Up until now, I’ve always thought of the American Empire in conventional terms as a continuing enterprise that, sooner or later, would decline and fall. No more. Today I began thinking of it as dead, ethically, that is. This helps to fix its place among good and bad human institutions. I think we can think of the state in the same way. Why give these institutions one shred of credit more than they deserve?
As I see it, the Empire was stillborn ethically. Whatever life it had and has, was and is, ethically invalid. Its life is drawn from us the living; we die as it battens on our blood. Like a vampire, the Empire is morally dead. It lives by night and darkness, has no reflection in any mirror, and can’t survive without inflicting death on the living. The body of the Empire keeps on fighting for blood, round after round; but it’s a moral zombie. Unfortunately for us, we are part of it. As in the Dracula story, we sustain it, we are hypnotized by it, and after awhile we become a disciple of the dreadful creature. We see and live the night and day of the living dead.
Life is identified with ethical behavior. Speaking of his unrighteous enemies, David wrote "their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre." But, "thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield."
Never does one hear more howls of protest as when one proclaims to the modern relativist ear that there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong; and that straying from right does have negative, life-destroying consequences. This reflexive and defensive reaction to any disturbing thought of an absolute value, despite the relativist’s own absolute assumption of no absolutes, shows that our ethics are in bad shape.
In our political lives and thus our individual lives, less and less do we recognize and live by the ethics we once lived by and still should live by. These ethics can still be found in desk drawers of hotel and motel rooms. Our society’s usual institutions for conveying ethics are so weak that business students have to take courses in ethics to compensate for not learning elsewhere that stealing and cheating are wrong.
A hundred or more years ago, when philosophers declared God dead; when science shook faith; when socialism postulated new ideals; when the U.S. pursued national power; Americans turned away from the beliefs, ethics, and practices that had brought them bounty. And now, after many years, we can see clearly, if we would or could, that we made a wrong turn. That wrong turn cannot be dismissed, as the young and naïve are wont to do, by pointing to the reduced time it takes to travel from Los Angeles to Toronto or to the breaking of color barriers. These things or others like them in even more bounteous quantity would have occurred had we stayed on and extended the proper ethical course of a limited and just government that minded its own business at home and abroad. That wrong turn is measured by such things as near-continuous warfare, broken lives and families, a dependent and dumbed-down population, static standards of living, ever-deteriorating money, humongous debts, greater cruelty, greater indifference to suffering, a greater use of violence, less liberty, less freedom of choice, increasing authoritarianism and militarism, greater welfare, more crime, less justice, less innovation, less civility, deteriorating art and culture, and less civilization.
The ethical underpinnings, however slight, that girded the myth of the U.S. as a beneficial international power have dissolved. The mistaken ideals that launched the U.S. into World War I and further overseas misadventures have proven empty and false. The ill-considered ideas that entangled the U.S. in the international machinations of the world order of states have backfired.
Domestically and internationally, the machinery of state surrealistically clanks on, but it is hopelessly clogged up. Its rhythm lacks measure and cadence in its chaos of nervous exhaustion. It goes through the motions, incanting the tired slogans and spells of its once-powerful magic. The bizarre atmosphere dispensed by the strange and unbelievable practices of the American Empire contains no life-giving oxygen. It suffocates whatever it envelops with a poisonous gas of laws, pressures, and regulations. Morally and ethically dead, dispersing ever-more utterly outlandish emanations, the machinery of state deals death upon whatever it touches.
Having gutted the ethical foundations of life, we have instituted policies of death. More and more we come face to face with our own madness. Today, people constantly refer to things as "crazy." Yet they do not fully realize what they are saying, how deep this craziness goes, or why it is so prevalent.
Political modernity in America is irrational and senseless. The domestic political machine is geared to produce truly incredible wares that did not exist 50 years ago: thousand-mile walls at borders, denuded travelers at airports, 57 varieties of higher-priced and less efficient fuels, know-nothing graduates, asset seizures, uncaring doctors, dirty hospitals, inflating abortions, inflating money, political correctness, money and speech-controlled political campaigns, jigsawed political districts, food and pesticide bans, deteriorating infrastructure, dependency, irresponsibility, clogged courts, women soldiers, grade school sex education, rampaging prosecutors, thought crimes, asbestos insanity, protected insects and swamps, broken families, murderers freed and drug users imprisoned, class action lawsuits, eavesdropping, wiretapping, books of labor laws, unopenable bottle closures, arbitrary environmental regulations, moon bases, and destruction of the rule of law. Aren’t all these products of our society simply madness?
But, you say, I exaggerate. Are we not healthier, wealthier, and wiser? Where’s the chaos? All is in order, is it not? Appearances deceive. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was suave and urbane. The American inmates are indeed under control, but they are gobbling anti-depressants and other such drugs at a very high rate. Houses are bigger than ever, but meanwhile so are debts and millions of two-earner families run to stay even. Where is the wisdom? Certainly not in Washington or state capitols.
We have only the appearance of a lawful social order. Rigidity combined with outlandish bureaucratic regulation made good by blind obedience are not law but its absence. Chaotic and mad results signify a lack of stable guiding laws of life, not their presence.
The absence of law means an absence of a moral and ethical basis for the products of the American political machine. Those who think there is and defend this insane machine delude themselves as they attempt to delude others. I challenge anyone to show that American political life does anything except constantly flout the Ten Commandments, which are what should be the true source of law, justice, and order. Instead, madness, which is a variety of death that disregards truth and reality, spreads like an infection.
Madness has its own cleverness and intelligence, mind you. It feigns sanity. It accuses the sane of being mad; it makes the sane wonder if they are the ones who have lost their minds. The demon vampire promises everlasting life.
The New World Order of Woodrow Wilson, promoted by U.S. leaders for almost 100 years, briefly brought into prominence by George H.W. Bush, continued by Bill Clinton, promoted with new vigor by George Bush, and to be continued by whoever is elected in 2008, is, in reality, a corpse, having no sound ethical soul. Being nothing more than a vain emanation of empire, it too walks among the living dead. There is no Columbia or Universal Pictures writer to script it with a truly productive life. There is no Boris Karloff to bring it to life; no Elsa Lanchester to play the bride of this Frankenstein’s monster. The mad doctors of empire continue to pump serum into the cadaver’s veins and expose it to lightning, but the heavens give this body no independent existence. It lives off the living.
In 1998, Lew Rockwell wrote: "The foundations of [U.S.] empire have begun to crack," and he recounted the many signs and signals thereof such as waning public support, U.S. isolation in the world community, a weakened military, and divisions within the establishment. He was and is correct. The empire can only exist with continual infusions of life support. Take them away and the body disintegrates. In the practical and political spheres, the U.S. empire is being exposed to the sun’s rays. It is disintegrating.
Any impartial and serious review of the history of U.S. interventions overseas must concede that U.S. actions lack a sound or firm ethical basis, all political rhetoric notwithstanding. The devotees of realism in foreign affairs or of realpolitik claim a vague utilitarianism. This neither limits the state’s scope of action nor can be mapped into improvements in the welfare of individual citizens, domestic or foreign. The Wilsonian-style devotees of new world order face exactly the same ethical riddles. Although they claim noble goals such as democracy, their actions at best treat both American and foreign peoples as so many pieces to be manipulated in a worldwide political puzzle. And at worst, they treat people as cannon fodder or as slaves from which wealth can be extracted so as to finance their grandiose schemes to better humanity.
There is no ethical magic by which what is wrong for you and me to do becomes right because we elect officials who order the CIA to do it for us. We are implicated in every wrongful act of our state and empire. When the U.S. intentionally degraded Iraq’s water supplies through sanctions in the 1990’s, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, these acts were wrong; and we as Americans were implicated in those deaths. When U.S. soldiers torture or when the CIA operates secret prison camps and tortures, these acts are wrong; and we as Americans are implicated. When the U.S. unjustly attacks Afghanistan and Iraq, nations that have not attacked the U.S., these acts are wrong. When the U.S. bombs Yugoslavia, for no defensive reason, it is an unlawful act. When the U.S. behind the scenes supplies arms, money, and technical aid, and instigates other states in their attacks, again, we are in the wrong. When the U.S. in one way or another violently overthrows a Noriega, a Diem, and a Mossadegh, or tries to overthrow a Castro, we are in the wrong; for none of these actions trace back to any conceivable ethical justification in terms of what you and I as individuals are entitled to do. At best, our officials claim a thin veneer of legality based upon liberal, that is, unwarranted constitutional interpretations. To be truly lawful, a constitutional justification must rest on a legitimate theory of legitimate right.
In the ethical sphere, which is the underpinning of political legitimacy, the U.S. empire has never since its inception had justification for most of its acts. It had pretexts, often as not concocted. So, in reality, it was always a morally inert thing, a creature of the living dead. America needs to drive a stake through this beast’s heart or else find itself exposed to further disintegration. We stand to lose a great deal unless we repudiate much of what we now believe in, accept, and have come to stand for.
Will we expeditiously dissolve our creation, this Dracula, in the nearest vat of hydrochloric or sulfuric acid la Peter Cushing? I doubt it. But the horrific intensification of the Iraq War launched in 2003, surrounded as it is by all manner of deceit, provides another opportunity for a change of heart and action among Americans at large. We need to admit to ourselves that what we have done is wrong. We need to admit that much of what we have done for a long time is wrong. Then we have to take steps not to repeat these massive collective sins.
At this moment, it is written on the hearts of all who pay any attention whatsoever to public events that this state and the empire it supports are morally and ethically brain-dead. More than a few acknowledge this, but most rebel against this knowledge and refuse to accept it. The fact that so few of our intellectual, political, business, and religious leaders acknowledge this that they know is true; the fact that so few speak out against our unjust state and empire; the fact that so few demand fundamentally new directions for our country; these facts mean that this Dracula has embedded itself deep in the lifeblood of very many Americans.
While it is late in the game, it is not too late for Americans to reject U.S. pretensions to creating a world international order. It is not too late to reject the longstanding prejudices and desires of our establishment elite to run the world. For decades, we have been listening to a constant barrage of rhetoric from the internationalists among us claiming to support and propel American values to all corners of the globe. But their constant global interference has been anti-American. They have departed drastically from the fundamental Washingtonian-Jeffersonian principle of neutrality and non-interference. Do we want other nations to interfere in our land? Do they have that right? Then why should we interfere in theirs?
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.