The Evolution of Empire (JOHN ANDREWS, 6/21/24, Project Syndicate)

The trite answer to the question of why empires fall is that they become victims of their own success, growing too large, too corrupt, too exhausted to fend off energetic newcomers. As the Arab philosopher and historian Ibn Khaldun argued in the fourteenth century, empires are like living organisms: they grow, mature, and die. […]

Almost a half-century ago, John Bagot Glubb, a British general who commanded the Jordanian army from 1939 until 1956, published a book entitled The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival. His thesis was essentially the same as Ibn Khaldun’s, only with the added claim that almost all empires rise and fall over a period of roughly 250 years. Putting aside the obvious flaws in Glubb’s arithmetic (the Ottoman Empire certainly did not “end” in 1570), the core idea should not be dismissed too casually. After all, historians now give the Qing Dynasty a lifespan of 267 years, and the Mughal Empire of Das’s book began to lose territory after only two centuries.

A pessimist might point out that today’s China began with the Communist victory in 1949, and that America’s quasi-imperial power began 201 years ago with the Monroe Doctrine. Time may not be on the side of those who place their trust in America to protect democracy and “liberal Western values.”

What makes America unique is that our “Empire” has never expanded outward much–the Philipines and Cuba, Germany and Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc were all turned back to their people in short order. Instead, we have become too large to be governed effectively entirely within our own borders. We exceed optimal state size by orders of magnitude. It’s why we will devolve into a series of smaller nations though likely still bound together in a British-style commonwealth.