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The American Empire: A Subtle Transition

The American Empire: A Subtle Transition

My study, Rise and Fall of the American Empire to be published in January 2022 by En Route Books and Media, publisher of my recent book, Ennobling Encounters, is based on a premise: The country that was new in 1789, when its Constitutional order was ratified, no longer exists.

As a consequence, the written Constitution of the United States which intended to order and organize our politics has been challenged to a breaking point.

That development was hastened by the collapse in 1991 of America’s nemesis, the Soviet Union. But tensions and divisions in American society had been long coming largely as a consequence of the many wars of the 20th century.

War hastens the growth of “the State,” Michael Barone concludes in his magisterial study of the role of government from the New Deal to the election of Ronald Reagan. “World War II, not the New Deal, produced big government in America – with steeply progressive taxes and increased interference in the details of people’s daily lives.”[1]

By the time the United States was engaged in a war in Vietnam, all the ingredients for an American Empire were in place. All that was necessary to effect that change was a change in the character of American citizens.

The power, social and political order of an American Empire has taken command – I estimate from the period of anti-Vietnam war protests in 1968 – and the United States has entered the equivalent of a Hundred Years War.

From 1337 to 1453, France and England fought for control of France, in what is called the Hundred Years War. Though we think of England as “British,” William the Conqueror was from Normandy (thus the name “Norman Conquest”) and memories of ties to France of English kings were still fresh.

A century in historical time defines what we call an “Era,” and the United States is well along the way in transformation of its original character as a democratic Republic into an era of Empire.

If an aspiring American Emperor, Donald Trump, can call Impeachment proceedings “Treason,” then we know that we elected an Emperor, not a President of a democratic Republic who had no intention of leaving office. That, of course, is treasonous and the Presidential election of 2024 may form the future course of American government for a hundred years.

If the worst case possible occurs, we will enter a period of civil war similar to that experienced by Spain.

But we get ahead of our story. We must begin by defining what we mean by American Empire.

We do not mean territorial control like that of the British Empire.

Niall Ferguson explores the rise of a British world order begun in “a maelstrom of seaborne violence and theft” expanding in migration of indentured servants and then the sale of slaves.[2] Then came escape from religious restrictions in England by Protestant “Puritans.” That is the juncture in time when we pick up the American aspect of our story of the journey toward an American Empire. Between the founding of Massachusetts Bay colony by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and formation of a Constitutional order in 1787, and today, something subtly changed the priorities of American citizen.

Ambitious citizens among us redirected their lives.

Where before, the ambitious among our young aspired to elective office hoping to join the ranks of America’s greatest statesmen, they now quickly conclude that the rewards of elective office in an Empire are insufficient to the demands. Others motivated by ideology, or simply desiring to “do good,” seek employment in the opportunity-rich public sector.

From that perspective, even politicians who desired to restrain the Imperial Powers of Empire and spoke longingly of a return to limited government were themselves symptomatic of structural changes in the political “system.”

A prime example is the former actor, Ronald Reagan.

Despite continual references to fundamental principles of the Constitution, President Reagan’s appeal and electability derived not from his advocacy of limited government, but from his celebrity. And once in office, representatives of the Imperial order were designated to run the American government.

Forty years after Ronald Reagan assumed office in 1981, we see a struggle by representatives of the Big Government Party successfully constrain the drive for Imperial power by another Celebrity President.

Though their roles have been reversed, the Big Government Party merely pretends to want to constrain the Emperor while actually lusting to take his place.

That transformation from a democratic Republic into Empire was little noticed. Yet the signs were evident by the inability of the defenders of traditional order to generate effective leaders.

What makes members of the Congress of the United States and Governors of American States ineffective in opposition to growth of an American Empire will be examined by reference to the origins of our Constitutional order and historical events that shaped a vast and intrusive administrative State that, now, is beyond the control of elected members of the federal government.

Transition from a nation of “Governors” and “governed” to one of “Ruler” and “ruled” is at the heart of the American Empire. 



[1] Michael Barone, Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan, (New York, The Free Press, 1990.), p. 154.

[2] Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), p. 1.



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