Warnings from Keynes and Kipling about our mad empire

Summary:  Hubris is the great destroyer of Empires. The mad American Empire might be the next to go. It costs much, brings no economic benefits (no treasure ships coming home, no boost to our exports), and multiplies our enemies. We can learn from Britain’s imperial history, as in these quotes from Keynes and Kipling. Or we can crash on our own.

Wave good-bye to the American Empire.

Leaving the American Empire - dreamstime_43682333
ID 43682333 © Mirko Vitali | Dreamstime.

Americans take great pride in our weaponry, such as the new Virginia Class attack submarines — among the most sophisticated weapons ever built, $2 billion each, with no relevant foe warranting their deployment.  Likewise we exult in the Americans of our Special Operations Command, among the most skilled and dedicated soldiers in world history – almost 70 thousand strong (roughly the size of Canada’s armed forces), operating in 75 nations, “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine” (in the words of John Nagl, former advisor to Petraeus and President of Center for a New American Security).  And in our world-girdling chain of hundreds of bases around the world.

Can we afford them? Might their cost weaken us, more than offsetting their benefits? This was asked at the twilight of the British empire, as in these chilling words from Lord Keynes to the British cabinet on 13 August 1945. His words apply as well to us today.

“{T}he gay …fashion we undertake liabilities all over the world and slop money to the importunate represents an over-playing of our hand, the possibility of which will come to an end quite suddenly and in the near future unless we obtain a new source of assistance. …We have got into the habit of maintaining large and expensive establishments all over the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia to cover communications, to provide reserves for unnamed contingencies and to police vast areas eastwards from Tunis to Burma and northwards from East Africa to Germany. …

“To an innocent observer in the Treasury, very early and very drastic economies in this huge cash expenditure overseas seem an absolute condition of maintaining our solvency. …These are burdens which there is no reasonable expectation of our being able to carry.”

Listen to Keynes. In 1919 he warned the Brits that the Treaty of Versailles would have horrific consequences (in The Economic Consequences of the Peace). He was right. The above warning was also prescient. By 1976 Britain was broke, saved by a massive bailout by the IMF. Let’s not make him right yet again.

Who loves the Empire?

People like Niall Ferguson write nonsensical (but pretty) propaganda about the glories of the British Empire. But the American empire is run for profit, just as the British Empire was. With one difference. The Brits extracted their profits from the “wogs” abroad. Our elites extract profits from us at home through defense spending (keeping us distracted with wars and threats of war while they pick our pockets).

In Horizon, February 1942 Orwell makes a powerful observation about imperial Britain that also describes our America…

“It is notable that Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern. …{It} is a fact that Kipling’s ‘message’ {about the glories of Empire} was one that the big public did not want, and, indeed, has never accepted. The mass of the people, in the nineties as now, were anti-militarist, bored by the Empire, …”

The American people have always had an isolationist viewpoint, liking the pageantry of empire but unwilling to support foreign wars with their money and blood – excerpt after provocations and when stoked by propaganda. As we have seen with our post-9/11 wars. There was strong support from the public at the start, which faded as the war ran on.

Of course, that made no difference. The wars’ advocates remain confident. Journalists act as cheerleaders. Both conservatives and liberals in Congress vote to continue the wars. If we do not run America’s political machinery, then others will do so. But we can take the reins of America – if we have the will.

Who benefits from the American empire?

Summary: Here’s a powerful poem by Rudyard Kipling. It’s about Britain, but also about us. The past provides a mirror in which we can see ourselves, valuable given the clouded vision that afflicts us. These notes from the past can help us get a grip on ourselves, and perhaps retake the reins of America.

“Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling

Composed for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (1897).

Rudyard Kipling

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law –
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word –
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Kipling’s words warned Britain at its peak to build on a just foundation. Relying on power and rapacity was building on sand. By “lesser breeds” and “heathen heart” he pointed to Germany as an exemplar of a lawless people that believed that “might makes right”. WWII proved that to be true. After WWII, Germany proved that people can change.

Kipling’s words apply to us, given America’s history of overthrowing elected governments, supporting tyrants, and helping replace secular governments with fundamentalist Islamic ones (see what we have done for Afghanistan’s women here and here). Let’s listen better than the Brits did.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these posts about George Orwell and about the American Empire

Books about our mad empire

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (2017).

American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy by Andrew Bacevich (2002).

A People's History of American Empire
Available at Amazon.
American Empire by Andrew Bacevich
Available at Amazon.

7 thoughts on “Warnings from Keynes and Kipling about our mad empire”

  1. Kipling’s ideas about Empire were modified after his only son was killed in battle in World War 1.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Colin,

      Orwell’s article (in the past) is a wonderful brief bio of Kipling’s work and evolution.

  2. Britain lost its empire after fighting several wars against a near-peer competitor, Germany. America will fight no such peer. Our nuclear capability Is the deterrent.

    Britain’s empire needed tariff-free access to the vast economies of its colonies. America has its own vast internal market, plus NAFTA / USMCA. Our agriculture and industrial base is the connective tissue.

    The benevolent American dominion can, and should, last forever.

    Fabius Maximus need not last forever.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Anthony,

      “America will fight no such peer. Our nuclear capability Is the deterrent.”

      Wow. That’s really weird. China’s GDP of $13 trillion and nuclear weapons makes it a peer, especially in its home waters.

      “Britain’s empire needed tariff-free access to the vast economies of its colonies.”

      Did you read the post? The common element is reliance on external funding, as per Keynes.

      “The benevolent American dominion can, and should, last forever.”

      Too stupid a statement to need rebuttal.

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