nihilism and believing this, and only this to be the one eternally true philosophy.

It reminds me of a little child who, upon being told by his mother that he may not have a piece of cake so soon before dinner, tells her she hates him and he’s just going to go eat worms and die, so there (stamps foot!)

Spengler is definitely a ‘must-read’. So for that matter are the nihilists and existentialists.

It is by no means however necessary that the world truly be organized as they thought it to be.

Poor me, poor me, pour me another glass of whine is what I’m really hearing in this thread.

#27 Comment By Noah172 On January 5, 2013 @ 9:50 am

Hey Noah, just so I understand – are you saying that no matter how many folks come back with severe injuries and PTSD, there will still be enough qualified volunteers so that the military will continue to put enough (qualified) bodies into undermanned occupation forces?

Yes. For a lot of people, the military is a job with good pay, benefits, and security that does not require loads of college debt or even attending college at all (indeed, the services will pay for your college, or pay back your college debt). Moreover, as I said before, our political class is not committed to providing adequately manned forces for the type of labor-intensive, win-hearts-and-minds missions that said class wants from today’s military. There was a severe manpower crunch during the late Bush years because of simultaneous Iraq and Afghanistan missions, so the services, at Washington’s direction, lowered enlistment standards (to some degree) and threw cash bonuses at recruits.

In the end, it was not enough to supply the millions of men who would have been needed to transform the Muslim world in the neocon/neolib image — only conscription could have achieved that — but who cared? Remember how the draft tore the country apart during ‘Nam? Wouldn’t want that again…

#28 Comment By David J. White On January 5, 2013 @ 11:15 am

For a lot of people, the military is a job with good pay, benefits, and security

So much for politicians who claim to be opposed to government-funded jobs programs!

#29 Comment By Chris On January 5, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

Spengler’s work is sheer drivel. I fail to understand why anyone would look to a tome written 100 years ago by a writer whom most academic historian regard as unworthy of consideration. This reminds me of the work you once cited by a theologian from the 50’s whom no one ever read who pondered about our lack of civilizational coherence … whatever that means. Spengler produced similar incoherent rubbish that no serous social scientist ever reads. Spengler drew a comparison between civilizations and living organisms which have a genesis, a period of flourishing and then expire. His fundamental thesis is inaccurate and reflects the limited science of his time.

An understanding of culture and civilizational transformation is better served by reading the sociological, anthropological and archaeological literature. Civilizations do collapse: the Maya, the Minoans, the Hittites, Western Rome. However, they do so for a myriad of reasons such as resource depletion, natural disasters, disease, warfare and collapse is never inevitable … look at China! Anthropologists have discussed the concept of general systems collapse in which the complexity of a culture and the vulnerability of that social system is unable to withstand the impact of a crisis or series of crises. However, civilizations never collapse for the abstruse and frankly sophomoric reasons Spengler discusses. Civilizations do not collapse for moral reasons for example and no Honey Boo Boo is not a harbinger of THE END! Civilization can be defined as a form of social organization involving division of labor, division of power and economic resources, political power hierarchies, often with literacy and a priestly and educated class running things. Frequently civilizations have an ideological basis which helps reinforce existing forms of social organization and resource distribution.

Rather than collapse, civilizations and cultures adapt and change and evolve. Greece and Rome morphed into Byzantium. Egyptian civilization morphed into the Coptic Christian culture which itself was eventually Islamicized over the centuries. However, go to the banks of the Nile and many Egyptians in their small villages lives lives quite similar to that of their ancestors. Before Saddam drained the marshes of Iraq, the Marsh Arabs led lives very similar to those led by the early precursors of the Sumerians circa 3500 B.C. .. even to the architecture of their homes. Chinese civilization continues to flourish despite Mao, the Cultural Revolution and industrialization.

Western culture has become the dominant culture around the globe and what we are seeing today is the emergence of a world civilization based in large measure on the western model but which incorporates elements from other groups. The fundamental outlines of western culture such as democracy, representative government, capitalism, mass education, industrialization, equal rights, and mass communications has become the global norm. There is no empirical evidence that supports the idea of impending collapse. I suppose evolution and transformation scare the %#[email protected] out of whining and mewling conservatives who really need to grow a pair. This unremitting anxiety over change can even be seen in the writings of Burke who is the intellectual father of conservatism. Such concerns strike me as a massive failure of nerve on the part of conservatives who would shrink from the challenges and opportunities of the future while pathetically pining for a golden age that never existed. Ever.

#30 Comment By JonF On January 5, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

Chris,

China has collapsed multiple times. The deal is, China was never conquered by anyone numerous enough, or with a sufficiently strong culture of their own, to supplant China’s own. So any conquerors, like the Mongols or the Manchu, simply became Chinese.
And in fact something similar happened to Rome, in Europe: the Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, and, within the old Roman Empire’s borders, lost their languages and ended up speaking some Latinate dialect. They also spent 1,000 years trying to put some sort of empire back together again: hence Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, ultimately even Napoleon. And kaiser derives from Caesar, as does tsar.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On January 6, 2013 @ 8:01 pm

The best thing about conscription is that if there is a sufficient disconnect between what the leadership thinks the people demand and what the people are actually willing to support, we start getting massive demonstrations of people screaming “Hell, no, we won’t go.” This can lead to a scaling back of the imperial project, and a concomitant increase in democracy. Or, it can lead to an all-volunteer army that is entirely disconnected from democratic government — and could even serve as the power base for a future Napoleon. It could also lead to a scaling back of the imperial project and the rise of a demagogue combining the worst of Huey Long and the “Little Flower” priest.