Twilight of the Empires

Following on from yesterday’s thoughts on Greece, I’ve been wondering about the EU ‘project’, and the devotion of almost the entire European political class to European union.

Underlying it all is a dread of another European war like WW1 and WW2. And it is believed that if European nations could be contrived to set aside their differences, and unite into a single state, a European war would become impossible. The belief seems to be that it is the fact of having different national identities that initiates the rivalries. Do away with national identity, and all become “Europeans”, and these rivalries will vanish.

But I’m beginning to think that it wasn’t different national identities that led to the European wars of the the early 20th century. It was something quite different.

And the difference was that 100 years ago several European states had large empires. Britain still retained a global empire. France had a smaller empire. So did Belgium and Holland. The Austro-Hungarian empire was also a central European empire. And if you hadn’t got an empire, you probably wanted one – because everybody else had got one.

What I’d like to suggest is that the First World War was a war between empires and would-be empires. The would-be empire was the new state of Germany, which was looking for its own “place in the sun”. And the war that was fought was between the combined European empire of Germany and Austro-Hungary against the established global empires of Britain, France, Belgium, et al. It was a global war because these empires had colonies all over the world. And it was fought primarily in Europe because the colonial powers were all based in Europe, and were in closest proximity there.

It’s worth looking at which countries stayed out of WW1 and/or WW2. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. The first six of these weren’t imperial powers. And the last two were post-imperial powers. The sea-faring Portuguese created the first European-based global empire. And the Spanish built the second. But by 1914 both empires were a shadow of what they had been a hundred or more years earlier. Spain had lost most of its American provinces by around 1810. Portugal had lost Brazil by 1825. So the neutral or non-participant countries were non-imperial or post-imperial powers. They didn’t have a dog in the race, and wanted to stay out any European war.

By contrast, the imperial powers all had a lot to lose, or a lot to gain. So they were ready to fight.

And they did, and the result after two global wars was that they all lost all their empires. The British empire and the French empire and the Belgian empire and the Dutch empire and the Austro-Hungarian empire have all followed in the footsteps of Portugal and Spain’s empires.

And this is why a European war like WW1 or WW2 isn’t going to be repeated. There are no more empires in existence to provide the revenues and manpower to fight such wars, and there are no longer any empires to be made or lost. There is simply no reason any more for France and Britain to fight Germany and Austria or anyone else. They have all become post-imperial trading states.

The only residue of empire, oddly enough, is the European Union itself, which might be said to be the product of a Europe-wide nostalgia for empire, shared by all the post-imperial powers. If they could no longer command global empires, they would at least make a European empire through the union of their post-imperial states, and thereby become global players once again.

And this new Eempire has now expanded (as empires always do) to the borders of neighbouring empires – in this case the Russian Federation -, and precipitated conflict there (not vice versa, as many people suggest). And it’s also treating its poorer member states – Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy – more or less as colonies to be ordered around (again something empires always do).

These post-imperial states now need to gain independence from the new (and rather tyrannical and dysfunctional) European empire of the EU, just as their colonies once gained independence from them. And those erstwhile colonies – the USA, Brazil, India, etc – ought to be urging them to discover the benefits of independence.

If there is any lesson to be learned in Europe, it was the prosperity of Europe before it became the EU, and was simply the European Economic Community, with separate states and separate parliaments and separate currencies. It worked very well.

But the EU doesn’t. Europe needs to return to the successful EEC arrangement of a community of nation states, and forget its dreams of empire. Because it’s empires, not nation states, which bring war.


About Frank Davis

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34 Responses to Twilight of the Empires

  1. Tony says:

    This really belongs on your post of yesterday. You commented that you didn’t have a TV. But you can see it here:

    • Frank Davis says:

      Thanks for that. I did what BrianB did, and watched the first few minutes. Pity that, despite the Smoking Allowed sign, nobody seemed to be smoking.

      • jaxthefirst says:

        Oh, I don’t know, Frank. I would rather have expected them to show a room full of people chain-smoking and puffing away on enormous cigars and filling the room with the kind of thick fug of smoke which I haven’t actually witnessed in a pub since the 1970s (air cleaning equipment got noticeably better from the 1980s onwards – I was a non-smoker back then, remember, and I distinctly recall it), and heaps of non-smokers leaving in their droves, coughing and spluttering and clutching their chests. Maybe they were hoist by their own petard on this one – they couldn’t show how nasty all that wicked tobacco smoke would be without showing people actually smoking – something which the right-on Beeb are no longer prepared to show on TV any more! Ha! Epic fail!

  2. cherie79 says:

    Perceptive, I studied this era in the distant past at university and agree with you. It seems we have recreated what we wished to escape from. I also think the EUs attempt to entice Ukraine into its sphere of influence precipitated the current situation. Who knows where it will all end but it doesn’t look good, individual countries were doing fine before the EU decided to try and become one country under Brussels rule.

  3. jaxthefirst says:

    Some while ago (do stop me if I’ve told you this one before), I was spending a rather jolly evening in one of our local hostelries (this was, of course, before the smoking ban, when these evenings happened quite often) and the talk swung round to the EU. Now, being several years ago, Euro-scepticism was in its infancy and people like myself, who even then regarded the EU with great suspicion, were regarded as somewhat paranoid and odd. Anyway, we got talking to a History teacher friend of ours, who confidently predicted that the EU would, without a shadow of a doubt, end up “collapsing in on itself.” When we questioned why this was, his answer, perhaps predictably, came from a distinctly History-teacher perspective, but in essence it was: “Because that’s what always happens – always has, and always will. Empires are inherently unstable structures.” He explained that the same thing had happened to all the Empires down through history – the Romans, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British and, now, the EU. They expand and expand and expand, and end up over-reaching themselves, and then they start to contract again until, eventually, the whole thing fizzles to a sticky end.

    The problem, he said, was that the larger an area an empire ruled and the larger the number of people who were subject to its rules, the greater the chances would be that there would be a significant number of people for whom life under the empire simply wasn’t as good as independence and self-rule. There isn’t any regime, after all, which suits absolutely everyone in just a single country, so the chances of having an empire encompassing several countries which suited absolutely everybody in them was vanishingly small.

    The other problem with this expansion was a practical one. It literally isn’t physically possible for a small group of empire-runners to police an enormous area, and neither is it possible for them to be aware of all the peculiarities and individual circumstances, customs and traditions of countries hundreds of miles away in all directions. Even if they had that awareness, they couldn’t possibly produce individual rules and regulations for each area to keep everyone (or almost everyone) on-side, because that would miss the whole point of having an empire in the first place! If the empire is going to make a separate set of rules and regulations (some of which they might not approve, e.g. not having smoking bans), then that’s not really any different from having a whole lot of independent countries, is it? The point of empires, after all, is to rule – not to be told by their subjects what they can and can’t do! So empires, by their very nature, were inherently prone to breeding resentment and discontent, particularly amongst their most far-flung areas, for whom their centrally-manufactured one-size-fits-all rules were most likely to be incompatible with the people’s needs, wants and desires.

    And, of course, there’d always be an “outside edge” somewhere at the end of the empire’s reach where the most likely most-disaffected people living under the rule of the empire would be able to see all the advantages offered to those living outside the empire’s influence. This would further fuel resentment towards the distant empire-runners with their remotely-dictated rules and regulations. My friend described large empires as inevitably having a “ragged edge” which would, inevitably, fray, no matter how hard the empire tried to come down on any potentially-rebellious subject-countries, as the EU have been doing with Greece. Inevitably, eventually, those people would simply say “stuff this” and rebel – again, as has happened in Greece.

    When we asked (rather hopefully), when he thought this would happen, we thought he’d be talking about something happening in 50 or 100 years’ time – given the huge lengths of time that previous empires have held sway – so we were delighted when he said, “Oh, given the speed of the modern world, it’s quite likely to happen in the next 10 or 15 years, maybe sooner. Certainly in our lifetimes.”

    Well, that conversation took place around 10 years ago … and look at what’s happening in the Eurozone right now. What a clever chap our teacher-friend turned out to be!

    • cherie79 says:

      Excellent comment

    • In the EU its no longer if it ever was we might comply,its now you will comply or we the EU will put in a puppet govmnt in its place like we put our own pope in place.

    • Frank Davis says:

      “Because that’s what always happens – always has, and always will. Empires are inherently unstable structures.” He explained that the same thing had happened to all the Empires down through history – the Romans, the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British and, now, the EU. They expand and expand and expand, and end up over-reaching themselves

      I suppose I think of empire-building as large scale theft. It usually needs an army to march in somewhere and steal the land, the cities, the mines, the gold, etc, from the local people. And the more complete the theft, the sooner the empire collapses. The trick of the successful empires was to maintain their colonies as going concerns, and just creaming off the surplus, while leaving everyone largely alone. The Romans, for example, simply adopted the local gods wherever they marched in. They didn’t mess around with people’s customs or beliefs. And there were benefits in being inside the Roman empire: the Pax Romana allowed trade to flourish. The Roman legions were largely scattered along the borders of the empire, keeping the barbarians at bay.

      I suspect that empires only work while they’re expanding, because while the gravy train grows, the political class expands and there’s harmony. But when the empire starts contracting, the gravy train slowly dries up, and the political class shrinks, which results in acrimony. And the Roman empire stopped expanding around the time of Augustus. And it became corrupt (phantom legions drawing pay, but without any soldiers), and increasingly unmanageable (so that it got divided in two, with two emperors in each half).

      In the case of Portugal and Spain, they usually forced their subjects to adopt Christianity. And that probably didn’t go down well with the local populations. And their colonies in the Americas were a long way from Portugal and Spain, and it wasn’t too hard for the ex-pat populations to throw off the yoke. Same with Islam, which more or less forced religious conversion on its subjects.

      The British empire seems to have been one of the mildest. The British didn’t force locals to convert to Christianity, and didn’t interfere with their customs or beliefs or language. In that respect, the British empire seems more like the Roman empire. And it seems to have been flourishing in 1900. It took two catastrophic wars – WW1 and WW2 – to bankrupt everyone, and finish off the British empire and all the other European empires, including the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottoman empire.

      The principal beneficiary of WW1 and WW2 was the USA, which wasn’t bankrupted or bombed into oblivion, and was left as the hegemon of the Western world, which included both the Americas, Europe, and almost the entire former British empire. If anything, this American ’empire’ was even more hands off than the British empire. It doesn’t install US governors, or impose US laws, or extract taxes. It’s extremely laissez faire. It encourages freedom, capitalism, trade, open borders, free movement of goods. Its essential doctrine is “Whatever’s good for business”. And for the past 70 years the entire Western world has prospered within the American imperium, enjoying peace and rising living standards.

      Its historical enemy has been the kind of top-down controlling Communist ideology which was found in Russia and China (and exported elsewhere), and which seems to currently be in recession, since both Russia and China have recently adopted far more business-friendly regimes (and so begun to prosper a bit).

      And the new EU empire is really an empire within the American imperium. For it remains US military power that guarantees European security (and security everywhere else in the West)

  4. waltc says:

    Keen analysis, Frank. But don’t expect much support from today’s US. Washington is Brussels in relation to the states, some of which are also squirming for independence.but unlikely to get it

  5. junican says:

    I’ve watched about half of the UKIP bashing programme, and have been amused.
    NO! The chances of UKIP forming a Government are remote, and therefore the programme depicts a scenario which cannot reasonably exist. It could just as easily apply to the Tories, Labour or LibDems or Greens.
    It is a story, just like The War of The Worlds was a story.
    The programme is good for UKIP on the grounds that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

  6. Smoking Lamp says:

    Another step toward total prohibition… The Antis are starting the psyop campaign for banning smoking in ALL vehicles: “Poll: Should smoking be banned altogether in vehicles?”

    • Bones says:

      At present the ‘yes’ vote is in the lead. For heaven’s sake, if people do not smoke they have a choice whether or not to either drive with a smoker or demand that the smoker not smoke in their car. Banning is just plain bullying.

      • beobrigitte says:

        In this case it’s a little more complicated.
        For example: I send all kids walking. I smoke in MY car. I can assure you that I will smoke in MY car and MY house. I paid for BOTH, MY rules apply.

        Ownership is an issue. For as long as I OWN my property I will defend it. Any intruders in my house will be met with this attitude. And, yes, had I got a gun, I would shoot – into their groins as a warning shot. I worked hard for what I have and will defend it!

      • Rose says:

        I’d like to know a little more.

        Will it be banning smoking while driving or will the ban still apply when you are parked in a layby or car park?
        What if your car is parked on your own driveway or in your own garage?
        Will it still be against the law if you smoke when perched on the edge of your own car seat with your legs out of the stationary car?

        For the people who said yes, I do hope they realise that such a law would set a precedent on what they are allowed to do on their own property.
        When they made it illegal for me to ride my motorbike without wearing a crash helmet, it set the precedent for making it illegal for them to drive their car without wearing a seatbelt.

        Be very careful when you wish other people’s liberties away.

    • Smoking Scot says:

      Poll’s now closed. 51.5% say it should be banned (a seemingly inexplicable surge in yes votes just a few minutes before the poll closed).

  7. waltc says:

    Completely OT Check Wednesday. Under the Health heading. The Expert Ants are now touting Chantix ( aka ” the most dangerous prescription drug on the market”) to be prescribed to all smokers whether or not they say they want to quit in any immediate future. Pfizer is rubbing its hands at the sudden prospect of 1.4 million new customers playing Russian Roulette with their brains.

    I’d give you the link but it’s long and when I tried to tiny-URL it, I got invaded by a pornographic site that took over my iPad or at least Safari and wouldn’t go away for 45 minutes despite a lot of force quits. And it wasn’t even a good pornographic site. In any case, I’m not trying tinyurl again, at least not tonite.

  8. Rose says:


    Nicotine Reduces Parasite Infection In Bees Up To 81 Percent
    February 17th 2015

    “In 2006, there was a large die-off in bees and though their numbers quickly rebounded and have continued upward since, scientists have been looking for ways to make the periodic collapses that occur less dramatic.

    The cause the last time it happened was the same plague that bees have endured for as long as science has been able to study them; parasites. But a new study shows that “nature’s medicine cabinet” may be able to smooth out those natural booms and busts.

    Chemicals in floral nectar, including the alkaloids anabasine and nicotine, the iridoid glycoside catalpol and the terpenoid thymol, significantly reduce parasite infection in bees, which may mean that that growing plants high in these compounds around farm fields could improve survival of diseased bees and therefore maintain more consistent pollination of crops.”

    The results in Proceedings of the Royal Society B showed that consumption of these chemicals lessened the intensity of infection by up to 81 percent, which could significantly reduce the spread of parasites within and between bee colonies.

    “Our novel results highlight that secondary metabolites in floral nectar may play a vital role in reducing bee-parasite interactions,” says senior author Dartmouth Professor Rebecca Irwin.”

    Use of tobacco smoke against parasitic mite syndrome


    “In Spring 1995 colonies showed some delay in their build up. A lot of crawling bees had been seen in front of the hives and on the ground. Hives in two apiaries were treated with tobacco leaves. 15-20 g of leaves were burned in the smoker with the material used for making smoke. It was used during routine examinations every week or as needed, in March, April and May. These colonies were shown to have greater populations and to yield more honey compared with two control hives kept near the apiary of 50 colonies. In the apiary with 30 colonies there were another 45 colonies which were not treated with tobacco smoke.


    In early August there was a check up and comparison between the colonies that had been treated with tobacco smoke and those which had not. There was a great difference in honeybee populations; those which had been treated being more populous. The bees were more active in foraging and collecting nectar.


    Whatever the disease, I believe that tobacco smoke had beneficial effect on the colonies. We know that nicotine in tobacco smoke has some anaesthetic effect on insects in general, and it might have some lethal effect on mites and therefore some beneficial effect against the condition.

    We believe now that the immune system of the bees is in some way diminished. By using tobacco smoke we are either hitting the primary target, or we might be curing a secondary pathogen. In either case we are helping our bees to get better!”

    Which is rather unfortunate for the bees under the present circumstances.

    • beobrigitte says:

      Perhaps I can help my uncle out. He is a (non-smoking) passionate beekeeper who watches his bee colonies disappear. Much to my regret, too. I love the honey.

      The tobacco use denormalisation has yet another side effect; the insects we need (no bees = little fruit and veg) could be saved.
      We will the the millions of anti-smokers in the fields next year, attempting to do the bees’ job. Or, they will introduce non-indiginous insects to do the job. The result of the latter might become very interesting.

      • Rose says:

        Brigitte, I am very sorry to hear about your uncles losses, I am very fond of bees quite apart from their pollinating abilities and I hope he has a much more successful year.

        “growing plants high in these compounds around farm fields could improve survival of diseased bees and therefore maintain more consistent pollination of crops”

        I can’t see our government allowing that.

        Unfortunately, the crop that contains the next highest amount of nicotine is the aubergine which doesn’t grow well outside here.

  9. Judge rules smoking senior can’t be evicted Germany

    Published: 18 Feb 2015 15:36 GMT+01:00

    The Supreme Court (BGH) has decided that a landlord had no right to throw out the man being called “Germany’s second-most famous smoker after Helmut Schmidt” without due notice

    In the ruling, the judge said that Friedhelm Adolfs’ eviction was not carried out through due process, and cigarette smoke was not a reason to force someone out of an apartment without notice.

    The case now has to be re-opened and the reasons for his eviction investigated to see if they were warranted, but for now, Adolfs can stay in his home.

    In 2013, Adolfs was ejected from his Düsseldorf apartment because neighbours complained of the smell of cigarettes that penetrated the hallway of their building.

    Adolfs’ landlord said that the long-time smoker didn’t properly ventilate his apartment – a particularly German clause in many rental agreements – and was thus in violation of his contract, warranting the immediate eviction.

    The judge in a lower Düsseldorf court ruled in the landlord’s favour, saying that Adolfs should take every measure to reduce the smell of cigarettes, including regularly emptying out his ash trays.

    The 76-year-old smokes arond 15 cigarettes a day, he said. He called the apartment in Düsseldorf home for 40 years and even served as the buidling’s caretaker for 30 of those.

    He hoped to continue living there because its where he lived with his wife – who also smoked – until her recent death of cancer.

    Through his plight, Adolfs has become a hero for cigarette smokers in Germany who say they are being forced outside more often.

    The passionate smoker said that this court case wasn’t just about him, “but for the community at large”.

    In January, the BGH ruled that municipalities could have the right to limit the times smokers can light up on their balcony after a couple sued their cigarette-smoking neighbours for stinking up their afternoon tea time.

    In that decision, the judge declared smoking to be a “substantial nuisance” that could be regulated.

    • beobrigitte says:

      The Supreme Court (BGH) has decided that a landlord had no right to throw out the man being called “Germany’s second-most famous smoker after Helmut Schmidt” without due notice

      THANKS EVER SO MUCH, Harley!!!!! I was going to search for this ruling.

      However, the Bundesgericht has left a HUGE loophole:
      In the ruling, the judge said that Friedhelm Adolfs’ eviction was not carried out through due process, and cigarette smoke was not a reason to force someone out of an apartment without notice.

      I am still worried for the man (Mr. Adolf) who worked as a Hausmeister where he lives… For NOW he still has his home…..

  10. beobrigitte says:

    I’ve been wondering about the EU ‘project’, and the devotion of almost the entire European political class to European union.

    Many years back I was much in favour of an EU. In my mind it eased trading, made it easier to apply for a job in any of these countries (bear in mind that there was no such thing as the internet then!!!) and we all learn about each other. Naive, isn’t it?
    I would never have envisaged a sort of USE (United States of Europe) – for that, in my mind, we all have too much our little quirks and more or less likeable characteristics. On top of it, we all speak different languages.

    I have changed my mind. The sort of EU I envisaged was not enough for the go-getters and what they are pushing us all in is nothing good. I am German. Born that way. I chose to live in England under English law with English people as my English friends here. (I feel honoured to find myself accepted in my local community, often being introduced: “this is ‘Kraut’, aaar Germin scouser”; and quite a few – new to me people – replied: “Ey, you lot bombed my uncle’s/dad’s/cousin’s chippie!!!” I have learned to ask: ” Was it a good chippie????”.
    Can we keep it this way?

    The entire political class has no more than secondary school knowledge about the different “EU countries”; you begin to wonder who ‘inspires’ them to dictate EUinversal laws….

    Empires…… They all went. Corruption of the ruling class and disregard for the working people caused them to fall apart. I find it rather strange that the EU empire is set to fall apart before it got off the ground. But then, unlike before, corruption and disregard for the people within this empire already is being ‘normalised’.

    Off topic: (need to rant!!!!)
    The BBC this morning lamented the rapidly declining number of women attending breast cancer screening. They produced an example of a woman stating that the screening programme worked for her. Sure, there are a few people like that, too. I do not know any, though. I know the ones who have died because they were given the all clear weeks prior to finding “something” – because they were given the ‘all clear’ they trusted the programme more than themselves. Needless to say, the BBC did not mention these cases when wondering WHY people give this (expensive) programme a miss!
    I am not sure about the prostate cancer ‘prevention’ programme – it doesn’t exist. Here we talk about DETECTION.
    The BBC mentioned the discomfort breast screening entails. (TRUE!!! It is VERY uncomfortable!!!). However, prostate cancer screening is far more uncomfortable and there is no BBC urging men to attend, even though the prostate cancer rate is above the breast cancer rate!!!

    The thing that REALLY wound me up this morning was the jovial comment that many women have a breast cancer that grows so slow that they will die of old age first. That was an insult. My mother’s breast cancer had the worst prognosis – 12 out of 15 lymphnodes (arm pit) were affected; we were told that she had little time left and that it was pointless to put her through a full mastectomy. A psychologically reassuring round of radiotherapy was given whilst we (in secret) were told to spent a bit of time with our mother and create more memories.
    How my mother outlived this cancer I will never know. I do remember her embarking on some weird adventures, e.g. fasting.

    NOTHING can prevented. But you can make a lot of people miserable pretending that you can.

    • cherie79 says:

      Another thing is false positives. Over 20 years ago I was told I had micro calcification and needed breast surgery, can’t explain it but every instinct said don’t do it. I paid to see the best breast cancer specialist I could find in Scotland. He took another mammogram and said to forget it, what I had was what any woman who had a child would show and quite a different pattern to the calcification that COULD be a precursor to cancer. If I had not listened to my instinct I would have had totally unnecessary surgery with chemo and/or radiotherapy. I wonder how many poor women have been through that needlessly.

  11. Some French bloke says:

    “NOTHING can [be] prevented. But you can make a lot of people miserable pretending that you can.”

    From an essay called “Genealogy of Fanaticism”;
    “What is the Fall but the pursuit of a truth and the assurance you have found it, the passion for a dogma, domicile within a dogma? The result is fanaticism—fundamental defect which gives man the craving for effectiveness, for prophecy, for terror – a lyrical leprosy by which he contaminates souls, subdues them, crushes or exalts them.” (in “A Short History of Decay”, by Emil Cioran)

  12. -8 tonite got the un approved 1970s wood stove cranking away………….besides 14 inches of snow on the ground and my jacked up jeep running the roads covered in everything………..

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