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Why Liberalism Means Empire

History ended on October 14, 1806. That was the day of the Battle of Jena, the turning point, as far as philosopher G.W.F. Hegel was concerned, in humanity’s struggle for freedom. Once Napoleon triumphed over the reactionary forces of Prussia, the ideals that post-revolutionary France represented—not just liberté, égalité, and fraternité, but the modern state and its legal order—would serve as the model for Europe and world.

When Francis Fukuyama revisited this idea in “The End of History?”—with a question mark—in the pages of The National Interest a quarter century ago, he had to remind readers what Hegel had meant. Events would still happen, including big events like wars. What had ended was a sequence of political and cultural forms whose internal contradictions each gave rise to the next step in freedom’s development: from the ancient world to medieval Christendom to, finally, what one 20th-century interpreter of Hegel called “the universal homogeneous state.” Or as Fukuyama called it, “liberal democracy.”

By 1989 it was obvious that Hegel had been right: the long series of rear-guard actions attempted by Europe’s reactionary powers came to an end after World War I. Fascism and Soviet Communism thereafter proposed themselves as alternative endings to history—competing modernities—but neither could prevail against liberal democracy, whether on the battlefield or in the marketplace.

This was welcome news to America’s foreign-policy elite. Fukuyama had not set out to justify a “unipolar moment” or America’s world role as the “indispensable nation”—indeed, he thought boredom lay ahead for those unlucky enough to live beyond history’s end—yet his essay could not help but add to the triumphalism of the time. The Cold War was over; henceforth, the American way of life would be everyone’s way of life: inevitably, forever, from Moscow to Beijing to Baghdad.


“The victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas of consciousness,” Fukuyama wrote, “and is as yet incomplete in the material world.” America’s mission would hence be to complete it, through international trade agreements, promotion of human rights, and of course war.

But what if Fukuyama was wrong and liberal democracy is not the end of the history after all? What if, on the contrary, the American way of life is an accident of history—one made possible only by a special kind of global security environment?

What in fact has triumphed over the last 250 years—not since the Battle of Jena in 1806 but since the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763—is not an idea but an institution: empire. Successive British and American empires created and upheld the world order in which liberalism could flourish. Fukuyama’s “liberal democracy” turns out to be a synonym for “the attitudes and institutions of a world in which Anglo-American power is dominant.”

Britain’s Liberal Empire


Victory against France in the Seven Years’ War confirmed not only British naval superiority—and thus the ability to project power more widely than any other nation in the late 18th or 19th centuries—but also the superior resilience of British financial and political institutions. Britain paid a steep price for the conflict, with the loss of 13 North American colonies that rebelled against the taxes king and parliament levied to pay for what colonists called the “French and Indian War.” But while King George III lost America, the king of France lost his head. To get his country’s finances in order after the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, Louis XVI fatefully summoned the Estates-General in 1789, and thus was the French Revolution begun.

Seventeen years later, Hegel was not wrong to see in Napoleon’s armies an unwitting force of progress. In 1806, the possibility was wide open for the 19th century to be the French century—or the German century, after defeat at Jena spurred Prussia to modernize and ultimately become the nucleus of a unified Germany. But France and Germany had the misfortune to be neighbors, and the reciprocal invasions they launched and suffered gave rise not only to political modernization, but also to nationalism and state repression.

By contrast, Britain’s territory remained inviolate—a necessary if not sufficient precondition for the flourishing of liberalism. The Nazi-era German political theorist Carl Schmitt observed the irony that this country which had given the world Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan should itself have avoided the need for such a consolidated state:

The English Isle and its world-conquering seafaring needed no absolute monarchy, no standing land army, no state bureaucracy, no legal system … such as became characteristic of continental states. Drawing on the political instinct of a sea and commercial power, a power that possessed a strong fleet that it used to acquire a world empire, the English people withdrew from this kind of closed state and remained ‘open.’

Land empires of the sort that Napoleon tried to build proved uncongenial to liberalism—they elicited nationalistic reactions and political centralization. But a naval empire was a different matter, not only sparing the homeland the ravages of foreign reprisal and border clashes but also providing a ready framework for capitalism, the great engine of liberalization and democracy. Free trade, for example, a cornerstone of liberal economics, historically developed out of trade within the British Empire.

“England’s imperialism,” noted the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises in his 1929 work Liberalism, “was primarily directed not so much toward the incorporation of new territories as toward the creation of an area of uniform commercial policy out of the various possessions subject to the King of England.”

Mises was an ardent classical liberal and no advocate of anyone’s subjugation. Yet faced with a choice between imperialism and liberalism together or national self-determination that might jeopardize international commerce, even Mises sided with empire. “The economy of Europe today is based to a great extent on the inclusion of Africa and large parts of Asia in the world economy as supplies of raw materials of all kinds,” he wrote:

Any stoppage in these trade relations would involve serious economic losses for Europe as well as for the colonies and would sharply depress the standard of living of great masses of people. … Ought the well-being of Europe and, at the same time, that of the colonies as well to be allowed to decline further in order to give the natives a chance to determine their own destinies, when this would lead, in any event, not to their freedom, but merely to a change of masters?

This is the consideration that must be decisive in judging questions of colonial policy. European officials, troops, and police must remain in these areas, as far as their presence is necessary in order to maintain the legal and political conditions required to insure the participation of the colonial territories in international trade.

As shocking as these words might seem coming from one of the free market’s greatest champions, the conditional quality of Mises’s prescription ought to be noted: if trade is possible without colonialism, then national self-determination can be permitted. Liberal imperialism is not directed toward gratuitous conquest but toward maintaining a global environment conducive to liberalism.

Liberalism and empire reinforced one another in manifold ways. Britain met military necessities of the Napoleonic wars with moves toward domestic liberalization—more civil rights for Catholics and Dissenting Protestants, who could hardly be asked to serve under arms while being required to swear religious oaths and denied the chance to participate in politics. The manpower needed to police the seas even after Napoleon’s defeat provided further incentives for reform, as did the growing wealth brought about by the trade that empire and peace made possible.

As British industrial magnates became wealthier, they demanded a greater role in politics; as their employees became more numerous, they too demanded representation and rights. The franchise expanded, religious liberty was extended, and liberal democracy as we know it steadily evolved within the context of empire.

Britain was not the only place where the domestic development of liberalism was made possible by the pax Britannica. For the newly independent United States as well, security was a precondition for liberalism. But during the first 30 years of the republic, that security was jeopardized by conflicts between Europe’s great powers—which were also the New World’s great powers. Britain and revolutionary France came to represent ideological poles for America’s domestic political factions, which dealt with one another in distinctly illiberal ways. Federalists passed laws like the Alien and Sedition Acts to suppress French agents and their American sympathizers, while mobs of Jeffersonian Republicans occasionally lynched pro-British Federalists and launched the War of 1812 against Britain’s remaining North American stronghold, Canada.

The partisan fury died down only with the “Era of Good Feelings” that followed the War of 1812—and, not coincidentally, Britain’s defeat of Napoleon in Europe. The resolution of Europe’s great-power conflict removed the source of much of America’s ideological unrest. Once there was only one superpower off America’s coasts, one that proved uninterested in reclaiming its long-lost colonies, domestic tranquility could ensue.

Britain vouchsafed the post-Napoleonic order in Europe by acting as an “offshore balancer,” checking the rise of any potential hegemon in the Old World. This inadvertently freed the United States to expand across its own continent. A young country whose development might easily have been stunted by war and insecurity was instead afforded the luxury to industrialize and solidify its institutions in peace.

Looking back from the perspective of 1951, George Kennan described this situation in American Diplomacy:

[Britain was] prepared to hover vigilantly about the fringes of the Continent, tending its equilibrium as one might tend a garden, yet always with due regard for the preservation of her own maritime supremacy and the protection of her overseas empire. In this complicated structure lay concealed not only the peace of Europe but also the security of the United States.

Whatever affected it was bound to affect us. And all through the latter part of the nineteenth century things were happening which were bound to affect it: primarily the gradual shift of power from Austria-Hungary to Germany. This was particularly important because Austria-Hungary had not had much chance of becoming a naval and commercial rival to England, whereas Germany definitely did have such a chance and was foolish enough to exploit it aggressively…

American foreign policy had never been peaceful merely for the sake of being peaceful. Security was the paramount concern, but with Britain keeping any possible global predator at bay, American statesmen could pursue their ends through means other than war. The Monroe Doctrine was of a piece with Britain’s strategy of offshore balancing: its author, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, understood that only in peace—that is, in the absence of great power competition in the New World—could 19th century America develop politically and economically, and to keep that peace was worth fighting for.

The liberalizing effects of the security environment fostered by the British Empire were felt far beyond the English-speaking world. Europe, too, enjoyed a peace during which it could industrialize and slowly democratize. But Europe could never enjoy quite as much security as the island-states of Great Britain and (in effect) the United States, and the bitter experiences of the Napoleonic Wars left even the continent’s liberals infected with nationalist resentments. Thus while “free speech,” for example, in a security context like that of the Anglo-American peoples was not disloyal speech, matters were otherwise where the proverbial wolf was at the door, as it was for much of continental Europe.

In time, liberal sentiment grew so strong within imperial Britain that its exponents began to lose sight of the security context that made liberalism possible. Idealists and pacifists—the privileged children of empire—fancied that the peace was a product not of power but of good intentions; of love. Other liberals developed attitudes that foreshadowed today’s humanitarian interventionists: for them, power was more than just a means to a strategic balance in which freedom might flourish; it was an instrument by which despotic regimes could be directly overthrown and transformed into liberal or democratic governments.

Yet what sent the British Empire into eclipse in the second decade of the 20th century was neither a loss of nerve nor utopian overextension, but the brute fact that Britain did not have the wherewithal to contain a united Germany forever. Sooner or later, Germany would upset the continent’s balance and challenge the Royal Navy’s supremacy on the seas. Britain was not, therefore, acting irrationally when it entered into alliances against Germany ahead of World War I: the British way of life depended on the empire, which in turn depended on maritime hegemony.

A Britain ready to fight Germany might win and preserve its world order; or it might lose. But a Britain unwilling to fight could only lose. In the event, Britain won a Pyrrhic victory. Germany was defeated, but only with American help; the British Empire was no longer the archstone of the global system.

In the 19th century, the empire on which the sun never set could plausibly lay claim to represent “The End of History.” And if Francis Fukuyama were right—if ideas rather than institutions are the drivers of history—then the waning of British imperial power need not have meant a twilight for the ideals of liberalism and democracy as well. But in fact, the collapse of the security environment Britain had preserved for a century did indeed coincide with the downfall of liberal democracy—certainly on the European continent, where weak liberal regimes gave way to the likes of Il Duce and Der Führer, but also in Britain and America, where the intelligentsia increasingly looked to fascism, Bolshevism, and other profoundly illiberal creeds for inspiration.

A fair test of Fukuyama’s idea is whether liberal democracy endures in the absence of Anglo-American empire. In the interwar period, however, liberal democracy—divorced from British power, not yet remarried to American hegemony—looked well and truly moribund.

Why Pax Americana?

America might have been expected to fill the security gap left by the receding British Empire. But a people who had known almost nothing but international peace for a hundred years could scarcely imagine that it was anything other than the natural state of human affairs. Just how much America’s prospering liberal democracy owed to global conditions another nation’s empire had engineered was far from obvious.

The U.S. could certainly have stayed out of World War I. A fanciful scenario in which Germany won the war would not inevitably have led to trouble for the United States, which might have remained aloof from the Old World’s troubles as long as they did not wash up on American shores—and Wilhelmine Germany was hardly an exporter of revolution. If, as is most likely, the European powers had exhausted themselves, America would have been in a position to assert dominion over the oceans without firing a shot.

Alternatively, once the U.S. was in the war, the objective might have been to achieve a traditional balance of power, with the Kaiser preserved in Germany and Allied support for governments strong enough to suppress revolutionary movements. Such illiberal measures would in fact have done the most to preserve the international order that made liberalism possible.

In the event, however, U.S. involvement in Europe’s war was disastrous. The terms of the peace exacerbated the continent’s political instability, relying on a weak Weimar liberalism to withstand Bolshevism or Bolshevism’s fascist antithesis, and establishing an even feebler League of Nations to do with laws what Britain had once done with the Royal Navy.

Even as European liberalism was set up to fail without an imperial power to support it, America returned to her disengaged republican—and Republican—ways. Woodrow Wilson’s party was repudiated, and Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover kept out of Europe’s disintegrating affairs. Franklin Roosevelt only succeeded in leading the country into World War II after lying in his 1940 re-election campaign, violating the Neutrality Acts, and placing Japan in an economic stranglehold. It took Pearl Harbor to get Americans interested in the next war.

The old myths of natural peace and prosperity, which had taken root in America during a century of pax Britannica, died hard. In the decades between the wars, honorable men—not pro-Nazis but Americans who had seen their country grow to greatness without becoming entangled in European affairs—argued that events in Europe posed little danger to America and were frankly none of our business.

Their argument doesn’t hold up. Although the two great anti-liberal powers, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, eventually turned on one another, a scenario in which they completely canceled one another out is implausible, to say the least. More likely one would have overcome the other, and the alacrity with which Soviet power did in fact fill the vacuum left by the defeated Nazis in Eastern Europe after World War II suggests what would have happened to all of Europe had one totalitarian juggernaut triumphed.

Just as the world order made possible by the British Empire had a liberalizing effect on the United States, a Soviet or Nazi world order would have profoundly influenced American development in the opposite direction. In such a world, the U.S. would have faced both domestic and foreign pressures to assimilate to the Soviet or Nazi model, and resisting such pressure could itself have taken an illiberal turn. This is not so hypothetical: the Palmer Raids of the Wilson years and the McCarthyism of the 1950s show that America could indeed revert to its less-than-liberal 1790s sensibilities about free speech and disloyalty when faced with a foreign threat in a risky security environment.

But during the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, America was not facing a totalitarian power anywhere near as persuasive as it would have been had it conquered all of Europe. To think that American intellectuals would not have been as easily seduced by a victorious Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia as they were, in historical fact, by those same totalitarianisms when they had rather less territory under their sway seems rather naïve. Intellectuals worship power, and everybody worships success.

A Cold War between an embattled, increasingly illiberal and security-conscious America and a burgeoning USSR or Nazi Germany is not at all hard to conceive of—because in fact, we got just such a thing even with American involvement in World War II. Had Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia fought one another to a standstill in the 1940s, the results would have been much the same: a Cold War, only one whose poles were Moscow and Berlin rather than Washington and Moscow.

Had we stayed out of World War II, there is every reason to think that all of the illiberal measures taken by the U.S. in the Cold War that we actually did fight with the Soviets—in which the U.S. held the upper hand from the start—would have been taken in a much worse strategic, economic, and cultural climate. America might still have prevailed against an inhuman and unsustainable Soviet or Nazi system, but the America that emerged would hardly have been likely to be more liberal or democratic than the one we have today.

In the 19th century, the United States enjoyed the advantages of an international security environment propitious to liberalism and democracy without having to incur the costs of empire necessary to sustain those conditions. America could be liberal without having to be imperial—although the Indians, Mexicans, and Filipinos might well disagree. Beginning with World War II, however, if America wished to remain liberal and democratic, it would have to become imperial in many of the ways Britain had been—including playing a leading role in Europe and on the oceans. Indeed, America would have to do much of what the British Empire had done in the previous century on an even larger scale.

The efflorescence of liberal democracy in the latter half of the 20th century—the growth of international trade and support for democracy and human rights to the point where the total package appeared to be the “End of History”—was not a spontaneous, natural development. It was driven by U.S. prestige and power. Germany is now deeply committed to political liberalism, and Japan may in some respects be more consumerist than the U.S. itself. But these states were, of course, remade by the U.S. after World War II.

This is not to say there aren’t genuinely local traditions of liberalism or democracy to be found among America’s allies, nor that American arms can simply transform any other kind of regime into a liberal and democratic one: the apparent success of nation-building in Japan and Germany owed as much to the threat that the Soviet Union posed to those states as to anything America did. The Germans and Japanese had the most urgent incentive imaginable to make their newly liberal and democratic constitutions work—because aligning with the U.S. was the only insurance they could buy against being annexed by the Soviet empire instead.

There is a crucial difference between the Napoleonic, land-empire mentality that wants to revolutionize other states—a mentality taken to extremes by the Soviets and exhibited with considerable fervor by many neoconservatives and liberal hawks today—and the example set by Britain in the 19th century, which was a liberal but not revolutionary world power and encouraged liberalization mostly though indirect means: via trade, culture, and above all, by upholding a relatively un-Hobbesian global security environment.

Liberal anti-imperialists today, whether libertarian or progressive, make the same mistakes Britain’s pacifists and America’s interwar noninterventionists once did: they imagine that the overall ideological complexion of the world, as determined by the state most capable of projecting power, need not affect their values and habits at home. They believe that liberalism is possible without empire. Web issue image [1]

There is little historical evidence for this. When libertarians point to how economically liberal city-states like Hong Kong or Singapore are, they ignore the imperial strategic contexts in which those city-states are historically set. No city-state can resist the military force of a superpower; thus, the liberalism of a city-state tends to be entirely contingent on the liberalizing security conditions established by some great empire.

Yet liberal anti-imperialists are entirely correct about the price of the ideological wars that the other sort of liberal—the empire-loving kind—extols. These aggressive liberals, whether they call themselves humanitarians or neoconservatives, also misunderstand the world order that underwrites liberalism: they have Napoleonic ambitions to liberalize the planet through revolution, not merely to preserve conditions in which the happy accident of liberalism can survive and grow, if at all, by a slow process of assimilation.

Just as there are idealists who deny that power is the basis of the peaceful order upon which liberal democracy rests, there are other, more dangerous idealists who deny that power is a limited commodity that cannot simply be wished into existence by a feat of will. This is a view characteristic of neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan, who never evince any sense that the U.S. could overextend itself in regime-changing crusades.

Liberal democracy depends on empire, but there are strict limits to what empire can achieve. This point is best understood by the conservative critics of liberalism and empire alike. Figures such as George Kennan and Patrick Buchanan are relatively untroubled by the implications of noninterventionism for liberal values and practices because the America they wish to see is a more self-sufficient and nationally self-conscious one. They are consistent anti-imperialists and anti-liberals: opposed to open borders, free trade, consumerism, and mass democracy as well as to the global power projection that makes such things possible; they would like America to be more like Sparta than Athens.

But after 200 years, liberalism has soaked too deep into the fiber of America’s national character for a new path of national self-sufficiency to hold much popular appeal. Thus while the anti-liberal anti-imperialists are among our greatest critics, they are also among our most neglected. They preach what a liberal nation will not hear.

This leaves one final view to be examined, that of the conservative realist—who is a realist not only in understanding the role that power plays in shaping ideology and world conditions (including economics), but also in recognizing the bitter truth about liberalism and its imperial character. The conservative realist knows that America will not be anything other than broadly liberal and democratic for a long time to come, and liberal democracy requires a delicately balanced system of international security upheld by an empire or hegemon. This balance is apt to be upset not only by some rampaging foreign power—by a Napoleonic France or a Nazi Germany or Soviet Union—but also by our own revolution-loving, democracy-promoting liberals.

The conservative realist emphasizes four points in thinking about American hegemony today. First, judgment must be exercised to discern essential conflicts (like the Cold War and World War II) from absolutely inessential ones (like Iraq) and relatively ambiguous ones like World War I. The individual cases matter; no ideological framework that renders predetermined answers about the use of force can suffice.

Second, if liberalism is ineradicably imperial—or hegemonic, if we’re being polite—it is also true that the only secure liberal order is one upheld by offshore balancing rather than crusading on land.

The third point, a corollary to the second, is that liberal democracy grows by evolution and osmosis; active attempts on the part of great empires to transform other regimes are usually counterproductive. Power upholds the strategic, economic, and cultural environment in which other states can pursue their own intimations of liberalism. Power cannot save souls or build heaven upon earth—it cannot “immanentize the eschaton,” as conservatives used to say, or expedite the “End of History.”

And fourth, because in fact liberal democracy is not the end of history, it can and will disappear in the long run. Thus its limited resources—moral, military, and economic—must not be wasted on utopian delusions. If liberal democracy is to continue as long as possible, its strategic posture must be realistic and conservative.

Liberal democracy is unnatural. It is a product of power and security, not innate human sociability. It is peculiar rather than universal, accidental rather than teleologically preordained. And Americans have been shaped by its framework throughout their history; they have internalized liberalism’s habits and rationales. Not surprisingly, they have also acquired the habits and rationales of empire—and now they must understand why.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative

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44 Comments (Open | Close)

44 Comments To "Why Liberalism Means Empire"

#1 Comment By philadelphialawyer On July 16, 2014 @ 1:01 am

“Liberal anti-imperialists today, whether libertarian or progressive, make the same mistakes Britain’s pacifists and America’s interwar noninterventionists once did: they imagine that the overall ideological complexion of the world, as determined by the state most capable of projecting power, need not affect their values and habits at home. They believe that liberalism is possible without empire.

“There is little historical evidence for this. When libertarians point to how economically liberal city-states like Hong Kong or Singapore are, they ignore the imperial strategic contexts in which those city-states are historically set. No city-state can resist the military force of a superpower; thus, the liberalism of a city-state tends to be entirely contingent on the liberalizing security conditions established by some great empire.”

I think the liberal status of city states and other small polities is not quite as precarious as this suggests. A liberal polity existed in Holland when the dominant paradigm was illiberal empire. Indeed, the Dutch won their independence from an illiberal empire. Much the same could be said of the Swiss, as well. And, perhaps, of the Italian Renaissance city states too.

And, of course, larger and more powerful polities, like the USA, have even more ability to retain their liberality, regardless of the “complexion” of the world or the status of its most dominant power.

Naturally, the existence of strong illiberal powers, particularly those bent on expansion, are threats to liberal polities, of whatever size, but I hardly think some sort of mathematical formula type certainty relating to the very “possibility” of their survival is called for.

I also think that the author fails to consider that even illiberal powers can benefit from a liberal world order. To some extent, that is the legacy of Westphalia (ie, I, as the ruler of a State, can be pretty much as illiberal as I want to be, and do so without outside interference, as long as I refrain from interfering in other States). And, perhaps, even more so it is the practice today, where “illiberal” Russia and China seem to be better guardians of small state independence and diversity than the allegedly liberal West, particularly its chief leader the USA. Russia and China seem to desire to maintain the “liberal” world order more than the USA, which was the country chiefly responsible for setting it up!

I also wonder about “just so” stories in which the valorized paradigm always gets its right, by definition, eg:

“The conservative realist emphasizes four points in thinking about American hegemony today. First, judgment must be exercised to discern essential conflicts (like the Cold War and World War II) from absolutely inessential ones (like Iraq) and relatively ambiguous ones like World War I. The individual cases matter; no ideological framework that renders predetermined answers about the use of force can suffice.”

It seems to me that a very good case could be made that the Cold War, like WWI, was ambiguous or irrelevant, like Iraq (although obviously on a much grander scale). It also seems to me that many, if not most, liberals shared in the same views of the various wars as the supposedly “conservative realists” either do or are enjoined to do.

And much the same claims (ie that the alleged views of conservative realists are or were no more theirs than anyone else’s) could be made for all four “points” supposedly “emphasized” by conservative realists.

Finally, an argument that finds it necessary to lump Pat Buchanan and George Kennan together probably has some other flaws as well.

#2 Comment By Jim Triumph On July 16, 2014 @ 5:01 am

I think it’s more likely that Americans value “imperial” protection for their standard of living and its attendant domestic stability than they do for the amorphous ideational blessings of liberalism.

To take (presumably) more ideologically oriented states, Russia and Iran might chafe under western-exported cultural denigration and threatening democratic norms, but it’s the tangible consequences of enforced neoliberalism – economic misery, security failure, internal chaos – that are far less pleasant for their societies. The British balanced against Napoleon because French hegemony would have meant poorer, and thus sadder and madder, British subjects. Values are at best a secondary interest for states.

And I don’t think it’s fair to describe the bulk of American balancing as imperialistic, at least in overtly interventionist sense. Naval and air supremacy in the Middle East, ground forces in Europe, and the dominance of the US 7th fleet in Asia are highly effective deterrents to potential rivals, especially when backed by the always-present possibility of confrontation spiraling into nuclear apocalypse. Given that structure, imperial intervention is a costly headache.

But there’s also the chance that US liberal hegemony has provided other nations with a prosperous peace that really has transformed their calculations and desires. Are western European nations today relatively content with their diminished international influence only because of the American security umbrella, or has that umbrella provided the time and space to change foundational considerations of state interests and security?

I’d guess the latter, and if a similar process can catch on in other nations, we could end up at the end of history.

#3 Comment By IA On July 16, 2014 @ 8:39 am

Strange, no mention of the decline of traditional christianity in the west. Surely, this has a bearing, such as the rise of the welfare state and its effect on character.

I honestly don’t see much left of classic liberalism in the west. We live in a world that increasingly views whatever happened before, say, 1964, as racist, sexist, homophobic, in fact evil. Its an increasingly feminized world that requires money we don’t have to maintain its unnatural resentments. Classical liberalism was a product of centuries of pagan and christian european men, who utterly dominated the west. How can any thinking person believe that by destroying the very DNA of the culture it can claim any continuity to the past?

#4 Comment By Michael N Moore On July 16, 2014 @ 8:52 am

Much of the inspiration for the British Empire came from the search for markets for the UK’s surplus manufactured goods. One of the key elements of the Napoleonic Wars was keeping those goods out of Europe. The fight over markets continues to this day, but US workers today see little of the benefits in jobs and overtime from our empire.

Empires provide wealth to fund liberal spending programs that help politically stabilize the mother country. However, increasingly this wealth is going to transnational corporations and their investors. This is destabilizing US politics and turning the country into a place where the average person is paying in taxes and blood for an empire that provides them with fewer private sector benefits and a shrinking ability to provide public sector benefits.

#5 Comment By PermReader On July 16, 2014 @ 9:30 am

I`m happy for the Romans(ancient). This is the drop of justce on them,smeared as the slaveholders.

#6 Comment By Kasoy On July 16, 2014 @ 10:43 am

Foreign interventionism goes against the principle of subsidiarity. Take the cases of Vietnam and Korea. We can speculate that had the US not intervened in both countries and got involved in a bloody wars, Vietnam and Korea might be more like South Korea today than they are now. Vietnam became a communist regime after the US withdrew from the war. But decades of war and destruction delayed Vietnam’s transformation to its present economic and political state. Had Korea been left to fall under the Soviet’s control, today perhaps a unified Korea would be much like South Korea today. Locals know best what they need and how best to do it. A foreign nation no matter how advanced politically, economically, technologically can never be better than the locals. If the locals can do it themselves, let them do it. If not, America is always ready to help – if asked.

Repressive regimes always eventually collapse as history will show. Free societies always flourish with or without the presence of repressive nations. In this internet age where people everywhere can see what is happening in other places of the world, people will tend to desire what brings happiness and abhor what obviously brings misery. People in failed political & economic systems will either emigrate or revolt.

#7 Comment By minderbender On July 16, 2014 @ 10:55 am

Suggested reading: Uday Mehta’s Liberalism and Empire.

#8 Comment By SteveM On July 16, 2014 @ 10:57 am

One thing unique about the American versus the British Empire models is that Great Britain never had a massive trade deficit with a nation it considered a military threat.

The U.S. has formulated a foreign policy with China in which the military and economic components have been almost totally decoupled. Washington Elites plan and act as if the United States could destroy Chinese assets and yet the scores of cargo ships laden with Chinese goods that Americans want would continue to dock at American ports every week.

American Power Elites have created various flavors of economic and militarist illusions that are not sustainable. And they will parasitically extract whatever they can under this bogus Empire regime until the cognitive dissonance finally becomes too great to ignore, even for us hoi polloi that the Elites play for chumps.

#9 Comment By Charlieford On July 16, 2014 @ 11:14 am

A seriously excellent article. Too many great points to repeat, but your closing observation regarding the unnatural–and fragile, potentially unsustainable–nature of liberal democracy is very important.

#10 Comment By Mr. Patrick On July 16, 2014 @ 11:36 am

I’m confused. If a quarter millennium of social development doesn’t establish a political order as natural, how much longer does it take?

#11 Comment By collin On July 16, 2014 @ 1:40 pm

I still don’t see how liberalism mandates an empire in the long run here. The article assumes the US was involved in WW1 and WW2 for the liberal empire versus WW1 & WW2 were necessary to break the Europe of their colonial powers. For all problems of the WW1 peace agreements, laying all the blame on Wilson leaves out a lot facts such as the Russian Revolution was on its way to the Communist takeover. Also, it was the European powers that required high reparations and England/France took over the Ottoman Empire. These actions would have likely to happen without US involvement. (And leaves out the fact that Wilson would have had to impose no European trade to ensure the US non-involvement.)
I would suggest a couple realities supporting Fukuyama 1989 these:
1) Liberal democrasy nations are not going to war with each other.
2) At this point in history, this is least amount of war killing ever. This is the most peaceful moment in world history.

#12 Comment By Johann On July 16, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

The true tragedy was when Napoleon dismantled the Holy Roman Empire. Since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the HRE was a loose confederation of German speaking states. It was an empire in name only. The 1803-06 dismantlement is what set up the chain of events that resulted in German unification into a true empire in 1871, and the runaway German nationalism. The nationalists could always point to what happens when there is disunity.

#13 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On July 16, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

Classical liberalism was overthrown by Fabian Socialism. The Liberal Party lost power to the Fabian Labour Party in the UK a century ago. I’ve seen it argued that US liberalism is bootleg social democracy. Empire seems to have a negative affect on classical liberalism(I see it more as an empty shell now) but social democracy seems to flourish under it as it goes about its business killing the host. People in the US use the language of liberalism to advocate their illiberal intentions. I agree that the present world order requires markets to be opened and exploited for commercial gain. I agree the US should focus on balancing power to maintain peace instead of foolishly throwing away its power in unnecessary wars.

#14 Comment By Reinhold On July 16, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

Von Mises also said, on India, that it was best if Britain occupied India, because he expected the post-colonial government to be socialist, and it was better, he judged, to keep murderous imperialism in place than to allow any British property to be expropriated by an independent Indian government. So the stuff about von Mises being against subjugation and yet, unfortunately, for empire, are not convincing.

#15 Comment By Niels Hoogeveen On July 16, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

Mr. Patrick

“I’m confused. If a quarter millennium of social development doesn’t establish a political order as natural, how much longer does it take?”

I don’t think order is a natural state. It certainly is not in the physical world where absent an energy devoted to maintain order, entropy will on average increase.

I don’t think the political/social world is all that different, which is why declaring or defining an end state is silly.

There is no socialist Utopia that can be achieved, nor is there a liberal or libertarian Utopia that once attained will exist ad infinitum.

Order requires work, a willingness to cooperate and a level of external stability.

A willingness to work to preserve order is probably there, a willingness to cooperate exists within social groups, but is less pronounced between social groups, at the same time the world itself is very much in flux.

When Francis Fukuyama wrote his notion of the “end of history”, the Western World had experienced more than four decades of relative external stability.

From the end of WWII until the end of the 1980s, the division of power in the world was relatively constant. There certainly were some major conflicts, Korean and Vietnam come to mind, but neither really shifted the balance of power, nor were they played out in Western countries.

That same era allowed for an expansion of industry in a world of practically unlimited resources.

That same external stability no longer exists.

The powers in the world have shifted considerably over the last 25 years and the end of that is not in sight.

American businesses now have opportunities to make a profit that apart from themselves, mostly benefits people in for example China (or any other emerging economy for that matter), an opportunity that didn’t really exist 25 years ago.

At the same time the limits of our natural resources and the ability of our natural environment to absorb the side effects of our industry have come more to the forefront. Some take this seriously, others don’t or deny it.

These factors make that the interests of the various strata in American society no longer align and order is harder to achieve.

#16 Comment By Reinhold On July 16, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

“the conditional quality of Mises’s prescription ought to be noted: if trade is possible without colonialism, then national self-determination can be permitted.”
If you don’t accept global capitalism, we will subjugate your lands by force; this is still the operating principle of liberal democracy internationally.

#17 Comment By winston On July 16, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

Which benefitted some at expense of more people as Indians know. Britain created several famines for its imperial purpose in India. last one by Churchill who was a racist who was willing to gas the Iraqis also!

#18 Comment By Johann On July 16, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

“People in the US use the language of liberalism to advocate their illiberal intentions.”

Spot on.

#19 Comment By Steven Schwartzberg On July 16, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

According to Daniel McCarthy, “Intellectuals worship power, and everybody worships success.” He should apply this observation to himself. He is so busy worshipping U.S. power that he elides—where he does not dismiss—the commitments of others around the world to democracy and a more civil global order; commitments rooted in their own traditions and experiences. There were intellectuals in both China and Japan, in the nineteenth century, for example, who saw the West and especially the United States as akin to the three great dynasties of the Confucian tradition. One has to know the national histories of the two countries to know why one is a democracy and the other is not. The author’s claim that Japan was “remade by the U.S. after World War II” is arrogant silliness. The United States provided vital assistance, but it was the people of Japan themselves—local actors, local institutions, and local traditions that determined the outcome. Where the United States has made a difference in the internal political trajectories of other countries around the world it has done so primarily by the influence of the American example and the influence of American idealistic rhetoric, and, secondarily, by helping to tip the balance to the democratic side in numerous close contests at critical junctures in the histories of the countries in question. It has, in other words, relied for its success on local allies who shared ideals and interests in common with it. Three times during the course of the twentieth century—in 1917-1919 against the dictator Federico Tinoco, in 1948 against the vote stealing Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, and in 1955 against a threatened invasion sponsored by the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza—the United States engaged in interventions that helped to tip the balance to the democratic side in Costa Rican politics. In the absence of any of these interventions, Costa Rican history might more closely have resembled the rest of Central America’s. There are numerous other examples from Latin America and around the world. I have addressed some of them at length in my book, “Democracy and U.S. Policy in Latin America during the Truman Years.” Daniel McCarthy overlooks the role of other peoples around the planet, denying them agency, as if the only real actor in the world was the United States and the only helpful actions it undertook rested on a narrow conception of its security. This is simply untrue. The claim that democracy is “a product of power” is an ill-informed assertion. NB: Robert Kagan makes much the same assertion in his most recent book.

#20 Comment By Mr. Patrick On July 16, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

If we’re going to create a categorical wall between tyrannical land empires and liberal sea empires, is it not vague to lump Austrian economy, born in the home of enlightened despotism, with British liberalism?

#21 Comment By Chris Travers On July 16, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

One of the arguments that might go against the question of whether liberalism can exist without empire is the fact that cities are liberalizing institutions. For example if you look at urban Republicans vs rural Republicans, the former are more likely to be business liberals, while the latter are more likely to be some sort of communitarian.

I would argue that liberalism and urbanism share the same symbiotic relationship as liberalism and empire.

But so does the scale of the individual state. City states and small countries are not liberal in the same way that large states are. For example, I know a German who migrated to Denmark who commented on how family-centric the society is in Denmark. The larger a state is, the further flung the extended family is, and so the less the extended family matters. Singapore may be far more economically liberal than, say, Germany, but it is far less sexually liberal, and extended families play a much larger role in the care for, say, the elderly in Singapore than in most Western countries (these two factors are deeply interconnected).

The thing is, we may be dealing with the perfect storm historically, where a country, large in territory and highly urbanized, acts as the liberal empire, demanding, essentially, that people everywhere are liberated from family, community, etc. in order to be exploited by the corporate, globalist economic order.

But too much success is toxic, and the US is being poisoned by such. Our military engages in an arms race which results in larger and larger per unit costs, requiring more and more money to support a smaller and smaller armed forces (see Augustine’s 16th Law: tactical aircraft prices grow exponentially while military budgets grow linearly), and our dangerous dependency on oil means we are eating into what we leave for our children. The US empire cannot last much longer (at least in historical terms, if not in human terms) and when it does, other models of society will once again thrive.

#22 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On July 16, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

Quick responses to Steven Schwartzberg and Mr. Patrick. I cut a section speculating about a global liberalism anchored by French imperial power: many states have proto-liberal elements in their traditions, and some other state might well have established ocean-spanning security conditions just as liberalizing as the U.S. and UK did. With limited space, I kept my focus on the way things did develop rather than how they might have. What a liberalism undergirded by Japanese or Chinese power might look like, and just how liberal it would be in our terms, is something readers may ponder for themselves. (I certainly agree that moral example is a large part of liberalism’s appeal, but as I note, when liberalism seemed to be less successful in worldly terms, its moral appeal suddenly dwindled as well, especially among intellectuals.)

Ideas in individual minds are not strictly determined by world conditions and power, only influenced by them. There’s nothing to prevent liberal ideas from arising in minds in China or Austria or anywhere else. But note that the Austrian School took root and found most of its adherents not in imperial Austria, nor anywhere in Europe, but in liberal democratic America. More can be said about this, but that’s a subject for another time.

#23 Comment By bob love On July 17, 2014 @ 9:08 am

Financial 1776

The BRICS Development Bank was launched this week with its HQ in Shanghai, its first board chair from Brazil and its first president from India. For those who don’t know, BRICS is a consortium of emerging and developing nations held together by a nucleus consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa which together account for 25% of global GDP and 40% of the world’s population.

Why did BRICS go to this great effort? To provide a responsible and just alternative to the reckless financial repression of western central banks and the political domination [via collective economic sanctions] of western governments through the G8, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In the 21st century, the real hegemony of the west is no longer based on moral, ideological, technological or even military superiority. It has been reduced to financial repression via manipulation of the world’s major currencies … and the rest of the world [like America in 1776] has decided that it is better off to be free of western attempts at control and exploitation via the west’s exercise of its financial hegemony.

For those who fail to see [or simply cannot read] the handwriting on the economic wall of the west, let me summarize: “you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting”. The world will no longer suffer the west to use its false fiscal weights and dishonest monetary measures. Economic exploitation via secret and brutal financial repression is the last form of imperialism to be cast off … and as the rest declares its financial independence from the west, sparks will almost certainly fly. But, as with all wars for independence, God will almost certainly be on the side of those seeking freedom and justice among men.

#24 Comment By brendan On July 17, 2014 @ 9:43 am

I read Daniels commentaries every day because he has tremendous insight into the fallacies of our foreign policy elite.
What I would suggest is that his idea of how one of the two totalitarian protagonists of WWII would have dominated the Post WWII era and influenced non interventionist USA.
Germany lost because Russia beat them the same way they always do-using their huge land mass, their winter, and fresh troops from Siberia when Japan did not invade. However, why does he believe that a triumphant Russia would have been such a threat to our way of life? Perhaps he should read Alexander Cockburns book “the Threat” about the real state of Russia’s conscript military, full of drunks who drink the alcohol intended to be used in their tanks. How Russia has never wanted to invade and control Europe. Czar Alexander chased Napolean all the way to Paris and then went home, just as Stalin chased Hitler to Berlin and then set up puppet regimes in order to bring its unreliable military home. The Russians are a nation that hunkers down in the motherland and is only expansive towards its Muslim neighbors to the south.
Anyway, the wave of the future is stateless nations, anarcho capitalism. He and William S Lind ought to get together because technology and decentralized power will replace the nation state by the end of this century and the nation states will not survive as the dominant power, realist or not.

#25 Comment By Luke Phillips On July 17, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

Yes yes yes yes and yes. I am pretty much in agreement with most of this, having worked on these ideas myself.


#26 Comment By Charlieford On July 17, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

I’m a huge fan of Kennan’s, but his attitudes towards immigrants from south of our border was closer to Pat Buchanan’s than Jeb Bush’s.

Kennan was a rather crotchety old-fashioned conservative who essentially found himself quite uncomfortable with the 20th c. He was most at home among similarly reserved–and repressed–northern Europeans, and he liked an America that was as close to that as possible.

When that America went away, he despaired.

He was not a racist, as far as I know, but he did have his preferences.

#27 Comment By Sean Scallon On July 17, 2014 @ 6:44 pm

An outstanding essay in the way the world has really worked since 1815 when British hegemony over France was finally secured and Great Britian became the world’s dominant power for 130 years.

“Figures such as George Kennan and Patrick Buchanan are relatively untroubled by the implications of noninterventionism for liberal values and practices because the America they wish to see is a more self-sufficient and nationally self-conscious one. They are consistent anti-imperialists and anti-liberals: opposed to open borders, free trade, consumerism, and mass democracy as well as to the global power projection that makes such things possible; they would like America to be more like Sparta than Athens. But after 200 years, liberalism has soaked too deep into the fiber of America’s national character for a new path of national self-sufficiency to hold much popular appeal. Thus while the anti-liberal anti-imperialists are among our greatest critics, they are also among our most neglected. They preach what a liberal nation will not hear.

You may want to add Jimmy Carter and Ron Paul to that list as well. Part of the problem is there’s always going that politican or politicians who will tell you you can have it all because this is American dammit! which undemrines the message of the critic.

This is the dilemma Barak Obama faced taking office and Rand Paul will too if he’s elected, which is why I would warn about getting one’s hopes up. The power which comes from being Emperor is very seductive. And even if one is not power mad personally, a sense of duty and responsibility is more than enough to overwhelm ideals.

The critics may well be ignored most of the time but I suspect after the last decade (2004-14) more people are willing to listen after living through rising prices, inconclusive wars, world instability, immigration troubles or great societal changes happening so rapid as to be incomprehensible. An empire resting on a foundation of Chinese labor and U.S. dollars it owns is no more an empire than a British fleet needing American fuel oil to be able to patrol the world. Sharing the power among many powers (the multi-polar world) may not an be empire but is also not vassalage either.

#28 Comment By Alan Hosch On July 18, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

I enjoyed the article and the look at he 19th Century world scene as shaped by empire. I would, however, (an I am being honest) love for someone to offer for me an adequate explanation-void of trendy Bush hatred-as to why on Earth Al Quaeda is any less of a threat than German National Socialism or Soviet Communism to classical liberalism and its healthy development in the U.S.

#29 Comment By William Taylor On July 19, 2014 @ 1:40 pm

A fascinating read. I would love to see a discussion between this author and Brad Gregory, the author of “The Unintended Revolution, who concludes that the experiment embodied in Liberalism is rotting from within.

Authors who read this fine piece should understand the meaning of “Liberalism,” which requires a philosophical search into the past. If they confuse “Liberalism” with “liberal,” the much hated adversary of conservatives, they will fail to understand a tremendous discussion.

#30 Comment By J.D. On July 19, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

Alan: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were vast totalitarian empires with aggressive designs on their neighbors. Al Qaeda is a band of outlaws that does not control the government of any state. There’s not much room for comparison.

#31 Comment By David Naas On July 19, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

Two thoughts.
It’s been a while since I looked into Ancient Greek history, but was not democratic Athens the imperial power, and totalitarian Sparta the un-imperial power (until Athens picked a fight they couldn’t win.)
Also, it was democracy which killed Socrates.

#32 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 19, 2014 @ 10:12 pm

“Successive British and American empires created and upheld the world order in which liberalism could flourish.”

The Empire’s looking mighty shopworn these days, when it comes to upholding what used to be called the values of liberalism. That kind of liberty has never been less with us, despite mass embrace of sexual libertinism encouraged by an ever more secretive and unaccountable governing class. We’re on the same trajectory, but so far the emperor hasn’t seen fit to appoint officeholders, as one Roman Caesar did, according to penis size. In regards to similar obsessions, we could say that they diddle while Rome burns.

#33 Comment By Emilio On July 20, 2014 @ 6:55 am

Liberalism is the result of a constant commerce of goods and ideas. State security and personal security are paramount, but the type of person you become depends on the quality and diversity of your associations, interests, pursuits, labors, and experiences.

The basis of modern Western liberalism is the astounding multitude of roughly akin states and polities that constituted the European environment for the last 1000 years or so. Had you told them at the time that they were roughly akin, they would have laughed or stared with sincere incomprehension.

The world of ancient Mesopotamia is analogous, with its steady stream of commerce and ideas up and down the Tigris and the Euphrates and all over the Fertile Crescent, for so many centuries. Its nest of busily warring and trading city states developed far more broadly and liberally in the overall historical arc than the nearby static, stoic, severe, united, unassailable and divine imperial hegemony of Egypt, for example.

Another parallel is the multitude of cantankerous city states in ancient Greece on one side, and hegemonic Persia on the other.

Was Roman imperial power the guarantor of the liberalism of its day? I suppose the argument can be made. But to grasp the real history of the era is to know that the importance of Rome itself, for all its power, is childlike next to the sweep of Hellenism that it was also caught up in.

The taproot of liberalism is an extended period of inextinguishable diversity within a definable and navigable physical space. An empire is not necessary to create that environment, and it may do much harm to it, although a liberal empire may be helpful at times.

For an extended and diverse yet roughly akin community to be maintained for long enough to yield some lasting fruit, there must be some sort of commonly perceived thread within that community. The strength and composition of that thread is of course debated endlessly.

The tornado of European activity was made global 500 years ago. America is presently its leading nation. And if anyone is worried about a Western demise, go ask the Chinese and the Indians, whose collective memories predate ours by millenia, why they are measuring their time according to the birth of the Western deity.

#34 Comment By Simon in London On July 22, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

Good article, certainly a lot to think about!

#35 Comment By Victor Tiffany On July 22, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

There’s no question that neo-liberalism is connected to the corporate-state. The U.S. hegemonic state props up, imposes and enforces the private empires of corporate bosses/owners.

The way out of the empire/state is either isolationism — leading to vacuums of power — or a new international order led by a new United Nations, UN II, with a Charter that gives it taxing powers and veto override in the Security Council; so one country can’t stop or cause aggression. Of course, that would take enlightened leadership on the part of power elites in the U.S., and that is not currently available.

#36 Comment By Alan Hosch On July 22, 2014 @ 7:01 pm

Seriously. We were attacked by an Afghanistan-sponsored terrorist organization with immensely deep pockets and proven ties to the Iraqi regime. Al Qaeda is now in the process of proving to Kurdistan that they are no mere “band” of outlaws. This trendy downplaying of the very important U.S. mission in Iraq is nothing less than Chamberlainesque obliviousness to the blatant facts.

#37 Comment By john werneken On July 22, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

One cannot talk with people who believe that people or states have rights, in a sense where a right is different from a law, namely a fictitious but tolerable agreement for the facilitation of life, liberty, and property. Rights and laws are tools for security liberty and prosperity not ends in themselves.

Being a large island greatly benefited Britain, as did its adoption of a form of government largely in the service of commerce and largely capable of being controlled, in the sense of being limited rather than in the sense of being directed, by its people.

They made of this a mighty empire after defeating the Dutch, and a world hegemony after 1763.

The USA benefited by being in affect an even larger island, by adopting the British institutions pretty much intact, by British protection, and by the great rivers and agricultural lands of North America.

They made of this by 1865 a great empire.

Immigration, innovation, and victory in war by 1945 made of this a world hegemon.

Unfortunately most Americans either think this gives us the right or the means or both, to remake other countries, or else they DO NOT think we have a right, or a duty, or a necessity for ourselves, or all of those, to maintain that hegemony including by war at whatever scale might be required.

Liberal democracy may be essential to something truly useful capitalism, but I don’t think so. On the whole I can’t see much good about liberal democracy and find it as an idea at least as preposterous and impossible as communism or fascism.

As to whether there is peace or war I don’t care, but I do care about security freedom and prosperity.

#38 Comment By REMant On August 9, 2014 @ 12:14 am

Editor McCarthy could use a little tutelage. First of all liberal democracy is an oxymoron. Democracy is, an anyone who has studied politics knows, anything but liberal, open as it is to demagoguery of the sort we see from the present executive. Indeed, it is never found without some sort of autocrat at its head from the time British monarch looked to townspeople to counter the nobility. Classical liberalism, on the other hand is republicanism, growing out of the ideals of aristocracy as expounded by Cicero, enshrined in a nominalist/Stoic tradition extending to Locke and Smith. Secondly, what are fascism and Communism, but forms of this illiberal democracy, this nationalism? Next, Charles I lost his head long before Louis XVI, and both because they attempted reform of the monster created by their dependence on the people directly. Which is also what brought about the American Revolution. Whig reformers started it, and ended up in Canada. Napoleon was to many, such as Beethoven, the realization of these reforms. And Hobbes invokes natural law no less than Locke. England, in fact, consolidated long before the rest of Europe and that was considered its strength. Free trade meant operating an entrepot like Singapore. Heckscher would certainly have been surprised to find free trade in England before Smith and Pitt, if then, and its imperial system hardly qualifies. In theory, the origin of trade and development was argued between Mandeville, to whom Smith looked, and Shaftesbury, whose principles his teacher Hutcheson adopted, long before the 19th c, and it was the latter, not the former which preached both benevolence and security. The free traders’ believed that reciprocity could be dispensed with, not out of love, but of self-interest.

#39 Comment By Loic On August 18, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

The U.S. is an empire and a military plutocracy, certainly no real democracy exists there, nor can it be allowed to. The imperial-piratical system in place in the U.S. post-Cold War cannot, nor does it seek, to outperform in kind the stabilist mercantile forms at which Germany and Japan excel (neither, of course, does it have the demographic reserves of a vigorously industrialized China), rather, it pursues through the force of unequaled military might (legacy of its unscathed position after WWII) to create and determine the very terms of order and even of existence on this Earth, but—and this is key—not through the imposition/maintenance of a stable and expansive Pax Americana, but rather through the supposedly controlled disruptive yet creative potential of perpetual war throughout the unconcluded project of history.

#40 Comment By Samson Corwell On August 30, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

REMant says: “First of all liberal democracy is an oxymoron.”

It’s standard terminology in political science. That you can’t process this only demonstrates how cranky your views are.

#41 Comment By Chris On September 7, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

There is an inherent contradiction between empire and democracy.

Empire means ruthlessly exploiting those in other nations for profit, usually by the top.

At the same time, democracy means rule by the people, that the average person should have a say in society.

I think that is really what brought down the European colonial powers. Not so much WWII, but the moral contradictions. Napoleon once said that the moral is three times that of the physical. It was inevitable that the people of the colonized nations would demand their right to self-determination. Corporations I think in some ways have replaced the colonial powers and so has the US to an extent.

I believe that the author is right that the US cannot and should not export democracy at the point of a gun, which it has tried and failed to do several times. If anything, it will mean giving up democracy in the US, if not bankruptcy from the cost of wars.

But I also believe that the a social democracy might be possible without excessive military force.

#42 Comment By Robert On September 7, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

Let’s say this is all true. Then what should the Russians do?

#43 Comment By Carl On September 8, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

Mises’s remarks are not shocking whatsoever. They certainly do not contradict his free market convictions. I don’t think Dan appreciates the meaninglessness of a mere change in masters.

#44 Comment By Simon in London On December 12, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

I’ve just come across this great (in several senses) article. Very important analysis, which I think will influence my world view for years to come.

“There is a crucial difference between the Napoleonic, land-empire mentality that wants to revolutionize other states—a mentality taken to extremes by the Soviets and exhibited with considerable fervor by many neoconservatives and liberal hawks today—and the example set by Britain in the 19th century, which was a liberal but not revolutionary world power and encouraged liberalization mostly though indirect means: via trade, culture, and above all, by upholding a relatively un-Hobbesian global security environment.”

You make a vital distinction here. Those of us who have become anti-interventionists in recent years due to neocon excesses should not forget the value of ‘British liberalisation’, the creating of a world environment favourable to *voluntary* liberalisation by other nations. And outside of the Middle East disaster zone, this ‘End of History’ is still arguably the dominant global paradigm today. If we could follow Auster’s Separationist Strategy and quarantine the ME we might not have such a bad planet after all.