December 6, 2000


What the attempted coup d'etat now in progress illustrates, aside from the personal ambition of Al Gore, is how and why a nation makes the transition from a republic to an empire. I look at Al Gore, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton and see Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar. People ask me: "How did this happen?" They cry out: "Have we really come to this?" and I can only think of Garet Garrett, the Old Right author and prophet who foretold the coming of the American Imperium half a century ago. His 1952 polemic, Rise of Empire, begins with the observation that

"We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night: the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: 'You are now entering Imperium.' Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: 'Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.' And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: 'No U-turns.'"

But the precise moment does matter, at least to those who live through it, and I believe we have arrived at just such a juncture. It was a long time coming. Garrett saw that the transformation of the old Republic into an Empire in everything but name was a "revolution within the form." That is, the founding documents and traditions of the old Republic were kept around, for old time's sake, but they were either reinterpreted out of existence (the Constitution), or else completely ignored. In the formal sense, the chief executive officer was only the First Citizen of a republic; but, over time – after two world wars and a fifty-year "cold" war – the American President became an Emperor in all but name. It is easy to speak of "imperialism" – a favorite catchword of the Marxists, who use it as a synonym for capitalism – but what, really, is an empire? Garrett addressed this question, and decided that you could, indeed, have an empire "with or without a constitution, even with the form of a republican constitution," and "also you may have Empire with or without an emperor." Colonies were not a prerequisite, either: look at Athens, which planted colonies as a tree drops its seeds. Nor was war, or even territorial expansion the mark of Empire: these, after all, characterize "the history of any kind of state that was ever known." No, an empire, as a system of organizing and perpetuating the State, has characteristics peculiar to itself, and the first one is: "The executive power of government shall be dominant." [emphasis in original]. A republican form of government, with a carefully balanced division of powers, could generate a military power sufficient to acquire an empire: Napoleonic France, and the history of the US in modern times, are proof enough of that. But in making this tremendous effort, a republic would be transformed into something else: in the case of the US, no longer the limited government envisioned by the Founders, but an imperial Leviathan whose domain extends from sea to shining sea: that is, from the Red Sea to the Caspian Sea to the South China Sea – and beyond.

The constitutional system devised by the Founders "worked," wrote Garrett,

"and worked extremely well, for the Republic. It would not work for Empire, because what Empire needs above all in government is an executive power that can make immediate decisions, such as a decision in the middle of the night by the President to declare war on the aggressor in Korea, or, on the opposite side, a decision by the Politburo in the Kremlin, perhaps also in the middle of the night, to move a piece on the chess board of cold war."


Before Harry Truman sent Americans into battle and only consulted Congress after the fact, the power to declare war had rested solely with the elected representatives of the people. It was a precedent that appalled Garrett, and his fellow Old Rightists, but by that time they were old men on the knife-edge of mortality, living ghosts haunting the world of the living with their prophecies of usurpation and American decline. A few years after the publication of Garrett's pamphlet, the "New" Right of William F. Buckley, Jr., and a coven of ex-Communists, arose to endorse and even accelerate the taxes, the expenditures, the centralization of power required to fight the cold war. Conservatives who had once agitated for the abolition of the income tax became, instead, advocates of a less onerous tax increase in comparison to their liberal opponents. And so the terms of the debate shifted inevitably in the direction of big government, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always the movement was in the same direction. Conservatives, in any case a pessimistic lot, were reinforced in their inclinations, and they accepted their fate, which was to stave off the worst – and, also, to expect the worst.


By the time the cold war ended, and the Soviet Union lay in ruins, the worst had already happened. The revolution within the form was nearly complete. The US President stood astride the world, monarch of a domain that exceeded the dreams of Alexander. A single executive order could make or break fortunes, spare or spend human lives. A contest for such an office must become a death-struggle if only because the stakes are so high: the fate of nations rests on the question of who gets to put his feet up on the presidential desk in the Oval Office. Such a prize is not given up so easily, and it was inevitable that someone like Al Gore would come along and at least threaten to cross the Rubicon. The Founders foresaw – and greatly feared – the coming of such a demagogue, but even if it looks as if he is only a would-be Napoleon, and will never get to place the crown on his own head, another one will come along and succeed where Gore failed. The imperial Presidency is invested with so much power, both domestically and internationally, that aspirants will do anything to win office – including vote fraud, vote suppression, even redefining the very concept of voting from an act to an intention. This crisis has stretched the institutions of the old republic to the breaking point: next time, that creaking sound will give way to a sharp crack. And there will be a next time: the only question is how soon? Oh boy, I can hardly wait for the 2004 elections.


In a speech the other day, Colin Powell, putative Secretary of State, told his adoring audience that he gets phone calls from generals in formerly Communist countries asking if he's worried about the crisis of presidential succession in the US. His answer:

"Not in the least. You've got to understand that American democracy is not like the system that you have. American democracy is kind of like a life raft. It bobs around the ocean all the time. Your feet are always wet. The winds are always blowing ... but you never sink.''


Pride cometh before a fall. The American ship of state – surely the biggest, most expensive, most expansive "raft" in history – is not unsinkable. A republic, so long as it retains the virtues of its Founders – and at least some of their vitality – tends to endure, but an empire naturally decays, like ripened fruit bursting with the seeds of its own corruption. Like the original sin of Adam and Eve, who ate of the forbidden fruit, the temptation to usurp the forms of our constitutional republic will in the end prove too much for our political leaders to withstand. Al Gore may be the first in modern times to succumb to the lure of a coup, legal or otherwise, but he will hardly be the last. Our future is rife with Al Gores, not only the original but some even more ambitious and aggressive models. A more attractive Gore, a candidate without his alienating ticks, a more truly Kennedy-esque figure who won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college – that is the real danger. What this crisis has shown is that a demagogue with some real charisma could easily shred what is left of our Constitution, and, commanding popular support – plus an army of lawyers – overthrow the rule of law.


As longtime readers of this column will know, my opposition to the Gore coup does not imply any kind of political support for George W. Bush. While the success of the Gore coup would signal the end of our old republic, the ascension of Dubya will exacerbate the same retrograde trend, and further develop yet another characteristic of Empire: As Garet put it,

"A second mark by which you may unmistakably distinguish Empire is: 'Domestic policy becomes subordinate to foreign policy.' That happened to Rome. It has happened to every Empire. . . . The fact now to be faced is that it has happened also to us."


We are, Garrett pointed out, "no longer able to choose between peace and war. We have embraced perpetual war. We are no longer able to choose the time, the circumstances or the battlefield." Our 'vital national interests' – as the bromide goes – are everywhere: on this question there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. The idea that Dubya is somehow less interventionist because one of his foreign policy advisors – not his putative Secretary of State – suggested that we might, someday, pull our troops out of the Balkans, makes no sense at all. As I pointed out before the election, the Republicans are in favor of a more focused use of US military resources: their guns are aimed directly at the Middle East, specifically at Iraq. Bush is not even in office yet, and already the janissaries of Big Oil are calling for a US military strike. In the Houston Chronicle [December 4], Michael J. Economides and Ronald Oligney – professors at the University of Houston, advisers to Fortune 500 companies and authors of The Color Of Oil: The History, the Money and the Politics of the World's Biggest Businesscall on Bush to unleash the dogs of war against Iraq. Why? Saddam Hussein, it seems, has halted all Iraqi oil exports, and this – to the two esteemed professors – is nothing less than an act of war:

"The growing likelihood of a Bush administration is almost certain to provoke a vendetta on Saddam's part, renewing the Iraqi leader's rivalry with the senior Bush, through his son. Everything is personal in the Middle East, and memories are long. But there are some significant differences between 1991 and 2001. Saddam's power today, while in military terms considerably reduced, is magnified many times because the excess capacity in oil production worldwide is gone"


What, then, shall we do? Stop quibbling over the election and get down to solving the "real" crisis: an impending energy crisis. "The emerging situation" we are told, "gives additional impetus to resolve the electoral fight here and to prepare for what likely will be a January with an energy emergency." First, aver the two professors, Bush must "level with the American people." Sure, we're into energy conservation and all that stuff, but for the moment, at any rate, hydrocarbon is king. Secondly, an energy crunch is not really bad news, indeed, we need to "take credit," because, according to the learned professors,

"The current tight energy situation is not a failure of policy but a direct result of the booming US economy, especially because of the voracious appetite for more energy by the new economy. (Today, 20 percent of all power generated is used by computers and is growing.)"

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Past Columns

Gore, Bush, and the Imperial Style

Neo-Nazis and Neocons: An Unholy Alliance

Al Gore – The O.J. Simpson of American Politics

Coup d'Etat 2000 and the Madness of Al Gore

Slobo and Gore: Peas in a Pod

Gore Coup Radicalizes Republicans

The Dimple That Shook the World

Listen Soldier, You Can Stop the Gore Coup

Two Ways to Steal an Election

In Occupied America: Rage Against "The Regime"

Al Gore's Beer Hall Putsch

A Message to My Readers

The Real Victors: Nader & Buchanan

Buchanan's "Hail Mary" Pass May Work

Doubletalkin' Dubya: Bush Backtracks on Kosovo

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
Gore-Milosevic Connection

Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisited

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cartagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



This is utter crap, of course, since the tendency in computer design is toward less energy-use for more computer power, and not the reverse, but this is just hi-tech window dressing for the main recommendation of this duo, which is as follows:

"A military deployment must start immediately. It is an obvious question whether Saddam's action should be interpreted by the United States as an act of war. We think the answer is obvious, but in any case, the time required to respond militarily will not afford us the luxury to wait. And the excess capacity of the remaining member-nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries today is essentially zero, so they can provide little if any relief."


We need the oil: now, let us seize it. We don't even need to manufacture much of a provocation. According to Messrs. Economides and Oligny, the reason Saddam cut off the oil flow was because he's avidly following the remarks of Judge Saul, and the deliberations of the US Supreme Court: he knows Dubya is on his way to the White House and so now the Iraqi leader is taking his vengeance on the son of the man who defeated him. "Everything is personal" in the perfervid maelstrom of the Middle East, the two professors agree: of course, every issue of international politics (and all politics) is personal in the sense that it has an effect on the lives of real world individuals. Such as the real-world children, more than half a million so far, who have starved to death due to the Draconian sanctions imposed by the US and Britain, with support from the United Nations. Such a calamity is bound to be taken personally by those who suffer from it, but that this might be even vaguely related to the halt in Iraqi oil exports is apparently inconceivable to professors Economides and Oligney..


The imperial style of leadership is everywhere apparent, and a new age is upon us. Generals (Colin Powell, Norman Schwartzkopf) have become political figures, key figures in the Republican campaign and with a clear role to play in the new administration. With Dick Cheney, the former defense secretary whose business interests are intertwined with the policy of global intervention, a virtual co-President, what we are witnessing is the militarization of American politics, and Garrett predicted this, too: "Another brand mark of Empire is: 'Ascendancy of the military mind, to such a point at last that the civilian mind is intimidated,'" he wrote. In ancient Rome, ambitious commanders went abroad in search of new lands to conquer, to be greeted on their return with a triumphant march through the city: in the period of Roman decline, they often wound up conquering the seat of power. As Garrett put it:

"A Republic may put its armor on and off. War is an interlude. When war comes it is a civilian business, conducted under the advice of military experts. Both in peace and war military experts are excluded from civilian decisions. But with empire it is different; Empire must wear its armor. Its life is in the hands of the General Staff and war is supremely a military business, requiring of the civilian only acquiescence and loyalty."


Having averted a coup – although, as of right now, Tuesday, 2:52 PM Pacific Time, this is by no means an absolute certainty – those who defend and seek to restore our old Republic will face even greater dangers. Certainly we will be granted no respite from our labors: in short, things will only get worse. A Bush presidency will mean a bipartisan government of national collaboration – there is already talk of Dubya appointing more than a few Democrats to key spots in the new administration – and this will mark the final consolidation of power by a ruthless oligarchy of corporate oligarchs. Divested of any political constraints, for the next four years the most rapacious and arrogant ruling elite in world history will be unleashed, and feelling free to pillage and plunder its way around the world. So after celebrating the defeat of Gore – if, indeed, we live to hear his concession speech – and catching a good night's sleep, the next morning get up, refreshed, and roll up your sleeves, because there's plenty of work to do. Don't put down that picket sign, or put away that "Sore-Loserman" t-shirt: instead, wear the shirt as a political statement and come up with some new slogans. For starters, how about "Hands off Iraq!"? For years we have been embargoing Iraqi oil, and insisting on keeping it off the market – will somebody tell me how the US has the nerve to blame the Iraqis, of all people, for the alleged oil "shortage"? The blame belongs squarely on the US and the Brits, who have bombed Iraq back to the Stone Age and continue bombing to this day – why the hell should the Iraqis pump a single gallon of oil? Just to bail out their tormentors?


This, then, is the height of imperial arrogance: the expectation that even those we torture will somehow willingly obey us, and kowtow to our every whim. And if they don't – annihilation. It's as simple, and evil, as that.

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