Dear Teevee Pundits,
Please stop mindlessly parroting the idea that empires only last 250 years. I’m not quite sure where this concept came from,1 but it seems to be rearing its ugly head pretty frequently during this election cycle – for example during Ben Carson’s interview on the “Daily Show”.
The argument seems to be that the US “Empire” is headed into the expected and almost inevitable decline and that we can see this because of the current administration, or perhaps, the specter of the future Trump presidency. That’s right – this flawed analogy is some bi-partisan bullshit.
Now, we happen to know something about empires. Not just because we named our blog Bitter Empire, but because one of us went and got a doctorate in history. I know, you’re asking yourself – why am I not rolling around in filthy History Channel money instead of writing here? Poor life choices, children.
Anyway, back to the point: let’s start with the obvious. The US isn’t an empire in the traditional sense – we usually don’t define the President as a “Single Supreme Authority” – although, Michigan seems to be flirting with a more, shall we say, centralized form of government. But, this is a petty quibble. Using the idea of empire more like “Empire Entertainment”, certainly we see the parallels.
Perhaps less obvious, but still smack you in the face stupid: if we really are at the edge of an expected and perhaps inevitable decline…WHY THE FUCK DOES IT MATTER WHO WE VOTE FOR?
Seriously. If there is a historical bias towards the decline of an empire after a 250 year history, do you really think any of the jokers that are in the running can really turn it around? Let’s face it, a hundred years from now, none of these fools are going to wind up on the $30 bill. Or maybe they will – pretty sure no one during Salmon P. Chase’s time thought , “Yeah. That Secretary of the Treasury dude is the shit. He should totally be on a bill.”
So, you’re all in for Trump and you really believe he and he alone can prevent the upcoming apocalypse. Fine. We have another reason…The US hasn’t been a dominant power in global politics for anything near 200 years.
Yeah, suckers. We were pretty down with protectionist and non-interventionist policies right up until World War I. Then we kind of busted onto the scene with all our “ingenuity and know-how” and basically haven’t gotten out of other people’s business ever since. I know, it seems like a long time, but actually – that was 102 years ago. 148 years shy of that 250 year mark. So if we really are at the start of an inevitable decline, we’ve proven that the “Great Experiment” is a total failure by this bullshit metric.
And here is the real reason all you pundits should stop repeating this crap. It’s absolutely NOT FUCKING TRUE. Seriously. I know…it feels right. If you don’t think about it too hard, you can really see the appeal. Empires last about 250 hundred years. That’s a long time.
No. It’s not a long fucking time. 2000 years – that’s a long fucking time and that’s the Roman Catholic Church.
What, don’t want to count the Church? Who fuck do you think was in charge during the Crusades? Who met with the sitting President of the United States last year? Who has more money than God Herself? The Pope. Fox News, I’m looking at you – aren’t you all into Jeebus? Shouldn’t you know this?
Fine. Let’s rule out religious empires. I don’t know why we would, but let’s.
How about the British Empire. Oh that’s right, we are all cynical and bitchy about the British because we somehow seem to think they “lost” because some upstart colonists decided to bitch slap the Queen2 and then those jerks had to come crawling back to us for help fighting Germany in the 20th Century. But here’s the thing: we can trace the British Monarchy back to Alfred the Great in 871. That’s right… over a thousand years of rule.
The Brits lose track of two hundred years of their history and don’t even sweat it. And what, you think they’re in the decline now? Because of the US? The Brits don’t give a fuck. They’re still the 5th largest global economy and they have universal health care. They’re like your grandparents,
“Oh, so you went to space, dear. Isn’t that nice. Electrification. Oh, you did so well with that. It really compliments the agricultural revolution we undertook four hundred years ago. Oh, Bill, remember that time we invented science?”
Now you’re thinking that’s an anomaly. Just because you can’t point out the exception to the rule doesn’t make it not a rule. Jeezus. You guys act like we’re on trial. Fine. More examples?
How about the birthplace of democracy? Again, maybe not literally an empire, but whatever, a flourishing civilization that lasted around 650 years – from 750 BCE until the Roman Empire conquered the land in 168 BCE. Course, the Romans had their own thing going on – a 500 year long Roman Republic, followed by a 500 year long Roman Empire.
Still thinking it’s an anomaly? How about the 600 year Golden Age of Islam? 750 – 1350 AD. Or the Zhou Dynasty in China? That one lasted around 800 years. Egypt had about 3000 years of history before it was finally conquered by the Roman empire.
So, what’s so compelling about this completely bullshit analogy about 250 year empires?
My best guess is that some people think of the Earth as a pyramid, with a single nation-state on top at any given moment. And let’s face it, “History of Western Civ” kind of promotes that conceptualization as we jump from the Greek city states, to the Roman Empire, to the rise of Britain, without acknowledging that all of these “empires” lasted far longer than can be actually covered in a single semester and all of them had equally successful competitors. The Ottoman Empire of the 1700s may be surprised to learn that in the future they are considered losers next to the British Empire.
Hey, I’m just a blog writer and I don’t have an exciting career in teevee punditry, but continuing to perpetuate the idea that the United States is in decline, and that such a decline is “almost inevitable” because “forces of history dictate it to be so”, regardless of the fact that history dictates no such thing, in part because most of us are in favor of the concept of free will, but also because historical fact just doesn’t support this absurd analogy, seems like one of those things that if you accept it as truth, might become true.
And really, even we’re not that fucking bitter.