Until recently, it was thought by many that empires were relics of the past. But suddenly, in the wake of 9/11, the global war on terror and the invasion of Iraq, the question of imperial power has returned to the centre of debate: we now seem to be faced with a new American empire that many people regard as threatening. Do the politicians in Washington dictate the rules that the rest of the world must follow? Or do empires have a logic of their own to which even the most powerful rulers must succumb?
In this major new book, Herfried Munkler analyses the characteristics of empires and traces the rise and fall of imperial powers from Ancient Rome to the present day. What is an empire? What risks does an imperial order face and what opportunities are offered? Munkler shows how empires provide stability and examines the dangers they face when their powers are overstretched. He argues that, while earlier empires from Ancient China and Ancient Rome to the Spanish, Portuguese and British empires had their own historical conditions, certain basic principles concerning the development and preservation of power can be discerned in all empires and are still relevant today.
This book is a commanding walk through the history of empires and at the same time a brilliant analysis of the most modern of topics. It will appeal to students and scholars of international politics and history as well as general readers interested in political history and contemporary world politics.
1. What Is an Empire?
A brief sketch of the characteristics of empires - World empires and great empires - The compulsion to intervene, neutrality options and the Melian dialogue in Thucydides
2. Empire, Imperialism and Hegemony: a Necessary Distinction
The self-destructive dynamic of capitalism: economic theories of imperialism - The centre-periphery problem - Prestige and great power rivalry: political theories of imperialism - Expansion pressures, marginality advantages and time sovereignty - The tricky distinction between hegemony and empire
3. Steppe Empires, Sea Empires and Global Economies: A Short Typology of Imperial Rule
The formation of empires through military and commercial extraction of surplus product - The two (at least two) sides of empires - Imperial cycles and Augustan thresholds
4. Civilization and Barbarian Frontiers: Tasks and Hallmarks of Imperial Order
Peace as a justification for imperial rule - Imperial missions and the sacredness of empire - The idea of the barbarian and the construction of imperial space - Prosperity as a justification and programme for imperial rule
5. The Defeat of Empires by the Power of the Weak
Forms of imperial overstretch - Political mobilization and military asymmetry: the strategies of anti-imperial players - Cultural identity struggles and terrorism as a strategy for wars of devastation
6. The Surprising Return of Empire in the Post-Imperial Age
Analyses of the end of empire and the problem of post-imperial areas - The United States: the new empire - A democratic empire? - Europe’s imperial challenge