The Inherent Injustice of Empire

Defenders of empire need to keep things as abstract as possible in order to make their case seem reasonable.

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Nigel Biggar writes a “Christian defense of the American empire” and it concludes with the same recycled hegemonist nonsense that you would expect:

The United States is not the only trustee of such values and institutions, but, thanks to the gifts of providence and its own achievements, it happens to be the most powerful global actor at this time. Its primary duty to its own people obliges it to sustain its power. But that duty implies a secondary one to promote the weal of other nations. For if it should surrender its dominant international power, other states, less humane and liberal, will pick it up. The U.S. has a vocation to shoulder the imperial burden, certainly for the sake of Americans, but for the sake of the rest of us as well.

“Rule Britannia, Britannia, rule the waves,” we still sing here in the United Kingdom, “Britons never, never shall be slaves.” We know, however, that the days of Britain’s wave-ruling have passed. So now our freedom, and that of many others, depends upon the will of Americans to sustain their nation’s imperial dominance. Let it not be said that Christians in the United States undermined that will and contributed to a world in which we all fall under Beijing’s yoke.

There is a lot wrong with Biggar’s essay, but one of my biggest problems with it is how it seeks to guilt Christians and all other Americans into accepting US “imperial dominance” as obligatory service for the whole world. Bearing an imperial burden is not something that the US does for the good of the world, and much of rest of the world wishes that the US had never taken up that burden. But the imperial burden is also harmful to America, because, as John Quincy Adams told us more than two centuries ago, America’s “glory is not dominion, but liberty.”

There have been many attempts over the centuries to sanitize and sanctify empire by investing it with some higher purpose. In every case, it is an exercise in assuaging the consciences of people that should know better that empire is tolerable and even admirable. It seeks to console the empire’s supporters that they are doing the right and necessary thing when they have good reasons to suspect that they are doing the opposite. In fact, it aims to deaden their consciences and encourage them to prize power over truth.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.