Cooley on Nexon/Wright on Empires.

by Henry Farrell on June 11, 2007

I’ve been planning to write up something on Dan Nexon and Tom Wright’s _APSR_ piece on the politics of empires, which I think is a really important piece of work in international relations theory but haven’t gotten around to it yet (other promised reviews to finish first – next up Scott Page’s new book). Luckily, Alex Cooley has “done it for me”: The original article is available as a PDF “here”:



John Quiggin 06.12.07 at 3:42 am

The contrast between empire and hegemony here is the opposite of what I would understand.

“Ideal-typical empires comprise a “rimless” hub-and-spoke system of authority, in which cores are connected to peripheries but peripheries themselves are disconnected—–or segmented—–from one another”

Taking the Roman and British empires (the 19th century one with an actual Empress, not the C18 collection of colonies, outposts etc) as ideal-typical, this seems wrong to me. At their peak, these empires claimed to operate under a single set of rules applicable over the entire empire. Divide and rule/balance of power was confined to external relations.

So I’d say the US is now more imperial (relying on direct military control) than in the past.

Of course, this is just semantic, but in this discussion, semantics are central.


Bruce 06.12.07 at 4:32 am

You have a point about the Roman empire, but the 19th century British one? An native of Manchester and one of Calcutta experienced the “same set of rules?”



John Quiggin 06.12.07 at 5:24 am

The same was true in the Roman empire as between citizens and non-citizens, and the ideal-type empire includes a distinction between metropolis/rulingcountry and provinces/subjects. My point was rather that a (non-British) inhabitant of Calcutta was subject to rules that were supposed to be consistent with those applying in, say, Kenya or Fiji.

By contrast, 18th century Britain acted more like my idea of a hegemonic power.


Hidari 06.12.07 at 8:17 am

I know this is against ‘comment eqiquette’ (actually , thinking again, perhaps its par for the course) but I haven’t actually got round to reading the Dan Nexon and Tom Wright article as I am rushing out. But I read the Alex Cooley. Two points.

Arguments that the US is not as ‘imperial’ as it was, are based on the idea that resistance to Imperialism is in some way a new thing and that the US is facing unprecedented difficulties in terms of its hegemony. But actually Empires always face difficulties. The Roman (and British) Empires were almost always at war, and not all of these wars were triumphant successes. Current travails over Iraq would have seemed very familiar to the Romans (cf Germany, Persia) and the British (South Africa). In fact most imperial ‘adventures’ could be criticised (and were at the time) as over expensive, badly run fiascos. But this didn’t really matter. The point was: at the end of the day is the Empire stronger or weaker? If the US is actually driven out of Iraq as it was of Vietnam then this will undoubtedly be a major body blow but this hardly indicates that the US is facing unique problems as the Vietnam comparison shows.

The Uzbekistan examples doesn’t help. As though American troops haven’t been asked to leave countries before! What about De Gaulle? This was a setback but it hardly let to the end of the US as a world power. (It did lead to long term American elite hatred of the French, as seen most obviously in the run up to the recent invasion of Iraq).

One last point: In talking about ‘divide and rule’ Alex Cooley links to some random (albeit, probably well paid) lunatic who says we should ‘crush the Sunni’. But nothing is less likely than this strategy. The Americans, in creating a de facto middle eastern empire of client states, have consistently backed the Sunni against the Shia, and this process has become more marked since ’79, when the Iranians broke free from US control. The plan for Iraq, of course, was to install a loyal, pro-American Sunni or Kurdish political elite. But thanks to Sistani, that plan failed, and Iran’s hand was immeasurably strengthened. And so we now see the obvious: the return to the status quo in terms of American support of the Ba’athists (as this event will NOT be reported in the corporate media). The real threat is the ‘Shia crescent’ and that’s why loyal American client states like Saudi Arabia are now scurrying around like little bunnies attempting to put a lid on Shia nationalism.

One final point: there were Arabic media sources before Al-Jazeera you know. The point is, so what? Washington makes the rules, and as long as ‘bad news’ can be prevented from reaching the American people, and the Democrats remain the ‘Republican lites’, then the political elites can remain in power and can continue their imperial project.

The article did touch, but far too lightly, on three of the four major issues that genuinely threaten the US (and British) Empire: the rise of China, the rise of India, and the rise of the Shia. The rise of South American nationalism, and the overthrow of the pro-American political elites in Venezuela, Bolivia, and other places (and that this is spreading to previously loyal Central American countries like Nicaragua) was unfortunately not touched on. On its own, each of these threats can be dealt with, but if they all choose to co-operate (or even if they don’t) this might create a ‘perfect storm’. Remember: the Roman Empire fell mainly due to bad luck. The Romans could have dealt with the Goths and the Huns and the Vandals and the Persians….individually. But the fact that they all chose to get uppity at more or less the same time simply put more pressure on the Empire than it could handle.


Firstname Lastname 06.12.07 at 11:01 am

Having gone through the linked essays, it looks to me that there is a tacit assumption that America is _capable_ of being an imperial power and the issue is with correct/incorrect implementation.

I disagree. As a nation and a political entity, the USA is excellent in accepting (which they have put to use par excellence. No doubt about that) but is hopelessly incompetent to give, be it in terms of commerce and or politics. Agreed, a great deal of effort was put into building the USA from ground up by the rest of the world. However, payback should be attempted only when it is viable.


Daniel Nexon 06.12.07 at 2:19 pm

John raises important points, but I think we deal with at least some of them in the essay.

First, compliance with standards of uniform imperial law may be a component of the core-periphery contract (see our discussion of heterogeneous contracting), but this only cuts against the broader point about heterogeneous contracting if significant *other* aspects of the imperial bargain are consistent. This was not the case if one compares the British Raj (as an aggregate) with, for example, Egypt and Ireland.

Second, I would be careful about relying too much on an understanding of within-periphery divide-and-rule as necessarily highly coercive. Consider the way that the Romans manipulated status rivalries among, for example, cities as well as more general forms of “binding” and “pivoting” strategies that have the effect, if they work, of preventing widespread coalitions against imperial rule within specific peripheries.

Third, our position does imply (following Motyl and Doyle) that the Roman Empire looks less “imperial” once it extended citizenship rights to all of its subjects. I can live with that, although I’m sure others will object.


Linda Hirshman 06.12.07 at 2:22 pm

For some reason the comment box did not open at Henry’s post about whether I should crawl into a hole, from last week. Being a web newcomer, I don’t know why. So I apologize for interjecting this into the discussion of something else. Perhaps you could move it to where it belongs?

Faced with my contrary analysis of the technical studies, Henry’s devastating comeback is “On either reading it doesn’t suggest that you’re really worth engaging in intellectual debate with.”

But I’m so glad you are back Henry, because while you were away, Laura, from 11D posted this explanation of your writings about me. I am asking you whether she is right about you:

“Linda – I believe you evoke such strong reactions from good people, like Henry, Mark, Ann, and even myself, not because you use strong language. Even the issues with methodology are not the root of our outrage. It’s your contempt for women who watch children, your disdain of caretaking responsibilities, your rigidity, your unquestioning reverence for the corporate workplace. You also really don’t seem to like women very much. HENRY WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU A FREE RIDE ON THE METHODOLOGY, IF THE LARGER THESIS WASN’T SO IRKSOME[Emphasis added].”
Posted by Laura · June 8th, 2007 at 12:59 am”


Henry 06.12.07 at 3:08 pm

Comments close automatically after a week or so to deter comment spammers.

Rather obviously, Laura is wrong here, and it seems to me rather peculiar that you should adduce this as some sort of evidence (but of a piece, of a piece …). Where Laura is however surely right on the mark is in identifying the peculiarly personalized and judgmental nature of your claims. There’s a perfectly good feminist case to be made against gender imbalances, assumptions about house and home, conditions under which apparently free choices about childrearing are made etc. But on the basis of what I’ve read of your work, you seem rather more interested in attacking the specific choices of particular women who are faced with tough, practical decisions in the here-and-now than in talking about the structural issues under which they make those choices. And then, in stating your objections in as maximally offensive a manner as possible, and professing yourself shocked, _shocked_ when people don’t immediately hasten to acknowledge the worth of your purported insights. For my money, the best account I’ve seen of how you on the one side and Caitlin Flanagan on the other (and you do read to me like mirror images of each other) have poisoned debate is “this piece”:,i_email=y.html in the _Financial Times_ by Holly Yeager. Especially this bit on Ruth Rosen:

And, with Hirshman and the debate she has stirred clearly in mind, Rosen bristles at the idea that the women’s movement was all about encouraging women to work full time – and make a career of it.

Instead, she points to the three goals of the August 1970 Women’s March for Equality in New York, a defining moment in modern feminism: legal abortion, equal pay for equal work and universal childcare.

After decades of trying, far too little has changed to make it easier for women to be parents and full participants in the labour force, she complains.

Not only have the great promises – of Scandinavian-style parental leave; affordable, reliable full-day childcare; employers that allow women, and men, to work less, or not at all, when their children are young, without penalty – not been attained. But the push for broad societal shifts and “collective solutions” that marked the earlier wave has been replaced by women pursuing individual solutions to the dilemmas they face. “It’s the mirror image of the free-market zeitgeist that we’re living in,” Rosen says.


Jim S. 06.12.07 at 3:35 pm

I am sorry but I do not think that the Women’s Movement that emerged in the 60’s and 70’s was ever concerned with a universal day-care system. That would involve benefiting men, conceivably, and feminists did not (and do not) want to do this. Instead they want to punish men for their crimes against them by having a set-up in which men do all the giving and women all the receiving. This in turn is in accordance with so much thought that the American Left historically has-namely, that only a few people are deserving, and that the rest of the population is bad and should be punished.
One is all for a universal welfare state. But that is not going to happen as long as the same mindsets dominate the Left.


Linda Hirshman 06.12.07 at 3:41 pm

Oh, I’m sorry. She purported to explain you. If she does not speak for you that’s good. I would not want to waste my time debating substantive issues like whether personal choices in structuring a reproductive marriage play a role in the liberation of women with someone who had decided beforehand that my methods must be destabilized because he did not like my conclusions.
The collective solutions position is a serious one, and one that I have tried to address, most recently in “A Tale of Two Workplaces” at TPM Cafe.
Certainly, the least important aspect of the debate is whether the issues were on the table in early feminism or not. They are still important, regardless. But indeed they were on the table. Did you read my book? If you had, you would know that I quote Betty Friedan at page 18 on the value of public work and early feminist Pat Mainardi on the centrality of the private, individual choices regarding the division of housework was to women’s liberation in 1970!(It’s at page 22 in the hard cover).


Kieran Healy 06.12.07 at 4:22 pm

She purported to explain you. If she does not speak for you that’s good.

Why on earth would you think that Laura spoke for Henry?


Alex B 06.12.07 at 4:25 pm

I haven’t read the paper yet, though I hope to find some time soon. (It’s good to see the APSR actually publishing something politically relevant for a change).

One concern before reading, however: Does it matter whether there are good scholarly arguments for or against America as an empire?

To put it differently: Are we not already past that stage? Isn’t it already a “common sense” speech act for most people, at least outside the US, to regard America as an empire?

Is it possible at all to distinguish the “real” extent of American imperialism as opposed to its “perceived” impact?

I don’t know, these are the type of questions I’m interested in when I will start reading the paper. I’m curious, perhaps Nexon & Wright have got good answers to these types of questions?!?


leederick 06.12.07 at 4:43 pm

…you seem rather more interested in attacking the specific choices of particular women who are faced with tough, practical decisions in the here-and-now than in talking about the structural issues under which they make those choices.

This is head in the sand stuff. Linda is absolutely right.

The mainstream feminist analysis is that when it comes to making childrearing decisions most women get the shitty end of the stick because they have partners who earn more than them. The pay gap means women are the ones who end up dropping out the work force to raise children and the analysis ends with cries of societial oppression and victimisation.

That’s nonsense. The cause is nothing to do with this. The man-woman pay gap is nonexistent or trivial when people partner up. The reason husband’s earn more than wives is that women’s husbands are typically three years older then their wives. And there is large wage gap between people with a three years age gap for obvious reasons.

These women are entitely responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. They choose who to marry, and their decision to marry marry people on average richer and older ends up screwing them. That’s not a ‘structual issue’ – it’s more poetic justice. The only thing oppressing these women is their own venality. I can’t see why society should get the blame.


Kieran Healy 06.12.07 at 5:02 pm

The reason husband’s earn more than wives is that women’s husbands are typically three years older then their wives. And there is large wage gap between people with a three years age gap for obvious reasons.

I can’t imagine that anyone has ever tried controlling for this in a quantitative analysis of the wage gap.


eweininger 06.12.07 at 5:31 pm

I can’t imagine that anyone has ever tried controlling for this in a quantitative analysis of the wage gap.

Control for age? Sweet Jesus, Kieran–that’s brilliant. But I will go you one further and say: maybe we also trying squaring it. Imagines what we could accomplish.


Glorious Godfrey 06.12.07 at 5:32 pm

As others have pointed out, the viability of American “empire”, “hegemony” etc. is an issue of greater import than the study of its/their structural properties.

And I guess that one needs not be afraid of derailing the thread, as it is.

A very common tendency in the history of empires is the overestimation of their power, by friend and foe.

Luis Vélez de Guevara (1579-1644), in “El Diablo Cojuelo” (“the Limping Devil”) writes (lousy translation by yours truly):

– My dear gentlemen, my comrade was about to reply, but, being the elder of the two, it behoves me to do so; listen carefully, if you please. The King of Spain is a most munificent greyhound, who only needs to walk along the street to be greeted by the discordant yapping of all the little local dogs. Eventually, their numbers will embolden one among them to –as the greyhound leaves the street for another, and thinking it a sign of weakness and not of contempt– bite his tail; then he will turn around, and buffeting some of them, he will send them scurrying for cover, and a sudden solemn silence will descend on the street, for the hiding little dogs will be too afraid to yap, gnawing stones instead out of spite.

The foreigners began to yelp, and the Frenchman said:

–iAh, bugre, coquin español!

And the Italian:

–iForfante, marrano español!

And the Englishman:

–iNitesgut español! [no shit]

It’s certainly easy to forget, in retrospect, but people were terrified of the Spanish until well into the Thirty Years War. Was there another monarch with domains in five continents?

God forgive me for spouting a line that could be cribbed from a Friedman book, but we live in a networked world. And a politized one at that.

In other words, we live in chaotic times. The challenges to the American “empire”, or “hegemon” go well beyond the Cyclopean task of getting a handle on the Shia crescent, let alone on the developments in the Far East.

The Cold war was on the whole a period of above-average stability. Nuclear deterrence, with limited proliferation. Two superpowers. Undisputed tripolar domination of the economic landscape, in the capitalist block. A bit of a rarity, in all likelihood.

Was the attitude of the British Empire, in the face of the upheavals of the first half of the XXth century, the driving factor of those upheavals? Did it have much of a handle on them? Or, for that matter, on key events of the comparatively peaceful Victorian era, like the American Civil war or German or Italian unification?


Glorious Godfrey 06.12.07 at 5:33 pm

“Tripolar” should read “trilateral”.


leederick 06.12.07 at 6:18 pm

“I can’t imagine that anyone has ever tried controlling for this in a quantitative analysis of the wage gap.”

What point do you think you’re trying to make?

Age is controlled for wage gap econometrics. But when we turn to marital economic bargaining doing this is like studying the effect of being shot whilst controlling for the effect of being hit by a bullet. The problem is precisely that people control for age. It puts the cause of the effect they are investigating outside the terms of the analysis.

Can I suggest you stick to the sociology?


Mrs. Coulter 06.12.07 at 6:40 pm

Anyway, to return to the original subject of this thread, which is the discussion of American empire and imperial dynamics (can the Linda Hirshman discussion be moved to a different thread?)…

I want to take issue with John Quiggin’s comment above. First, it’s been a goodly long time since I read Weber, but I think that you’re misunderstanding what’s meant by “ideal-typical analysis”. An ideal type is fundamentally an abstraction–an analytical category. So, neither the Roman empire nor 19th-C Britain are “ideal-typical empires,” though one might quite plausibly argue that they closely resemble the ideal type. That’s a methodological quibble, but I think it’s important to keep in mind when we start talking about “dynamics of empires.” It means that all polities that we tend to categorize as empires may be more or less imperial in certain instances, without necessarily obviating the applicability of the category. Furthermore, it implies that polities that are not typically categorized as empires may at times engage in imperial dynamics (such as Belgium).

Next point: my knowledge of Roman history isn’t that great, but I do think that a good case for heterogeneous contracting amongst different segments of the British Empire can be made. Unless you want to argue that the imperial relationship with Scotland was the same as the relationship with India…


Kieran Healy 06.12.07 at 7:17 pm

But when we turn to marital economic bargaining doing this is like studying the effect of being shot whilst controlling for the effect of being hit by a bullet

Age is a relevant feature of people’s decisions/bargaining over marriage, as well as a predictor of earnings. I am perfectly well aware of issues of selection effects, identification and endogeneity in modeling. Your original post asserted that “The man-woman pay gap is nonexistent or trivial when people partner up. The reason husband’s earn more than wives is that women’s husbands are typically three years older then their wives.” If you think that these are not empirically assessable claims then I’m not sure what I should encourage you to stick to. Then again, your post degenerated pretty quickly into the assertion that the wage gap was fully explained by female venality, so I can’t see why I should take you seriously.


phil 06.12.07 at 7:37 pm

Scotland is part of Britain was never just a part of the empire i.e. it was part of the core not the periphery.


Doctor Slack 06.12.07 at 7:53 pm

Wow, that Linda Hirshman thread is back like a zombie, baying for brains. May I humbly second the request that it be moved to another thread? Or maybe another thread could be created for it?


Kieran Healy 06.12.07 at 8:12 pm

Or maybe we should just chop its zombie thread head off.


Hidari 06.12.07 at 8:58 pm

When there’s no more room in hell, the thread will walk the earth.


leederick 06.12.07 at 8:59 pm

Kieran – now that you’ve posted more than a glib remark, I think you’ve misunderstood my point. The statement that ‘husband’s earn more than wives because they’re older’ is not a general claim about the cause of the pay gap, and controlling for age doesn’t address it.

I believe feminists are right about women giving up work for childcare because they’re in a secondary economic position in the marriage, and this then being compounded into economic disadvantage.

Why do women find themselves in this secondary economic position? I don’t think it’s the pay gap. I think it is well established that at the point at which that decision is made the gender pay gap is trivial. I also think it is well established that husbands are generally older than their wives and those extra years equal a large increase in income. The age pay gap dominates the gender pay gap at this point, and is what causes women’s secondary economic position when childcare decisions are made. Now, no-one is forcing these women to marry older richer men, so what’s wrong with talking about women’s decisions about whom to marry?

Harry is lambasting Linda for talking about the practical decisions of women rather than structural issues. I can not see why. Women are responsible for who they marry and their choices seem to be what’s screwing them over, rather than any structural discrimination. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to rule that sort of thinking out of bounds in order to get everyone to subsidise women who make stupid choices.


Nick L 06.12.07 at 10:06 pm

The article is so good I’m going to use it for a teaching session I’m giving at the weekend.

One thing that I think it misses, however, is a conception what people would think of as a capital E Empire: a state/polity capable of completely suborning another state to its own will, to the point where the imperial state/polity excercises a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within the territory of the vassal. What I’m thinking of here is Russia’s relationship with the smaller members of the USSR during the Soviet days. This seems to comprise a different category of empire, as the rulers do not simply rule through local elites, they control all the state apparatus and major sources of organisational power. However, I can see that this perhaps goes beyond international relations as such, as one polity has almost completely absorbed by the other. It’s closer to the notion of domination, which is sometimes contrasted with hegemony.

I don’t know enough about the Roman empire to know whether this ‘ideal type’ bears any resemblence to is, but perhaps this is closer to what John Quiggin was thinking.

It’s also pretty close to the geopolitical notion of a ‘land empire’, with Nexon/Wright’s conception of empire coming close to the notion of a ‘sea empire’ (cf. Mackinder and Mearsheimer).


John Quiggin 06.12.07 at 10:53 pm

Mrs C., you’re quite right. I should have said something like “Assuming the ideal type is most closely approximate by the Roman and British empires”.

On Scotland, I agree with Phil with the adjustment “at all relevant times”. Ireland is a better counterexample.


Hank 06.13.07 at 12:30 am

Ignoring whether it is good of use terms that carry a lot of baggage like Hegemony and Imperial to describe the subject; the article presents a very interesting theory of the relationship between a predominant power and others in the same system. It provides a very interesting basis for the study and analysis of individual policies

Example In the Nexon/Wright structure “restricting free trade is a means of imperial control.” Would certainly be an interesting research topic.

Most of today’s hot issues could be examined that way.


Mrs. Coulter 06.13.07 at 12:57 am

The very fact that there is discussion of a devolution of Britain into component parts (in the current era) suggests that Scotland, while very near to the core, remained nevertheless a periphery. Surely, no one would ever consider creating a separate parliament for the Midlands, much less contemplate its secession. “Scottish” remains a separate identity–there is even a separate established church–throughout height of the British imperial period under discussion. Even though Scotsmen benefited in many ways from the imperial relationship, the very fact that they are clearly identified as “Scottish,” rather than merely “British” also highlights the fact that Scotland was periphery. That you so easily mistake Scotland for core does indeed suggest that there was very much a differential relationship between different segments of the British empire.


seth edenbaum 06.13.07 at 1:58 am

Not having read much political science, it strikes me as an odd and not particularly healthy that the imperative of professionalized intellectualism: to construct new logics and show oneself as a “creative” imagination, should be allowed to infect the discussion of the present political scene.

Some questions:
Has unipolarity ever existed without resulting in hegemony?
Does not one fade inevitably into the other?

How is this discussion in any way outside the logic of the unipolar hegemonic or imperial world-view? I was raised to think of adults as opposed to such things.
Maybe I’m alone in this.

Alex Cooley:

“But the more counterintuitive point is that America’s use of overtly imperial systems is actually not as widespread as it was during the 1960s and 1970s.
One major reason for this decline is that globalization – contra the claims of many globalization critics[?] – undermines the conditions necessary for effective imperial management by the center.”

Capital, the hegemon in question, is international. I thought we came to that conclusion quite a while ago? US power has been on the wane for what? 30 years? 40?

As regards the vulgar behaviors of empire, slaughter of innocents etc. I thought we’d also come to assume that the United States was a bit schizophrenic about that. Surely the Romans weren’t, and the 19th century English were much less so than we are. This has to do with the increasing contradictions of christian modernity and the new proximity of the ruled to the ruler. The crises of 19th and early 20th century empires (and their internal social life as well) were the result of that. Modern European empires were based on hypocrisy. The Romans were simply honest Barbarians fighting others of their own kind. Gandhi won by daring the British to be as Christian as he was. That’s the end of Empire with a whimper.
And of course The Germans attacked the Jews in a frenzied panic not because they were separate but when they were assimilating (no longer separate).
Category panic.

Of course empires will find different ways to run different parts of their empire. Different societies have different weaknesses and are best ruled with understanding of just what those are. Empires need to be run practically. Empire is a business first isn’t it?

Other than that the language used in describing the relationship of ruler to ruled is akin to that describing a rape as “a relation of negotiated inequality.”
Simply bizarre.
As is the nearly pathological denial of psychological historical and cultural specificity and complexity.
Is there a heterodox school of political science?
My god I hope someone’s working on that.


seth edenbaum 06.13.07 at 2:15 am

“The crises of 19th and early 20th century empires (and their internal social life as well) were the result of that.”

Yes, that’s saying too much.


Daniel Nexon 06.13.07 at 5:31 am

Seth: these are interesting comments. They might benefit from attention to the actual content of the article. We explain, for example, our use of the term “contract” and, quite frankly, you seem to be committing the common mistake of assuming that all imperial relations are purely coercive…. or somehow more inherently coercive than that of nation-states or other forms of political domination.

“Contract” here is used as an analytical term to describe (asymmetric and coercive) relationships that nonetheless contain tacit or explicit commitments between two parties, not in the normative sense of an equal agreement between two autonomous, rational actors. Even “give us tribute or we’ll destroy your cities” involves a contractual commitment to not destroying said cities if tribute materializes. And our point is, in fact, that empires that fail to uphold their end of the relationship often get into trouble.

Has there been “unipolarity” without “hegemony?” If we treat these terms as absolute (a position rejected in the paper), then “no.” But unipolarity does not translate into universal hegemony in the current period, and we have had hegemonic relations in the absence of unipolarity. One could, of course, imagine that an isolationalist US would be a “unipole without hegemony. But I think you mean here a rather distinctive set of arguments about the hegemony of “capital,” which is a rather different can of worms.

Hank: that’s an interesting implication. I wouldn’t quite put it in those terms, as there are tradeoffs here between conditions for inter-periphery coordination and the immense benefits that accrue from encouraging economic exchange.

Nick L: I hope it works out. Thanks for the kind words. One note: we don’t follow the conventional indirect/direct rule distinction, and thus include both agents from the core and empowered local elites as “intermediaries.” So, Bremmer was an intermediary, but so is Talabani. The mileage here varies tremendously, of course, which is where things get interesting.

The USSR, in my view, combined aspects of what we call imperial rule with conventional state rule. Alex Cooley (of the 3 Quarks Daily piece Henry linked to) has a provocative book, Logics of Hierarchy that deals with this.


Hidari 06.13.07 at 7:18 am

‘The crises of 19th and early 20th century empires (and their internal social life as well) were the result of that. Modern European empires were based on hypocrisy. The Romans were simply honest Barbarians fighting others of their own kind. Gandhi won by daring the British to be as Christian as he was. That’s the end of Empire with a whimper.’

I disagree. What about the Roman Empire after Constantine? Or the Byzantine Empire?

Show me the bit in the New Testament where Christ argues against slavery (or against imperialism, for that matter).

When the Spaniards invaded the Americas, they were motivated by Christian motives. To begin with, they needed gold to fight the Muslim hordes (which posed, to coin a phrase, an ‘existential threat’ to Christendom). That was the reason Colombus went to ‘India’ (as he thought) in the first place. When they arrived, they discovered peoples who were not Christian: ergo, of a lower level of humanity to themselves. The Indians were offered a choice: convert or die.

This is too big an issue to go into here, but one last thing: Christianity is not JUST based on the New Testament. It is ALSO based on the old testament whose attitude to things like genocide, rape and slaughter is….shall we say…more down to earth.


Peter Erwin 06.13.07 at 9:47 am

Mrs. Coulter said:
The very fact that there is discussion of a devolution of Britain into component parts (in the current era) suggests that Scotland, while very near to the core, remained nevertheless a periphery.

No, it’s an indication that the “cores” of empires can be complicated things, while nonetheless still being distinct from the periphery.

The fact of the matter is that the British Empire of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Centuries was run by a coalition of England and Scotland, with Scotland being the junior partner. Much of Scotland’s wealth during that time was built on the empire, through involvement in imperial trade, through participation in the administration of the empire, through the textile industry (benefitting from British control of India, which transformed the Indian textile economy into one of supplying raw materials to Great Britain and consuming the textiles manufactured there), the shipbuilding industry, etc., etc.

You seem to be assuming that the “core” must be some homogeneous entity with no internal divisions, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The fact that Catalonia has at various times sought autonomy or independence from Spain does not mean, for example, that it was part of the periphery of the 16th Century Spanish empire.


Daniel Nexon 06.13.07 at 12:26 pm

Peter: Catalonia was very much part of the periphery of the Habsburg Empire in the Sixteenth Century. An inner periphery, to be sure, but one with almost no influence over government, little access to the Castilian new world empire, and intermittent tensions with the core based on its peripheral status. Catalonia contributed very little to the Habsburg war efforts; when Madrid attempted to force it to do so during the Thirty Years War, the Catalans rebelled–even going so far as to invite the King of France to assume sovereignty over the Principality.

Scotland certainly supplied imperial agents and participated greatly in the British Empire. But whether that makes it part of the metropople and not a “core-periphery” (or some other awkward neologism0? That’s a subject of not insignificant debate, including, I imagine among contemporary Scots.


Glorious Godfrey 06.13.07 at 1:31 pm

With your permission, I’ll continue to troll the thread, in this case by nitpicking a bit:

The fact that Catalonia has at various times sought autonomy or independence from Spain does not mean, for example, that it was part of the periphery of the 16th Century Spanish empire.

Some would argue that it was, indeed. Almost the entirety of the burden associated with the expensive and mostly ill-advised wars waged by the Spanish Habsburgs was born by the kingdom of Castile. The contributions of the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia, and of Navarre (which was incorporated into Castile but enjoyed broad privileges or fueros ) was far more modest, and those of Portugal and the County of Barcelona (i.e. Catalonia) almost non-existent. This led the valido or favourite of king Philip IV, the Count-Duke of Olivares, to the formulation of the Unión de Armas i.e. an attempt during the Thirty Years War to involve the non-Castilian parts of the Empire more directly in the war effort.

Add to that that Catalonia suffered greatly due to the relative commercial marginalization of the Mediterranean basin, absenteeism and neglect on the part of the nobility and the viceroys, widespread banditry, etc. and you have a pretty debatable part of the imperial “core”.

Catalonia only became more involved in the destinies of the Spanish empire –by the time already demoted to middling power status, of course– after the reign of Philip IV, and more notably after the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons, with the (forced) transformation of Spain into more than a dynastic conglomerate and the first tentative signs of industrialization in Catalonia.

Catalan nationalists, a notoriously whiney lot, have built an entire mystique around all those grudges, turning in particular the first Bourbon king, Philip V, into some sort of blood-drinking bugaboo. Fuckers have turned what once was the most cosmopolitan patch of the Iberian peninsula into a pretty parochial place. But that’s neither here nor there, of course.

Just nitpicking, without much of a point in mind. Apart from showing off and being a bit of a prick, that is.


Glorious Godfrey 06.13.07 at 1:32 pm

Concerning the Nexon/Wright paper, it’s certainly a very fine effort, but it appears to be haunted by a very familiar set of Beltway spectres. For instance, the paper fails to highlight an aspect of the “complicated pattern of anarchical, hegemonic, and imperial relations” practiced by the US that is quite specific of our appalling times. If I may coin an atrocious term, a central element of American foreign policy is –rather than typically anarchical, hegemonic or imperial– driven by “indispensablism”. The US can prove to be comfortable with many different informal or institutional arrangements, as long as the impression of American leadership is maintained.

Prestige politics writ large, and writ dumb, basically.

Sorry for being a bore, but it’s probably not reasonable to expect the XXIst century to be a “slower news century”, so to speak, than the XXth century. And it’s probably illusory to expect the US or even the West as a whole to be making most of the news. And it’s those news, and not the “policy mix” associated with the American “imperial order”, that will determine the fate of American and Western global pre-eminence.

Not that Nexon/Wright appear to be oblivious to that, mind. They do come across as somewhat coy, however. Ghosts of Beltway present, one reckons.

Oh, and next time I hear a comparison with the Roman Empire I’m afraid I’ll have to barf. The US, it pains me to say, is no new Rome. Those comparisons go well beyond innocuous attempts to point out structural similarities.


phil 06.13.07 at 1:41 pm

I would argue that Scotland was part of the core because it had MPs sitting in the British Parliament. It is a country in its own right and is/was not a an equal partner in the union but it is part of Britain. If you want to break up Britain into all of its subgroups during the empire its core would consist of men from the ruling class and be centered around London and the South East.


seth edenbaum 06.13.07 at 2:41 pm

I did read the article. I was responding to the tone. I found the lack of affect somewhat disconcerting (or at least worthy of comment) in discussions of the present. I was wondering as to the significance, not the intent.

As to unipolarity, you’re right of course, we do live in a unipolar world without hegemony, if that means the hegemony of a state. But I’d bet that’s our anomalous situation, our new category, and only made possible by advanced levels of communication and by the internationalization of capital, your “rather different can of worms.”

You seem to be committing the common mistake of assuming that all imperial relations are …somehow more inherently coercive than… other forms of political domination.

I cut out a few words but I don’t think I changed the meaning, whatever it is.

I was referring to the changes that occur when the foreign becomes the familiar, not to some atemporal logic. Texts, the Bible or others, get reinterpreted and reused in new contexts as society changes, and actions or ideas can begin to be seen as hypocritical that were once normal. Communication breaks down barriers, even those that are necessary to maintain coercive relations. 19th century European culture is the record of the tensions that result from exponentially increasing communication and a new sense of proximity. And it’s safe to argue that the implications of christianity [a just god, brotherhood etc. maybe monotheism itself] as opposed to older more realist traditions played into this.


Peter Erwin 06.13.07 at 5:20 pm

I would argue that Scotland was part of the core because it had MPs sitting in the British Parliament.

Not only that, there were several Prime Ministers who came from Scotland.


Mrs. Coulter 06.13.07 at 5:38 pm

Ireland also had MPs sitting in the British Parliament, though restrictions on the franchise limited the actual representativeness of those MPs. I don’t think that’s a valid argument for claiming automatic membership in the core.


phil 06.13.07 at 6:16 pm

Ireland had a different relationship with Britain, seeing itself as being occupied and then becoming a part of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. So it could be seen as being between the core and periphery. Though this doesn’t really relate to the debate as the British Empire is not being taken as the ideal type.

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