The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 30, 2002

The last Empire on Earth: Variations on Stars & Stripes
Darshan Singh Maini

WHEN we take an overarching view of World empires, from the Roman to the British, we begin to understand both the dynamics of their rise and the dialectic of their fall and cease. For the energies that fuelled their expansion and sway extended over a period of centuries, caused an inner erosion; the slave territories and colonies sapped the pioneering spirit. Luxury, cupidity, profligacy and other such delinquencies became a vice of character on a large scale. Also, as history tells us, all overreachers in the end fall into the pit of their own making. In sum, no empire can last when the elites in particular get corrupted in body and mind. How far these observations would seem to apply to the mighty US empire today remains to be seen, though it cannot be very different, despite its different character.

When, therefore, the Japanese-American, Fugiyama, made his pontifical pronouncement on the death of "the Soviet-Empire" and the triumph of High Capitalism, he linked his cynical ideology to a well-touted ‘philosophical’ idea regarding "the end of history."What he seemed to be thinking, among other things, was that the human civilisation under the American flag and values has triumphed because of its inherent superiority and inevitability. The God-chosen land of promise had, after nearly four centuries of its discovery, (a grievous mistake and an accident of history in Mark Twain’s acidic comment) delivered the ordained message. God, in sum, had specially created a land after His own heart, and having put its strenuous people to the wheel for centuries and testing their mettle, he had made them "Lords of the Universe." And if the long journey included the painful and cruel use of the black slaves from Africa, and the usurpation of the Indian territories through decimation and guile, well, that too had His nod. To put it differently, the Puritan America of the Pilgrim Fathers had had a ‘compact’ with the Almighty, and the generations of settlers did prove equal to the task. "The sky was the limit" — and the ‘limit’ is almost within reach.


This ‘limit’ became a distinct possibility only after the slow death of the British Empire since 1945, and that of the Stalinist Russia after 1990, though "the manifest destiny" of the United States began to be clear enough after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, America was to be "the Last Empire" on earth, and that was "the end of history." The Darwinian economics had come full circle. After ‘such knowledge’, what questions, the learned Fujiyama may well ask?

Let me add though, the phrase, "the Last Empire," does not form part of the Fugiyama pronouncement; it’s mentioned in a casual cavalier fashion by an American senator in that best-seller novel, Washington D.C. (1967) by Gore Videl, a member of the Kennedy clan and close insider. And in the argument I’m trying to enlarge, this book and another equally well-known novel, Advise and Consent by Allen Drury, are going to figure largely, for between the two of them, there’s all there’s to know about the Capital Hill politics and its umbilical link with sex, sleaze and cynicism.

Literary evidence, I presume, was needed to show the inner rot in the American seats of power as seen in the two novels alluded to above. Both Allen Drury’s book Advise and Consent (1959) and Gore Videl’s Washington D.C. (1967) paint a picture of lechery, cupidity, infidelity, incest, homosexuality, ingratitude and other "deadly sins" in such heavy colours as to arouse moral nausea. Are these the ways of the Great Pretenders? And is the truth about them so sickening?

No wonder, Drury observes that "the Equivocal Man" is a "perfect symbol of mid twentieth century America." And his image of "a pure politician" is that of tigerish and venomous persons in business. The typical Senator or Congressman of the wrong variety has a personality pattern of "the sharper, the thug in the blue-serge suit." The elaborate mechanism evolved over decades of moral delinquencies and intrigues to deal with one’s political rivals or foes was to use "all the little cruelties of parliamentary technique, to razor a man down to political nothingness."

Gore Videl’s novel leaves little to the imagination of reprieve. All manner of promiscuities and all manner of high-sounding hypocrisies are laid bare with a surgical skill. In the Washington political opera, we come across all those agents, panders, conmen, hired assassins and others of that evil tribe who are, at any level, associated with the tragic burlesque. There are shades of "gallows humour" or of "dark comedy" to show up the innards of the Big Ones. Videl quotes one of these ways to say that the Americans have "schizoid" or split personalities. The deep division with their collective consciousness cannot but be subversive of what their day-light "ideals" are.

Videl doesn’t make fun of the Jeffersonian ideals which on paper provide food for the good life, only how its high priests, including Jefferson himself, did many a questionable thing to remain in power. Except for Abraham Lincoln, perhaps, nearly all the great US Presidents — George Washington, FDR, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton had a darker side to their character, particularly where their sexual appetite was concerned.

After the trauma of the jehadi terrorist attack and the Afghanistan imbroglio that involved the grievous compromising of American positions (as in relation to a naked military dictatorship in Pakistan), the historians undoubtedly would re-examine the eminent Fugiyama’s "prophetic" thesis. No, it’s not "the end of history" but the end of "the Last Empire." American senators curiously enough remind one of Roman senators of Caesar’s times. They seem to have the same genes — of sex, sadism and power. I think, it was the Roman Cato who said, "We men rule the world, but our women rule us". The American scene isn’t different except that some of the cruder aspects have been toned down to bring things in line with Puritan American thought.

Thus the Fugiyama thesis, which has Hegelian echoes, falls on its face when we know that Hegel’s views on history and State inevitably led towards some kind of fascism, as it did in his own country.