The Four Pillars of an Empire - a short essay

Today we have the opportunity to asses history and identify regional and major powers in their day. Few come to the prestigious title of 'Empire', although some Bulgarians and Anatolian Greeks might disagree. These nations dominated the region they were in and projected great influence and might to their neighbors. To each Empire is its demise, and as the Persians hath fallen so did the Romans and the Caliphate. We can identify four pillars of an Empire that are the basis of its power and domination over its neighbors. Each of these is divided into two subsections of soft and hard.

The four are - The Military, The Diplomacy, The Economy and The Cultural Sphere. In order for an empire to retain its holdings and dominance and to prevent an erosion of its power, it much retain control over these four pillars that define their empire.

The first is the Military, which is divided into soft and hard. The hard military is simple to explain - it is the sheer military might a nation can field and project. The more it can call up to arms and the further it can post these troops, the more influence it gains in the region. The soft military is comprised of Deterrence (to scare off potential aspiring nations), intelligence and subterfuge. Using internal politics to doom a region (The differences between Ceaser's Gaul and Britain's India are not too large) is a tactic that first requires the power of soft military might which allows for an easier struggle afterwards when using hard military power. It also allows for a change of power inside another country, which would change its attitude towards the Empire, preferably for the best.

The second is the Diplomacy, which is divided into soft and hard. The hard Diplomacy is the Empire's ability to negotiate with other nations with considerable leverage because of their status. This was guaranteed by its military might, economical prowess and cultural hegemony in the region it occupied. You only need to imagine Britain's negotiations with black african tribes that ended up in the loss of their land and a giant middle finger from the British throne directed at them. Soft Diplomacy is the ability to create and sustain proxies, satellites and close allies that you share interests with. These allied states often serve to back you up against a contender to the throne and add more weight to your diplomatic might. Imagine what Britain would have done had it not been for its web of alliances and relations in Europe it used during the Napoleonic wars. We would all be speaking French now! ...maybe it could have been for the better. Viva la France!

The third is the Economy, which is also divided into soft and hard. The hard Economy is the Empire's capability of production - its supply of natural resources, its heavy and consumer industries, its agricultural development, its arms industry and its class of filthy rich people. This is crucial to support the Empire's military might in the region and to support its large population. The soft Economy is the power an Empire projects through its coin, import/export (trade), financial influence in other countries and retaining economic supremacy. This is heavily invested in trade and how leveraged it is (*hint* The Opium Wars *hint*) against other nations and the demand of domestically produced wares abroad. The Empire's coin and its universality is also an important factor in the soft influence of the Empire's economy, as is its financial influence in other countries. There is also the issue of protecting trade and trade routes (why else did the Europeans grab bits and pieces of Africa and Asia before they found a 'cure' to malaria?).

The fourth is the Cultural Sphere, which is divided into soft and hard. The hard Cultural Sphere concerns the people within the Empire and its neighboring people. The homogeneous nature of the people, the process of integration and the social order to prevent sectarian internal struggle within the Empire itself. The Persian Empire didn't bother itself much with integration as it ruled over many different people who mostly retained their culture, religion, social structure, etc. in exchange for their ruler to be subordinate to the Persians. Alexander the Great's Hellenistic Empire on the other hand pushed hard for the process of cultural integration to the Greek Hellenistic ways and propped up many cities along his path. His successors followed this strategy before being devoured by the Romans. It also refers often to propped up states (satellites or puppets) with a leadership that promotes your general philosophy and attitude towards everything from religion to economy (and your ambitions) or related states that share the same core values, ideals and goals as yourself. They tend to side with you as a natural ally but will almost always agree to take it up the bum and be submissive in your relationship. An example would be The cultural Sphere of the USSR during the cold war which had satellites, puppet states and 'sister nations'. The soft Cultural Sphere is relatively very modern - it is the idea of cultural supremacism and the wishes of the ruling classes of other nations to be more similar to the lifestyle (along with the values, political views, etc.) of the Empire's people or ruling elite. In turn, it makes the country and its ruling class to be more inclined to be in favor of the Empire, support it and be its ally. Sometimes it's a precursor to annexation or turning said country into a puppet state. In more modern times it is also the culture of the middle class in the Empire that becomes prominent and is adopted or imitated in other countries (for example, American consumerism).

This is the four pillars on which an Empire stands and by which it is judged. In order to see the failure or an Empire one must see which pillar it had lost. It could range from Military defeat, Diplomatic Isolation, Economic ruin or the Empire tearing itself from within due to internal sectarian struggle.

You could stand to see the current USA as the brightest Empire of the Era, although other states are eager to take its place. Russia still retains satellites (like Belarus) and has a strong economy and nuclear weapons and China threatens to expand its influence in Asia and has an astoundingly strong economy. Other competitors are more inclined to find themselves in a temporary ceasefire against an eternal foe (India) or a part of the USA grand scheme of the world. At the end of the day, there are dozens of countries that get shafted in the process, mainly smaller states from Africa, Central Asia and the Americas. It is also one of the reasons why there is a massive push against American global supremacy.

What did you think of this short essay? Are there any Empires you would like to discuss that might tear through the mold I presented? What do you think of the Cold War's Empire showdown? Is the American Empire doomed to fail soon? Is there any way of salvaging it? What do you think will be the next global Empire that will emerge from the ruins of the American Empire?

Do share and comment, I will enjoy reading your responses.

Well, the length of it doesn't allow for much depth.

Certainly, those four are important, but it's very easy to pick out X things empire have, and long at them from that PoV.

I don't see the soft Cultural Sphere as being that modern, that looks a lot like Romanisation to me. Now, that did happen within Roamn borders and influence, but that was often vague and things spread beyond that.

Glasgow:
Alexander the Great's Hellenistic Empire on the other hand pushed hard for the process of cultural integration to the Greek Hellenistic ways and propped up many cities along his path. His successors followed this strategy before being devoured by the Romans.

I disagree with this. Whether or not to accept local customs was a big issue for the Macedonians under Alexander (the Persians prostrated themselves before their king, the Greeks only did that to their gods, which caused obvious issues). Alexander didn't last long enough to have a good look at this issue, though.

And the Ptolemys very much did not do not impose Macedonian culture on Egypt, they just became the new pharaohs.

With regards to "modern empires" like the USA, a better term to use would be formal/informal empire. This distinction was made by some historians writing about the British Empire in the 1950's (Galliger and Robinson, "The Imperialism of Free Trade", i think) but the definitions of such terms are thus:

Formal Empires: Where a country exerts control of another via direct military and political rule. E.g- British India, the Roman Empire.

Informal Empires: Where a country exerts influence over another via economic, diplomatic, military or perhaps even cultural means in an attempt to gain similar benefits derived from a formal empire. E.g-The USA and USSR during the Cold War.- A good example of America's informal empire prowess could be during the Suez Crisis when President Eisenhower stopped Britain's attempt to re-gain the Suez Canal by threatening to call in Britain's war debt.

I don't think it's very accurate to use the same language of "Empire" that applies to the British and Roman Empires to that of USA or China today- both aim to exert influence over others rather than outright control via force of arms because the norms of international relations have changed so that outright annexation of other territories doesn't go down well, hence the term informal empire is better, albeit still a bit ambiguous. How would one for instance define an informal empire?

Nickolai77:
With regards to "modern empires" like the USA, a better term to use would be formal/informal empire. This distinction was made by some historians writing about the British Empire in the 1950's (Galliger and Robinson, "The Imperialism of Free Trade", i think) but the definitions of such terms are thus:

Formal Empires: Where a country exerts control of another via direct military and political rule. E.g- British India, the Roman Empire.

Informal Empires: Where a country exerts influence over another via economic, diplomatic, military or perhaps even cultural means in an attempt to gain similar benefits derived from a formal empire. E.g-The USA and USSR during the Cold War.- A good example of America's informal empire prowess could be during the Suez Crisis when President Eisenhower stopped Britain's attempt to re-gain the Suez Canal by threatening to call in Britain's war debt.

I don't think it's very accurate to use the same language of "Empire" that applies to the British and Roman Empires to that of USA or China today- both aim to exert influence over others rather than outright control via force of arms because the norms of international relations have changed so that outright annexation of other territories doesn't go down well, hence the term informal empire is better, albeit still a bit ambiguous. How would one for instance define an informal empire?

There is no difference between the two when it comes down to the four pillars it stands on. Both formal and informal Empires require all four different aspects to be an effective empire. Land annexation in modern days isn't always great because with land, you get people, and often times it never ends well. The British themselves couldn't field nearly enough forces to police and protect their own colonies and the french relied on colonial levies for the bulk of their armies. The American Empire isn't so informal - have we forgotten about Panama so quickly? It is simply easier to control the local population by installing a local government instead of governing provinces abroad. Then again, I could claim Puerto Rico and the USA's assets in the Pacific are colonial territories (among other things, like guantanimo bay).

In conclusion, the idea of 'infomral empire' using economic, diplomatic, military and cultural means are already covered in what I showed as the four pillars of an Empire, with no distinction between Formal and Informal Empire. There are, of course, two types of each pillar (soft and hard), and this should give you a hint towards what I perceive as an Empire that controls its territory directly and one that uses the same means to assert its hegemony.

An interesting read, but it could use more supporting evidence. Looking back at various empires throughout history, why did they fail? Were one of your four pillars lacking when they collapsed? If so, which one(s), and why? Also, were they ever very strong in that area to begin with?

Of course, I'm suggesting a much longer essay now, but that's only because it's a topic worth exploring in greater detail.

Saladfork:
An interesting read, but it could use more supporting evidence. Looking back at various empires throughout history, why did they fail? Were one of your four pillars lacking when they collapsed? If so, which one(s), and why? Also, were they ever very strong in that area to begin with?

Of course, I'm suggesting a much longer essay now, but that's only because it's a topic worth exploring in greater detail.

I offered you, the readers, a chance to give examples that could undermine (or support) my short essay.

Nickolai77:
With regards to "modern empires" like the USA, [...] How would one for instance define an informal empire?

I don't get the difference between formal and informal empire? It seems like the only difference is control vs influence. But it seems like in both cases the outcome will be the same and so will the intent (to secure something). Since an empire is an empire only in action and not rhetoric, I don't see the difference here?

It's good except for one thing. I think you exercised absolutely no moral judgement in your conception of an empire. I don't read a lot of history, but I'm pretty sure that an empire doesn't "project great influence and might to their neighbours." Those adjectives are just understatements. It's like how we say a cat plays with a mouse before he eats it. True it's play for the cat, but it's torture for the mouse. So describing it merely as "play" is abstaining from acknowledging the suffering of the mouse. Like how you say "brightest Empire", "the USA grand scheme of the world", and "countries that get shafted", although nothing really wrong about the way you phrase it, I just don't think there is a clear conception of the seriousness of what you're talking about. I don't think you actually believe the USA has a grand scheme that involves shafting other countries, because I suspect if you did, that you would have considerably more concern about it. Or at least I hope you would. I dunno, it's cohesive and seems well-thought out, it's just too morally apathetic for my taste.

melanieLovesGames:

Nickolai77:
With regards to "modern empires" like the USA, [...] How would one for instance define an informal empire?

I don't get the difference between formal and informal empire? It seems like the only difference is control vs influence. But it seems like in both cases the outcome will be the same and so will the intent (to secure something). Since an empire is an empire only in action and not rhetoric, I don't see the difference here?

In a nutshell, the main difference between formal and informal empires is that formal empires are where control is exerted directly over a territory (e.g-Roman Empire. Informal empires are "empires" were one country can use its influence over another to get what it wants. For instance one could consider Western Europe to be/have been part of an American informal empire, as was shown during the Suez Crisis when President Eisenhower threatened to call in the UK's war debt if Britain didn't abandon its occupation of the Suez Canal. (And the UK did). Informal Empires arn't really territorial in a sense, but may be best described as "spheres of influence" held by one country over another. The outcomes arn't necessarily the same though- in informal empires you don't use violence and rule of law to attain an end, you use economic, social, cultural or political incentives to "steer" another country towards ones desired path.

Feel free to reject the concept by the way, it's not something i'm overly commuted to. The concept of informal empire can be quite complicated- potentially one country could be subject to multiple informal empires, and one may question why don't see simply use the term "influence" rather than "informal empire".

Glasgow:
Do share and comment, I will enjoy reading your responses.

As a quick note, I think there's something I might take issue with, which is the "culture" aspect.

I think an issue here is you've perhaps over-stated cultural differences as religious/ethnic; I think you could make room for simple political disorder. I would suggest numerous empires or states have collapsed simply because their governance became rotten, sclerotic, or unstable. Poland-Lithuania might be an example, or the Byzantine Empire's partial self-destruction.

 

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