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In the First Post I Said
In the following posts I plan to take each of these points and discuss them in light of my general issue, my present fear for my country. I may, in fact have to revise the first post by adding further “basic points” as I go along because there may be things I have not discussed on which I intend to build. (That is the nature of blog posts, I think: first drafts or no better than second drafts of pieces one might or might not come back and polish at a later time.)
What follows, then, is, as I expected, a needed addendum to my “basics” post:
David, a regular reader of this blog made a comment on the “basic beliefs” post which has forced me to rethink how I was framing this discussion and add a basic belief which I have held for some years to the discussion. It concerns the nature of empire:
10) Empire is not a structure, per se; it is the successful actualization of an idolatrous, spiritual desire to make much more of any existing thing than it ought to be and by so doing, diminish the value of everything else.
As I wrote under “5. There are many forms of empire…” Although most successful empires are political, there are economic and ecclesiastical empires in history. The reason why the urge to aggrandize one’s nation beyond its traditional borders is more-often successful politically than the economic or ecclesiastic sort is likely because governments legitimately have the power of the sword while businesses and churches are usually (but not always) restricted by law from exercising capital punishment. The exceptions to this rule also point us toward empire: the Inquisition in the Catholic Church and the numerous occasions during the early modern period when monopolies like the East India Company served as the de facto government of colonies within the British and Dutch empires.
I would also add that it may be the same anti-creational impulse which often leads to empire that corrodes whatever justice a government, business or church had been engaged in previous to its infection with the imperial virus.
One might ask whether marriages, friendships, media, families or schools might also aspire to imperial “greatness”? I believe we see the same impulses in each of these human structures. We have used the term “media empire” since the days of “Citizen Kane.” One such modern media empire even teaches those who use it that they are traitors if they read, hear or see any other media outfit’s information. The imperial impulse exists throughout human experience. Some institutions more easily and famously aggrandize themselves than others.
Empire: A Christian Perspective
We usually recognize the imperial impulse under the “deadly sin” frame of greed. Looked at from the point of view of the Old Testament law, the imperial impulse is countered by Law-word 10:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17
Empire happens as persons within an institution:
1) decide “their thing”needs to either absorb or wipe out all other things of its kind and
2) force other kinds of things to do its bidding.
Sub-Point 1) Specifically:
A church which believes it is the only true church and that all other churches are disobedient to God may choose to stop at nothing until all other faith expressions are crushed, by any means.
Sub-Point 1) Examples:
The Taliban movement embodies this imperial attitude in Afghanistan and Pakistan, wiping out other expressions of Islam as well as other expressions of faith, wherever possible.
The Roman Catholic Church embodied this attitude for a thousand years in Europe and beyond, destroying any Christian or non-Christian faith expression it could not co-opt.
Sub-Point 2) Specifically:
A church or business which causes governments to do its bidding will usurp the power of government to aid its effort to crush other churches or businesses.
Sub-Point 2) Examples:
The East India Company embodied the imperial attitude in the 18th century and urged the British Parliament to pass laws which would wipe out all its competitors in the American colonies. Parliament did as the corporation urged. In so doing, the British Parliament did not serve the cause of justice for subjects of the British Crown but became instead the servant of an early multinational corporation. In U. S. history-telling, the passage by Parliament of those laws led to the original Boston Tea Party, a colonial insurgent action which was the immediate prelude to the American Revolution and Revolutionary War. This was the “tyranny” of Patrick Henry: “taxation without representation.”
Today, big-box retailers, especially Walmart, with local tax incentives for the corporation and state government assistance to its underpaid work force, ruthlessly undercuts and destroys whole communities of family-based merchants in small towns throughout North America. If government of the people is not restored and Walmart gets its way, there will only be one store to shop at for anything. On this issue only the legislature of Vermont has remained accountable to its people: there are no big-box retailers in Vermont.
Large corporate farms, aided and abetted by U. S. law, have been, for over fifty years, wiping out small-scale, local and bio-diverse family farming.
Large corporations frequently sit down with their own government regulators to write rules which are favorable to them but are between difficult and impossible to keep for start-up companies in their same businesses. As a result small-scale meat and poultry processing has been made illegal, to the delight of the large packing companies, in most states in the U. S.
Armour, Tyson and the other biggies need never fear small-scale and local competition until the people of each state force their legislatures to force the state regulators to get out of bed with the big packing companies.
This issue exists in several industries where government rightly regulates for the sake of justice yet does injustice by working with only a few or even just one stakeholder to the detriment of all the others. In the case of Walmart, although most anti-trust legislation has not been enforced in over thirty years, even if it was it would not help against the crushing power of this one imperial corporation. Existing anti-trust legislation was aimed at brutal manufacturers, and service providers, not retailers. New federal laws are needed to stop Walmart from further destroying social fabric in the U. S., yet, as one observer put it, “pigs will fly first” because most of the U. S. Congress on both sides of the political aisle is in bed with Walmart.
The Imperial Infection
The imperial impulse wants it all, wants everything. Instead of finding its place as a servant among other servants within the community of human institutions, an imperial-minded institution sees the world as a battlefield and all other entities and institutions as its enemies, to be co-opted or crushed.
As Clarence Jordan once remarked in a message on greed, “There was a farmer in our community who was buying up the foreclosed farms around him. Not surprisingly, he was accused of greed. But now, he said, ‘I’m not greedy! I don’t want to own all the land in the county. I just want the land next to mine!’”
This is the spirit of empire.
As the fictitious Hannibal Lector whispered to FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling,
No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now…
…No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. …don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?
The lawless, those who do not know who they are in a creation which does not actually belong to them; the cancerous, those who grow just to grow until they kill their own selves by destroying all the good things around them which they need to be healthy; the imperial-minded begin by seeing and then wanting and then scheming to have it all. Their gnawing need to puff themselves up by gobbling up everything is finally the enemy of all creation and of every good thing in it.
On David’s Comments
David, in his corrective comment, noted that at one time the king of France controlled only the Ile de France: the city of Paris and a single ring of contiguous districts. Implicitly, David allows it may have been from an imperial motive that France came to be the largest European nation which is entirely within the borders of Europe. Certainly, the English at the time believed they ought to control the half of France which was under their sovereignty and the Duke of Burgundy undoubtedly saw the king of France as his liege in only the most formal sense.
Yet, eventually, after 1945, all of what we know as modern France, including the long-contested region of Alsace-Lorraine, became recognized as within the legal borders of the country. Few today view France as imperial in its attitude because it holds the sometimes-German city of Strasbourg.
Indeed, the nation of Poland was twice gobbled up by strong imperial neighbors and half of what is Poland today was not long ago a part of Germany (Prussia) and half of former Poland became a part of Russia. And so it is today. Borders which were forcibly changed by conflict during the early 20th century were frozen by the Cold War in the latter half. In the late 1980s as the Cold War thawed, many were afraid the old land disputes would resurface and plunge Europe into another conflict. It was agreed through negotiations conducted within the U. N. that no prewar border disputes would be recognized as legitimate.
In many ways, the Common Market and its several antecedents, have been an economic solution to the old imperial impulses of Europe. Indeed, the usual imperial efforts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been of the economic rather than the territorial sort.
So, to further answer David, it is not my intent going forward to play “democracy” off against “empire” but to discuss the problem it is for any society to have within it one or more institutions which have caught the self-destructive imperial itch.
Next time: Some of the implications of my beliefs and why I am afraid.