The Empire, Long Divided, Must Unite; Long United, Must Divide

Nations are fictions which exist only as long as the right people continue believing in them. __ Attributed to Al Fin

For thousands of years, one Chinese dynasty has followed another. But not every dynasty has been able to control all or most of Chinese territory, and between the fall of one dynasty and the rise of another there has periodically been chaos. The Chinese Communist Party is just the latest Chinese dynasty, which itself emerged following a long period of war and chaos. __

“Here begins our tale: The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.” This opening adage of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, China’s classic novel of war and strategy, best captures the essential dynamism of Chinese geopolitics. At its heart is the millennia-long struggle by China’s would-be rulers to unite and govern the all-but-ungovernable geographic mass of China. It is a story of centrifugal forces and of insurmountable divisions rooted in geography and history – but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, of centripetal forces toward eventual unity.

This dynamism is not limited to China. ___ Zhixing Zhang

Empires — and nations — rise and fall. The USSR, Yugoslavia, India, and several other entities have experienced partial dissolution, and continue to experience strong centripetal and centrifugal forces that threaten to rip off yet more pieces of populated lands and cast them aside. Germany was divided and reunited. Vietnam has been divided and reunited multiple times across history. China may be the most famous of the “now you see it, now you don’t!” national entities and empires. But it is neither the first nor the last.

Why do empires begin to collapse, just when those “in the know” expect them to last forever?

Herodotus believed that there were invariable laws to the rise and fall of empires. Empires rose and fell—as they still do today—because of individual decisions made by individual leaders.

The greatest mistake made by those in power, like Darius, was the sin of hybris. That Greek word means “outrageous arrogance.” Hybris (and that is the way it should be transliterated) is the outrageous arrogance that marks the abuse of power. Only those invested with enormous power can commit the sin of hybris. Hybris is the imposition of your will, at all costs. __ Reflections

There are other ways in which the hubris of leaders cause the foundations of empire to crumble.

Rome and the Han Dynasty were quite powerful at their peak. And as many powerful empires seem to do at their peak, they began to degrade. Now one similarity between these two empires is the Government, which ultimately lead to the discontentment of the people. The Romans, who often favored the people of high society to the farmers that were the backbone of their empire, eventually learned that leaving the peasants out of political discussions would lead to their ruin, through peasant revolts. The same could be said of the Han, except not only did the peasants not get a say in government, but they also had more taxes imposed upon them, even after most of them had to retreat down towards south China because of the famine that was spreading in north China during the Yellow Turban Rebellion. __ Empire’s Collapse

There are many other reasons why empires begin their long death spiral, just when they seem to be at their peaks.

[Sir John] Glubb estimates that most empires do not last longer than roughly 250 years, with many of them lasting much shorter periods of time. He describes many of the stages of empire, and many of the reasons why they break down and eventually disappear.

… One of the reasons for decline of empire described by Glubb is the influx of masses of people from outside cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, who are different from the core populations making up the founders and conquering peoples who brought about the original empire. __ Span of Empire

See: Fate of Empires by Sir John Glubb (PDF)

Empires attract outsiders who are looking to improve their situations. The UK pulls in diverse peoples from the Commonwealth. Russia’s cities draw in hordes from Central Asia, former clients of the USSR. North America presently draws multitudes from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The EU attracts millions of fertile youngsters from Africa and the near East.

But as Glubb points out (PDF), what is good for the immigrant is not necessarily good for the recipient nation — particularly if assimilation is shallow, slow, or nonexistent.

We will be looking at some of the reasons that empires have fallen, and draw modern parallels to Russia, Europe, and the United States — among others.

As always, it is difficult to predict anything — especially the future. HFTB. PFTW. It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.

Recent Secessionist Movements

The Global Secession Fever

Addendum: Remember that as the tools of organisation, resistance, and survival grow stronger, smaller, and more concealable, the need for powerful central governments will wither. Covert islands of resistance to tyrannical hubris should be able to hide in plain sight until the time is ripe for them to act.

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4 Responses to The Empire, Long Divided, Must Unite; Long United, Must Divide

  1. bob sykes says:

    Love the map. The steppe empires only died somewhat recently when Russia began its expansion into Siberia.

    In “Secular Cycles” (Princeton, 2009) Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov develop an economic description of state expansion and collapse. In general, the expansionary phase exhibits a growing population and growing personal incomes for just about everyone. As time goes on the elite classes begin to expand relative to the general population, and they extract a larger share of the national income. Elite expansion and confiscation of income induce economic stagnation. The process of elite expansion at some point begins to reduce the average income of the commoners, and even the lower classes of the elite begin to suffer losses. The economy goes into decline. At some point elite competition for status and money leads to violence and insurrection and the state structure unravels.

    It is tempting to read this into the current situation in the US and EU. Clearly, the EU/US elites (which includes the credentialed professional class as well as the wealthy) have expanded in relative numbers and are doing quite well, whereas the working class has experienced falling real incomes for at least 30 years, and middle class incomes have stagnated or fallen slightly. A recent poll shows that in every State about one-fourth of the population wants its state to secede from the Union. The fact that central bank interventions have failed to stimulate the economies of the US, EU, Japan and now China suggests some very deep problems in the world economy.

    Also, the US has been almost continuously at war since the sinking of the Maine 116 years ago. No other country has participated in so many wars, large and small, for so many years and actually world wide as has the US.

    Just think of the sheer number of them: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines (Morro insurrection), China (boots on the ground), every country in the Caribbean and Central America several times, Columbia (creation of Panama), Mexico, WWI, Russia (boots on the ground), again every country in C. A. and Caribbean several times, WWII, Korea, Cuba (Bay of Pigs) Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, again the Caribbean and Central America, Chile (the Allende thingy), Columbia (again and ongoing, the drug wars), Iran (set up Shah), Angola, Somalia (boots on the ground, ran away), Iraq (now three times), Afghanistan (defeated), Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine (boots on the ground). JHC!!! Did I forget someone?

    People like to compare the US to Rome. Well, the Roman state lasted 2,200 years from its founding in Rome in the Eighth Century BC until it was overrun by the Turks in the Fifteenth Century. So by that standard, we should still be fighting until 4,000 AD.

  2. alfin2101 says:

    That is why there are more successful historians than there are successful prophets. The past can be sliced, diced, and seasoned to taste. Anyone who treats the future the same way should pray that he dies before his predictions come to the test, else become a laughing-stock.

    The secular cycle of population growth and decline suggests that Japan, Europe, Russia, Korea, and Canada are unlikely to become the next great empires. China and India, by that standard, are likelier to rule. But the populations of sub Saharan African nations are growing more quickly than any others. Perhaps an alliance of China, India, and a neo-colonised Africa?

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      Yeah, well China’s demographics are exactly 20 years behind those of Japan. China’s youth population (those 24 and under) peaked in ’11 and their working age population peaks next year. Both of these occurring exactly 20 years after similar milestones for Japan. India’s demographics are roughly 20 years behind those of China. However, India has many different kinds of people. South India’s TFR is already below replacement (about 1.6) whereas the muslim north is at around 3.0 but declining fast.

      I predict a Chinese/Pan-African alliance, with India as sort of junior partner. Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the Chinese are actually being very careful NOT to provoke India militarily. This is not because the Chinese fear the Indians, but simply because they seek India as an efficient trading partner.

  3. Abelard Lindsey says:

    BTW, the Muslim Middle-east is in its 30 years war (started in ’11) that will continue until a majority of its fighting age men are dead, probably around 2040. This war requires the consumption of two generations of such men, thus making a “30 year” war. David Goldman (aka Spengler) has written extensively about this. The remains of the Muslim Middle-east will be absorbed by the China/Pan-African alliance (with a greatly expanded Israel) around 2040.

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