Empire & Ideology
All empires need ideology. They need an Imperial ideology in the first place to placate and justify the unjustifiable to their own citizenry. On the one hand, the ruling classes of Imperial states have a vast amount of wealth, and on the other, the people who run empires understand the falsehood of their own ideology and need to project themselves to their own people as upright, moral and just; they also need to characterise the people they have subjugated as lesser beings, of doubtful moral character, perhaps even violent and untrustworthy.
If we first briefly examine the British ideology used throughout the time of their empire we can see the veracity of the above. Today no one of any merit would accept the basis of the ideology which provided the moral framework that supported the British Empire.
The British Empire was run on a cocktail of British nationalism around the monarch, the superiority of the race, the civilisation and religious superiority reflected in its many missionary organisations. All intertwined in nicely spaced phrases.
This ideological edifice of racial superiority came to an end in 1945. The logical consequences of their beliefs were manifested in the Holocaust of Jews in Germany during the war. British and German racial beliefs were never far apart, and British upper-class racial beliefs simply faded away.
Today no one believes any of that old Colonial ideology. It has simply been discarded as obvious rubbish, yet at the time it was fervently believed to be manifest ‘truth’.
American Imperial ideology has replaced the British variety. There are many similarities as well as some distinctive differences. At its heart is the fact that Americans at home and abroad believe in it.
Like the British there is a cocktail of American nationalism: there is the Hag, morality and civilisation have been replaced by the concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, and more recently ‘terrorism’. American emissaries in foreign lands will talk about the Pashtuns accepting democracy, but even if they have absorbed the concept, one wonders if they really believe in it.
Let’s just examine this one concept briefly to show its falsehood. Democracy is the system, in my opinion, in mature Capitalist economies whereby it is justified to its people as a whole. Should a political party assume that it is a vehicle for serious change, for instance, towards socialism or an Islamic state, they can be sure it will be overthrown by a combination of the local military forces trained in the USA, or in the UK with the agreement of Washington. Chile under Allende is the last example of this regime change being tried. When the Islamic parties in Algeria looked as if they might win the election it was cancelled out by the armed forces.
Democracy, in this sense, is simply a change of the people visibly running the system. Then consider the proposition of people who actually vote a US president into power:
- Twenty-five per cent of the people don’t have the right to vote.
- Of the remaining 75 per cent of the potential voting population, only 50 per cent actually vote.
- And if there are two candidates this works out as 18.75 per cent of the adult population actually voting in the new president. If there is a third candidate, the number drops to as low as 14 per cent.
Anyone reading this can draw his own conclusion. And this is the system that America says it wants everyone to have, it is their version of the British concept of what a civilised society consists of. This is the rationale, Americans tell us, for their invasion of Iraq. Are they simply lying or do they really believe their own ideology?
The American Imperial cocktail has its own distinctive line. The founding fathers who arrived in New England in the 1620s developed a potent metaphor derived from the Old Testament and the Jewish tradition. They had arrived, they said, in God’s new Israel; it was, they said, the ‘promised land’ and the fact that they had survived the long Atlantic crossing indicated that they were God’s chosen people.
It may seem hard for people outside America to understand but these metaphors have survived, and there are many millions who now see that they have a ‘mission to the world’, and the righteousness that comes out of the US president has a powerful echo to his own people.
It would seem that all Imperial ideology has a basis in its own nationalist myth, but when applied to ‘other’ peoples it is deception.
Today, public relations companies consciously develop ideas in order to manipulate public opinion, so as to make Imperial expansion acceptable. New concepts keep appearing and disappearing; here are a few examples:
- Regime change = military invasion
- Pre-emptive defence = military invasion
- Axis of evil = countries we want to control
- Shock and awe = US terror tactics
- War on terror = endless war, wherever we want.
The final piece in the contemporary US ideological jigsaw is the way all these ideas are put out through the print and electronic media. Ownership and control of the media is hugely centralised and owned privately. These networks are sycophantic to the regime in power. They offer entirely uncritical evaluation. Any administration in the US can be assured of total acceptance of whatever expansionist Imperial plans it puts out being reproduced in the words it has decided upon.
The US may be the land of the free, but freedom of speech has long ceased to be practised in the daily newspapers or on TV channels.
Roger van Zwanenberg
Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.