After the Empire

by Emmanuel Todd
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Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire quite explicitly relies on analogies with other cultures such as ancient Greece and Rome. How do such analogies affect and influence his case, and how do such analogies correspond to one's understanding of the ancient world?

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The first assumption in Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire is that the United States is an empire, and while there is plenty of evidence to support this, it is debatable. The US has infiltrated the territory of other countries by ostensibly bringing democracy, but it has also participated in...

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The first assumption in Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire is that the United States is an empire, and while there is plenty of evidence to support this, it is debatable. The US has infiltrated the territory of other countries by ostensibly bringing democracy, but it has also participated in protracted military engagements, then left the invaded country to pick up the pieces (El Salvador, Iraq). In the modern era, from the mid-1800s on and certainly after World War I, the US has been among the most powerful nations on earth. After World War II, partially due to the demise of Germany and the devastation of Europe, the US became the nation with the biggest economy and most powerful military on the planet. Although the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republics) had a large land mass, huge amounts of natural resources, and technological innovation, the economy of the USSR and its lack of political stability made it a competing "superpower" for only a few decades. In the mid-1980s, the Berlin Wall fell, and the US became the only superpower.

Todd makes analogies with Ancient Greek and Roman societies in claiming the US is the lone empire, dominating all other countries. This is a limited analogy for the following reasons. Greek culture, while dominating large areas until the rise of Rome and the culmination of its stability in "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace) around 100 CE, did not have much competition. Greece, especially Athens, dominated intellectual life and science, but their empire had limited and fragmented military power. The Roman Empire has more similarities with the US, in its far global reach and military dominance.

Like the Romans, the US has been in a position of power for more than two hundred years, has exported its culture around the world, and has successfully assimilated many other cultures through immigration. On the negative side, the US has an eroding middle class that is burdened by taxation and a fondness for "bread and circuses" (entertainment) that distracts the populace from participating in government. The US is unlike the Romans in significant ways, however. The US no longer practices slavery, arguably does not have a dominant religion (Christianity), and is losing economic ground to China relatively slowly. Because of its relative geographic isolation, the US has never been invaded. In the current global economy, the interdependence of nations means the likelihood of a war that would crush the US or invade its boundaries is unlikely. The Roman Empire was defeated from within due to corruption of its leaders but was also overcome by invading forces that sacked Rome, and this scenario is unlikely in the US. Overall, analogies with the Roman Empire are strong, but global forces in the modern age have moved warfare far beyond simply invading geographic boundaries.

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