“A great empire is to the world of geopolitics what a great bubble is to the world of economics. It’s attractive at the outset but a catastrophe eventually. We know of no exceptions.”
With this unforgettable quote ends a fascinating review of Empire of Debt by American Conservative magazine. It's important to emphasize that the book's two authors, William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, are "accomplished financial analysts" and "talented historical writers".
I have just ordered a copy through Amazon, which means I haven't read it yet. So I'll just share a few random highlights from the review:
Two hundred years ago, when the United States was a modest commercial republic, the president could take a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue—by himself—and talk to anyone who approached him. If he wasn’t on a walk outdoors, he was most likely at home, and you could speak to him by knocking on the door of the White House and presenting yourself.
Today? The president moves about like Caesar Augustus, with a vast, graded court of civil and military aides, doctors, secretaries, valets, hairdressers, makeup artists, bodyguards, drivers, baggage handlers, cooks, food tasters, Praetorian guards, snipers, centurions, bulletproof limos, a portable hospital, and an armored rostrum. And that’s when he travels in the U.S.
When Bush visited Ottawa, members of Parliament were refused entry into their own legislature by the massed power of the Secret Service, in violation of Canadian law. When Bush visited London, 5,000 additional police were assigned to protect him. Parks and streets and neighborhoods were closed. Riflemen thronged the roofs. The queen was horrified by the trashed condition of the grounds and great rooms of Buckingham Palace, but that meant nothing relative to the security of the emperor.
The paranoia of the Bush circle has infected the whole regime. The entire government—elected officials, appointed staff, permanent bureaucracy—has shifted in the last decade from pretending to be the people’s servants to admitting that they regard the people as a threat. Thus do we see the stream of legislation permitting ever more powers to spy, confiscate, and jail without trial.
Never has sociologist Franz Oppenheimer’s view of the state been more clearly on display: it is there to dominate, exploit, and protect itself against any challenges to its power. It clings to power like Gollum holding the ring. And that power is deployed not for the purpose of protecting people but for protecting the state and its interests. When Oppenheimer theorized in 1908 that this was the true nature of the state, he was shouted down and pilloried for denying the doctrine of government as a social compact. Now his claims read like a description of the day’s political news.
Most Americans are aware that something has gone very wrong, but they are at a loss to sort of out the causes, especially the ones that are most invisible. This is where the smashing book by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, titled Empire of Debt, performs an extraordinary service.
The authors not only provide a frightening picture of the mess that the U.S. government has made at home and abroad, they also understand the crucial role that the monetary regime has played in this debacle. They show how the legal right to counterfeit—that’s what the Federal Reserve grants the government—has changed the structure of the government and led to the loss of liberty and the rise of an imperial power unlike any in history.
In the commercial republic of Jefferson, money was gold and silver. Government had no power to print currency. It was not even allowed to tax directly. What money it had came from tariff revenue, and pressure from exporters and importers kept it low. Even if Jefferson had wanted to establish a tyranny, there was no means to do so. If the wall of separation between money and the state was not as high as it might have been, there was still a barrier that put a curb on power-mongering.
The impulse to empire helps make sense out of our huge deficits and debts or such costly and obvious blunders as the invasion of Iraq or the war on terror. It is as if America were committing suicide, our authors say, first by bankrupting the economy and then by creating endless enemies all over the world.
With this comes a belligerent and blind nationalism that has affected the whole culture in one degree or another. But then, in an empire, the people must become “hollow dummies,” said Orwell. They must believe they are superior to others, and have a right to tell others what to do. Americans seem to go beyond even this. They believe that other countries actually want to be invaded and occupied and shaped into mini-Americas by the United States. All we have to do is “get their dictators off their backs, and the men will start building shopping malls and the women dressing like Britney Spears.”
Did the Swiss puzzle and plot over what kind of government the Iraqis should have? Did they set out to make the rest of the world more like Switzerland and think that other peoples secretly yearned to be Swiss themselves? No, these are imperial inanities.
But then, no one’s business is too small or too remote to be of no interest to the U.S. state. From its globe-girdling military bases and its world-circling spy satellites, the U.S. watches everything, everywhere, always. Not a sparrow falls without “triggering a monitoring device in the Pentagon.”
Yet citizens of the empire exult, just as in Rome:
The average American reacted just as the average Roman had reacted. When the purple was hoisted, he stood up and saluted. It made him feel like a big shot. If Americans were bossing people around in Asia or the Middle East, it made him feel more important. His homeland team was winning all over the world. And if it did not always seem to be on the winning side, he knew he must support his troops and stand behind their commander-in-chief. No one wants to carp and criticize when soldiers take the field. It is unpatriotic. So, keep the soldiers in the field all the time.
All italics are mine.
Get your copy of Empire of Debt today.