It is with some reluctance that I have to say that James’ response to Andrew Bacevich gets things very wrong. Or, rather, he is right in what he says up to a point, but what he says does not respond to Bacevich’s claim at all. As it happens, James helps makes Bacevich’s point for him. James writes:
I would daresay that it is precisely incorrect to see empire as destructive to the reification of imperial society and culture.
But Bacevich isn’t talking about “imperial society and culture.” If, as Williams argues, empire turns “a culture away from its own life as a society or community [bold mine-DL],” the existence of an “imperial society and culture” is the proof that this is true. As much as historians of certain empires might not like to admit it, “imperial society and culture” are parisitic things and thrive at the expense of local and regional societies and cultures. Not only does the capital of an empire lure the talented, ambitious and smart people from the provinces, enriching the metropole and depriving their home countries of the social capital that these places need far more than the capital city, but also the maintenance of the capital and/or central government often requires the plunder of the rest of the empire through extensive taxation. The capital is almost always characterized by an overabundance of place-seekers and men on the make, which is perhaps inevitable whenever there is such a great concentration of power and, in connection with that, the wealth of patronage, which means that a continental nation-state, regardless of its overseas pursuits, will have significant deforming effects on the social and cultural life of the rest of the country through the promotion of its continental-imperial society and culture to which the aspiring and ambitious will conform themselves.