Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One more time ...?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," wrote
George Santayana. This piece by Jonathan V. Last offers further evidence that Santayana was right. (Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily.


  1. What a lot of twaddle is spoken about empires indeed. If the British circa 1900 were the only superpower, they were not unopposed, as the growth of the Wilhelmine navy in Germany is only one of several proofs. The British Empire did not fall because liberal elites failed to stand up for it. It fell because it was a tail wagging a dog, a nation of 50 million trying to corral an increasingly fractious array of peoples numbering God knows how many times that. Even at its peak it was economically and militarily incapable of maintaining this ramshackle structure. That "bespectacled intellectuals" (the worst kind, for everyone knows liberals are notorious weak-eyes) would not stand for the national anthem is hardly unique and a sign of nothing. When I was in England in the mid-1960s, moviegoers -- bespectacled, intellectual, and otherwise -- would routinely scurry out of the theater as soon as the last show ended so as not to have to stand for the playing of the national anthem. William Manchester was a fine historian, but as to whether some of the farflung subjects of the British Empire felt "comfortable with imperialism" we are better off consulting George Orwell, who knew it up close and personal as an imperial police officer, and his view does not square with Manchester's. On the subject of empire, Stanley Baldwin as prime minister was only slightly dimmer than Winston Churchill. Churchill was essential as a war leader, but he had a potentially fatal blind spot on the subject, insisting to his American allies early after our entry into the war that postwar preservation of the British Empire be one of the Allies' war aims. It was an insane obsession and had Franklin Roosevelt -- or, rather, George C. Marshall and other presidential advisers -- not nipped it in the bud, it could have threatened the nascent Anglo-American alliance. To the extent that the United States has an empire, should we lose it, would that be a great loss? Britain lost hers (too late, but better than never) and is still a fine country, decent, democratic, respected. You could argue it would be a loss, if not for us, then for the world. But you do not know that. You are only speculating -- just as they speculated in the 1930s that the Oxford Union and those of that ilk spelled the end of civilization as they knew it. And when in actuality the Oxford Union and those of that ilk went out in the 1940s and helped save it.
    Willis Wayde

  2. Hi Willis:
    I largely agree. I certainly agree that a lot of twaddle has been generated about empires. I suspect the best thing about the British Empire has nothing to do with what it was or did, but what it spawned -- us, Australia, etc. I think its influence on India, while decidedly mixed, is proving on balance to be positive. The Brits do seem to have been better at empire than, say, the French.
    And I don't think America will ever become that sort of empire. We're often compared to Rome, but politically and economically we have more in common with Athens (no cause for congratulation there).
    That said, I still think there is something to the notion of trahaison des clercs. As someone who lives in a big eastern city and regualrly encounters the reflexive anti-Americanism of self-styled intellectuals, trust me: It can get on your nerves. I can still be moved -- as I was last week at a concert of the Curtis Symphony -- by a rousing rendition of the national anthem.