Author’s Note: The following is the text of a talk given in Paris on March 21, at the "Prendre le Moyens de la paix au XXI siecle," which I believe roughly translates into "Prospects for Peace in the 21st Century," a conference sponsored by Bernardins College and the Sorbonne.
I am not cheered by the subject of my talk here today, which is the decline and fall of the American empire, first, because I am an American, and, second, because the description of America as an empire fits it all too well. When you remember that the American Revolution was fought against an imperial power, that the U.S. was born in a struggle against an occupying army, and that its victory against the British was an inspiration to anti-imperialist liberals everywhere, it is a shaming thing to have to come here to describe how it ended in tragedy, betrayal, and a short and ugly decline.
That decline was not written in the stars but made inevitable by the actions of individual men (and women!), the men and women who rule us, the elites in government and the corporate world, in the media and the white-collar classes. Their mindset was best summed up by an anonymous top White House official who spoke to journalist Ron Suskind, in answer to objections against the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policy of preemptive warfare:
"’That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’"
While undoubtedly pandemic in Washington, this kind of thinking characterized not only the Bush administration, but was and is emblematic of the ruling elites in every Western country. The ancient Greeks had a word for it: hubris, which might be defined as a kind of overweening pride, one that impelled mere mortals to believe they could act like gods. It was considered the worst kind of sin. This mental attitude permeates modern culture, at least in the West, and while its roots are psychological, the first evidence of the crisis is manifest in the economy.
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.