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Old 04-16-2012, 04:46 PM
tallgeese tallgeese is offline
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Arrow The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

The Ethics of Empire
(Note: I am fully aware that most SD regulars will not be able to keep up with this)



Three part thesis
  • Defining “American Empire”
  • Descriptions and reflections on the current debates over the proper course of the empire
  • Prescription as to the proper course of action for a citizen of the empire to take



Special prerogatives:
  • The ability to pursue interests in ways that supersede the interests of other nations
  • Particularly the use of the dollar in international systems of finance and payment

The influence of threat power:
  • The ability to maintain control and sway decisions with fear
  • “a common power holding all in awe” - Hobbes

Destructive power:
  • The ability to make threats credible
  • The ability to forcibly gain resources at other’s expense


Special prerogatives and economics
Although I concedes that the utility of a dominant currency in the global market (i.e., the dollar), the primacy of the U.S. dollar nevertheless creates an environment in which particular courses of conduct are more feasible for the U.S. than courses of action that would otherwise favor non-U.S. interests. The U.S. can finance vast budget and trade deficits year after year with U.S. Treasury bills in foreign exchange reserves and the continued in-flow of investment funds. Additionally, foreign investors now hold about two-fifths of the federal debt in private hands and have claims on roughly $8 trillion of U.S. assets. This $8 trillion represents four-fifths of the size of the current gross national income. The exercise of these borrowing prerogatives makes it harder for sovereignties outside of the U.S. to obtain investment funds and to buy imports. Because the majority of the loans necessary to compensate for this inequity are also given in U.S. dollars, sovereignties attempting to ‘borrow their way’ to an even playing field will be affected by federal interest rates and the appreciation or depreciation of the dollar. These economically structured advantages provide the U.S. with the ability to significantly impact the capacity of various sovereignties to be subordinant (or dominant) amongst other nations to advance their own national and economic interests.

The American empire and the threat of power
Simply put, the U.S. has significant power to influence lives elsewhere because people have a reason to fear what it will do if it doesn’t get it’s interests met. On every issue, the U.S. can stir up trouble. Miller uses the example of the Uruguay Round to make his point. This was a policy change during the Clinton Administration that retroactively changed copyright laws such that material that was formerly international public domain would once again fall under U.S. Copyright law. We can see similar (and more relevant) examples of this in the recently proposed SOPA, ACTA, TTP, and CISPA legislation, which were all aimed to censor and control the flow of information on the internet. You can also see the breath of U.S. influence in the structure of the internet itself. U.S. based sites are simply labeled “.com”, whereas every other country on earth requires a geographical designation “.co.uk” and so forth. You can also see this in the global application of U.S. drug policies. The U.S. has given itself the right to usurp other nation’s domestic laws in cases in which it deems activities as a threat to U.S. drug laws. This same structure is now been broadened to include “terrorism”, allowing the U.S. to usurp other sovereignties if they consider a particular activity or group to be a threat to U.S. interest in rather vaguely defined ways.

The strongest arguments against those who would make the claim that this advantage that the U.S. holds is to the advantage of humanity as a whole. It would take considerable bigotry to suppose that the positions of France, Germany, Britian, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, and India have reflected their respective interests while that of the United States alone reflected, instead, impartial concern for moral values. To suppose that the United States was the sole participant immune from the tendency of normative beliefs to adapt to the justification of self-interested conduct would, again, require considerable bigotry, as well as ignorance of a vast literature on the reduction of cognitive dissonance (largely derived from experiments in the United States.

The American empire and destructive power
This capacity not only justifies the threat of power, but allows the increase of U.S. interests by destroying resources on which others’ contrary threat power depends. This, in turn, serves as part of the process of forcibly gaining resources at other’s expense. Taking over Iraq was an advantageous exercise of destructive power in all three ways:
  • Instilling a heightened level of fear of costs imposed by the U.S.
  • Destroying Saddam Hussein’s contrary threat power in an important region
  • Gaining access to oil reserves, markets, and investment opportunities

If one includes the effects of arming of foreign groups engaging in imposing costs, such as the contras, the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan, the Israel Defense Force, then the U.S. has exercised destructive force abroad much more extensively than any other country since the end of WWII. Look below for further data.



-------------

These three forms of power are mutually reinforcing
The ability to borrow and shape rates of foreign exchange due to the dollar’s dominance in international trade and finance are, in turn, a basis for the credibility of threats by which the U.S. shapes trade agreements. This makes possible the borrowing that sustains large deficits entailed by exercises of destructive power, as was the case in Iraq.




Further, it is my belief that this structure (dominance of the American dollar, threat of power, etc) allows America to more easily absorb foreign powers into its empire without the need to take over or occupy them.

I have created an image to better illustrate this. Look below.


This territorial influence is not universal, but is nevertheless a very important dynamic when analyzing the structure of American hegemony.

The course of the empire

What I am contending-

“Shared political arrangements are just only if everyone living under them has adequate reason [to] willingly …support them in appropriate ways, not just self-interested reasons to acquiesce” - Unknown author

He argues, from this observation, that domestic measure to ensure and protect against economic inequality could (and should) be applied in the international arena as well. One can make analogies between the economic stability of Tivland (Nigeria) and the Colonial British empire, demonstrating how they were co-dependent and that the recognition of this co-dependency by the British was key in sustaining the relationship.
  • “The more exclusive and extensive the domineering influence of a person or group throughout a territory, the more demanding the responsibility to take care of the basic needs of vulnerable people in the territory.” - unknown author
  • "It follows that no morally responsible U.S. citizen can fail to support measures in the interests of needy people in developing countries, most of which are in the U.S. territorial empire…profoundly affected by U.S. domineering influence.” - unknown author
(I use quotes without knowing the authors because I wrote down many quotes in the past but for some reason never wrote down the names. Most likely they are Herman Miller quotes)

Nevertheless, in areas where American domineering influence is deep, American responsiveness to deprivation is shallow.

The other side of the argument is that this boldness will advance the interests of humanity, not just the U.S., by establishing more just regimes and more open economies, as well as spreading fear among dangerous tyrants. Many respond to this by saying it is irrational, foolishly destroying resources of goodwill and trust that are needed to sustain American world power.

---------------




Note: this is an ongoing personal research "project" - feel free to add to it or to point out inaccuracies.
Last Edited by tallgeese; 04-18-2012 at 10:43 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 04-16-2012, 05:26 PM
Lord Zero Lord Zero is a male Wales Lord Zero is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

I think there's an interesting discussion to be had based on your opening post, but unfortunately I'm not entirely clear on what it is in particular that you're opening up for discussion. So if I can just ask you this: If you could boil down your OP to a single question, what would that question be?
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Old 04-16-2012, 05:30 PM
tallgeese tallgeese is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Cultures or societies that grow beyond the competitive scope of other societies tend to abuse them and their resources for their own personal gain, and to maintain dominance. Is there a way to adjust the symbiotic relationship between "empires" and the other societies dependent on them so they adhere to social contracts and basic respect for the livelihood of others?
Last Edited by tallgeese; 04-16-2012 at 05:30 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 04-16-2012, 05:39 PM
Great White North Great White North is a male Prussia Great White North is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallgeese View Post
Cultures or societies that grow beyond the competitive scope of other societies tend to abuse them and their resources for their own personal gain, and to maintain dominance. Is there a way to adjust the symbiotic relationship between "empires" and the other societies dependent on them so they adhere to social contracts and basic respect for the livelihood of others?
Of course. It just requires that the populace of that 'empire' to be motivated by humanitarian concerns and educated on public policy and foreign relations.

It is not the inherently coercive nature of power that is undesirable, but rather application of that power in pursuit of solely selfish interest.
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Old 04-16-2012, 05:55 PM
tallgeese tallgeese is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Great White North View Post
Of course. It just requires that the populace of that 'empire' to be motivated by humanitarian concerns and educated on public policy and foreign relations.
I believe that the sensationalist methods of the American media and the (possibly intentional) degradation of the schooling system is directly aimed at preventing this. If the will of the people was the biggest deciding factor in American politics, I do not think that what I described above would even exist.

Quote:
It is not the inherently coercive nature of power that is undesirable, but rather application of that power in pursuit of solely selfish interest.
Yes, exactly. I have more information and data I will share once I polish it up (this project is nowhere near completion, after all) that helps demonstrate this. For example, after the destruction of the Iraqi phone system, Bahrain quickly set up a solid wireless network through a 5 million dollar investment in European telecommunications. The U.S. occupational group promptly shut down the system and built another one using American Motorola technology. Unsurprisingly, American telecommunications companies profited immensely from the deal.
Last Edited by tallgeese; 04-16-2012 at 06:06 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 04-16-2012, 06:11 PM
Lord Zero Lord Zero is a male Wales Lord Zero is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallgeese View Post
Cultures or societies that grow beyond the competitive scope of other societies tend to abuse them and their resources for their own personal gain, and to maintain dominance. Is there a way to adjust the symbiotic relationship between "empires" and the other societies dependent on them so they adhere to social contracts and basic respect for the livelihood of others?
When it comes to an "Empire" like America's (nice use of the Death Star, by the way), they have the leverage over the nations that they "conquer". If those nations had any upper hand over the Empire, they would not be capable of being conquered. So adjustment of the relationship can only come from within the dominant nation in the Empire, unless another power which is capable from competing with the first one can influence it.

This in a way is one benefit of the European Union. People can laugh and say that individual European nations are a joke on the world stage when compared to America, and even Europeans will laugh and say that the Union is a good idea gone horriblky wrong, but Europe speaks with a collective voice on the world stage. The United States and China are two superpowers that can go head to head, one alleged to be a state of Imperialist Libertarians, and the other alleged to be a state of Capitalist Communists. The European Union is a collective of states with common goals, which are capable of matching the other two superpowers by their powers combined. So when it comes to overarching world policies, America does to some degree have to consider whether or not it could get away with carrying out some of its plans under the watchful eye of Europe.

Unfortunately, because of economic concerns and because of the threat that countries such as China may pose, Europe can't stand too opposed to America at this stage, which may be where part of the problem lies. Despite this, it may still be possible that it gives America an incentive to tread softly. Maybe I give the EU too much credit, but I think it's possible that it tempers America's zeal.
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Last Edited by Lord Zero; 04-16-2012 at 06:17 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 04-16-2012, 08:30 PM
tallgeese tallgeese is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lord Zero View Post
When it comes to an "Empire" like America's (nice use of the Death Star, by the way), they have the leverage over the nations that they "conquer". If those nations had any upper hand over the Empire, they would not be capable of being conquered. So adjustment of the relationship can only come from within the dominant nation in the Empire, unless another power which is capable from competing with the first one can influence it.
Iraq had an upper hand: they had oil. Hussein had already either started selling it or was planning to sell it in a way that did not reinforce the American dollar as the dominant currency. Bush made up some vague excuse to go after Hussein, but his plan was to get to those resources. Maybe some are conquerable and some aren't?

Quote:
This in a way is one benefit of the European Union. People can laugh and say that individual European nations are a joke on the world stage when compared to America, and even Europeans will laugh and say that the Union is a good idea gone horriblky wrong, but Europe speaks with a collective voice on the world stage. The United States and China are two superpowers that can go head to head, one alleged to be a state of Imperialist Libertarians, and the other alleged to be a state of Capitalist Communists. The European Union is a collective of states with common goals, which are capable of matching the other two superpowers by their powers combined. So when it comes to overarching world policies, America does to some degree have to consider whether or not it could get away with carrying out some of its plans under the watchful eye of Europe.
The most dynamic and contested aspect of globalization is the extension of services, above all being financial services. Providing such services across borders is the only category in which the U.S. has achieved a large and growing trade surplus in the last two decades. But the competitive vigor of European banking has always been strong, and is, if anything, stronger with the revolution in information technology. I shudder to think where the world would be without the European banking system in place to compete with the American one. If people are laughing at the European union, then they are considerably ignorant of the effects they have on the globe and globalization.
Last Edited by tallgeese; 04-16-2012 at 08:35 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 04-17-2012, 07:45 AM
minervyx minervyx is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

The U.S. is not an empire. It is not occupying any land, it is just influencing.

It is basically selflessly helping other countries become stable, to secure oil interests, which is not for corrupt corporations, but rather the heart of American society.
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Old 04-17-2012, 08:02 AM
Brad Brad is a male Sweden Brad is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

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Originally Posted by minervyx View Post
The U.S. is not an empire. It is not occupying any land, it is just influencing.

It is basically selflessly helping other countries become stable, to secure oil interests, which is not for corrupt corporations, but rather the heart of American society.
As of December 30, 2010, the US is stationed in one hundred and fifty countries around the globe. As of Dec. 30, 2009, there were over one million troops on active duty in just the US and its territories alone. If that's not the definition of a militaristic empire, I don't know what is.
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Old 04-17-2012, 10:15 AM
Lord Zero Lord Zero is a male Wales Lord Zero is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallgeese View Post
Iraq had an upper hand: they had oil. Hussein had already either started selling it or was planning to sell it in a way that did not reinforce the American dollar as the dominant currency. Bush made up some vague excuse to go after Hussein, but his plan was to get to those resources. Maybe some are conquerable and some aren't?
I don't really see that as an upper hand, as such. If it did have an upper hand, Bush wouldn't have been able to just up and invade. Nations truly in competition engage in diplomacy, is what I was suggesting, and Iraq didn't have enough of a competitive edge over America to prevent them from using force. It wasn't an upper hand, it was a commodity which it happened to be in possession of.

Quote:
The most dynamic and contested aspect of globalization is the extension of services, above all being financial services. Providing such services across borders is the only category in which the U.S. has achieved a large and growing trade surplus in the last two decades. But the competitive vigor of European banking has always been strong, and is, if anything, stronger with the revolution in information technology. I shudder to think where the world would be without the European banking system in place to compete with the American one. If people are laughing at the European union, then they are considerably ignorant of the effects they have on the globe and globalization.
That's what I keep telling Conservative voters and other Eurosceptics in this country - without the European Union, Britain would not have as much of a voice on the world stage as it does, and would most likely be as close to a 51st state of America as it could get. As the Iraq war demonstrates again, however, if an EU nation's interests and America's interests collide, then there is little to stop their collusion.
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Old 04-17-2012, 11:51 AM
tallgeese tallgeese is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Quote:
Originally Posted by minervyx View Post
The U.S. is not an empire. It is not occupying any land, it is just influencing.

It is basically selflessly helping other countries become stable, to secure oil interests, which is not for corrupt corporations, but rather the heart of American society.
Quote:
Originally Posted by me earlier in the thread
The strongest arguments against those who would make the claim that this advantage that the U.S. holds is to the advantage of humanity as a whole. It would take considerable bigotry to suppose that the positions of France, Germany, Britian, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, and India have reflected their respective interests while that of the United States alone reflected, instead, impartial concern for moral values. To suppose that the United States was the sole participant immune from the tendency of normative beliefs to adapt to the justification of self-interested conduct would, again, require considerable bigotry, as well as ignorance of a vast literature on the reduction of cognitive dissonance (largely derived from experiments in the United States.
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Old 04-23-2012, 07:35 PM
Valhelm Valhelm is a male United States Valhelm is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

An Imperial system, in which all the world's people are members of twenty or thirty large nations, is very beneficial. This way, poverty, violence, and disease can be regulated. As each large nation would be quite powerful, warfare would be minimized.

The largest downside is the inevitable loss of cultural and linguistic diversity. However, if the governments of these meganations strive to preserve the valuable differences between its peoples, then this would be less of an issue.
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Old 04-24-2012, 08:49 PM
Raptor Buddha Raptor Buddha is offline
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Re: The Ethics of Empire [exploratory-descriptive]

Well, I’ve thought a great deal about how to effectively link empire to a broad social contract theory and, unfortunately, I haven’t come up with too much that’s of any real value. I think part of this is because social contract theory tends to be based on the idea of some level of equality between ruler and ruled, and empires in themselves are an aberrational product where power is concentrated in the hands of nation(s) at the expense of others. Fundamentally, the basis of the relationship is about inequality.

Certainly, I think in many ways the United Nations and its antecedents represents at least a cursory effort to—if not bind great powers to social contracts—provide a mechanism to reduce international tensions, and as a consequence has the effect of legally recognizing the sovereignty of all countries being equal. Realistically, we all know that sovereignty is not equal, and that is reflected in the fact that there are five permanent members in the UN security council.

Probably, if there has been any significant development that has altered the relationship in empires it’s probably been the development of nuclear weapons. This means that nations that would otherwise be gobbled up as a backward province in the empire’s hinterland instead become major international players who have the ability to, in the event of direct annexation, possibly take down the rest of the world with them. Even though this can be seen as a solution to empires that absorb other nations territorially—in other words, through direct military conquest—for reasons that I hope are obvious I hope this isn’t a solution that is readily adopted.

However, you’re really querying whether there is something that can be done to fundamentally change the relationship between polities irrespective of changes of economic strength, military power, political developments, etc. I think to really answer this question you have to sit back and ask think about how nations are internally run. For example, if one follows the believe that nations are in essence, amoral, Machiavellian entities governed by characters who by-and-large favor the same traits, then ultimately there might never be a behavior change that could bring about the social contract change you seem to insinuate. Instead, the answer must be risk-reward—prohibitively costly military costs, stronger and more authoritative international organizations, equivalent economic leverage among weaker nations, etc. If one believes, however, that nations are run by people who apply their own thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and ethical systems to political questions, then I think the question becomes more about how to foster a normative appreciation for the value of justice between nations to such a degree that such values take precedence over—possibly—political gain at the ballot box. What’s the solution there? Education? An emphasis on some form of ethical political philosophy? I really don’t know, and the more I look at it, honestly, the less confident I am in those solutions. I think this is especially the case because I think democratic empires tend to have a great deal more incentive to exploit less powerful countries because, when all is said and done, they are unrepresented in elections.

Thus, I think, in a real world where nations are run by human beings who do have their own thoughts and feelings, but also look at issues pragmatically, you need some combination of the above solutions—however ineffectual they might seem. Unfortunately, many countries hoping for leverage against empires will not hold their breath for such a profound change in the moral political culture of a state. Instead, for these countries, the most effective leverage against an empire will still be weapons of mass destruction and limited resources (oil). I hope that, at least, explores your question.
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