Introduction to Empires

World politics is the ultimate contest for power, despite the rhetoric idealistic assumptions that it is not, as the contest for empire continues to play out. History bears record of empires that span the scope of history, culture and time, the constant paradigm, and the rulers of many of these empires stand out as some of the most imposing individuals in history. These figures include Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Tamerlaine, and Napoleon (who brought the concept of total war into modern usage). All loom large in historical memory and need no introduction after hundreds or thousands of years. Once empires are established the only questions remaining are how large and all-compassing do they become, to what extent are their rulers willing to go to in order to maintain power, and when will they collapse or how will they evolve into future arrangements of power.

Perhaps the biggest fallacy is that the age of empires has passed. Serious critics and analysts of power tend to either acknowledge the reality, or grudgingly brush up against the imperial power structure with brief mention of a fraction of its size and scope.

Most historians consider the advent of ancient Sumer as the dawn of civilization, with the Near East being the place where sophisticated culture was born. Agricultural advances due to fertile land and irrigation on the alluvial plain resulted in surplus food supply, giving rise to a network of cities and towns, where cuneiform writing, arts, pottery, commerce and warfare led to the ancient Sumerians being an organized body of people who became semi-urbanized and who led the way for integrated human communities in a central region of the world’s largest landmass during a crucial timeframe of human development. It was shortly thereafter that great empires came onto the scene, and their ingenuity and adaptation for warfare and mass organized violence would be a major force in history.

Prosperity and development would be complemented by domination and subjugation. With the invention of the chariot, skilled archers, and more military innovations such as the use of siege machinery, heavy cavalry and the phalanx, humanity was set on a course of competition and power politics that has never ended, only one which takes on new forms. While the manifestations of power grow in complexity and deadly force, they are in essence the same. The evolution of bureaucracy is also a key factor in the spread and durability of empires long after peoples have been conquered. Transnational imperialism has existed for virtually all of recorded history. Human history is a story of the exercise of power on a mass scale, and this paradigm is essential to understand the key forces that have been in various stages of development over the last 5,000 years, leading up to the human discourse of power we see emerging in our current global era. A key component of history is the development and interaction of empires.

The official or mainstream line of thought is either that none exist, or that imperial configurations should not be compared with ancient powers, though some do acknowledge that empires could return. While empires each have their own peculiar or particular facets of obtaining, consolidating and maintaining power, each empire has its own individual stamp or mark in the manner it wishes to be acknowledged and obeyed by subject peoples. There are in fact 3 imperial regimes as of now (USA, China and the EU) with a 4th much more potent and deliberate imperial machine in the making – the UN system. British historian Niall Ferguson asks: “For what else are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council if not a cozy club of past empires?” [1]

In the 21st century the growing tension between nation-states and international or multinational organizations is the new battleground of empire. It involves a constant effort to shape the dialogue and discourse in terms of formal governance and a dramatic shift from national to global governance.

The United Nations system is a vast web of bureaucratic agencies and expanding organizations that are mandating policies and laws within nations all over the globe. The expansive and transformative nature of this system deserves more intensive study and a more balanced outlook in the face of the potential for abuse and imperial behavior on the part of the UN and its subsidiaries or related organizations. It constitutes the beating heart of a global empire that has the potential to mandate and govern humanity on an unparalleled scale compared with previous historical precedents. Only an honest presentation of the facts can bring deeper awareness to global citizens who wish to preserve their rights and freedoms.