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Oct 18, 2004 6:21 am

Empire and Imperialism

I enjoyed Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s comments below about Empire and William Appleman Williams, with the link to Joe Stromberg’s excellent article on WAW at I imagine Joe’s first exposure to Williams was in my class on American Foreign Policy at FAU, where earlier I had invited WAW as a speaker in 1966. Although more bibliographic than polemic/critical in format, some of my own views can be found in my essay, “William Appleman Williams,” in Vol. 17 of The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Twentieth Century American Historians (1981). I also found Mark Danner’s comments most insightful when I read them several days ago in the NYRB. With respect to Mark Lilla’s comments, one might ask, “Was the Straussian Mind Ever Open?”

My first encounter with what would become known as the Neoconservative worldview was in a seminar in Switzerland in 1972, also attended by Rothbard, Hayek, Bauer, and Weyl, among others. In comments with Irving Kristol, also a participant, it became apparent to me, and, I think also to Rothbard and Bauer, that he was essentially an unreconstructed Trotskyite.

Many of my own writings, see a few at, have tried to stress the view that Empire is a systemic evolutionary process in which the domestic growth of the State cannot be separated from its foreign policy, ie., Imperialism. The Anti-Imperialists of 1898 understood this very well.

I believe that the great tragedy of Rothbard’s early death was that it cut short his effort to develop that relationship, dating back at least to his collaborative effort with WAW in the 1960s. I, will, in a future article at II, explore the sad decline of American Anti-Imperialism since 1898.

Carroll Quigley demonstrated the evolution to Empire in The Evolution of Civilizations (1961), and see my Bibliography Notes comment in the 1979 Liberty Press edition. It was the Military-Industrial Complex that backed Julius Caesar, and, I recall, as I viewed the opening scenes of the film “Gladiator,” wondering who had the contracts for those catapults, the Guided Missiles of their day. The domestic side of Rome’s Imperialism can be seen in H.J. Haskell’s fine book, The New Deal in Old Rome (1938, 1943).

And, so, America is not very exceptional at all, but rather following in the evolutionary path of other Empires in History. It is said, George W. Bush reads very little, perhaps not even in The Bible. If he does so at all, I would hope he might cast his eyes, not just on the Book of Revelation, although the writer obviously despises the Roman Empire, but back to the Old Testament, to the Book of Daniel, where whatever their apparent upper body strength, Empires are described as having feet of clay.

There is the old joke about God being interviewed about some aspect of social change, and whether he might allow it, and his reply, “Not in my lifetime.” I fear that America will not change from its Imperial path, certainly not in my lifetime.

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Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/19/2004

Hey Bill! Thanks for the listing... and for the benefit of our readers, here is that Independent Institute listing of Bill's essays.

It is so crucially important that this systems-view be emphasized and explored as part of a libertarian research programme. It is disconcerting, to say the least, when libertarians especially---who understand the implications and unintended consequences of government intervention at home---don't make the connection between foreign and domestic policy. Each of these realms has implications for the other. They are not hermetically sealed off from one another; they are, in fact, extensions of one another.

Bravo on bringing more attention to this view (which can be called, as you say, "Systems Theory," but which, I argue, is a necessary implication for social theory of a radical dialectical method).

William Marina - 10/18/2004

Dear Chris,
Please call me Bill! I will get your book. I used to teach Systems Theory when I was in the Coll. of Business. Empire can only be understood as a theory, encompassing both domestic and foreign policy in the rise of the State. See my essay on Egalitarianism & Empire, also in Spanish.
The Independent Institute is in the process of putting up on their web site a number of my old articles. At their site, go to one of my new, or old commentaries, and click on my name to view those older articles, not all of which are up as yet.
Regards, Bill

William Marina - 10/18/2004

In the History of Florida, 3rd ed., final chapter, I developed a Public Policy model, which might also work with public choice. In discussing the coming Corporatism (Neo-Mercantilism) I was overly sanguine about how long it would take Jeb B. to develop that. I also talked about Public Diplomacy in the context of Dante Fascell & the Caribbean. Bush II/43 has about destroyed real PubDip, but Fascell was the closest thing we've had to William Borah. See also my comments to Chris S.
Bill Marina

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/18/2004

Thanks for the comments, William, and for reminding us all about Rothbard's significant contributions. In yet another shameless plug, I should mention that my book, Total Freedom, actually devotes all of part 2 of the book to a reconstruction of Rothbard's social theory, which includes this very important developing analytical model of system. It's a shame, as David suggests here, that so many libertarians have forgotten this essentially radical approach, one that shows the workings of a complex system across time. I'm delighted to see this emphasis in your work, William, and also in the work of Robert Higgs and others.

There is so much more work to be done. Onward!

David T. Beito - 10/18/2004

Part of the problem, of course, is the failure libertarian organizations to look at this issue. These days, foreign policy, when discussed at all, is usually considered only in utilitarian terms e.g. would a non-interventionist foreign policy "work?" Few have given any attention, for example, to the rich possibilities of exploring the public choice aspects of the subject.