The “Enlightened Rebel’s” Guide to Empire: DeMarco Banter

532752Or…what would Sir John Glubb Pasha say…Part 1

History has much to teach and offer in terms of empire’s rise and decline.  Great empires of the past such as Britain, Spain, Islam, Rome, Persia, and Babylon rose and fell over a period of centuries.

Even Niccolo Machiavelli’s 1532 signature work, The Prince was a study in the art of leadership and the extension of empire. His goal: Prevent Florence from being conquered by any of 10+ different incredibly enormous foreign powers.

The Italian territories destabilized by the Borgias were ripe for conquest.  Machaivelli’s job was to figure out who to ally with and who to bribe.  If he could not predict the sides, there was no way to know where Florence should commit its precious resources, how to extend the  duration of the Empire, or how to prevent its decline.

Is America any different?

96616574_134695351546In 1978, Sir John Glubb Pasha (1897-1987), a British military officer and historian, wrote “The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival.”   In his work, Glubb Pasha notes “There is a tendency nowadays to say that this is the jet-age, and consequently there is nothing for us to learn from past empires. Such an attitude seems to be erroneous

Glubb Pasha writes that empires throughout history follow a very similar life cycle.  Empires start, expand, mature, decline, and collapse.

Perhaps it is past time to critically examine the current state of American culture and ponder what may be done to escape the same grim fate of the empires of the past much in the way Machiavelli did in the 16th Century.  As with everything, I can’t help but believe, much like Machiavelli— this is all about leadership and culture.  Is there a leader that can course correct the empire?

The American Empire or Pax Americana might be a stretch.  After all, is America really an empire?  The U.S. didn’t systematically conquer and/or directly rule large numbers of alien people having different cultures and languages for long time periods.

In a contrarian view, however, it could be argued a nation can have influence without conquering and then controlling an area with its own officials.  A country can achieve this with occasional military interventions, economic aid, business investment, and the half-hidden mechanisms of “informal empire.”

In the Caribbean, Latin America, and elsewhere in the world today, American political power can indeed persuade people to make decisions they otherwise might not make (although we could argue that influence is declining). In this light, comparing the United States with past empires is indeed sound.

Glubb Pasha wrote that different empires have similar cultural changes while experiencing a life cycle in a series of stages that can overlap. He generalized empires evolve through seven stages:

  1. The age of outburst (or pioneers)
  2. The age of conquests 
  3. The age of commerce 
  4. The age of affluence 
  5. The age of intellect 
  6. The age of decadence 
  7. The age of decline and collapse. 

Each stage helps to lead to the next as the values of the empire’s people and culture change over time. Military, political, economic, and religious developments all influence an empire’s people to act and believe differently as time passes.

In the first two stages (outburst and conquest), the warrior’s adventuresome and manly values cause the empire to gain power as it conquers land from others.

Later, during the commerce and affluence stages, businessmen take over at the highest levels of society.  These business leaders value material success and tend to dislike unnecessary risks.  Society begins to downplay the values of the warrior.  According to Glubb Pasha, this occurs not “from motives of conscience, but rather because of the weakening of a sense of duty in citizens and the increase in selfishness, manifested in the desire for wealth and ease.”


During these middle stages, empires stop taking more land and start building walls, going from the offensive to the defensive.  Historical examples include the wall near the Scottish border built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep barbarians out, the Great Wall of China, and even twentieth-century France’s Maginot line.

silkroadConquest and business investment promoted by the empire’s unity built wealth which gives birth to the age of intellect.  Even the brutal Mongol Empire who dominated most of Asia encouraged trade across Eurasia’s famed Silk Road.  During this fifth stage, the empire’s leaders spend massive amounts of money to establish educational institutions.

So begins the age of intellect.  Schools may produce skeptical intellectuals who opposed the values and religious beliefs of the empires’ early leaders. For example, the medieval Muslim philosophers Avicenna and Averroes accepted much of the ancient Greek philosophy, and were not orthodox in their belief. Scholars managed schools that taught the ruling class and select members of the middle class subjects that were either oriented toward financial success (M.B.A) or simply impractical.  In the Roman Empire, teachers taught rhetoric when emotionally persuading assemblies was no longer of political value. Yet in the early Roman Republic, students received a basic education that stressed character development and virtue.

This material success in stages 3-5 has a corrosive effect—historically people begin to discard the self-confident, self-disciplined values that created the empire and so begins stage 6 or decadence. In stage 7 the empire collapses—perhaps via an outside power, the barbarians in Rome’s case, or an energetic internal force, the pro-capitalist reformers in the former Soviet Union.

The growth of wealth and comfort tends to undermine the values of character that led to a given empire’s creation through self-sacrifice and discipline. The empire is affected by moral decline and grows weaker and more subject to destruction by internal and/or external forces. Ponder ancient Israel where the Israelites were warned against departing from their moral laws when they became materially satisfied after entering the Promised Land (Deut. 8:11-15, 17-18; 31:20).

So where does America fall on the seven stages mentioned above?  We have only been independent from Britain for just over two centuries. Glubb Pasha does note “In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness [and this] has not varied for 3,000 years.” [see Histo-Map below]

images-10We are a young nation compared to those of Europe or Asia. But, does America today have the same values or cultural developments that past empires such as Rome before they fell? I ponder our nation’s heroes today.  Who do we admire collectively? Do our heroes reflect where we are on the seven stages of empire?

Is there value to the study of empire or am I simply a “hammer looking for a nail” (to quote a good friend from earlier today)?  Stand by for more posts as we comb through Sir John Glubb Pasha “The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival.”



8 Replies to “The “Enlightened Rebel’s” Guide to Empire: DeMarco Banter”

  1. If the health of a nation, or empire, was measured by its waistlines then America somehow flew straight through intellect into decadence. Someone once mentioned to me he had read that the decline of Rome was preceded by a rise in celebrity chefs and entertainers. If that is so, then the fall is fast approaching.

    1. Roger: you are right…the rise of celebrity is indicative of decline. I’m working another post on Empire now

      J. William “Bill” DeMarco


      1. Took a few moments while preparing dinner to reflect on America’s transformation. I might contend that its age of intelligence reached its pinnacle in 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Watched a documentary about the space program a year ago. Something was not sitting right about the images I was seeing and mid-way through it finally dawned on me what it was that was not computing for me – there was not one single obese person, let alone overweight person, to be seen in that footage. Has there been a national focus and effort of that kind since? Looking forward to reading your next Empire post.

      2. Interesting thought and I think I concur with the age of intelligence Have you seen The Story of Us on the History channel? It is on iTunes as well a 13 part mini-series on America since Plymouth and Jamestown GREAT piece of work, but what struck me watching the entire thing is what made us great was ALWAYS trying to get better and reach further. Are we doing that today? In what ways?

      3. Yes, HIstory Channel Europe has run it over here as well. Saw pieces of it. Agree with you about the core message of the program. A lot was accomplished under the “ruthless”, visionary leadership of men like Carnegie and Edison who set about executing nation changing programs. Which “ruthless” visionary of the recent decades has put into action a project that is truly life changing for the better for the masses?

  2. We are trying to get better at letting our government take care of its people. The people are getting better at taking their hand-out. The rest of us are getting better at being lulled into an impending misery caused by lack of action from those who know better and an affirmation by a vocal minority who now run this nation.

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