Book Review – Chua, Day of Empire
Chua, Amy, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Power and Why They Fall (2007 Hrdbk, 2008 ppbk. 396 pp.)
A paperback of this title was kindly provided by the publisher for review.
Warning: 9,000+ words ahead!
While drafting a 2006 chicagoboyz review of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), I was very impressed with the value of the concepts she introduced and her superior writing style. I had heard of her more recent book but the pace of the past few years had largely halted my book reviewing.
So I’m late to the game with Day of Empire (DOE). The publication of the paperback version of the book triggered one of Amazon.com’s oft-fatal “As someone who has purchased or rated X, you might like to know that Y has just been published …” notices in my In-Box. Based on World on Fire and Amazon’s summary blurb of the more recent book, it seemed well worth reading. I’ve purposely avoided reading any reviews of the book by other writers.
In World on Fire, Professor Chua introduced the concept of market-dominant minorities … influential groups who are resistant to change (including democratic change) that may affect their economic status in developing nations.
The concept could also be used to describe Israel and America’s impact at a regional and global level (respectively) … i.e., nations that influence the pace and direction of disruptive change for a skeptical (when not actively resistant) world.
Quoting Professor Chua in her previous book:
This book is about a phenomenon – pervasive outside the West yet rarely acknowledged, indeed often viewed as taboo – that turns free market democracy into an engine of ethnic conflagration. The phenomenon I refer to is that of market-dominant minorities: ethnic minorities who, for widely varying reasons, tend under market conditions to dominate economically, often to a startling extent, the “indigenous” majorities around them.
Day of Empire is Professor Chua’s “big picture” history book exploring a different kind of dominance … that of the largest powers across the last 2,500 years of world history. Joining the flood of recent books on American imperialism and America’s future on the world stage, Day of Empire looks at the country’s dominant role in the world by matching its story against that of history’s other “hyperpowers.” (orig. hyperpuissance – the French neologism/slur).
Is there a common reason why hyperpowers arise? Do they share a pattern in their fall from the pinnacle?
Professor Chua believes she has found some answers to those questions. Her central thesis is that all hyperpowers in human history have displayed social tolerance as a necessary (though not entirely sufficient) cause of their rise and dominance. Periods of subsequent social intolerance have been instrumental in their fall. In some cases, such tolerance (too little, too late or too much, too soon) can actually hasten a hyperpower’s demise. If true, the implications for post-Cold War America warrant discussion.
In her words (p. xxi):
For all their enormous differences, every single world hyperpower in history – ever society that could even arguably be described as having achieved global hegemony – was, at least by the standards of its time, extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant during its rise to pre-eminence. Indeed, in every case tolerance was indispensible to the achievement of hegemony. Just as strikingly, the decline of empire has repeatedly coincided with intolerance, xenophobia, and calls for racial, religious, or ethnic “purity.” But here’s the catch: It was also tolerance that sowed the seeds of decline. In virtually every case, tolerance eventually hit a tipping point, triggering conflict, hatred, and violence.
A word on approach: “big picture” histories for the general reader necessarily have a “drive-by” feel since only a limited number of citations and references appear in end notes. The author can rarely inform us of what was read but not used. Much must be left out or over-generalized to keep the book length within reason.
A review of such a book ends up being a “drive-by of a drive-by.” I’ve tried to accommodate that reality by first glossing the book’s contents with minimal commentary, then picking a few examples of where I think the author’s “drive-by” was less than successful, and finally by addressing the bigger themes and hypotheses of the book directly. When I hit 18 pages of reading notes, the phrase “exhaustive review” kept coming to mind. Time to focus. I’m not entirely happy with the results but I am happy to chat separately about details of any given section of this book with other readers of Day of Empire. Apologies offered where apologies are owed.
In tandem with her thesis about the role of tolerance in the emergence and subsequent fall of hyperpowers, the author notes that successful hyperpowers must have some kind of “glue” that successfully binds the governing and the governed. If not co-operation and participation, then hyperpowers at least require acquiescence from the people they control.
The author sets the stage with an introductory chapter that defines “hyperpower” for purposes of her book. She also establishes the criteria of “tolerance” that we can identify in past periods, attempting to avoid anachronistic standards of who and what should be tolerated. In order to build as wide a study set of hyperpowers as possible, avoiding “selection bias,” Chua is generous in defining, and including, historical examples of hyperpowers.
What follows, as indicated by the table of contents below, is a book organized in a temporal sequence from the pre-modern and Enlightenment hyperpowers through to the modern era. Germany and Japan are used as case studies of modern intolerant societies that didn’t quite cut it. “What not to do,” as it were. A chapter looks at China, the EU, and India and discusses whether they have the potential to be hyperpowers in future. Professor Chua concludes with what her hypothesis means for America and her recommendations for American immigration, economic and foreign policy.
Table of Contents
Part I The Tolerance of Barbarians
c.1 First Hegemon (Achaemenid Persia)
c.2 Tolerance in Rome’s High Empire
c.3 China’s Golden Age (Tang)
c.4 Great Mongol Empire
Part 2 “Enlightening of Tolerance”
c.5 The Purification of Medieval Spain
c.6 The Dutch World Empire
c.7 Tolerance and Intolerance in the East (Ming/Ottoman/Mughal)
c.8 The British Empire
Part 3 The Future of World Dominance
c.9 The American Hyperpower
c.10 The Rise and Fall of Axis Powers (Germany/Japan)
c.11 The Challengers (Main Rivals of the US Today – China, EU, India)
c.12 The Day of Empire (Lessons of the Past for the 21st Century)
Terms of Art
First off, the key terms used in DOE.
A hyperpower’s power:
- clearly surpasses that of all its known contemporary rivals.
- Is not clearly inferior in economic/military strength to any other power on the planet, known to it or not.
- projects power over so immense an area of the globe and over so immense a population that it breaks the bounds of mere local or even regional pre-eminence.
For Chua, the kicker is always whether a power had formidable rivals of roughly comparable might. Louis XIV’s France, the Hapsburg Empire, and the United States during the Cold War thus don’t qualify.
Tolerance, for the author’s purposes, does not mean the modern, human-rights sense of the word. Nor political or cultural equality amongst subjects.
… tolerance simply means letting very different kinds of people live, work, and prosper in your society – even if only for instrumental or strategic reasons. To define the term a little more formally, tolerance in this book will refer to the degree of freedom with which individuals or groups of different ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic, or other backgrounds are permitted to coexist, participate, and rise in society. … Tolerance in this sense does not imply respect. … They key concept is relative tolerance. In the race for world dominance, what matters most is not whether a society is tolerant according to some absolute, timeless standard, but whether it is more tolerant than its competitors. … I am not arguing that tolerance is a sufficient condition for world dominance … Rather, I am arguing that tolerance is a necessary condition for world dominance. Conversely, I am also arguing that intolerance is starkly associated with the decline of hyperpowers. Here, however, separating cause from effect is more problematic. It is often difficult to say whether intolerance leads to decline, or whether intolerance is a by-product of decline. In most cases, both propositions are probably true.
Hyperpowers – The Early Years
The first power examined by the author is Achaemenid Persia [550-330 BCE] … the culture which gave the Greeks such a headache during the Classical period.
The Persians complemented a formidable army with respect for the religious beliefs of conquered parties (including their predecessors, the Babylonians). The extent of their empire, and the wealth and cosmopolitan nature of their capital cities, was unprecedented. In the course of expansion to the shores of the Mediterranean, they assembled an army and navy of diverse ethnic origins drawn from the peoples of the region. Though they co-opted the ruling elites of their empire through the use of satrapy, they engendered limited loyalty from their subjects. When Alexander the Great defeated Persian armies in a series of major battles, the entire empire simply converted to Greek suzerainty and after Alexander’s death into three smaller kingships.
The next hyperpower discussed is Rome’s Western Empire [~700 BCE – 476 CE]. Chua takes the unusual step of restricting her evaluation of the Roman Empire to the imperial period of the so-called “good emperors” – the Spanish-based Nervan-Antonian dynasty [96 – 192 CE] clique that began with Trajan and continued through Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Rome established a large, wealthy and cosmopolitan city that included a wide array of religious and ethnic groups. Its wealth was staggering and reflected wholesale adoption of many influences from earlier Mediterranean cultures, most notably the Greeks and Egyptians. Its empire stretched from Scotland south to Morocco, east to the Euphrates and north to Romania. Subsequently, the adoption of Christianity set the Roman Empire on a collision course with the religious beliefs of many of its subjects. The empire was subjected to increasing assault or rebellion by pagan or heretic ethnic groups, culminating with the Vandal sacking of Rome … and the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476AD. The eastern empire (though surviving until 1453 CE as a rump in Constantinople) was never to achieve the expanse and dominance of the empire of the early imperial period.
Next up is the Tang Empire [690 – 907 CE] which established itself after a period of turmoil in China and set about creating a tolerant capital city in Chang’an with active participation of western peoples and strong ties along the Silk Road that exposed China to a number of peoples and technologies. Prosperity and economic development in China was substantial. A series of poor rulers reduced toleration for foreign ideas and religious pluralism. The relegation of western defense to non-Chinese generals and troops left the Tang open to external threat and the eventual decay and split of the country.
Through a period of intense consolidation, Temujin (known to us a Genghis Khan) welded together a confederation of Mongol tribes that were to dominate Asian history in one form another for several centuries as the Mongol Empire [~1215 – 1368 CE]. Through a “yield or die” military philosophy, the Khan was able to acquire the military engineering talent from the Chinese to tackle fortified cities in eastern and southern China. It was left to Genghis’ sons and relatives to move their military hordes west to Russia, southwest into the Middle East (and eventually India), and south into China. It took several generations for the Mongols to complete their conquest of China. An invasion of Japan was only halted by a typhoon, and the invasion of Europe was halted by the death of a Khan (Ogodei in 1241) which required a gathering in east Asia for the selection of his replacement. The Mongols were notable for their religious and cultural tolerance in the operation and maintenance of their empire. Religious leaders were given imperial protection and were invited as guests to extended religious debates.
As illiterates themselves, the bureaucratic hierarchy of the Mongols was populated by skilled people from many different ethnic backgrounds. Because the Mongols military success did not evolve out of an agricultural society, their adoption of settled ways and prosperity required changes to their culture. Some khans were more pleasure-loving than others. Some were more willing to adopt the habits and traditions of their subjects (e.g. Chinese and Islamic). Eventually there was an imperial struggle to maintain Mongol identity through setting aside certain benefits and powers only for Mongols. The grievances of the subject peoples were to lead to the overthrow and expulsion of Mongol rule.
Hyperpower in the Age of Enlightenment
The medieval Spaniards of the 16th and 17th centuries certainly seemed to warrant inclusion amongst the hyperpowers of history. Along with the Portuguese, they dominated vast stretches of the Americas and Asia. The Pacific was virtually a Spanish lake for two centuries. Vast quantities of gold, silver, and gems were extracted from New World mines and a series of far-flung outposts across southeast Asia were linked continuously by annual galleon voyages from the Far East to Acapulco. Unfortunately, the successful reconquest of Spain from the Moors in the late 15th century had kicked off a period of substantial religious and cultural intolerance by the Spanish royalty. The Reformation sweeping Europe gave an additional religious basis for traditional warfare and antagonism against rival kingdoms. While Spain was afloat in money from its dominions, its domestic economy and its mercantile foundation were essentially bankrupt. Its attempted suppression of rebellion and heresy in the Netherlands and England were famously unsuccessful … and famously blood-thirsty. By 1600, the Spanish capacity to control the oceans of the world was limited, and by the 18th century it had little or no ability to limit the expansion and success of its Dutch, French, and English rivals. An inability to follow other European countries into the Industrial Revolution and deploy capital and technology to its far-flung colonies brought an end to its hyperpower status.
Chapter 6 outlines the amazing story of how the 17th century Dutch came to dominate the south Asian trade routes and establish colonies in the Caribbean, South Africa, and southeast Asia. Breakthroughs in banking, manufacture and shipbuilding were supported and accelerated by a tolerant urban environment, filled with people escaping religious persecution in other parts of Europe. Antwerp and then Amsterdam became the economic inheritors of the northern Italian city-state trading republics such as Venice, Genoa, and Florence, who were cut out of the profitable Asian trade network. The establishment of the Dutch East India and Dutch West India Company provided a model of investment and insurance for the transport of high-value, low-weight products … the foods, spices, silks and precious objects once controlled by the Silk Road trade. The result of this mixture of cultural tolerance with economic innovation was an unprecedented explosion in per capita wealth. The Dutch, through circumstances of geography, were able to hold off the attacks from Spanish and French land armies and trounce their naval competitors, including the up-and-coming English. Ironically, it was the invasion of England (1687) by William of Orange in support of Protestant factions that was to lead to a drop-off in Dutch wealth and influence. William was to bring many of his best soldiers, naval architects, bureaucrats, and bankers to London … and the tools of the stock market and the limited company were quickly to establish London as the new centre of oceanic trade.
In Chapter 7, the author takes a modest detour to look at roughly contemporaneous empires in the East that might have aspired to hyperpower status: the Ottoman empire, the Ming dynasty, and the Mughal Empire of India. These were substantial empires stretching across centuries and over vast areas. After initial military successes, often over different ethnicities than the conquering culture, an immediate choice had to be made between confrontation and accommodation with differing religions and ethnic groups. All three were to take advantage of trading, military, and bureaucratic talents amongst their “captive” peoples. All three were subject to the vagaries of dynastic politics. Tolerant or intolerant rulers could exacerbate tensions amongst the elite or with their subjects. And, as related by Chua, all three were to reach a point of stagnation that left them vulnerable to external forces. For the Ottomans, it was the turmoil of WW1, for the Ming it was the appearance of the Manchu, and for the Mughals, it was to be the British and French who were to take advantage.
With Chapter 8, DOE returns to England … more secure from continental invasion than the Dutch, now irrevocably a Protestant nation after the expulsion of the Stewarts after the Glorious Revolution. It became a haven for Protestants after the expulsion of the Huguenots from France and other parts of Europe. After almost four hundreds years’ absence, Jews were allowed to return to England under Cromwell, and moreso after William of Orange’s kingship. England was also at the sweet spot of scientific and technological development (Newton’s Principia was published in 1687) leading to the Industrial Revolution. With a large agricultural hinterland, and large supplies of high quality coal, England was able to leverage its relative tolerance for the skilled of every ethnic and religious background into rapid economic and military growth. Professor Chua’s description of the rise and fall of the British Empire will be more familiar to general readers than earlier hyperpowers, if only for the fact that Day of Empire is written in English for a developed world that largely speaks English because of Britain’s imperial appetites.
America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa, India, Singapore, Hong Kong. All British colonies or outposts. Great Britain was to dominate the world’s oceans for roughly two centuries. The author recounts the rapid (and unprecedentedly large) migrations to North America, south Africa, and Australasia supported by the tolerance for immigrants, first from the United Kingdom, then from northern Europe, then from southern and eastern Europe, and finally from Asia.
Great Britain had initial success in the 18th century taking advantage disintegrating powers in North America, South Africa and India. But its domestic tolerance in the 19th century was not to be duplicated in its non-white colonies. Great Britain in the mid-19th century was to push vigorously into Africa and east Asia in ways that were to highlight the practical limits of its wealth, demography, and the application of force.
A substantial portion of the chapter on Britain’s imperial rise and fall is dominated by the struggles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to accommodate the Indian elites. They wanted to be treated on a equal standing with the white colonies in North America and Australasia which had largely been given some substantial form of self-governance by the third quarter of the century. Set against the background of the Indian Mutiny, the removal of the East India Company from Indian governance, and the decisions made about investment in the industrialization of India, the story of Great Britain’s rule and eventual departure from India makes sad reading.
According to Professor Chua, the British Empire’s limited tolerance toward its non-white subjects was also a determinant in its success as a hyperpower. After WW2, the British departed their colonial outposts … in some case rapidly, in other cases at a more measured pace. The colonies themselves were often left to their own devices.
The story of the United States and the modern condition of “hyperpower” is set out in Part 3 of DOE, and kicks off with chapter 9 on the history of the United States’ growth from a cluster of seaboard colonies to global dominance.
The English colonies of the New World were often a refuge from the religious controversies of the Old. Dissenters from the Church of England were noteworthy participants in early colonies. The settlers, however, were often intolerant of religious diversity and there was a tendency for each colony to establish official Churches and encourage people to leave if they didn’t like it. As the 17th century shifted to the 18th century, and the demand for skilled labour in the colonies became crucial, economic issues trumped sectarian purity. The influence of Enlightenment thinking (and the local religious variations of the Great Awakening) led to a loosening of prejudices about religious belief. Immigrants from northern Europe (largely Protestant) began making a significant appearance in the American colonies and western frontiers.
The toleration for white Christians didn’t extend to native Americans and enslaved blacks, however.
Moving into the 19th century, and the opening phases of American industrialization, the urbanization of the country required a new wave of immigrants. Anti-Catholic riots took place in the 1830s and 1840s and nativist political movements were in full force by mid-century. The Civil War played a role in re-organizing the lines of tolerance within the United States, and saw the emergence of massive political machines in the big cities designed to trade votes for access to city budgets.
Westward development of the nation was a lop-sided competition between Stone Age and industrial technology and little or no attention was paid to native concerns. The scale of immigration to North America from Europe and Africa vastly outpaced that to South America and Australasia.
As the continental United States changed into an agricultural and industrial (mining/timber) goliath, the Spanish empire was tottering on its last legs in Meso- and South America. In the Far East, a new wave of European trade expansion was taking place as trade for raw materials was replaced by the race to industrialize the region (Japan having taking the earliest steps in this direction).
The Spanish-American War and the Great White Fleet were to convert America from an international trading power to an international colonial and military power.
As the 19th turned to the 20th centuries, the turmoil of WW1 weakened European colonial powers. It also stimulated new kinds of national decisions for the U.S. “Nationalist passions” triggered a wave of immigration laws that fixed the ratios of immigrant origins to those found in the 1890 census. The result was a reduction and refocusing of U.S. immigration that was largely to stay in place until the mid-60s.
The Second World War, like the Civil War and World War I before it, went some way towards homogenizing American culture and reducing the inter-ethnic prejudices of the soldiers who fought in it. A devastated and impoverished Europe ceased to the be centre of the world economy and was replaced by an American economic and technological dominance that was to last for some decades. Indeed, it persists on a per-capita basis to the present day.
The massive development of military prowess by America in the Second World War, culminating in the development of the atomic bomb, was extensively assisted by European émigrés, often escaping religious/ethnic persecution on the Continent.
The impact of the War and the new immigrants on America’s international scientific and academic role was substantial.
The more recent changes in civil rights and college admissions policies which changed the United States in the 1960s need not be repeated here though the details (from the perspective of increasing tolerance and increasing US wealth) are covered in DOE. Obviously, the original publication date of the book (2007) forestalls a discussion of the current economic turbulence, and the dominance of the Democratic party in the legislative and executive branches. The chapter wraps with a discussion of the role of immigrants in the development of Silicon Valley and computer/software industry – the information race which followed the atomic and space race. The impact on America’s global influence is discussed briefly. Professor Chua notes that roughly 2/3 of the richest 400 people in America acquired that wealth entirely in their own generation.
Turning briefly from America, the author jumps back to the middle of the 20th century. Chapter 10 looks at how Germany and Japan’s intolerance affected their military success.
Germany, having built a political movement on the back of cleansing Germany of non-Aryan elements, was hardly able to treat conquered peoples in the European East as active partners. The ethnic groups released from Russian domination had a great deal of goodwill toward the Germans, which was rapidly wasted and abused. The manpower and intellectual capacity that might have fueled a more powerful military machine (within fewer internal security issues) was suppressed, murdered, or expelled.
In the Far East, the Japanese aspiration for a Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere quickly ran aground on their treatment of the people of southeast Asia, especially the educated and commercial classes in the various European colonies that they took over. Just like the Germans, they suppressed or killed the very people that could have maintained or enhanced the economic structure of their conquests. Chua outlines the very different Japanese approach in Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony from the turn of the 20th century. There, the Japanese invested in education and economic development, and provided a social stability that was to still influence Taiwanese thinking after WW2.
Ultimately, from Chua’s perspective, it was Germany and Japan’s intolerance (in contrast, say, to the Mongols active engagement with the skilled amongst those they conquered) that was central to their undoing as potential hyperpowers.
In Chapter 11, we return to the present day, and a consideration of potential challengers to the American hyperpower – China, the EU, and India.
China is economically resurging and by rights should have all the elements at hand for hyperpower status. It has a massive population, an educational and industrial growth plan modelled on successful European and Japanese development, a huge unexploited base of natural resources, a long seacoast, etc. etc. Applying the author’s central premise, however, China is not set up to become a magnet for the best and brightest from the rest of the world. Though open to the world in ways unseen since the Tang dynasty, there is still an exclusivity to Han cultural identity. Expatriates in China may be very successful but there’s no sense that they will become Chinese, in identity or citizenship. Chua does see China as a likely superpower, and therefore a likely participant in a bipolar world elevated beside the U.S. Its potential as a hyperpower, assuming the book’s thesis is correct, is constrained.
For the EU, its successful tolerance has focused on the inclusion of entire nations into its economic consortium rather than outreach to individuals drawn from outside Europe. European stability and peace has led to substantial prosperity. That has led to an increased appetite to act as a countervailing force and an alternative to the American model of development and modernity. Applying her hyperpower model of tolerance however, Professor Chua notes that EU strategic tolerance appears to have reached its limits with neighbours such as Turkey. And the EU has had noticeably less success in accommodating immigrants, either those from the Islamic and African nations, or those drawn to high-tech or skilled occupations from Asia. Europe’s shortage of skilled labour is ongoing and an increasing problem. Europe’s constraint on becoming a hyperpower therefore comes from its limited inclusiveness. It is designed to welcome in largely white, Christian (or perhaps post-Christian) neighbouring nations.
As for India, the author notes the tremendous potential of the nation, successfully tolerant of a multiplicity of languages and religions. India has a young population, widely educated in English with a cadre of excellent scientists, engineers and scholars. Nonetheless, 80% of the population lives on $2/day or less. India’s growth has largely come through the service industry rather than manufacturing (the reverse of China). Thus India’s future as a hyperpower, attracting the world’s talents to it, are problematic in the near and medium term.
The final chapter of DOE focuses on the post-Cold War American hyperpower, whether an American empire is desirable, and the way forward to continued “opportunity, dynamism, and moral force.”
Chua does recognize the schizophrenic/adolescent attitude of the much of the world toward the U.S. … which might be summarized as “I hate you, now give me and my extended family a visa.”
The truth, particularly in poorer parts of the world, is that attitudes toward the United States – are deeply schizophrenic – a perverse blend of admiration and envy on one hand and seething hatred and contempt on the other. For millions of Bolivians, Nigerians, Moroccans, and Indonesians around the world, America is arrogant, greedy, preachy, and hypocritical – but also where they would go if only they could. A student in Beijing summarized this attitude nicely. A few weeks after joining other students in a stone-throwing protest in front of the US embassy, he returned to apply for a US visa. Interviewed by US News and World Report, he explained that he was hoping to attend graduate school in America. “If I could have good opportunities in the U.S.,” he said, “I wouldn’t mind U.S. hegemony too much.”
But she is optimistic that there is a way to cope with this. Democratic world government may be over-idealistic, but there are many ways that America can be less irritating to the world’s sensibilities.
Chua believes a great deal of global good will toward the U.S. has been lost in the past two decades (not to mention that last fifty years). For her, there should be no American imperium (per the arguments to the contrary of many commentators on Left and Right soon after 9/11).
She re-iterates that America is a “nation of immigrants” with only fleeting imperialist moments. It is more on the Dutch model than the British or Roman. The positive family ties of people who consider the U.S. a second “home” for their extended family should be encouraged. America must deal successfully with three contentious issues: open immigration, non-isolationism, and multilateralism. Engaging local elites overseas and participating actively in the resolution of global problems are the means by which America can sustain a hyperpower position, though not one underpinned with coercion and military force.
Some quotes from the author:
This, then is America’s dilemma. Inside its borders, the United States has over time proven uniquely successful in creating an ethnically and religiously neutral political identity capable of uniting as Americans individuals of all backgrounds from every corner of the world. But America does not exert power only over Americans. Outside its borders there is no political glue binding the United States to the billions of people who live under its shadow. […]
First, if the history of hyperpowers has shown anything, it is the danger of xenophobic backlash. Time and again, past world-dominant powers have fallen precisely when their core groups turned intolerant, reasserting their “true” or “pure” identity and adopting exclusionary policies toward “unassimilable” groups. From this point of view, attempts to demonize immigrants or to attribute America’s success to “Anglo-Protestant” virtues is not only misleading (neither the atomic bomb nor Silicon alley was particularly “Anglo-Protestant” in origin) but dangerous.
[…] If America can rediscover the path that has been the secret to its success since its founding and avoid the temptations of empire building, it could remain the world’s hyperpower in the decades to come – not a hyperpower of coercion and military force, but a hyperpower of opportunity, dynamism, and moral force.
That, in an overly-simplified nutshell, is the 334 pages of narrative of Day of Empire.
In any book of such geographic and historical breadth, there’s bound to be bloopers or non-sequiturs. Since history isn’t Professor Chua’s profession (as best I can tell, she was educated at the undergraduate level in economics and has a J.D.), she must depend for raw material on the works of people from other disciplines. When covering 2500 years of global history, that inevitably means picking and choosing from a handful of source titles from each of the candidate powers and ignoring the contentious debates over historiography in the second half of the 20th century.
There are two limitations with this approach. Has the author read enough to be accurate? Has the author read enough to avoid embarrassing over-emphases or oversights? The obvious way to overcome those limitations is to get specialists to review sections of the book manuscript discussing their particular time period, and give a qualified collegial “thumbs up” on specifics and generalities.
Unfortunately the Acknowledgements section of DOE does not break out individuals by specialty or profession, so it’s impossible to know if Professor Chua’s manuscript got some academic “rough wooing” before publication. More particularly, how many historians reviewed the final manuscript?
Did they dismiss the term “hyperpower” out of hand? Did they suggest key modifications and why? Did they question any or all of the final tally of candidate powers? Did they recommend dropping some? Did they ask for a crisper definition of tolerance that would remove arbitrary evaluations of what was and what wasn’t a toleration of significance?
The methods of history largely involve using the vocabulary of any given speciality for a better evaluation of facts … or making a major modification to such vocabulary based on improved explanatory utility. In this case, does the term “hyperpower” give us any new insight that we wouldn’t have had in looking at powers or civilizations in general? Is there any difference in essential quality/nature (versus size) between hyperpowers and great powers? Are we employing 20/20 hindsight with an arbitrary term for arbitrary, perhaps anachronistic, purposes? As for “tolerance,” are we elevating practical expediency beyond its natural role in military success … to the level of a distinctly modern virtue?
The two key challenges for a book that introduces nebulous terms (i.e., hyperpower and tolerance) in its central thesis is to avoid (1) category errors (for placement of facts) and (2) “ confirmation bias”.
In defining “hyperpower,” we want to make sure all the candidate powers actually have something unique in common. Whale sharks and grizzly bears are the biggest fish and mammal, respectively, in their environments. Their differences, however, vastly outweigh their similarities and its of limited value to call them “giganto-animals” and build a new ecological theory based on the term. In an attempt to avoid “selection bias” (perhaps more accurately described as “insufficient cases”), Professor Chua has added rather than subtracted from her pool of candidate powers. If the term “hyperpower” is stretched to embrace powers that are fundamentally different in nature, however, it will confound the results of any hunt for real similarities. The author owes us an explanation of why a new term is actually needed and how it actually improves our historical insight.
Do land-based military powers with sparser technology/economies (the Mongols, the Huns/Goths/Vandals) really deserve to be lumped in with technologically superior and wealthy powers that controlled strategic “commons” like Rome, Holland, England, or America? Irrespective of their success, are we to hold them to the same standard in the hunt for “tolerance”?
Would it not stand to reason that any cherry-picking we do in the hunt for signs of “tolerance” in the two types of powers distinguished above (for example) will have fundamental and significant differences in the challenges they face? If we “re-amalgamate” our discoveries back under a rubric, won’t that do violence to any lessons we might draw? If the conqueror lets you live because you can read, does that differ from when the conqueror lets you live because you can plant crops? Are we lumping ceramic bricks and bricks of butter and dreaming up new imaginary roles for “brickiness”?
Similarly, if we pick and choose the “winners” of the geopolitical sweepstakes, regardless of the economic, geographic, and technological circumstances that permitted an inordinate growth in a power’s size, we open ourselves to “finding what we’re looking for” and conveniently ignoring what we don’t want to find. It is human nature to suffer from confirmation bias, and the community of historians has methods for reducing the influence of such bias.
Finally, we’ve not addressed any aspect of causality in such circumstances. Finding a correlation and declaring its causal role (as opposed to proving the chain of causation) isn’t history, or science. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard biology professor used to refer to a creature’s attributes that could be attributed to the incidental side-effects of selective forces as spandrels.
Is “tolerance” a “spandrel” of political, economic, and military conquest, irrespective of the size (or even the ultimate success) of a conquering power? I’d say the answer is “yes” … unless strongly contrary evidence can be organized to prove otherwise.
If, as the professor notes:
[…]Conversely, I am also arguing that intolerance is starkly associated with the decline of hyperpowers. Here, however, separating cause from effect is more problematic. It is often difficult to say whether intolerance leads to decline, or whether intolerance is a by-product of decline. In most cases, both propositions are probably true.
Why not consider the obverse argument … that tolerance is an aid to expansion and likely the by-product of military success? Who’s afraid of the conclusively conquered?
Both of the potential errors mentioned above (categorization and confirmation bias) would require the careful help of fellow historians to constrain. In my reading of DOE, the qualifications to the thesis seem to come in the introductory section, the self-confident assertions of the thesis’ truth in the descriptive middle of the book, and the passionate prescriptive direction for American choices comes last.
Making a wild-assed guess on my part, it seems like Day of Empire was actually written backwards.
- The modern policy prescriptions for the maligned “hyperpower” first: open immigration irrespective of culture or socio-economic status, active engagement with the world and its problems, and multilateralism in foreign policy. They’d be unexceptional talking points for a speech from any Democratic Administration.
- Then a post-facto search was undertaken for a functional definition of hyperpower, followed by identification of potential candidates in history, using a very inclusive definition.
- The selected candidates were described, based on a handful of modern histories. Since those recent histories also obsess about many of the themes of modern life: racism, sexism, ethnic, and religious intolerance, they provide inadvertent, and possibly artificial, fodder for the book’s thesis.
- “Tolerance” (whether strategic, calculated, instrumental, or otherwise) was selectively highlighted at points in each power’s history that support the thesis. No effort was made to find tolerance that made no difference to hyperpower success. Nor to find intolerance that was critical to the hyperpower’s success. Nor was there much effort to more fully explain the tangential comment made in the Introduction … to wit, “[i]t is often difficult to say whether intolerance leads to decline, or whether intolerance is a by-product of decline.” (Yikes. Isn’t that the central issue of the whole book for the modern reader?)
- Then, however, my guess is that the author’s pre-publication readers started to raise caveats on the blanket assertions in the middle of the manuscript (e.g., just how tolerant were those Romans and Mongols? Are we comparing apples and oranges? Tolerating your serfs and castrated bureaucrats isn’t very significant tolerance. Etc. Etc.).
- Those caveats were retro-actively hedged in the Introduction by fudging the meaning of “hyperpower” and “tolerance” to the point where, frankly, the terms could pretty much mean whatever the author needed them to mean, at any given point. But that hedging of the Introduction never made it back into the middle and end of the book where the “rubber meets the road.” … where very conclusive statements were made about the role of tolerance (“necessary though insufficient”) for hyperpower success, despite repeated “scholars may disagree about the causes of decline” preambles.
The result, to my mind, is a book-length argument that recasts human history in potentially unneeded terms, for an essentially modern agenda. If one doesn’t accept the soundness of the terms, however, they become less compelling as useful terms in evaluating the past. If there are fundamental problems with the key vocabulary of the thesis, then the efforts to establish the thesis with the historical record, or extrapolate from the thesis to modern American policy prescriptions is fraught with problems. For example, if a hyperpower must clearly outpace any contemporary rivals, then America does not seem to have met the criteria of “hyperpower” until the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But DOE kicks off its America section centuries before any hint of hyperpower status. Does this imply that “tolerance” is an advantage at all points of the “power curve”? Or that the geographic, demographic and technological circumstances of America made “tolerance” unusually easy?
Similarly, we might quibble and say Rome was not a hyperpower because it fought unsuccessfully for centuries with the rich, literate Parthian and Sassanid civilizations on its eastern boundaries. It was obsessed about those eastern boundaries (having largely stabilized the southern and western boundaries). It relentlessly moved legions from the west to the east (to its great detriment) in an unsuccessful effort to take the Tigris-Euphrates once and for all. Turning to my own library, I was able to lay hands on two books used by Professor Chua (Balsdon’s Romans & Aliens and Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire [cb review] but quickly found others that better discussed the Roman sense of foreigners through the centuries as it related specifically to power (Mattern’s Rome and the Enemy, Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [cb review], and Williams’ Romans and Barbarians). Surely what the Romans thought themselves about any supposed “tolerance” and its relation to power, across hundreds of years, is worth noting in some detail. It’s not all about stereotypes about Celts and Greeks.
If, through careful attention to the definition of hyperpower, one reduces America to a historical finger-snap and Rome’s eastern stalemates to insignificance, why bother with the thesis at all from a prescriptive standpoint? To be a smartass for a minute, if the fall of the Berlin Wall was in 1989 and the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center by a culture with hyperpower aspirations was in 1993, just how long was America a hyperpower?
If being a hyperpower is really just a matter of the degree of power, geographical extent, or cultural/technical influence, then what (specifically) is the point at which it ceases to be merely a big power (operating one assumes under rules that do not require or support tolerance) and a hyperpower … which suddenly requires tolerance for success? These are questions that ideally should have been handled in detail somewhere in this book. Cause and effect. The distinction between powers. The separation of “tolerance,” per se, from the ordinary, and entirely unremarkable, nuts-and-bolts of power politics.
If the tolerance of a hyperpower’s ruling class or ethnic group can be hedged round by its calculating, instrumental, or strategic aspect, why not simply call it politics, economics, and military strategy? At least then we’d have centuries (rather than decades) of historical scholarship to draw upon and a wealth of historiographic tools to keep biases (entirely inadvertent) under control. As I say, I’m making a wild-assed and likely unfair guess about why the book’s assertiveness alters strangely, in the particular way and sequence that it does. Vague definitions, followed by ex nihilo assertions, wrapping with modern prescription.
Professor Chua wears her heart and her family biography on her sleeve. It makes her two books far more readable and her writing more lively and compelling. Having placed herself and her family’s history as brilliant, successful, recent immigrants within the structure of a “big picture” history book, however, she has an obligation to tease out the issue of causality and the specific relationship of tolerance and hyperpower, per se, with far more care. Having no family involved in the American’s hyperpower rise (if we can claim America as a hyperpower for longer than the last 20 years), she has nothing vested in the military conflicts that set one culture over another, one set of American values over another. For Official Victims of intolerance, there can be no good case for the American conquests, civil wars, expulsions, and exterminations that pre-date 1965. The grimmer foundations of hyper-power cannot be rooted in “tolerance” sprinkled like sand over the blood of the conquered and displaced.
Another option for the author beckons, however …
Just leave out the history and rationalize the “relative tolerance=hyperpower” argument on modern grounds as Francis Fukuyama did in Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity, and James Surowiecki did in The Wisdom of Crowds, and as Robert Wright attempted to do tautologically (in another “big picture” history book) in Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny .
There’s nothing wrong with making the stand-alone case that immigrants generally, or the specific immigrant groups she highlights herself — the Jews and Chinese –, are central to the success of America. The last few years have treated us to a parade of “How the Scots, Irish, Jews, etc. saved/created/built something or other of world-shaking significance.” Such 20/20 hindsight history is great fun when one’s own group is being praised, but it rarely rises to the status of great history. In style, such books share much with DOE. But this genre should be considered entertainment. As history it needs to be approached with great caution. Professor Chua’s first book is, if nothing else, a cautionary tale for “market-dominant minorities” out to write their own apologias. Who lives and dies, who eats and starves, is usually driven by wider forces than the cleverness and utility of tolerated minorities.
Unfortunately, during the reading of DOE, in any place where I actually knew the historical events in any detail, I could recall an act of strategic intolerance that was just as central to “hyperpower” success as any aspect of contemporaneous or comparative tolerance cited by the author. For every batch of Catholic Scots used as expendable shock troops by the English at the Plains of Abraham (“tolerance”), there was a wholesale expulsion of Acadian families from Canada to French Louisiana (“intolerance”). If I could find such instances, what could historical experts have found with a bit of digging? If I was very uneasy with the plastic application of the term “hyperpower,” how happy would a professional historian be … say a Jacques Barzun, or a David Landes?
If the growth, expansion, and decline of major powers have many influences, proving the role of tolerance requires more than picking wildly successful powers and putting our thumb on the balance in favour of palatable modern sensibilities. That’s like interviewing Powerball winners for their opinions on recent U.S. economy theory. The causal chain for tolerance and power expansion has to be built, in my opinion, with minor winners and losers, not just the show-stoppers (Rome, Nazi Germany).
I think Day of Empire would have been a career–killer for a junior historian. For a law professor at Yale University, it’s a work of major industry and creativity, presented with the clear writing style that made her earlier book a real pleasure. What should we make of it?
Get Me Rewrite!
After many hours and many versions of this review, I came to see Day of Empire as the first draft of a deeper argument about the present. One which Professor Chua telegraphs by mentioning her mystification at Samuel Huntington’s book Who Are We?. DOE is an effort to recast social success in terms of “niceness to the Other.”
Now you might think that a book about hyperpowers wouldn’t be able to overlook all the eggs violently broken in the course of making those massive omelettes. Most of the butchery and relentless cultural demolition driven by over-weening pride, religious proscription, cultural self-confidence, and technological superiority is glossed over … to race forward to the “good bits” where worthy minorities and captive peoples are given a seat at the table, or the foundry, or the library, or the warehouse, or in the army.
As a thought experiment, however, let’s turn the book’s emphasis on its head. Instead of starting with a vulnerable minority’s perspective, however, let’s begin by looking at an ambitious young sub-hyperpower, looking to make its mark on its nearby competitors. Preferably in a conclusive and fatal manner. What attributes of instrumental tolerance will it need? What level of agency can it expect to have? Is it in charge of its own destiny or is it at the mercy of geography, epidemic disease, diplomacy, crop failure, or the depth of the gene pool of the particular “thugocracy” at the top of its culture?
We might find that as it makes new conquests, the sub-hyperpower quickly outgrows the space that it can effectively populate by itself. Some few empires (Rome in western Europe, Britain in North America) had such a military and economic dominance over their conquests that they could literally reproduce their way to geographic dominance. But for our hypothetical sub-hyperpower, however, rather than replacing conquered neighbours wholesale, it must rule over them with some combination of military, political, and economic force. Depending on the foundations of its military success, an empire may be more developed that its defeated neighbours, or it may simply have gained its military advantage by demolishing the economic foundations of its neighbours (e.g., Mongols). Either way, suddenly it’s got a bunch of strangers to control and a bunch of kin back at home base that are looking forward to the easy life.
Those same kin are plotting industriously to knock off the current lineage at the top of the heap. A fine stand-by argument for such coups is that the current boss has “gone soft”, “gone native,” or both. So any protection extended to the conquered, by anyone beyond the original conquering or colonizing force, is potentially a deadly internal political liability. Onward through the centuries said sub-hyperpower goes, waxing and waning, butchering and being butchered, until that fine day comes when it has the military and economic power to scare the bejeebers out of everyone around it. For sake of Professor Chua’s argument, let’s call it a “hyperpower.”
Where can it go from there? It’s a magnet for luxury goods, foodstuffs, grand construction, and the paper trail that follows any imperial power. The contending clans of the hyperpower’s elite are all looking for the smallest advantage to help them take over. Such advantage can come at any time through mistakes in administration or through military failures at the margins of the empire (which by now, because of the hyperpower’s success, are of limited economic value).
From here forward, the hyperpower is trying to maintain its success and trying to live up to the good old days and the revered ancestors.
As history shows us, entirely in hindsight, sooner or later there’s one idiot emperor too many, or one adversary that gains modest regional advantage, or the bubonic plague or smallpox shows up at an importune time. Perhaps a civil war breaks out and the empire exhausts itself in self-destructive politics that lets peoples at the periphery cleave off a province or territory. Maybe its technological advantage slowly leaks to its periphery and former vassals become future predators, or former peasants steal the A-bomb.
This story or a close variant of it, I’d propose, is what we’re most used to reading when we recall discussions of imperial elevation and destruction. Are we greatly hindered in our understanding by underplaying the minorities or subject peoples who provided the military or luxury underpinning for such a hyperpower? The role of subsidiary or minority groups may provide a functional role or a cultural garnish. At the margins, their skills may affect the nature and degree of success in economic or bureaucratic activity. But does any of it, in more than an incidental way, go to the heart of the political, economic, or geographic constraints that affect powers at their peak? Is there not a role for self-regard and prickly self-defense that typifies successful hyperpowers? And even more a role for the cultural self-confidence to see oneself as uniquely suited for the domination and control of other human beings for centuries at a stretch? Perhaps it’s the loss of self-identity, or “glue” as Professor Chua describes it, which determines how long a hyperpower can hold its position. Notably, the modern movement that explicitly aspires to global hegemony, sanctioned by God, is ignored by Professor Chua in her discussion of China, the EU, and India. Perhaps Islam will have the right “glue” …
And if, since the discovery of the atomic bomb and the emergence of Silicon Valley, America has been particularly strengthened, by an immigrant workforce uncovering scientific and technological marvels, it has also been particularly threatened (though espionage and sabotage). Why can’t we fundamentally distinguish such a new service industry hyperpower, dependent on the harvesting of international brains, from the agrarian and industrial giant that grew unmolested in North America from the 18th to the 20th century?
All the information in DOE is worth discussion and review but testing and evaluation of the central thesis should, I believe, take place from two perspectives at once … the host and the symbiote, so to speak. For Professor Chua’s book, I think there are some likely American candidates who could have provided a different perspective on the subject matter. Indeed, perhaps they already written reviews and I’ve missed it. Here is my list of people who could have profitably given the author, and us, some feedback on the utility of the terms “hyperpower” and “tolerance.”
1. Samuel Huntington. Dead, unfortunately, but he spent the last few decades really trying to sort out whether “America had a common law and civic ethos,” or a sui generis civil society and the common law had an America (see Who Are We?). He was a firm believer that America was not a “nation of immigrants” but rather a “nation of colonists” whose values dominated the country until just about the time that Professor Chua’s brilliant dad emigrated from the Philippines. Huntington would have brought a colonist’s perspective to the hyperpower discussion … and a wider context of what values it takes “building the house” of a hyperpower compared to those needed for the “interior decoration” phase. His assessment that Hispanic immigration to the U.S. in the last few decades is the first successful colonization of the English-speaking world since the Normans hit the beach near Hastings is plenty controversial. But it’s yet to be proven wrong. Time will tell.
2. David Hackett-Fischer. Now moved on to less contentious historical topics, Hackett-Fischer’s Albion’s Seeds provides a background on the long historical traditions that underlay America’s colonists and how those various groups: Dissenters, hill folk, Piedmont settlers, represented very specific folkways which can be traced into modern American social and political life. The violence that those early settlers inflicted on each other was the foundation of their willingness to apply it others. And law and religion were often playthings for those cultural attitudes.
3. Michael Barone. Author of Our First Revolution and a knowledgeable expert on American society and politics. For discussing British and American “hyperpower” history, Barone could provide additional perspective on how intolerance, and well as the well-documented tolerance, played out in the growth and success of the two powers (Britain and the U.S.) that have dominated world history for the last 250 years.
4. David Gelernter. Author of Americanism, Yale University computer science professor, and therefore an accessible colleague of Professor Chua. Dr. Gelernter would be able to talk directly to the role, and limitations, of the religious traditions of tolerance in America. And where that tolerance reached its limits and aggressively wore away immigrant cultures.
5. Alfred Crosby. Professor of American Studies, History, and Geography at the University of Texas and author of The Measure of Reality [cb review] would be able to address the nuts and bolts of inter-group tolerance that were central to the operation of European trading republics. Was tolerance the basis of a hyperpower or was it merely the “force multiplier” that let little city-states, little islands, and ultimately an entire continent create economic and military dominance? Professor Crosby would have particular insights into the chicken-and-egg relationship of development and tolerance.
6. Finally, Walter Russell Mead. Author of Special Providence, and God and Gold, and American foreign policy expert. No one, in my opinion, has done more to outline the cultural dynamics of foreign policy decision-making in American history … or better described the blend of merchant acquisitiveness and missionary zeal that has motivated American (and British) self-regard.
If Mr. Mead had a chance to review the premise of “hyperpower” and the role of tolerance, we would have a substantially enriched historical perspective from inside the hyperpower, looking out, so to speak. And of all the scholars mentioned, Mead would be able to comment on whether modern America (with its various tribes, groups, and special interests in constant change) can ever form the basis for Professor Chua’s dream that America will be a hyperpower merely of “opportunity, dynamism, and moral force.” After being a “boss,” the invitation to join a “union” is hollow. Wars have started for less.
Day of Empire is a prodigious effort but it does, with no apology needed, come from the pen of someone whose family inherited of European science, law, and civil society without being obligated to spill foreign blood. For those whose ancestors left northwest Europe as colonists in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and came to America, the sacrifices made were not simply those of extending or receiving toleration. Terrible choices were made again and again through the centuries, to exterminate, expel, and suppress cultural and economic enemies. Hurons were targeted, Acadians were transported, Loyalists were expelled to Canada and the Caribbean, slaveholding was accommodated as part of the compromise of Independence, the Cherokee were dispossessed (like the Scots-Irish before them in Pennsylvania), states’ rights of self-determination were crushed militarily in the Civil War, then quietly allowed to resurface with the abandonment of Reconstruction and the imposition of Jim Crow, Asians were expelled and excluded at the end of the 19th century, and immigration was throttled down to a trickle as America industrialized and then dispossessed a vast number of Protestant agricultural workers from their farms. On through the decades, the nation has selectively tolerated some minorities, obliterated others, and thrown its population into waves of intolerance, both domestic and foreign.
One could claim that a willingness to accept that relentless intolerance has been the price of broader social acceptability throughout American history. In other words, one was tolerated to the extent one shared the intolerances of the broader populace. And it doesn’t seem to have changed much to the present day … as the relative treatment of Cuban and Haitian boat people illustrates. It’s not in the tolerance we potentially find hyperpower, the rejoinder to DOE might state, it’s in the cultural capacity for intolerance in the pursuit of American security and prosperity.
To paraphrase and poach from H.L. Mencken … there is always an easy solution to every American problem — neat, plausible, and usually requiring entirely non-existent Americans to execute. Like a number of bi-coastal commentators, Professor Chua is asking for an American attitude to the world that is fundamentally at odds with much of its cultural origins and its actual electorate. Squaring that circle needed to be part of this book, it seems to me (as a non-American). Last year, Bill Bishop wrote a very useful book on American cultural geography called The Big Sort (cb review pending!) which is particularly pertinent to DOE’s conclusions. Since roughly the time of Professor Chua’s birth, Americans have been using their increased prosperity not in aid of “tolerance” but to move away from people that they disagree with politically. And their political views have centred more and more around a tightly related set of cultural and religious values. The result has been an electorate that resides more and more in “landslide” precincts (where the vote gap between winners and losers is >20%). Democrats move to Democratic neighbourhoods. Republicans move to Republican neighbourhoods. In effect, the response to an incessant demand for domestic tolerance has been a migration enabling “indifference.” From Bishop’s perspective the result is two Americas: one with weak social ties, growing economic and educational prosperity, and a great uniformity (of diversity), and a second America … sparser in its density, poorer economically and educationally, with stronger social ties, and a uniformity of religious and cultural values. It’s worth thinking briefly about the respective contributions of these two Americas to the elements of “hyper power.”
Professor Chua is asking for international tolerance and accommodation by Americans, but as noted by Moses Naim in this book Illicit, [cb review], the U.S. is also being asked to absorb a hugely destructive economic and criminal relationship with the rest of the world … (along with the prosperity and success of globalized legitimate economic activity). To give the thesis of DOE added oomph and to translate it into an American future, I think the concerns and social experiences of both Americas (urban and rural, immigrant and colonial) will need to be addressed. If one assumes that the Anglosphere’s cultural underpinnings had nothing to do with its lead in science and technology (a shaky assertion if we look to the origins of the industrial revolution (cb reviews here and here), or that its common law had nothing to do with its cantankerous, pre-Reformation Anglo-Saxon yeomanry (cf. Macfarlane here), then radical changes in the American attitudes towards its legal and economic role in the world might seem plausible. A more likely scenario is that we are entering a period of history when the debate over American identity will sharpen … and the debate will be most intense and fraught in the domestic arena before it is resolved in American foreign policy. The role of “Mom and Dad to the world” may not be palatable to millions of American voters.
Without guides to the pre-1960s history of the English-speaking world … guides able to convey that world with the same passion and honest reflection already evident in Professor Chua’s book, it’s unlikely that Day of Empire’s hypothesis will ever have the wider influence that it might reasonably expect. That’s unfortunate and entirely unnecessary. Ironically, sitting at the pinnacle of intellectual and social status in America, Professor Chua has returned to the position of a “market-dominant minority,” explained so usefully in her earlier book. As a professor of the common law and an ethnic Han, however, she’s at the intersection of two potentially enormous changes in our future: (1) the accommodation of American law to international norms, and (2) the resurgence of Han economic and military might. Those are concerns that go directly to author’s discussion of America’s role in her concluding chapter.
Just recently the Department of Homeland Security woke up to realize that thousands of young men and women have been overseas getting a graduate education (in the Army Reserve and the CIA) in low-tech insurgency. Apparently, in some imagined defiance of American history, that might lead to “right-wing extremism.” Many of those kids come from areas that cling (in that memorable phrase) to “ guns and religion.” In their skills and attitudes, however, they more resemble an earlier and less apologetic time in American history, when it was assumed that the populace would enforce its values violently against all comers, domestic and foreign. Colonial self-sufficiency was one element in American success and, it must be admitted, an endless source of antagonism. We are about to see if the American electorate can still reach a consensus on how much sovereignty to surrender and under what circumstances. If Bishop’s “Big Sort” has much validity, the discussions in DOE about an American future will be decided in tumultuous domestic battles. The nature of American identity will be vigourously contested, and if Professor Chua’s work on market-dominant minorities and hyperpowers is any indication, violence will be involved.
As the author further noted in DOE, China is unlikely to reach hyperpower status but it is entirely likely that it will achieve superpower status and return the world to a bipolar power structure. It’s hard to imagine that that will not have a traumatic impact on America’s citizens of Han descent. Hard choices will have to be made by individuals … just as an earlier generation of European émigrés helped build the atomic bomb for America, while simultaneously other émigrés stole it for the Soviet Union. As tales of Han espionage and hacker sabotage move from obscure regular tallies on strategypage.com to the front pages of newspapers, we’ll need people to address the issue head-on, immune to the “racist” smear. I think Professor Chua could have a particularly useful role in the discussion of if, how, and when American Chinese should fundamentally sever their links to Han autocracy. Perhaps it won’t come to that.
On both these incredibly difficult issues (sovereignty and the emergence of a bipolar world), it’s to be hoped that Professor Chua applies her previous insights on market-dominant minorities and restates her thesis on the role of tolerance in the rise and fall of hyperpowers. Just as fervently, we might hope that she draws in a set of intellectual collaborators that complement her perspective on America history rather than merely reinforce it. Regardless of whether the Day of Empire’s thesis stands up, we’re not so flush with academics who write well that we can spare any. And the stakes and issues surrounding America’s role in the world will only increase.
15 thoughts on “Book Review – Chua, Day of Empire”
I am very disposed towards Chu’s thesis because it is very close to my own thesis that I outlined in my post on how egalitarianism creates empires.
It seems to me, however, that Chu places to much emphasis on toleration between distinct ethnic groups. I think that toleration or acceptance within ethnic groups plays a greater role, especially in the early days of an superpower’s rise. Most societies are strongly divided by class or caste and these societies waste a lot of “energy” maintaining these internal separations. Societies that reduces these internal divisions greatly increase their military and economic power relative to their immediate competitors. Increased tolerance of outside ethnic groups often follows but not necessarily.
As to the review itself, I think it is very important to measure tolerance only in relative terms and then only relative to a societies immediate competitors. If we analogize culture/law to technology, we could say that a the advantages of tolerance are akin to the advantages that bronze weapons gives over flint weapons. A society with bronze weapons will rise to superpower status if all its immediate competitors only have flint weapons. It doesn’t matter if a culture on the other side of the planet has iron weapons.
James, you are back in style.
I will print and read.
This is a magnificent review James. While I cannot adequately address some of the historical aspects you address with her thesis, I do find much to agree with in your analysis of the American citizenry and the incompatibility of some of her broad prescriptions for American power in the future with their views and preferences.
Regarding the potential personal crisis immigrants and citizens of Han descent could face as China continues its rise, I find myself (a) agreeing with TPM Barnett about the role China’s aging population may play in lessening some of its superpower aspirations by sapping it of vital manpower and creativity necessary to reach or sustain such a position and (b) wondering if the public nature of the Chinese regime will not discourage many such loyalties among Chinese who have lived here for a reasonable time. For instance, a good number of Americans of Chinese descent appear to be Christians, a faith that will likely continue to face harsh Chinese oversight and control for the next few decades, something deeply abrasive to Chinese Christians. The swift ruthlessness with which the Chinese gov’t has responded with harsh measures ranging from imprisonment to forced liquidation of personal assets and destruction of professional reputations in response to internal criticism or trouble-making among even its most prominent citizens also would seem to be a damper on Chinese patriotism adversely infecting Americans of Chinese descent.
Maybe I am wrong, but this is a well-known feature of the danger of living in China and falling on the wrong side of the gov’t in any dispute would seem to dampen enthusiasm for committing treason in a place where your freedoms and personal safety are literally guaranteed to end up in a place where you are one mistake away from a jail cell.
I see little of the issue of identity in the above discussion. As noted, Huntington would say that the citizen’s sense of being an American has been a huge strength for our country, especially since Reconstruction. I would think that the virtues of a common identity would apply to any successful society. People will kill – and die – for their identity.
The notion that the author took the politically correct prescription and worked backwards is all too common in academia these days. That is evidence of of its decadence and damns this book in my eyes (based on this review – haven’t read it yet and may not.)
A sign of American weakness is when an immigrant comes to this country, prospers, then tried to change it into something that those with deeper roots can foresee as doomed to failure.
Frankly, it is time for a wholesale change in American elites. They no longer serve the American people – they use them.
I read “World on Fire”. It was a very good description of the situation. However, Ms. Chua was obviously squirming to avoid discussion the very obvious human bio-diversity cause of the situations she described in this book. Perhaps I will read this one as well.
What happened to the printer friendly button?
The print feature didn’t work after I updated the blog software. I’ll fix this problem as soon as I can figure out how.
World on Fire was good indeed. I need to get a copy of this one.
I cut and pasted it into an HTML editor and it printed out to 25 pages! I will be back when I am done reading it. It may be a couple of days.
OK. I am back. Thanks for taking the bullet for us Jim. The review is excellent. It provides me with enough information to know that I will not read the book. s/n too low to bother.
Random points. First, if you want to read a world history written by an eminent historian who knew what he was talking about, and who was not playing Procrustes with history, read The Rise of the West by William McNeill, whose picture is often posted above. It was written in the late 1950s and early 60s, but, I think it has aged well, besides, you know what has happened since then. One of the highlights of my un-illustrious career in Hyde Park was taking Mr. McNeill’s world civilization course.
Second, that the author of this book is a Yale law prof, is both unsurprising and dismaying. Apparently, appointment to a faculty chair at Yale Law makes you a platonic philosopher king. Ms. Chua’s CV is dominated by her two big think books, and their travaux préparatoires and spin-offs. Nothing there about mundane legal topics, like damages or choice of law. I wonder if she knows how to draw a will, buy a house or defend an OMVI. Unfortunately, the Yalies are just the thin edge of the wedge in legal academia. In the blogging age, even profs at third string law schools fancy themselves to be fountains of wisdom.
Third, a question to Jim. Did she really leave out the Arab conquests of most of the known world in the 7th and 8th centuries?
Fourth, Doesn’t the title of this page “Chua, Day of Empire” sound like the title to a video game sequel?
Sounds like Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. It came out in 1987, was meticulously researched, and predicted the fall of the American empire… and utterly failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union, ending the chapter on the USSR with the warning that no empire had fallen without a major war. I wish I could find it; it’s a really good book, especially when you remember that such good research and writing can be wrong.
Chua’s definition of “hyperpower” is really close to Kennedy’s definition of “superpower”: a state that could defeat any other state or coalition of states. What she’s describing with “tolerance” seems to me to be the description of multi-national empires. An empire can call on resources and take advantage of economies of scale that a nation-state cannot. World War II was a contest between the British, American, and Russian Empires against the most powerful nation state trying to make an empire on the fly. Germany failed.
Hey! I found “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers!” Complete with the cover showing Japan taking over from the US as the world power. Heh, remember the paranoia about Japan? Now it’s China…
If you want real commentary on empires, which is what Chua should have called her “hyperpowers” (maybe “Great Empires”), read Niall Ferguson. He is a historian and really knows his stuff, and he studies empires specifically. Or find the Paul Kennedy book, since it sounds like the same thing.
There’s a real demand for books describing the end of American dominance. The problem is that if you really look at the numbers, and especially military spending, there’s no real basis for it any time soon. GDP is rarely a decisive indicator of military power. Great Britain had a smaller economy than India in the 18th century. The USSR ran a huge empire on a fraction of the budget the US had. Japan conquered most of China, the US lost the Vietnam war…and so on. Economics matters, but it is not everything.
And separately, Chua is describing the tension between the advantages of a multi-national empire (greater population, economy, and military power) against the desire of the various nationalities within to be independent. Nationalism is the enemy of empires. I’m of the opinion that empires are better because they limit warfare over a large area and allow greater economic integration. The EU is an attempt to make an empire of Europe.
The ideal of the nation state, in reality, is a way to divide people up. If people live on the wrong side of the border they tend to be killed or driven away. It’s hard to see anything good about it. Nation states tend to fight more often and have more civil wars. What we call “ethnic groups” are nationalities. Ethnic pride is nationalism. Let’s just call it what it is. Even the continental United States is an empire, because it has significant minority nationalities within it. The ideal of the “pure” nation state is wrong, so let’s just admit it.
Samuel Huntington has a really good insight with his civilizational model. Core states within a civilization are a kind of metrople for a civilizational empire. Nothing much has changed. Empires are coming back, and that’s probably a good thing for the world.
For anyone who is interested, my book notes on this book can be found here;
Chua, Amy. Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall. New York; Doubleday, 2007.
Started January 31, 2008
Finished February 8, 2008
XIV. Author won second-place in a history contest. Someone else won best all-around student. Father said to her, “Never, never disgrace me like that again.”
XV. Hokkien insult, “tzup jeng”- “of ten breeds” closest to English mongrel. Highly insulting.
XXI. Argues that all the Hyperpowers were extraordinarily pluralistic and tolerant during their rise, “at least by the standards of its time.”
XXII. Hyperpowers are only Hyperpowers if they satisfy all three conditions, “Its power clearly surpasses that of all its known contemporaneous rivals; it is not clearly inferior in economic or military strength to any other power on he planet, known to it or not; and it projects its power over so immense an area of the globe and over so immense a population that it breaks the bounds of mere local or even regional preeminence.” US during the Cold War does not qualify, nor France under Louis XIV.
XXIV. What counts is if you are more tolerant than your competitors, not against some timeless standard.
XXV. “No society based on racial purity, religious zealotry, or ethnic cleansing has ever become a world-dominant power. To attain and maintain dominance on a global scale coercion is simply too inefficient, persecution too costly, and ethnic or religious homogeneity, like in-breeding, too unproductive.”
XXVI. Compared to world history average, striking feature of post-Cold War is how everyone assumed that the US would not use its military aggressively for expansion and empire-building.
XXIX. Problem of keeping Hyperpower together referred to as “glue.”
XXX. Strong glue for US in US borders, almost none outside. Hyperpowers need to find ways to get alliance in order to survive.
XXXI. US more like Mongol Empire than Rome.
XXXIII. Dutch charter of religious freedom in 1579.
XXXIII. If you include the Ocean, than the Brits ruled 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
3. A.T. Olmstead, “When Cyrus entered Babylon in 539 B.C., the world was old. More significant, the world knew its antiquity. Its scholars had complied long dynastic lists, and simple addition appeared to prove that kings whose monuments were still visible had ruled more than four millenniums before.”
3. Alexander the Great, “I should be glad, Onesiscritus, to come back to life for a little while after my death to discover how men read these present events then.”
3. Paradise is Persian in origin. Pairideza which the Greeks rendered as paradeisos refereeing to the pleasure gardens.
4. “Their riches, it was said, included every tree bearing fruit known to man, the most fragrant and dazzling flowers that grew anywhere from Libya to India, and exotic animals from the farthest reaches of an empire covering more than two million square miles.”
6. Greek histories of Persians are a bit like reading Saddam Hussein’s “A History of the United States, 1990 – 2006.”
8. Just because you assume that other people’s gods exist, does not mean that you respected or tolerated them.
11. “Embracing local deities – whether Marduk for the Babylonians or Yahweh for the Jews – gave Cyrus legitimacy. Respecting local traditions and practices decreased the likelihood of resistance and rebellion among conquered peoples.”
12. Camyses, “One judge, Sisamnes, had given an unjust judgment in return for a bribe; Cambyses slaughtered him like a sheep and flayed him. Then from the skin he caused leather strips to be banned and with them covered the judgment seat of the son Otanes, who was appointed to the father’s office with the grim admonition to remember on what he sat.”
14. Darius would set the taxes too high for an area, then “consult” with local leaders, then “magnanimously” cut the taxes in half.
19. “But if history has glorified Cyrus and Darius, so it has villainized Darius’s son Xerxes.”
22. Subjects did not take pride in belonging to the Achemenid Empire. No identity.
23. When Alexander came, “Achaemenid subjects simply traded one overlord for another.”
23. Alexander had one eye gray-blue, the other dark brown.
27. Alexander did not let his desire to intermingle his subjects get in the way of ambition. Peter Green, “It is idle . . . to pretend that he dreamed, in some mysterious fashion, of wading through rivers of blood and violence to achieve the Brotherhood of Man by raping an entire continent. He spent his life, with legendary success, in the pursuit of personal glory.”
28. “Whereas Achaemenid Persia was essentially just a war machine, Rome was also an idea.”
30. “Terminus, the god of boundaries, had supposedly been absent at Rome’s birth.”
31. Most historians agree that the high empire (AD 70 – 192) was the apogee of Roman civilization. High empire also had adopted sons.
36. Han Chinese empire had a bureaucracy that, proportionately, was twenty times as large as Rome.
37. Optimus princes – best ruler.
43. Roman represented a communis patria – common fatherland – for it’s groups.
45. The biblical Paul used his citizenship to get protection.
46. 10,000 became citizens each year through 25-years in the army.
47. “The Romans had no interest in preserving, respecting, or honoring the practices they found barbaric.”
47. Claudius, “They are all right, they no longer wear trousers.” “Claudius’s point was clear: Barbarism could be shed. And the sooner it was shed, the better.”
48. Gibbon, “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus tolerance produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”
49. Roman generals would adopt defeated enemy deity to steal enemy’s power. Also summoned foreign gods if local gods appeared to not being able to handle a famine or drought.
49. Romans still banned things like druidic human sacrifice and self-castration by followers of the goddess Cybele.
50. Jews mourned Caesar’s death.
51. Jews got some exceptions because they were an ancient cult. Christians didn’t because they were a “new cult.”
52. “Whereas most of the peoples under Achaemenid rule never “Persianized,” stunning numbers of Roman subjects “Romanized.”
53. Peoples of the east were allowed to be un-Romanized and relatively autonomous. Over time they came to resent Roman rule because they didn’t see themselves as Roman.
53. Christians 1/10th of Empire in 300 AD. Often held responsible for military defeats, plagues, earthquakes, and famines.
54. Constantine, “With his conversion, the persecution of Rome’s millions of Christians abruptly ended, but for the rest of the empire’s inhabitants, the era of persecution was just beginning.”
54. Gibbon blamed Christianity’s “passive obedience” for making the Roman Empire full of wussies. Chua is arguing that it was the intolerance of Christianity that hurt it. “By the late fourth century, Rome had embarked on a systemic campaign to weed out paganism – and indeed all dissenters, including “heretic” Christians who deviated from the official orthodoxy.” “The closed Christian society of the Middle Ages was now in existence.”
55. Attacks on Pagans advanced barbarian encroachments. Montesquieu, “Whereas the ancient Romans fortified their empire by tolerating every cult, their successors reduced it to nothing by cutting out, one after another, every sect but the dominant one.”
56. Increasing apartheid in late fourth century Rome.
57. “But this Byzantine Empire – fervently intolerant of religious dissent, riven by ecclesiastical infighting, and continually besieged by Persians, Slavs, and later Muslims – never approached the grandeur of ancient Rome.”
58. “Rome thrived so long as it was able to enlist, absorb, reward, and intermix peoples of diverse ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. At the Roman Empire’s peak, Africans, Spaniards, Britons, and Gauls alike could rise to the highest echelons of power – indeed, could even become emperor – as long as they assimilated. The empire sank when it let in peoples that it failed to assimilate, either because they were unassimilable or because their culture and habits exceeded the limits of Roman tolerance. Out of a mixture of religious and ethnic intolerance, Rome sparked wars and internal rebellions it could not win.”
61. Tang – most cosmopolitan of all Chinese empires.
61. Warring States era also known as “Spring and Autumn.”
61. First Emperor Qin is where we get China from. (Qin is pronounced “Chin.”)
62. House of Qin lasted 15 years. Followed by Han which lasted 400. Though short lived Qin set the powerful principle “that the ruthless suppression of diversity could be required to unify China.”
63. Still a bit of a hint of the taboo in mixing with foreigners in China today.
64. “China’s golden age was founded by a mixed-blooded man of part barbarian ancestry and that the Tang period was characterized above all by cosmopolitanism, embrace of cultural diversity, and openness to foreigners unsurpassed in Chinese history.
64. Li Yuan, general of mixed Chinese-Turkic aristocracy declared himself emperor of China (Gaozu – High Ancestor.) Founded Tang. Used a character in a letter that is used by an inferior to a superior. Gaozu, “The men of ancient times had a saying, ‘To bend before one man and stand above ten thousand.’ What do the barbarians beyond the frontier amount to in terms of this analogy? They merely amount to one ordinary person. Moreover, the word qi is not worth a thousand measures of gold. Even that I am willing to give away. Why should one worry about one word.?”
65. Buddhism had more attractive afterlife than traditional Chinese belief.
66. Taizong wanted universal empire. “The emperors from ancient times all appreciated the Chinese and depreciated the barbarians. Only I view them as equal. That is why they look upon me as their parent.”
70. Chinese who married foreigners exiled 2,000 li (400 miles).
70. “Taizong brought a hundred Turkic families to Changan, to test whether they could be assimilated into Chinese culture.”
71. Taizong edict, “The way has more than one name. There is more than one Sage. Doctrines vary in different lands, their benefits reach all mankind.”
72. Empress Wu Zhao was first and only woman to officially rule China. Elevated scholar-official over aristocratic and foreshadowed rise of civil service system.
76. Muslims before Ming Huang were waved some forms of obedience because as he said, “Court etiquette is not the same in all countries.”
76. Relative tolerance is what is important. Christian Byzantine Empire or Umayyad caliphate much worse than Tang.
79. Tang probably knew more about outside world than Manchu Qing emperors, despite advancement in info and communication tech in 1000 years who thought that France was the same as Portugal and that the Pope came to China to present tribute in 1725.
81. Tang never tried to Hanize non-Chinese subjects.
82. Lack of glue. Turk or Mongolian troops turned on Tang because they didn’t feel Chinese.
83. An Lushan Rebellion marked turning to intolerance for Tang.
85. Tang decree in 836 forbidding Chinese from interacting with “people of colour.”
86. Wuzong tried to eradicate Buddhism but failed. Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, and Zorastrianism pretty much disappeared.
88. Gibbon, “By the arms of Zingis and his descendants the globe was shaken: the sultans were overthrown: the caliphs fell, and the Caesars trembled on their throne.
88. Royal tent city of Karakorum. Mongols, “had no agriculture and could not even bake bread.”
89. Genghis Khan on happiness, “To crush your enemies, to see them fall at your feet – to take their horses and goods and hear the lamentation of their women. That is best.”
90. Genghis Khan decreed religious freedom and embraced breaking down tribal barriers.
92. “He killed off the defeated tribal leaders, including most of the male “aristocracy,” then incorporated the rest of the tribe into his own following – not as slaves but as equal members.”
93. Divided men into groups of ten. Ordered to live as brothers regardless of past tribal allegiance. Eldest in squad was leader, unless group decided otherwise. Temujin personally selected the leader of army of 10,00. “Because of Temujin’s emphasis on merit rather than kinship, camel boys and cowherds became generals . . . he valued not just courage but cunning and patience. The brave but foolhardy were not allowed to lead others, but instead were assigned to the important task of protecting the military supplies.”
93. Temujin, “No man is more valiant than Yessoutai; no one has rarer gifts. But, as the longest marches do not tire him, as he feels neither hunger nor thirst, he believes that his officers and soldiers do not suffer such things. That is why he is not fitted for high command. A general should think of hunger and thirst, so he may understand the suffering of those under him, and he should husband the strength of his men and beasts.”
95. Temujin was on the ropes, fleeing, and eating boiled horseflesh. They swore loyalty. They “hailed from nine different tribes and included Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims, as well as animists like Temujin, who worshiped the Eternal Blue Sky and the God Mountain of Burkhan Khaldun.” Symbolized multi-ethnic society he would create.
96. “Temujin installed as Genghis Khan – originally Chinggis Khan, from the Mongolian chin, meaning “strong, firm, unshakable, and fearless” – ruler of all the tribes.” Called followers “The People of the Felt Walls.”
98. Jurchen emperor to Genghis Khan, “Our empire is like the sea; yours is but a handful of sand. How can we fear you?”
99. Warriors, “When nothing else was available, “they opened a vein in a horse, drank a small quantity of blood and closed the vein.”
99. “The Mongols carefully examined their captives and impressed any engineers found.”
100. After conquest, “The bones of the slaughtered rose mountain-high, the earth was fat with human fat and the rotting corpses gave rise to a plague.”
101. Muslims of Balasagun asked Khan to invade them because they were being religiously persecuted.
102. Europe may have called him the Scourge of God, but in the east he was known as a defender of religions.
102. Genghis Khan proposed peace in 1219 with Muslim sultan Muhammad but trade delegation was slaughtered and then chief envoy was killed and others were disfigured and sent back to Genghis. “This proved to be a mistake that not only cost the sultan his empire and his life but “laid waste a whole world.”
103. “The Mongol cavalry did not travel with heavy equipment, which would have slowed them down. Instead, they were accompanied by a corps of foreign engineers who simply built whatever instruments of attack were needed, using whatever resources were available.”
105. By 1223 conquest of Khwarizm was complete. Sultan is said to have died alone on a remote island. “Now in his midsixties and ruler of the largest empire on earth, Genghis Khan returned to the Mongolian steppe. He died in 1227, surrounded by family and friends, all his generals still loyal to him.”
105. Genghis was plunder driven in youth, but stated he wanted to “unite the whole world.” In old age. Told sons, “Without the vision of a goal a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.”
107. Mongols couldn’t decide if they should attack China or Europe so attacked both.
108. Europe blamed the Jews for Mongols.
109. “Hapsburg soldiers captured a Mongol officer, they were shocked to discover that he was a brilliant multilingual Englishman who, threatened with excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church, had opted to work for the Mongols. The Hapsburg soldiers killed him.”
112. “1254, Grand Khan Mongke presided over elaborate religious debates in which every one had an equal voice and the finding of common ground was encouraged.”
113. “Mongke, like Genghis Khan, believed that the Mongols were chosen by God and by nature – interchangeable in their view – to conquer the entire earth.”
114. “In the end, Khubilai triumphed over Arik Boke. His triumph was in part that of the farmer over the nomad.”
115. In defeat, Arik Boke said to Khubilai, “We were then, and you are today.
116. “Khubilai abolished the Confucian examination system as a mechanism for staffing China’s bureaucracy, and he generally refused to appoint Chinese to the country’s highest government posts.”
117. Filled not with Mongols, but with non-Chinese foreigners.
118. Khubilai systematically mixed Chinese and foreigners, quotas.
119. “Mongols brought to China a peace and political unity not seen since the overthrow of the Tang in 907.” Peasantry probably saw little change – left great landowners estates intact. Records say he created 21,000 schools to promote universal education.
120. “Khubilai opposed torture. He also disfavored the death penalty; during his rule, executions fell dramatically, to annual rates lower than those of modern China and the United States.”
120. Spread foodstuffs throughout empire.
120. “Khubilai, the last of the great Mongol rulers, died peacefully in 1294 after a reign of thirty-four years. In many ways, he differed from Genghis Khan. He lacked his grandfather’s knack and drive for military expansion. He was also much more humane. . . . Perhaps more consciously than his grandfather, who remained at heart a steppe nomad, Khubilai was a globalizer, seeking to create one world system.” Wanted to create universal alphabet and calendar.
121. Mongol rule in China ended 1368 with triumphantly ethnic Mings sending them back to the steppe.
122. Split Mongol empires embraced local intolerances.
125. “No “glue” held these increasingly divergent kingdoms together.”
130. Ferdinand of Spain had Jewish ancestors on his mother’s side.
130. Iberia more worldly than most of Christendom. “No Iberian writer fantasized, as the German Wolfram von Eschenbach did, that the offspring of a Christian-Muslim couple would be mottled white and black; they knew better.”
132. First decades of Ferdinand and Isabella’s rule had practicing Jews in the inner court circle.
133. “It would be Jewish bankers’ money that financed Spain’s initial expeditions to the New World.”
134. “According to one estimate, 200,000 Jews left Spain, roughly 120,000 of them going to Portugal and the rest to Italy and the Ottoman lands. . . . In 1526 the Inquisition began prosecuting Moriscos for failing to practice Christianity.”
135. By attacking Jews, Spain destroyed its credit and had to depend on Dutch, German, French, and Genoese bankers.
136. 1609 Spain drove out “secret” Muslims. 250,000. Destroyed agricultural base. In 1767, King Charles III expelled Jesuits.
136. Purging and burning beginnings can be traced to the 1480s.
137. Shouldn’t blame too much on it. “Why was there no industry in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why are we Spaniards lazy? Because of the Inquisition. Why are there bullfights in Spain? Because of the Inquisition. Why do Spaniards take a siesta? Because of the Inquisition.”
137. Not clear that tolerant Spain could have been Hyperpower, tolerance is necessary but not sufficient condition, its intolerance handicapped it.
145. Dutch. Pieter Hooft on a bride raped and murdered by a Spanish captain on her wedding day. “He stripped her, chains, clothing, under things, everything from top to bottom taken from that pure body.” Having abused her, the captain, “hunted her, mother-naked, dripping with the blood of her innumerable wounds, through the city.”
145. Oath of Abjuration, “As ’tis apparent to all that a prince is constituted by God to be ruler of a people, to defend them from oppression and violence as the shepherd his sheep; and whereas God did not create the people slaves to their prince, to obey his commands, whether right or wrong, but rather the prince for the sake of the subjects (without which he could be no prince), to govern them according to equity, to love and support them as a father his children or a shepherd his flock, and even at the hazard of life to defend and preserve them. And when he does not behave thus, but, on the contrary, oppresses them, seeking opportunities to infringe their ancient customs and privileges, exacting from them slavish compliance, then he is no longer a prince, but a tyrant, and the subjects are to consider him in no other view. And particularly when this is done deliberately, unauthorized by the States, they may not only disallow his authority, but legally proceed to the choice of another prince for their defense.”
146. Dutch offered sovereignty to France then Queen Elizabeth.
147. “The state did not compel adherence to the Reformed Church, impose fines for nonconformity, or punish dissenters.”
148. English propagandist, “Is there a mongrel sect in Christendom which does not cloak and spawn and flourish in their Sooterkin bogs?”
149. The Dutch cities exploded in 1570 to 1670 whereas most of Europe’s other cities stagnated.
150. Before 1725 most of worlds diamonds came from India. Transforming the rough stones to jewelry was mostly done by the Jews.
151. Inquisition hit Portugal in 1540’s and expulsion in 1550s. Went to Netherlands. These were skilled Jews, unlike those escaping pogroms in Poland and Germany. “It was common for Ashkenazi Jews to work as menial laborers for Sephardic employers.”
154. Dutch India companies formed due to Spain’s 1598 embargo.
155. “Although Holland’s towns were typically ten to twenty percent Catholic, all the chief investors of the East India Company were Protestant.”
155. West African tribesman to Dutch trader, “Gold is your god.”
157. “By 1644, Dutch Jews represented approximately one-third of all the white civilians in Netherlands Brazil.”
158. Sir William Temple, “For never any Country traded so much and consumed so little.”
160. “Even for the most excitable preacher, there was nothing inherently sinful about a waffle.”
164. Dutch different from past hyperpowers. “Every previous hyperpower in history had begun by conquering its neighbors, expanding ever outward with the march of marauding armies, growing huge in population as it incorporated more and more peoples, and through strategic tolerance inducing these conquered peoples to contribute their strengths and talents to its imperium.”
166. “In 1688, a massive Dutch fleet invaded England, Dutch troops occupied London, and the stadthholder of the Netherlands, William III of Orange, became king of Britain, ruling jointly with his wife, Mary. . . . After becoming King of England, William promptly brought over his Sephardic financiers to continue provisioning his forces, which now included the English army and navy as well. They would soon be followed by many of Holland’s skilled textile workers, scientists, and even Dutch portrait artists, painters, and engravers. Thus began a massive outflow of capital, human and financial, from he Dutch Republic to England.
As an ironic result, it was England that would overwhelmingly benefit from the amalgamation of Dutch and English power. Basically, the Dutch Republic exported its tolerance, its most enterprising financiers, and its entire “business model” to England, which then replaced the Dutch Republic as Europe’s preeminent land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants and religious minorities.”
167. “The remarkable religious tolerance embraced by the Netherlands within its own borders never translated into ethnic or racial tolerance in its colonial outposts overseas.”
169. “Like Christianity, on which it was based, Islam could be at once remarkably ethnically and racially tolerant – open to anyone of any skin color or walk of life – and fundamentally intolerant when it came to religion. There was only one God and one Truth.”
171. It’s important to remember that even under good rulers like Suleyman, no subjects had any political rights.
172. Rules often broken. Joseph Nasi was a close advisor to the Sultan and a Jew. “It is most unlikely that Nasi rode only donkeys and mules to the imperial court or that his celebrated mansion near Istanbul was no taller than any Muslim houses.”
174. “All but one of Suleyman’s nine grand viziers were former Christian slaves, from the humblest of backgrounds.”
183. “The Mughal Empire, which immediately preceded the British Empire in India, was founded by a descendant of Genghis Khan. (“Mughal” is the Persian word for “Mongol.”)”
185. “He allowed Princess Jodhabai to remain a Hindu and to worship at a Hindu shrine within his palace; occasionally Akbar himself participated in the rituals.”
185. Akbar’s Court Jester, “Raja Birbal, whose witty exchanges with the emperor live on today in folktales, and the legendary Hindu singer-composer Tansen.”
187. Akbar reigned 50 years ( 1556 – 1605) and widely known as best Mughal ruler. Wanted to create a new “order of faith” called Din-I_Ilahi, supposedly incorporating elements of Islam, Hinduism, and Zorastrianism.” Universalist religion. Few takers. Pissed off orthodox Muslim leaders who revolted. “The imperial champion of universal tolerance crushed this revolt ruthlessly.”
188. After Akbar was Jahangir, then Shah Jahan (“He commissioned the famous Peacock Throne, a gem-encrusted masterpiece wrought out of 2,500 pounds of pure gold, said to be the single costliest treasure made in the last thousand years.”)
188. After Shah Jahan came Aurangzeb, deeply pious ruthless fratricidal killer. Shoved orthodox Islam down people’s throats. Overthrow religious tolerance and imposed Islamic Law throughout the empire. On deathbed said, “I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing. I have sinned terribly, and I do not know what punishment awaits me.” Damn.
194. “For the British, a funny thing happened on the way to world dominance – the Enlightenment. . . . It reached the pinnacle of global power after the threshold of modernity – with its fundamental ideas of liberty, equality, and democracy – had been irreversibly crossed. . . . The purely instrumental tolerance of the ancient empires, in which skilled groups or talented individuals were “harnessed” in the service of the empire like good horses or mules, cannot satisfy modern ideals of freedom, equality, and self-government.”
194. Early 1600’s James I urged by Sir Thomas Shirley to invite the Jews back to England, or at least Ireland.
198. Stereotype of Jewish rag-seller still common enough to use for Prime Minister Disraeli.
199. Huguenot names are often no longer seen as foreign; Bernard, Janssen, Olivier.
203. Scots could advance more easily in Empire than in England.
205. If you include the Oceans, the Brits ruled 70% of the globe at their height.
206. Victorian Britain had 2% of World pop, but 2/5ths of world manufacturing output.
206. By population alone, it should not be surprising that most important British figures in banking merchants, generals, governors, etc were English.
206. Bank of England. “A Scot conceived the bank, Huguenots founded it, and Jews brokered its biggest loans.”
207. Pre 1770 snob books treated English, Welsh, and Scottish peerage as distinct. Between 1770 and 1830 they switched to seeing it as a single unit.
209. Limits to religious tolerance in England. Locke in 1689 Letter on Toleration “excluded Catholics, whose opinions were “absolutely destructive of all governments except the Pope’s.”
214. Increase of Indian civil servants in India. “Here the strategy was a modern variation on Genghis Khan’s. The Company coopted and trained a pro-English cadre of Indian functionaries and elites who handled day-to-day administration under British supervision.”
216. 1833 – Christians won right to proselytize without Company approval. 1850 – allowed Christian converts to inherit land. 1856 – legalized second marriages by Hindu widows. “Particularly obnoxious to India’s Muslims were the missionaries’ extension of education to women and their adoption and conversion of abandoned orphans.”
219. After Mutiny, “Conservative statesmen like Disraeli joined with Liberal leaders in proclaiming a new commitment to religious tolerance and noninterference with local customs.”
220. If Sikh did not have enough kirpans they were manufactured in Sheffield and shipped overseas.
221. 1887 – 300,000 Indians studying English. 1907 – 500,000.
221. “Dadabhai Naoroji the “Grand Old Man” of Indian nationalism, published in 1871 a devastating critique of the Raj, but never argued for independence. . . . In 1892, for example, Naoroji was elected to the British parliament by voters from Central Finsbury in London, the same constituency that would later elect Margaret Thatcher.
225. Churchill called Dyer’s actions, “monstrous” – “without precedent or parallel in the modern history of the British Empire.”
225. Buzzword of the time was the Industrialization of India.
226. “These Anglo-Indians refused to allow well-connected, capital-rich Indians like the Marwaris and Gujaratis onto their governing boards or to employ even highly qualified Indians for managerial positions. . . . After World War I, Indian business interests made repeated efforts to form interethnic alliances and partnerships with the old British firms, only to be snubbed. After independence, the new Indian government singled out these firms for attack, denouncing them as enemies of egalitarianism. Most of the Anglo-Indian firms eventually divested or shut down.”
227. “Had it been able to extend the same tolerance to its “dark-skinned” colonies that it extended to its white dominions, then the modern histories of not just India and Pakistan but Rhodesia, Kenya, Iraq, Egypt, Burma, and a long list of other imperial holdings might have played out very differently.”
228. “Britain’s decline did not stem from or even coincide with rising domestic intolerance. If anything, as the first half of the twentieth century unfolded, Britain at home displayed greater tolerance toward its ethnic and religious minorities, at least if immigration policies and the expansion of suffrage are any indication. . . Nevertheless, in a larger sense Britain’s collapse also stemmed from its failure of tolerance abroad.”
230. “The commonwealth could conceivably have become a formidable trading bloc and political union – resembling the European Union, but with the advantage of a common language –with Britain at the hub.”
233. Thomas Jefferson, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
234. Hamilton was born in Nevis and came to New York at 16.
235. “It was only after World War II that the United States developed into one of the most ethnically and racially open societies in world history. Not coincidentally, this was also the period in which the United States achieved world dominance.”
238. Great Awakening succeeded because it made converts of prominent citizens, so dissent was no longer stigmatized.
238. Thomas Jefferson, “Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”
239. Adam Smith pushed for 2 to 3 hundred sects to promote healthy competition and produce less fanaticism and more moderation.
239. US Treaty of Tripoli, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . . it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselemn.”
240. Unlike Cyrus the Great or William of Orange, George Washington thought “religious liberty was a fundamental right, not just a favor granted by those in power.”
240. After ratification of Constitution, many states still had established churches.
241. Muslim names of slaves in US as late as 1813.
242. America actively recruited skilled Europeans in the early days.
243. “London responded by passing increasingly draconian laws prohibiting British and Irish artisans from migrating to the United States.”
244. 2.5 million illegal immigrants, illegal to emigrate FROM their home country, came to US in first half of 19th century.
246. Most not fleeing religious or political persecution. Most seeking economic activity.
247. Norwegian steam = raw muscle power.
250. US really didn’t need to convert and include Natives because “It had another source of population growth, offering greater numbers and technologically superior skills. Americans, it seemed, had no use for a well-hones arrowhead.”
250. US had at least five home grown religions by twentieth century; Christian Science, Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostalism.
251. Other countries had religious pluralism, democracy, and free market. Others may have some of that, but none had all three to the extent that the US had.
255. Jews suffered unequal treatment in mid-20th century America, but relative tolerance is what matters.
256. Haiti’s secretary of agriculture came to Biloxi, Mississippi for a conference, and was not allowed to stay for “reasons of color.”
257. Kennedy asked University heads to diversify student bodies. “I want you to make a difference . . . Until you do, who will?”
258. Yale asked to diversify in 1966. Yale Corporation member, “You’re talking about Jews and public school graduates as leaders. Look around you at this table. These are America’s leaders. There are no Jews here. There are no public school graduates here.
258. In 1960 Yale, Princeton and Harvard had a combined African-American freshmen of 15. In 1970 – 284.
259. “In the 1980s, the productive capacity that America added to what it already possessed exceeded the entire productive capacity of West Germany – Europe’s largest economy.”
263. “Just as in Rome or the Great Mongol Empire, America’s global dominance has depended on its ability to bring in and mobilize the world’s cutting-edge talents and intellectual capital.”
264. Integrated Electronics – Intel.
265. 52.4% of companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005 had at least one founder who was an immigrant.
266. “Today, the United States has ten Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered supercarriers, each one capable of carrying more than seventy fighter jets. No other country has a single aircraft carrier remotely comparable to these behemoths.”
270. Nazi slogan, “We don’t want higher bread prices! We don’t want lower bread pries! We don’t want unchanged bread prices! We want National Socialist bread prices!”
271. Name of secret Reichsbank account Nazis used to deposit gold fillings, Max Heiliger.
273. “Unlike Genghis Khan, Hitler was not interested in enlisting the superior talents of conquered nations. Unlike the Romans, Hitler was not interested in incorporating their populations.”
274. Klaus Fischer, “No matter how much skill and competence was brought . . . the ruthless subjugation of conquered people, and the physical extermination of racially inferior breed . . . the bestial mission was bound to arouse the world into determined opposition.”
276. “Fair skin had been highly esteemed in Japan since at least the eight century.”
281. In Indonesia, “Devout Muslims were required to acknowledge the Japanese emperor’s divinity, in direct violation of their faith.”
283. Taiwan as evidence that Japan’s rule could have been more productive. Permitted Formosans to speak Chinese, taught bi-lingual classes, trained colonials to speak Chinese, integrated elite primary schools.
284. Pao-chia system, around 100 households were responsible for wrongful acts committed by individual members.
284. 80,000 Formosans served voluntarily in IJA in WWII.
285. “Needless to say, ideologies of racial supremacy and ethnic cleansing are not particularly good at generating the loyalty of, or recruiting valuable human capital from the people who are to be cleansed.”
286. Shanghai resident, “We’ve had a couple hundred bad years, but now we’re back.”
287. “In 2003, China overtook the United States as the most popular destination for foreign direct investment.”
289. “China has essentially accomplished exactly what the European Union is trying to do today . . . Chinese civilization in fact grew out of a great intermixing of diverse cultures.”
290. “Western experts on ethnic studies have long insisted that the Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hunanese, and so forth, given their considerable differences in speech, customs, and even physical appearance, are and ought to consider themselves different ethnicities. But they don’t.”
291. Zhongguo ren – people of the Middle Kingdom.
291. We take China’s assimilation for granted.
291. Despite it’s large population base, that does not mean that China has all the human capital it needs – many of them are sorely undereducated after all.
292. China has around 460 scientists and engineers per 1 million, US 10x that number.
292. Most Chinese who study abroad stay their. 85% of those graduating from American universities said they planned to stay in the US. But with rising Chinese standards of living, increasing numbers of ex-pats are coming home.
294. “Today, China is more cosmopolitan than it has been since the Tang dynasty.” But when author asked numerous people, “Could an ethnic Malay or Filipino ever be Han Chinese?” The answer was always a resounding no.”
295. But members of China fifty-five ethnic minorities could.
295. “Sun Yat-seen and other revolutionary leaders championed an explicitly ethnic – indeed racial – concept of the Chinese nation.”
296. Though very small demographically, ethnic minorities occupy roughly 60% of China’s territory.
296. Lucian Pye, China is, “a civilization pretending to be a state.”
296. China is not trying to integrate foreigners working there.
297. Overseas Chinese control $2 trillion in assets. Overseas Chinese did about half of foreign direct investment in the 1980s and 1990’s in China.
299. Chinese official, “The foreigners are now agreeing to tell us how and where to dig a hole, but we still do not know why to dig a hole there.”
300. “Founded largely as a bulwark against the westward expansion of Communism, the community that is now the EU not only outlasted its rivals but lived to take them in.”
301. “In the mid-fifteenth century, Bohemia’s King George proposed a federation arrangement strikingly similar to the EU’s current structure, albeit to guard against the external threat of Turkish invasion, not to address internal division.”
302. “The Dutch Republic or the United States made themselves magnets for individuals. With a new package of freedoms and economic incentives, the EU has made itself a magnet for nations. Rather than imposing democracy and the rule of law on other countries, the EU gives countries incentives to transform themselves.”
304. EU could not compete with US on draining brainpower from all over the world. “The EU’s tolerance has been primarily directed inward, not outward – a strategy for uniting Europe, not for attracting third world immigrants into Europe or for turning the European states into multiethnic immigrant societies like the United States.”
305. Germany’s IT program. Fareed Zakaria, “Germany was asking bright young professionals to leave their country, culture, and families; move thousands of miles away; learn a new language; and work in strange land – but without any prospect of every being part of their new home.”
305. France probably 10% Muslim.
306. “In major Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Muslims are expected to become a majority of the population within a decade.”
307. “Part of what makes Islam so difficult for the EU to tolerate is the resistance to assimilation and the violence endorsed by Islamic extremists. The problem of “tolerating intolerance” is one that all Western nations now face.”
310. “America continues to draw even European brain power rather than vice versa; as of 2004, there were roughly 400,000 European science and technology graduates employed in the United States and very few comparable Americans working in Europe.”
312. “Within five years, the Indian economy had grown more than it had in he previous forty years.”
313. “With 17 percent of the world’s population, India accounts for just 2 percent of global GDP and 1 percent of world trade.”
314. “India’s “personal law,” for example, permits polygamy among Muslims but requires monogamy among Hindus.”
314. 2002. “More than two thousand Muslims were massacred in cold blood in the northern state of Gujarat.”
315. “The violence was at least partly state-sponsored; police officers and the National Volunteer Corps led the raids.”
315. “In a 2006 survey, 17 percent of Indian university students cited Hitler as a model for the leader of India.”
316. “And for the first time in history, small numbers of noncolonizing middle-class Westerners are moving to India for better jobs than their own countries can offer.”
319. Post-Cold War America, “Here was a society with unthinkable destructive capacity, facing no countervailing power. Yet it seemed to go without saying that the United States would not use its unrivaled force for territorial expansion or other aggressive imperialist ends.”
322. Reiterates thesis that chief problem facing US Hyperpower is glue.
322. “If the key to wealth was military might, then the key to military might was strategic tolerance.”
323. Conquest of Dacia (AD 101-106) – last time Roman large profit from war.
328. “In short, large numbers of people all over the world feel dominated by – but no connection or allegiance to – the United States. . . . Outside its borders, there is no political glue binding the United States to the billions of people who live under its shadow.”
329. Local elites who abandoned Achaemenid for Alexander, “They were not traitors, because they had never been patriots.”
330. “Of all of history’s hyperpowers, Rome came closest to solving the problem of creating a common identity capable of generating loyalty among its far-flung subjects (which goes a long way toward explaining the spectacular longevity of the empire).”
330. “The British had no mechanism for, or interest in, making voting citizens out of 250 million Indians, or for that matter any of the empire’s other nonwhite colonial subjects. In the end, this limit on British tolerance, together with the increasing costs of imperial rule and the rising demand for self-determination after World War II, tore the empire apart.”
331. Comparison to US hegemony over world and Persian hegemony over its area, “A Greek felt that he was a Greek and spoke Greek . . . an Egyptian felt that he was an Egyptian and spoke Egyptian.”
332. “The truth, particularly in poorer parts of the world, is that attitudes toward the United States are deeply schizophrenic – a perverse blend of admiration and envy on one hand and seething hatred and contempt on the other.” Student in Beijing railing against the US while wanting to go to graduate school there, “If I could have good opportunities in he U.S., I wouldn’t mind U.S. hegemony too much.”
333. Things are different now. “No one ever expected Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan to give weaker nations a say in world affairs. But a democratic hyperpower is supposed to recognize the principle that everyone in the world has a right to participate and prosper in global society.”
334. “Yet without some type of “glue,” America has no means of overcoming the hostile, disintegrative forces that quickly tore apart Achaemenid Persia, the Great Mongol Empire, Tang China, and every other hyperpower in history that was unable to forge a common political identity that bound the central power with the peoples it dominated.”
337. Dangers of xenophobic backlash to hyperpowers, “From this point of view, attempts to demonize immigrants or to attribute America’s success to “Anglo-Protestant” virtues is not only misleading (neither the atomic bomb nor Silicon Valley was particularly “Anglo-Protestant” in origin) but dangerous.
Second, a relatively open immigration policy is one of the most effective mechanisms available for creating goodwill and close ties between the United States and non-Americans.”
339. “It should be remembered that some of the most successful minorities in the United States today – for example, Chinese and Jewish Americans – were described as unintelligent and unassimilable a hundred years ago.”
340. “If America cannot give foreigners prestigious governmental or military positions –as Rome, and to some extent, Great Britain did – it can give them prestigious and lucrative positions in its corporations. . . . India, one of the chief beneficiaries of U.S. outsourcing, is also one of the few countries in which popular attitudes toward America have remained strongly positive.”
342. Author asked grandfather, at the age of 93, why getting a U.S. citizenship was so important to me, “Because America has given me so much>”
342. “What will the twenty-first century bring? America’s chief rivals face many obstacles of their own, but, simply by virtue of their growing strength (whether individually or through alliances), the United States may well cease to be world dominant in the near future. A return to superpower status is not necessarily a bad result for the United States. Being a hyperpower, after all, is a historical anomaly and brings costs as well as benefits.
On the other hand, the United States remains today in many ways a paragon of strategic tolerance. If America can rediscover the path that has been the secret to its success since its founding and avoid the temptations of empire building, it could remain the world’s hyperpower in the decades to come – not a hyperpower of coercion and military force, but a hyperpower of opportunity, dynamism, and moral force.”
As to the peak of the Roman Empire, I think Gibbon said it best in his opening lines:
“In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence: the Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government. During a happy period (A.D. 98-180) of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines.”
For a truly scientific look at the rise and fall of pre-industrial empires I recommend Peter Turchin’s fascinating Historical Dynamics. It stresses the importance of group cohesion among the elite of an empire and looks at the mathematical dynamics of such cohesion along with conquest and population growth. It’s very scholarly, in that it takes great cognizance of the previous world-history literature. Turchin tries pretty hard to subject his theories to real quantitative tests and good tact in knowing how far the data can be trusted and how strong are various tests.
He has a more popular book that I own but have yet to read called War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires. Maybe that would be better to read first if your less interested in methodology.
Comments are closed.