By Johan Galtung – TFF Associate
October 23, 2020
This paper was written in 2015. Republished here on the occasion of Galtung’s 90th birthday, October 24, 2020. It was originally published at TMS, Transcend Media Service
1. Definitions and Hypotheses: An Overview
Definition: An empire is a transborder Center-Periphery system, in macro-space and in macro-time, with a culture legitimizing a structure of unequal exchange between center and periphery:
- economically, between exploiters and exploited, as inequity;
- militarily, between killers and victims, as enforcement;
- politically, between dominators and dominated, as repression;
- culturally, between alienators and alienated, as conditioning.
Empires have different profiles. The US Empire has a complete configuration, articulated in a statement by a Pentagon planner:
“The de facto role of the United States Armed Forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing”. (1)
In other words, direct violence to protect structural violence legitimized by cultural violence. (2) The Center is the continental USA and the Periphery much of the world.
Like any system it has a life-cycle reminiscent of an organism, with conception, gestation, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, senescence and death.
Seeded by the British Empire, the maturing colonies honed their imperial skills on indigenous populations, ventured abroad in military interventions defining zones of interest, took over the Spanish Empire, expanding with world, even space hegemony as goal, now in the aging phase with overwhelming control tasks quickly overtaking the expansion tasks.
Decline and fall is to be expected as for anything human; the question is what-why-how-when-where-by whom-against whom. Answers:
- what: the four unequal, non-sustainable, exchange patterns above;
- why: because they cause unbearable suffering and resentment;
- how: through the synergies in the synchronic maturation of 14 contradictions, followed by demoralization of system elites;
- when: within a time frame of, say, 20 years, counting from Y2000;
- where: depending on the maturation level of the contradictions.
- by whom: the exploited/bereaved/dominated/alienated, the solidary, and those who fight the US Empire to set up their own.
- against whom: the exploiters/killers/dominators/alienators, and those who support the US Empire because of perceived benefits.
The hypothesis is not that the fall and decline of the US Empire implies a fall and decline of the US Republic (continental USA).
To the contrary, relief from the burden of Empire control and maintenance when it outstrips the gains from unequal exchange, and expansion increases rather than decreases the deficit, could lead to a blossoming of the US Republic.
This author admits an anti-Empire bias because of enormous periphery suffering outside and inside the Republic; and a pro-US Republic bias because of the creative genius and generosity of the USA. “Anti-American” makes no such distinction between the US Republic and the US Empire. (3)
There is no dearth of predictions of economic disaster for the US Republic in the wake of decline and fall of the system “to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault”, also from Marxists who (still) believe that Empire-building can be reduced to economic greed satisfied by flagrant inequity.
But this is only one component in a complete imperial syndrome with components attracting and repelling different niches in societies and persons. Economists blind to externalities design theories legitimizing inequity, unrealistic “realists” enforce “order”, liberals guide and dominate political choices of others, and missionaries, religious and secular, try to convert anybody. All together an enormous drain of resources.
The case of England indicates that an empire can be a burden. The decline of the Empire started long before, but the fall of the crown jewel, India, due to a combination of nonviolent (Gandhi) and violent struggle, and the incompatibility of imperialism with the Atlantic Charter, was decisive.
The Empire unraveled very quickly over a period of 15 years from 1947, obviously unstable.
And England? Today richer than ever in history. Welcome, USA.
2. The US Empire: A Bird’s-eye View
Right after the mass murder in New York and Washington on September 11 2001 Zoltan Grossman circulated a list, based on Congressional Records and The Library of Congress Congressional Research Service, with 133 American military interventions during 111 years, from 1890-2001, from the brutal murder of the indigenous population at Wounded Knee in Dakota to the punishment expedition to Afghanistan.
Six of them are the First and Second World Wars, and the Korea, Vietnam, Gulf and Yugoslavian wars: Democrats started five of them (Bush senior and junior are the exceptions among isolationist Republicans who usually focus more on the exploitation of their own population).
The average per year is 1.15 before, and 1.29 after, the Second World War, in other words an increase. And after the Cold War, from late 1989, a heavy increase up to 2.0, compatible with the hypothesis that wars increase as empires grow, with more privileges to protect; more unrest to quell, revolts to crush.
William Blum has 300 pages of solid documentation in his Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe MA: Common Courage Press, 2000). The total suffering is enormous: the victims, the bereaved, the damaged nature, structure (through verticalization) and culture (through brutalization, myths of revenge and honor).
Most of it fits into one single pattern: building a US Empire based on economic exploitation of other countries and other peoples, using direct violence and indirect violence, open (Pentagon) and overt (CIA); with open and covert support from US allies.
The result is the international class structure with increasing gaps between the poor and rich countries, and between poor and rich people.
There is no sign of any clash of civilizations, nor any sign of territorial expansion. But there is enormous missionary zeal and enormous self-righteousness. And the rhetoric changes: containment of Soviet expansion, fight against Communism, drugs, intervention for democracy and human rights, against terrorism.
Blum’s list of interventions up to the year 2000 covers 67 cases since 1945 (Grossman has 56, the criteria differ somewhat):
China 45-51, France 47, Marshall Islands 46-58, Italy 47-70s, Greece 47-49, Philippines 45-53, Korea 45-53, Albania 49-53, Eastern Europe 48-56, Germany 50s, Iran 53, Guatemala 53-90s, Costa Rica 50s, 70-71, Middle East 56-58, Indonesia 57-58, Haiti 59, Western Europe 50s-60s, British Guiana 53-64, Iraq 58-63, Soviet Union 40s-60s, Vietnam 45-73, Cambodia 55-73, Laos 57-73, Thailand 65-73, Ecuador 60-63, Congo-Zaire 77-78, France-Algeria 60s, Brazil 61-63, Peru 65, Dominican Republic 63-65, Cuba 59-, Indonesia 65, Ghana 66, Uruguay 69-72, Chile 64-73, Greece 67-74, South Africa 60s-80s, Bolivia 64-75, Australia 72-75, Iraq 72-75, Portugal 74-76, East Timor 75-99, Angola 75-80s, Jamaica 76, Honduras 80s, Nicaragua 78-90s, Philippines 70s, Seychelles 79-81, South Yemen 79-84, South Korea 80, Chad 81-2, Grenada 79-83, Suriname 82-84, Libya 81-89, Fiji 87, Panama 89, Afghanistan 79-92, El Salvador 80-92, Haiti 87-94, Bulgaria 90-91, Albania 91-92, Somalia 93, Iraq 90s, Peru 90s, Mexico 90s, Colombia 90s, Yugoslavia 95-99.
There was bombing in 25 cases (for details, read the book):
China 45-46, Korea/China 50-53, Guatemala 54, Indonesia 58, Cuba 60-61, Guatemala 60, Vietnam 61-73, Congo 64, Peru 65, Laos 64-73, Cambodia 69-70, Guatemala 67-69, Grenada 83, Lebanon-Syria 83-84, Libya 86, El Salvador 80s, Nicaragua 80s, Iran 87, Panama 89, Iraq 91-, Kuwait 91, Somalia 93, Sudan 98, Afghanistan 98, Yugoslavia 99.
Assassination of foreign leaders, among them heads of state, was attempted in 35 countries, and assistance with torture in 11 countries: Greece, Iran, Germany, Vietnam, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama
On top of this come 23 countries where the United States has intervened in elections or has prevented elections:
Italy 48-70s, Lebanon 50s, Indonesia 55, Vietnam 55, Guayana 53-64, Japan 58-70s, Nepal 59, Laos 60, Brazil 62, Dominican Republic 62, Guatemala 63, Bolivia 66, Chile 64-70, Portugal 74-5, Australia 74-5, Jamaica 76, Panama 84, 89, Nicaragua 84,90, Haiti 87-88, Bulgaria 91-92, Russia 96, Mongolia 96, Bosnia 98.
35 (attempted) assassinations + 11 countries with torture + 25 bombings + 67 interventions + 23 interferences with other people’s elections give 161 forms of aggravated political violence only since the Second World War. A world record.
Increase over time comes with shift in civilization target:
Eastern Asia Confucian-Buddhist
Eastern Europe Orthodox Christian
Latin America Catholic Christian
Western Asia Islam
The phases overlap, but this is the general picture.
In the first phase the focus was above all on people in Korea, south and north, wanting reunification of their nation, and on poor peasants in Viêt Nam wanting independence.
In the second phase there was the Cold, not Hot, War for containment of communism. In the third phase the targets were poor people, small and indigenous populations supported by “Maoist” students.
And in the fourth phase, which is dominating the picture today, the focus was on Islamic countries and movements, Palestinians being an important example.
All the time we find that the USA supports those who favour US business and growth and works against those who give higher priority to distribution and basic needs of the most needy. (4) They die, 100,000 per day, underfed, underclothed, undersheltered, undercared, underschooled; jobless, hopeless and futureless.
Satisfiers for their needs cannot be bought with the money they do not have, and cannot be bought with labor because that requires jobs or land (seeds, water, manure) they do not have. A cruel world built on a world trade headed by the USA, supported by US dominated military and allied governments, and often populations who benefit from cheap resources and food products.
What is new in the fourth phase has something to do with religion. Islam is just as concerned with sin and guilt and expiation, with crime and punishment, as Christianity. But they do not place God and his country, and particularly “God’s Own Country”, the USA, higher than Allah and his countries, particularly not Allah’s own holy country, Saudi Arabia.
A United Nations Security Council with a nucleus of four Christian and one Confucian country has little authority in Islam, as opposed to the authority enjoyed in the Christian countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America. And Buddhist, East Asian countries are perhaps more inclined to change a bad joint karma than to issue certificates of guilt to the USA.
In other words, the real resistance had to come in the fourth phase with a new Pearl Harbor that many see as the introduction to a long-lasting Third World War.
Of that we should not be so certain. But one thing is clear: Anybody who was the least bit surprised 11 September was ignorant, naive or both. The bottomless, limitless state terrorism of the United States got a very unsurprising answer: terrorism against the United States.
With an estimated 12-16 million killed, and an average of 10 bereaved for each one, with pain and sorrow, lust for revenge and revanche growing, no act of revenge would be inconceivable. But the deeper roots lie not in the never-ending chain of “blow-back” violence. They are in the numerous unresolved conflicts built into the US Empire. The way to solution for sure passes through US Empire dissolution.
The Pentagon planner’s “to those ends we will do a fair amount of killing” reflects imperial reality. The when-where- against whom has just been explored. And then what?
3. On the Decline and Fall of Empires: The Soviet Empire Case
In a comparative study of the decline (of ten) and fall (of nine, No. 10 is the US Empire) in 1995 (5), with an economic focus, the conclusion was that no single factor, but a combination of factors in a syndrome was the general cause:
- a division of labor whereby foreign countries, and/or foreigners inside one’s own country, take over the most challenging and interesting and developing tasks, given the historical situation;
- a deficit in creativity related to a deficit in technology and good management, including foresight and innovation;
- one or several sectors of the economy neglected or lagging;
- and, at the same time, expansionism as ideology/cosmology, exploiting foreign countries and/or one’s own people inviting negative, destructive reactions.
The syndrome idea came from an earlier study of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (6) where many authors have come up with many single-factor theories. The idea was then applied to the Soviet Empire in 1980 (7), focusing on five factors referred to as contradictions, tensions, like the four points above:
In the society:
- a top-heavy, centralized, non-participatory society run by the Russian nation controlling other nations,
- the city controlling the countryside,
- the socialist bourgeoisie the socialist proletariat,
- the socialist bourgeoisie having nothing to buy because the processing level was too low;
In the world:
A confrontational foreign policy run by the Soviet Union controlling and intervening in satellite countries.
The prediction, made many times by this author in 1980, was that the Soviet Empire would crumble not because of any single factor but because of “synchronic maturation of contradictions, followed by demoralization of Center and Periphery elites”, with the Berlin Wall crumbling in an early phase, within 10 years.
The mechanism was not the big bang of war, but the whimper of demoralized elites who after lashing out violently become corrupt, alcoholized, overfed, sometimes charming, ego-maniacs.
4. On the Contradictions of the US Empire
The prediction of the decline and fall of the Soviet Empire was based on the synergy of five contradictions, and the time span for the contradictions to work their way through decline to fall was estimated at 10 years in 1980.
Sometimes I added a No. 5: between myth, the massive Soviet propaganda, and reality – to some extent dissolved in marvelous jokes.
The prediction of the decline and fall of the US Empire is based on the synergy of 14 contradictions, and the time span for the contradictions to work their way through decline to fall was estimated at 25 years in the year 2000.
There are more contradictions because the US Empire is more complex, and the time span is longer also because it is more sophisticated. After the first months of President George W. Bush (selected) the time span was reduced to 20 years because of the way in which he sharpened so many of the contradictions posited the year before, and because his extreme singlemindedness made him blind to the negative, complex synergies. He just continued.
President William J. Clinton (elected, twice) was seen in a different light. Confronted with a pattern of contradictions, no doubt with significant differences in terminology and numbers, his violence was an intervention in Somalia that he canceled, a war against Serbia of which he evidenced heavy doubts and never any enthusiasm, and a couple of missiles fired in anger.
Being super intelligent, demoralization in high places, and sex in strange places, might have been the consequences. Hypothesis: they tried to impeach him not so much for the latter as for the former – using the latter as pretext. The effort misfired, but a highly non-demoralized George Bush captured the US Presidency.
Here is the list of 14 contradictions posited in 2000:
- Economic Contradictions (US‑led system WB/IMF/WTO‑NYSE‑Pentagon)
- 1. between growth and distribution: overproduction relative to demand, 1.4 billion below $ 1/day, 100.000 die/day, 1/4 of hunger
- 2. between productive and finance economy (currency, stocks,bonds) overvalued, hence crashes, unemployment, contract work
- 3. between production/distribution/consumption and nature: ecocrisis, depletion/pollution, global warming
- Military Contradictions (US‑led system NATO/TIAP/USA-Japan)
- 4. between US state terrorism and terrorism: Blowback
- 5. between US and allies (except UK, D, Japan), saying enough
- 6. between US hegemony in Eurasia and the Russia‑India‑China triangle, with 40% of humanity
- 7. between US‑led NATO and EU army: The Tindemans follow-up
- Political Contradictions (US Exceptionalism under God)
- 8. between USA and the UN: The UN hitting back
- 9. between USA and the EU: vying for Orthodox/Muslim support
- Cultural Contradictions (US Triumphant Plebeian Culture)
- 10. between US Judeo-Christianity and Islam (25% of humanity; UNSC nucleus has four Christian and none of the 56 Muslim countries).
- 11. between US and the oldest civilizations (Chinese, Indian, Mesopotamian, Aztec/Inca/Maya)
- 12. between US and European elite culture: France, Germany, etc.
- Social Contradictions (US‑led World Elites vs the Rest: World Economic Forum, Davos vs World Social Forum, Porto Alegre)
- 13. between state‑corporate elites and working classes of unemployed and contract workers. The middle classes?
- 14. between older generation and youth: Seattle, Washington, Praha, Genova and ever younger youth. The middle generation?
- 15. To this could be added: between myth and reality.
The list was a simple reading of the US Empire situation. More sophisticated discourses are certainly possible, keeping the key ideas of syndromes, synergies and demoralization.
5. The Maturation of Contradictions: An Update after 3 Years
We shall use the same formulations as above, drop the small explanatory remarks in the above list, and add some kind of, hopefully informed, running commentary on contemporary affairs.
Obviously, the US Empire as a functioning, dynamic reality, not as a static structure, with the 14 contradictions in its wake is a very complex system. In such systems linearities are rare, causal chains split and unite; loops, spirals, any curve shape, are ubiquitous.
Quantum jumps when two factors are strongly coupled, one changes and the other remains constant, will be frequent. But the prediction is that within twenty years the four types of unequal exchange with the USA in the Center will wither away, whether what comes is more equal exchange or less exchange, in other words isolation. Or both.
- Economic Contradictions
- 1. Between Growth and Distribution:
generally growth is sluggish with the possible exception of China, and the distribution often worsening, both between and within countries. However, the basic concern is with livelihood at the bottom of world society, the preventable mortality and the suffering due to near-death morbidity from hunger or easily preventable/curable diseases.
That syndrome is with us, and the analysis in terms of overproduction leading to unemployment leading to under-demand leading oversupply leading to more unemployment etc. stands.
At the same time monetization of land/seeds/water/manure impedes the conversion of labor into food by tilling one’s own land. The US Empire pursues growth but neglects and prevents distribution, thereby undercutting itself since a key aspect of growth in increased demand, meaning increased consumption, all over.
- 2. Between Productive and Finance Economy:
Domestic and global market turnover being high even if the growth is sluggish in the productive economy in many countries, and distribution being low there will be heavy accumulation of liquidity high up searching for an outlet.
Luxury consumption and productive investment being limited the obvious outlet is buying and selling in the finance economy, also known as speculation.
The productive economy responds by putting up bogus, virtual enterprises like ENRON and WORLDCOM that the growth in the finance economy quickly gets out of synch with growth in the productive economy. Thus, the 2001 sharpening of his contradiction into a crash for some stocks and depreciation of the US dollar was as expected, indicative of a chronic pathology.
One basic cure for that pathology is the distribution that the US Empire, through its use of the WB/IMF/WTO‑NYSE‑Pentagon system is impeding. As that cure is at present unavailable the underlying pathology will produce new increases in financial goods values and new crashes.
- 3. Between Production/Distribution/Consumption and Nature:
The Bush administration’s unilateral exit from the Kyoto Protocol sharpened this contradiction considerably and was a key factor behind the banner at the 2002 summit in South Africa: Thank you, Mr. Bush, you have made the world hate America.
The explanation given was that the Protocol impeded US economic growth (meaning unacceptable to powerful corporations). This move endangers the planet and is an expression of contempt for global regimes based on negotiating ratifiable treaties.
The USA could have demanded re-negotiation. But the US Empire had other priorities and mobilized millions in the movement for sustainable development against the USA.
- Military Contradictions
- 4. Between US State Terrorism and Terrorism:
This contradiction underwent a quantum jump on 11 September 2001 although the number killed was less than the number killed in the aftermath of the other 11 September, in 1973, the USA supported coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende (one of the now 68 interventions after the Second World War, counting Iraq).
Highly predictable, as predictable as its repetition unless the US Empire itself exits from the cycle of violence and decides to understand “that the enemy may be us/US”. But the US Empire now talks about interventions in more than 60 countries, lasting more than a life time. A heavy price for the failure to try to, or the effort to avoid to, solve conflicts/contradictions.
At this point an obvious remark: an effort to explain 9/11, for instance as a “reaction to the US Empire by hitting two major instruments for economic and military operation”, or the short-hand as “revenge” and “unresolved conflict” in no way justifies the gruesome act.
Nor is the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq justified. But like Kosovo they can both be partly explained as efforts to maintain and expand the US Empire, for more control of the world oil market, and “to keep the world safe for our economy” by establishing military bases.
Violence hits the Empire at their strongest point, is as wrong, ineffective and counterproductive as the US violence and mobilizes against the perpetrators.
Ruling out explanation as justification runs against Enlightenment rationality: solve problems by identifying causal chains, then removing causes like violence cycles and unresolved conflicts. But the US Empire stands in the way and will ultimately have to yield.
- 5. Between US and Allies:
Very fluid. The US Empire does not want to be seen as the US Empire but as something generally supported by “advanced societies”, “civilized” as against “evil”, “chaotic” and “terrorist”. Washington builds coalitions with Allies in the NATO/TIAP/US-Japan systems, and others.
This contradiction (and many others) has never surfaced so clearly as in connection with the war against Iraq, but there were also tensions budding in connection with the Yugoslavia and Afghanistan operations.
Public opinion is not an important variable here. Washington deals with governments and for that reason is very concerned with who are the members. The three ways of exercising power, persuasion, bargaining and threats, are best exercised behind closed doors so as not to be exposed to anything like the German Foreign Minister’s devastating remark to the US Secretary of Defense in Munich, February 2003: “In a democracy you have to present arguments for your position, and your arguments are not convincing.”
If the public knew what goes on behind closed door, like supporting an attack on Iraq in return for having somebody inscribed on the US list of terrorist organization, the opposition would increase.
In 2000 UK, Germany and Japan were seen as reliable allies. This failed to predict the German position, linked to the Social Democratic Party having been pressed already against its inner conviction over Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Australia, however, was highly predictable as an Anglo-Saxon country (8), and Japan behaved as predicted. The cost-benefit analysis of the countries varies, but the trend is against unconditional support for the US Empire. A very sensitive contradiction that will sharpen if people exercise much more pressure on governments.
- 6. Between US Hegemony in Eurasia and Russia‑India‑China:
These are enormous countries, unconquerable so the USA has approached them through their fear of Muslim populations, in Chechnya, in Kashmir (and all over) and Xinjiang respectively.
After the NATO expansion eastward and the USA-Japan alliance (with Taiwan and South Korea as de facto members) expansion westward from 1995, the three countries resolved most of their problems, came closer together (although not in a formal alliance).
But those moves were temporarily stopped by the USA aligning them against Islamic terrorism, meaning Muslims fighting for more autonomy/independence in the three places mentioned. The attack on Iraq seems to have sharpened the contradiction again as they do not participate in the occupation (knowing something about Islamic guerrillas).
But the USA still has considerable market access and investment economic clout with all three governments.
- 7. between USA‑led NATO and an EU Army:
This is not the same as the two preceding points which are more about abstaining from support, and countries feeling the pincer movement of the US Empire, possibly creating an alliance.
Here we are dealing with a new multinational army of a potential superpower, creating identity problems for some members. The question, “why do they need this army when they have NATO?” has an answer in dualist logic: “this shows they are not entirely with us, hence they are against us.”
There will be much manoeuvring behind closed doors concerning this contradiction. But the general move will be in the direction of an EU Army for some members, building on the present Eurocorps, with a line of command that does not end in Washington, nor passes through Washington except for some exchange of information. For defensive purposes or a coming EU Empire? To take over the spoils?
- Political Contradictions
- 8. between USA and the UN:
The most powerful country in the world also uses the veto in the Security Council most frequently and has close to a de facto economic veto by withholding or withdrawing support for programs not to their liking, in addition to the US Empire clout on many UN members, like changing the conditions for loans according to voting pattern.
That this behavior is resented stands to reason and that resentment came out in the open when the Anglo-Saxon USA/UK alliance failed to get their second resolution on Iraq accepted by the UNSC.
However, very energetic US diplomacy and again US Empire clout prevented what Washington was afraid of using the Uniting for Peace resolution to lift an issue that has gotten stuck in the UNSC into the General Assembly. A UNGA debate and vote would make the limited support for an attack on Iraq rather than the French-German approach of deep UN inspection clear.
- 9. between USA and the EU:
This goes far beyond EU army vs NATO. The EU has today 15 members, by May 2004 there will be 25, with more to come. If the EU, very much in their own interest, decided to bridge the basic fault-lines in the whole European construction, between Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant Christianity, and between Islam and Christianity (from 1054 and 1095 respectively) by opening the EU for Russian and Turkish membership, well, then the USA would be very far behind indeed.
We would be talking of 750 million+ inhabitants. The process of membership might have to be gradual, like X% increase per year in access to EU labor market against X% increase per year in access to resources.
The relation to East Asia may be problematic, but the EU is also doing good work on this fault-line. And a giant EU could only gain from abstaining from any imitation of the US Empire, signing up for UN support instead.
- Cultural Contradictions
- 10. between US Judeo-Christianity and Islam:
These are the Abrahamitic religions, and the expression Judeo-Christianity, so frequent in the USA, draws a wedge among them. With the recent fundamentalist alliance based on the idea that Armageddon is near and that the first coming of the Messiah and the second coming of Christ could be the same person, this contradiction has become very sharp indeed.
But Islam is expanding very quickly, Christianity is not and the Jews are a small minority. This rift will mark clear borders against US Empire penetration.
The young Saudi Wahhabite perpetrators on 9/11 may have acted more than they dreamt of on behalf of 1.3 billion Muslims, and not only 300 million Arabs. And this warlike relation will limit US Empire expansion considerably.
- 11. between US and the Oldest Civilizations:
When people talk of fundamentalism they usually mean the religious articulation of old cultures. But cultures are many-dimensional, including language and other forms of expression, and sacred times and sacred places in history and geography, anything.
There are awakenings all over the world, seeing ancient non-Western cultures not as exotic museum objects to be observed but not lived. The destruction of artifacts from Sumer/Babylon in Iraq was seen as an effort to make the Iraqis governable by destroying other foci of identification.
A typical example of a contradiction in an early, infant stage, but filled with potential for rapid maturation and powerful articulation.
- 12. between US and European Elite Culture:
The world, or so the West thinks, has four major geo-cultural Centers: the USA, the UK, France and Germany. Others can learn to imitate or produce exotica. France and Germany continue the struggle for cultural prevalence relative to the USA, with Anglo-Saxon UK being somewhere in-between.
- Social Contradictions
- 13. between state‑corporate elites and working classes of unemployed and contract workers:
The powerful US trade union complex, the AFL/CIO, voted for the first time against a war: Iraq. But the working classes are today kept in line by the threat of unemployment and the inferiority of contract work relative to that vanishing category, the real position, with security.
The state-corporate elites are better organized and at making themselves insubstitutable. They can make hire and fire become easy, with the ultimate threat of automation (“modernization”) settling issues.
The postmodern economy can do without workers, but not without customers. Firing workers they fire customers by reducing their acquisitive power. The world middle classes can join by boycotting the products of the US Empire, like oil from Iraq, Boeing aircraft (one of the major death factories in the world); in general boycotting US consumer goods, capital goods and financial goods, like US dollars, stock and bonds – but keeping personal contacts.
- 14. Between Older Generation and Youth:
Younger than ever, not only college students against the Viêt Nam war but high school students, easily mobilized through the Internet as long as that lasts. Maybe an element of myth versus reality in this: they have been served propaganda that seems very remote from reality.
The same may apply to women, but here Washington has played the cards well: “homeland security” drives the issue home and women into the ranks defending the defenders of the home and the family.
But the other nations in the USA, the Inuits, Hawai’ians, First Nations, Chicanos, African Americans, could be pitted against the Anglo-Saxon, Southern Baptist, militarized Deep South, now in command. Hopefully they will not create an emergency to cancel elections they may not win.
6. And the Decline and Fall?
Have a look at the 14 contradictions, and then a look at the definition of an empire. The way of solving these contradictions eating at the heart of the system is very simple:
- For the 3 economic contradictions: reduce, even stop exploiting!
- For the 4 military contradictions: reduce, even stop killing!
- For the 2 political contradictions: reduce, even stop dominating!
- For the 3 cultural contradictions: reduce, even stop alienating!
- For the 2 social contradictions: reduce, even stop all the above!
For each reduction, the US Empire is, by definition, declining. For each stop the US Empire is falling. Stop all four, and the US Empire is gone, although some may survive in residual forms like the Russian Empire in Chechnya and the British Empire in Iraq.
The most dramatic recent example is possibly the dissolution of the French Empire: de Gaulle had the incredible personal grandeur to terminate the whole empire (except for the Pacific and some other places) and like for the Soviet and British Empires a number of independent countries were born.
Global capitalism, however, has a tendency to recreate transborder exploitation, and there are, as mentioned, residuals. A new world was born, however, in the 1960s from the Western empires, in the 1990s from the Soviet Empire.
Only the naive will assume that new world to be paradise on earth. New systems emerge with their contradictions. The rulers of the British, French and Soviet empires had concluded that the costs by far outrun the gains. Some others sometimes come to the conclusion that the costs of the fall, including for the Periphery, by far outrun the gains.
That, of course, depends on the successor system, the alternative. This author favours United Nations global governance and not an EU Empire. (9) But that is another story.
The British and French empires were based on “overseas” colonies, the Soviet empire on contiguous, Czarist/Bolshevik, “union”, and the US Empire is based on what the Pentagon planner said, with the non-US Periphery being “independent” countries.
This confuses some whose empire concept is linked to “colonies” and not to independent countries; and others whose concept is linked to “overseas”, not to contiguous territory. Still others got confused because three of these Centers are Western democracies, beyond the suspicion of ever committing major wrongs.
The definition opening this essay is based on a relation of unequal exchange between Center and Periphery, not on Periphery geography or Center polity.
That unequal exchange, divided into four components, is the root contradiction of the empire as a system. From the four deep contradictions flow the fourteen surface contradictions, visible to everybody, the subject of journalism. The deep contradictions almost never are.
So the basic model explored so far is:
Four Deep Contradictions Imply 14 Surface Contradictions
As the 14 mature, synchronize and synergize the Center may loosen the grip on the Periphery in one conscious, enlightened act (de Gaulle) or see the Empire dissolve, slowly (UK) or quickly (the Soviet Union). USA, the choice is yours.
But the USA now behaves like a wounded elephant, lashing out in all directions. This is the boiling stage of demoralization, with emotions impeding rational thinking about is and ought, to be followed by a frozen stage, a “let go”, more like the Soviet Union, or Clinton. Demoralization is oscillating before it stabilizes.
Like individual pathologies, healing is related to the ability to come on top of the pathology rather than the other way round. Like now, with the USA driven by a conflict mainly of its own making.
The Model Above Can Now Be Expanded:
 implies  implies Demoralization implies - implies -
The 4 deep lead to 14 surface contradictions and demoralization which leads to a let go of Empire and the dissolution of the 14.
However: the 4 may have deeper roots.
Thus, where does the inequity come from? From an unfettered capitalism so inequitable that it needs some military protection. But where does capitalism come from? And all that violence? The cultural superiority complex with missionary right and duty, and no duty to understand other cultures, may be related to the sense of exceptionalism as God’s Chosen People and Country.
But where does that idea come from? And so on and so forth. The 4 defining the US Empire are not uncaused, not unconditioned. But the focus here is on their removal and not on removing even deeper, but very evasive causes.
This can happen through negative feedback loops via waning faith in the viability of the Empire as a system, in other words demoralization.
The 14 may have other roots.
The economic contradictions come from capitalism; the USA was violent before the US Empire; some EU members may hate the US Empire because it stands in the way of their own ambitions; the same applies to competitive cultures such as an Islam that wants an expanding dar-al-Islam, the abode of Islam, as successor to the battlefield, the dar-al-harb. But the world is better off under USA than under EU or Islam, some say.
There is some truth to all of that. But the problem is not only the US share of the world capitalist pie but how it implies killing, domination and alienation. This has to decline, fall and go, while paying attention to all the other contradictions.
There will be class, generation, gender, nation struggle also without the US Empire. True, but today that is the major problem.
The 14 may strengthen the resolve to maintain the 4.
In the beginning, and one at the time, yes. Cosmetics may be applied, bland compromises entered, people articulating the contradictions silenced, ridiculed, persecuted, killed.
It is the synergy of several contradictions that leads to demoralization and ultimate decline. Contradictions between dominant and dominated nations within a country tend to bounce back and find new outlets. The dominated face brutal force but not nagging doubts about viability.
Their national home is a dream untested by contradictions whereas the empire has been tested and found nonviable at any speed.
Demoralization may not negate the 4.
What we are talking about is decreasing faith in the viability; even decreasing faith in the legitimacy, of the Empire, with boiling anger at first, then a frozen let go, with the possibility of an autonomous let go. Either the Center deliberately looses the grip, or the Periphery slips out its clammy, feeble claws. Either way, decline and fall.
However, after a phase of demoralization a new political class may decide not to let go but just the contrary, to strengthen the grip, like the USA is trying right now. Given the obvious, the impermanence of everything, this will only postpone the inevitable.
Negating the 4 may not negate the 14.
This is certainly more true than untrue. As explored below, we may even talk about an objective contradiction having lost, or even crushed, its subject in search of a new subject. There are many other roots for many of the contradictions.
That one contradiction (syndrome) may conceal another, the latter blossoming when the former is wilting, is clear. But that daoist insight will not stop contradictions from maturing.
As to the US Empire, there is light at the end of a long and twisting tunnel. But after that tunnel there are new tunnels–
7. On Contradictions in General
The concept itself harbors contradictions in the sense of tensions among meanings. The common factor seems to be a whole, a holon, a system, with at least two forces operating. The tension is between the forces.
There is no assumption of only two forces, nor that they are exactly opposite, nor that are they of the same size. Newton’s Third Law is written that way, expressing a contradiction. But that is a special case and should not distort our ideas of social systems. We need a more general discourse.
Before two or more forces let us explore the cases of 0 or 1.
Even with the vagueness of “force” it is not unreasonable to attribute the property “dead” to a system with no force, no movement, tendency, inclination.
The objection may be that much happens to a buried corpse: “to” yes, but not “in”. The forces are exogenous to the system, not endogenous, like in a live organism.
Introduce one force, like running. The body spends energy. And the counterforce is not slow in announcing itself as fatigue, trying to change a motion into a non-motion referred to as “rest”.
The mechanical analogue brings up the idea of R, a dynamically changing resultant force that reflects magnitude and direction of all forces. The system will move or rest with the resultant. R>0 means move, R=0 means equilibrium, R<0 means rest deficit.
Is a force always accompanied by a counterforce? Is there always a reactio with an actio? And in systems with foresight, could there even be a proactio for any expected actio? And a pro-proactio? I find this a very useful an axiom in the analysis of social and personal systems.
But I see no reason to assume that reactio and proactio are necessarily opposed. They could also be aligned with actio and, at least to start with, reinforce actio.
The idea of force-counterforce twins might lead us to an even number of forces as they come in pairs. We do not say that one is producing or generating the other since that leads to an infinite number.
Rather, we assume synchronicity; they are “co-arising” as Buddhist epistemology will have it rather than one force generating the next, generating the next, etc. And there is no reason to land on an even number.
Another metaphor might be a bundle of forces somehow accounting for the tensions in the system.
Let us move from general talk about “systems” and “forces” to more specific social and personal systems. In the conceptual neighborhood is the idea of “conflict” as tension in goal-seeking systems because of incompatibility between the goals.
Goals are then associated with life even when attributed metaphorically to non-life as in “mountains striving upward”. If incompatible goals are in the same system we have a dilemma, if in different systems we have a dispute.
A goal-holder conscious of the goal is an actor, if not conscious a party. And that brings in the major distinction between subjective and objective contradictions.
A subjective contradiction passes through and is reflected by the human brain; as thought/consciousness, as speech/articulation as action/mobilization.
But not necessarily in that order, intellectualized like a philosopher who first reflects, then writes and then – maybe does nothing. We could just as well assume the opposite order, the actor mobilizing for action out of old habit, then saying what he feels he thinks and thinking what he feels. Or any other sequence.
But sooner or later there is consciousness.
With two goals we get two goal-seeking forces, A and B, and three possibilities for the resultant: R=A (A wins), R=B (B wins) or R=0, an in-between equilibrium, also known as a compromise.
At that point the mechanical analogy breaks down. The three cases do not exhaust the possibilities. Moreover, they do not eliminate the contradiction. A or B wins does not mean that the dissatisfied loser no longer has the same or some other goal incompatible with the winner’s goal.
The contradiction is still there, under the lid of the boiling cauldron of a defeat. And a compromise may leave both of them semi-dissatisfied. If we use the term “sharp” to describe the contradiction as it was, “blunt” may apply to a compromise.
But how do we transcend the contradiction?
Since the three possibilities exhaust the logic of opposing forces within a system, the answer is “by changing the system”. This is what Gorbachev faced in the contradiction between the Soviet Empire and the social forces wanting basic change in the DDR: he let the DDR go.
The contradiction now being between people and party elites in the DDR, the latter then yielded to West Germany, BRD, eventually to be absorbed by them. As a result the Soviet Empire declined and fell and BRD absorbed DDR. The contradiction is still there, but finds other articulations.
And this is what Gorbachev’s successors never managed to do with Chechnya. All they could do was to prevent them from winning, not to transcend the contradiction.
For that to happen they would have to let Chechnya go, which will happen sooner or later anyhow.
For the contradiction to be transcended, and the tension to be released, system change is needed, and more so the deeper the contradiction is in the system.
An empire is not changed by suppressing, winning, over some party or even actor; that only makes the empire more imperial. An empire is changed by becoming less imperial.
And that is also known as a decline from the empire’s point of view. At the end of that road is its fall.
The Stages in the Contradiction Life-Cycle Can Be Summarized:
 Objective contradiction independent of consciousness
 Consciousness-formation through THOUGHT (intrasubjective)
 Articulation through SPEECH (intersubjective)
 Mobilization through ACTION (private and/or public)
 Struggle among mobilized actors
– violent or nonviolent
– quick or slow
– without or with outside parties mediating
– with less or more polarization = decoupling
 Outcomes of struggle
[a] prevalence or compromise – back to -
[b] transcendence = a new reality
– negative transcendence under a new actor
– positive transcendence as new coupling
Through the -- sequence a party becomes an actor pursuing goals by more or less adequate tactics chosen from .
[5a] does not end the lifecycle of a contradiction, only a lid on it or a blunting of it, as has been argued above.
[5b], transcendence, is the end of that contradiction lifecycle. This does not mean the end/death of the system as it may harbor other contradictions at various lifecycle stages.
Transcendence, going beyond, is the creation of a new reality:
- negative transcendence, neither-nor; goals not achieved
- positive transcendence, both-and; goals achieved, with a twist.
Take the Ecuador-Peru conflict over where to draw the border in a contested 500km2 zone up in the Andes, with three wars to settle the issue. Military victory for one of them, annexing the zone to their national territory, is “prevalence”.
Drawing a border, for instance along a ceasefire line, is “compromise”. Negative transcendence could be to give the zone to the UN or the OEA, creating a new social reality.
And positive transcendence could be a binational zone, owning it together, with the twist that neither country has monopoly. A new reality. And both new realities, systems, would in turn produce their own contradictions.
Time has then come to explore the problematic relations between objective and subjective contradictions.
A social system comes with differences between categories– like genders, generations, races, classes, nations, territories– which then become relations in an interaction system; which then become fault-lines, usually because the interaction is on unequal terms; which then may lead to polarization and a structure of discrimination accompanied by a culture of prejudice.
All known societies harbor more or less of these inequalities and inequities.
An empire uses such structures and cultures as building blocks, and can be seen as a two (or multi-)tier system linking domestic and global faultlines.
There is a Center and a Periphery in the global system of countries. Inside the Center, and inside the Periphery, there is also a center and a periphery. All three systems may be based on the logic of quadruple inequity (for killers-killed sometimes substitute the softer guards-prisoners).
The linchpin in the system is the harmony between the centre in the Center and the centre in the Periphery. (10) The USA is right now (Summer 2003) trying to construct an Iraqi centre in harmony of interest with the USA state/corporate centre.
The Iraqi center must do the four jobs locally and deliver the fruits of unequal exchange such as economic value, wanted terrorists, obedience, conditioning to the center in the (USA/UK) Center, keeping a commission. They are rewarded with material living standard at a US elite level.
What has just been described is a simple empire linking three systems of unequal exchange, two domestic and one global. The US empire is complex; being a world hegemon no domestic system is entirely delinked from that empire.
The EU empire links 15 (soon 25) Center countries to 100+ Periphery countries, but softly so.
There are also other divisions than the faultlines in domestic and global society, like among political parties in more or less democratic societies, and groups of countries in an undemocratic global system.
Social movements, the subjective contradictions, more or less conscious, articulated and mobilized across some primordial or newly created dividing lines, pre-polarize the system, and are ready for , struggle. But for what?
Ideally for the objective contradiction, with an unresolved issue at the center which then has to become the cause of the movement. And that gives rise to basic problem of adequacy in the coupling between subjective and objective contradictions, between the causes and the issues.
Both are parts of social reality. But the movements may have an inadequate consciousness and cut the issues wrongly. And the issue may be an orphan, waiting to be picked up by a movement with adequate consciousness.
There may be a contradiction between movement contradiction and issue contradiction. And the result is bad, derailed politics.
Thus, the subjective contradiction in Myanmar/Burma between the autocratic military government SLORC and the pro-democracy movement headed by a woman, identified with one nation in a multi-national society, one upper/middle class in a very poor society, married to a Westerner in a country developing its own identity, may be inadequate for the objective contradictions of the country.
From a Western point of view the basic contradictions are autocracy vs. (Western) democracy and closure vs. openness of the country to economic and cultural penetration.
The subjective contradiction is adequate for those issues. But there are other issues. Inadequacy may derail the process. The objective and the subjective must somehow mirror each other.
Thus, Gandhi had literally speaking to divest himself of his Westernness and his high caste paraphernalia, become very Hindu and share the living conditions of the lower castes and untouchables before he could lead Indian masses toward freedom and democracy.
The leader of Free India, however, Jawaharlal Nehru, was very Western, very high caste, very secular and steered India exactly in that direction. Gandhi wanted an India based on the “oceanic circles” of autonomous, self-reliant villages; Nehru a modern, secular, industrial, socialist India. The subjective matters.
Liberals tend to study the subjective movements and Marxists the objective issues. The argument here is for both-and, and more particularly for the contradiction between the two contradictions.
An example from Norway: the objective contradiction a century ago between the “well conditioned” and the majority “populace”, in steep livelihood gradients, and the subjective contradictions in the party system.
The populace lived on farming, fishing, hunting, and as employees; the well conditioned from fortune, as employers or self-employed. There were grey zones. The Labor Party, through an act of political genius, created an alliance of farmers, fishermen and industrial workers, very adequately posited against the well conditioned.
They won the elections, prevailed for two generations, and created a new social reality, the welfare state.
That society had its own objective contradictions, positing a minority of aged-women-frail/handicapped-foreign workers against the rest.
Uncarried by adequate subjective contradictions the objective contradiction deepens in the midst of plenty. The Labor Party was totally inadequate. And the issue remains unsolved.
Movements against the US Empire: social reality is complex.
Only when cause and issue coincide will the movements be adequate.
Originally published at Transcend Media Service
1. From Susan George, “The Corporate Utopian Dream”, The WTO and the Global War System, Seattle, November 1999. He is missing the political dimension and might have added “a fair amount of bullying” or “arm-twisting” after killing.
2. For this way of seeing reality, see Johan Galtung, Peace by Peaceful Means, London: SAGE, 1996, chapter 2.
3. That not very intelligent term obscures the difference between those who are against both Republic and Empire (americaphobia?; very few, it seems) and those who are against one but not the other. Unconditional love for both, (americaphilia?) is quite frequent. It should be noted that “America” actually refers to the whole hemisphere, making the term “anti-American” also a sign of geographical confusion.
4. Many pairs come to mind, we just pick five as examples:
- Mossadegh was intervened, the Shah’s dictatorship not;
- Very much has been done to overthrow Castro, not Batista;
- very much was done to overthrow the Sandinistas, not Somoza;
- very much is being done to overthrow Chavez, not Jimenez;
- Lumumba was intervened and killed, not Mobutu.
The basic criterion is “free trade”, not democracy/dictatorship.
5. Johan Galtung, The Decline and Fall of Empires: A Theory of De-development, Geneva: UNRISD, 1995 (but not published by them), see www.transcend.org.
6. Johan Galtung, with Tore Heiestad and Erik Rudeng, On the decline and fall of empires: the Roman empire and Western imperialism compared. Oslo: University of Oslo, Chair in Conflict and Peace Research, 71 pp. (Trends in Western civilization program, 15), (Oslo Papers, 75). Also published at: Tokyo: UN University, 1979, 71 pp (HSDRGPID‑l/UNUP‑53), and in Immanuel Wallerstein (ed.) Review. New York: Research Foundation of the State University of New York, IV, 1980, 1, pp. 91‑154. Condensed version in: Comprendre: revue de politique de la culture, XLIII/XLIV, (1977/78), pp. 50‑59.
7. Johan Galtung, with Dag Poleszynski and Erik Rudeng, Norge foran 1980‑årene (Norway facing the 1980s). Oslo: Gyldendal, 1980, p. 85.
8. But Canada and New Zealand, also Anglo-Saxon dominated, did not follow suit. Because they are more diverse, with non-Anglos like the French-speaking and First Canadians in Canada, and the Maoris in New Zealand to take into account? clearly, there is no longer a massive Anglo-Saxon bloc.
9. In the USA the alternative is often seen in terms of a Chinese Empire, in line with the old Anglo-Saxon tradition of seeing the relation between No. 1 and No. 2 in power as zero sum game. For England, the country allegedly with no permanent friends, no permanent enemies but permanent interests, this used to be France, but after the country was beaten by united Germany in 1870-71 and displayed its industrial prowess the Germany was appointed enemy. China as enemy disregards thousands of years of Chinese history with no imperial systems outside the borders of the Himalayas, the Gobi, the Tundra and the Sea. China is self-centered in its development/modernization and still tends to see the world outside those borders as South, West, North and East Barbarians.
10. Thus, the author’s “A Structural Theory of Imperialism” (in Essays in Peace Research, Volume IV, Copenhagen: Ejlers, 1980, pp. 437-91) is underlying the development of the theory of imperialism into its decline and fall in this essay.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was awarded among others the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the sole author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. His book, Transcend and Transform, was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1700 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service.
More information about Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.
And Galtung has been a TFF Associate since 1985.
If you liked to read this paper by professor Johan Galtung, you can show your appreciation here.
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Thought provoking and sincere grasp of current standing of international order. History tells us that nations or political orders which by design or chance inherit the mantle of world leadrrship would desrve such mantle when they accept their moral responsibility of such a position. Sadly the United States ban always tried to shy away from burden of leadership while claiming and grabbing rewards of its mantle. That is why instead of being world leaders it has turned into world bully and hegemony
This is one of the best descriptions of empire & the best, almost scientific analysis of US Empire that I have ever read, with the important distinction being made between the American nation which is educated, enterprising, generous, democratic and decent, and US Empire that has been the cause of great suffering & destruction throughout the world. Many Americans quibble about the use of the term empire being applied to their country, but the fact remains that especially since the collapse of the British and subsequently Soviet Empires, the United States has acted as a hegemonic power, dominating and exploiting other states with its so-called “full-spectrum dominance”.
Of course, the United States has much greater resilience than the former Soviet Union due to its tradition of democracy, free speech and its “soft power”. However, the Trump administration has clearly revealed the fragility and vulnerability of those great assets and has speeded up the decline of US Empire. It has undermined the trust of many educated Americans in their institutions and has shown that the so-called checks and balances do not work adequately. It has also alienated many foreigners who looked up to the United States as a democratic state advocating freedom and equality.
However, as the erudite author points out, all is not lost for the United States. Although the age of empire is over and US Empire is also collapsing in front of our eyes, US influence (and one could say even leadership) can continue if the United States can change course and renew itself. By giving up militarism, reforming unbridled capitalism and reviving democracy, the United States can still enjoy an attractive “soft power” and can help bring real (not the current corporate-led and exploitative) democracy to the rest of the world.
That is a lesson that should also be learned by China, EU, Russia and other big powers. China has opened up its economy and has pulled millions out of poverty. With greater political openness, it can strengthen its gains and achieve a position of lasting stability and progress, with greater freedoms for its people and more global acceptance.