eyes on the U.S.

The United States As Global Monarch, A Different Kind Of Empire

Since the end of World War I, the United States has been methodically establishing a global state, in the same way European kings built power.

The United States As Global Monarch, A Different Kind Of Empire
Philippe Fabry


PARIS — It is often said that we are heading towards a multipolar state, that the American predominant influence is just a parenthesis, like that of the British Empire between the 19th and 20th centuries.

But such a prediction fails to acknowledge that American hegemony established after 1918 and especially after 1945 has been completely different than the leadership of the British Empire. The latter was a colonial empire, the imperial domain of a nation that was conceived as a European power player seeking its own salvation in the strategic depth of a naval empire and the promotion of a continental balance of power.

At no time did the British Empire believe it had exceeded the European national order and these traditional rivalries: England was the greatest power and, from time to time, it would arbitrate between its playmates.

For the "American Empire," things are very different. From the start, the U.S. acted with the intention of creating rules, not just to arbitrate conflicts and manage the world order one day at a time, but also to build a common order. This led to the creation of a series of international institutions: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and, of course, the United Nations, the embryo of a global parliament, and all its offshoots.

The U.S. has also become the global police force, especially via NATO, and funds the expenses this involves thanks to the status of the dollar as reserve currency.

Unlike its British elder, it's not about being the greatest of powers and staying that way by playing on the divisions of others. It's more about organizing a common government for world affairs by gathering all the powers into one supranational system. But the U.S. uses this supranational system in a relatively nonreciprocal way, as it allows it to impose its authority on other nations by assigning it a collective authority that goes beyond national sovereignty. Yet it refuses to see its own sovereignty contested.

The same method as European kings

It's clear that by doing so, the U.S. not only acts very differently than British imperial politics, but also in exactly the same way European kings built their power and went beyond feudality by building modern states.

To do so, kings didn't just become the most powerful lords of the feudal order, which would have corresponded to what the British Empire did, but they also made sure that they went beyond this feudal order. To do this, they built a legal system to the scale of the kingdom, which imposed itself notably through its guaranteed neutrality and authority, in comparison with the local justice systems that were less experienced, strict and often corrupt. They developed courts capable of judging lords themselves.

But the major step was made by implementing representative authorities for the entire social body: clergy, nobility, middle class, which allowed the monarchy to suddenly cover the entire feudal order. This was done in 1295 with the Model Parliament, in France in 1302 with the Estates General, in Spain in 1476 with the Cortes de Madrigal, in Germany with the 1495 Reichstag, in Russia with the 1549 Zemski Sobor. Each time, the creation of these assemblies enabled the development of a general police armed force, funded by a permanent tax — in other words, the implementation of a sovereign power, which meant the beginning of the end of feudality.

After 1945, this is what the U.S. did on a global scale. It created an assembly, the UN, and a whole chain of authorities that make it possible to cover the traditional international order. The Bretton Woods system of monetary management fundamentally established the implementation of a world tax, which privileges the dollar. It has allowed the U.S. to fund its army, which serves as a global police force, to guarantee the security of communication channels, and to regularly to catch dictator-crooks or punish "rogue states."

The way towards the universal state

Right now, the United States is what England never was: the monarch at the head of the global state. For now, it is essentially sovereign, although its missions are growing in number. The IMF serves as a redistribution tool towards the countries that are in the most difficulty, and it is possible that in the decades to come, the WTO will become an increasingly interventionist organization. Currently, this includes the implementation of the much disputed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), or its Trans-Pacific equivalent, the TPP.

And that's where the danger could lie in the future: A state doesn't stop growing after its emergence. On the contrary, it has its own logic and moves towards absolutism. It's what Rome ultimately did, with the influence of the Roman global state becoming more and more important and carrying more weight. Eventually, this is what will happen to us.

In any case, this radical difference in nature with the British Empire makes it impossible to conclude that the American predominance will disappear in the decades to come. In this system, China and Russia aren't rivals, which is a reading of relations that has been out of date for 70 years. They are feudal vassals, recalcitrant to the monarch. Like the major feudal vassals of the monarchies in the past, these will struggle to admit the development of the royal power, and are looking for a step back that will not come but will instead lead to a global civil war.

Some people, those who continuously denounce capitalism, see a conspiracy in this. It's not the case: It's simply the natural progress of power towards the universal state that historian Arnold Toynbee wrote about. Rome was such a universal state. In that case, there is indeed always an ideology behind this natural course of events: Such societies produce such ideas that lead to the creation of such institutions that push towards the mutation into such society, etc. Today, when we talk about "globalization," we say it's good to be a "citizen of the world."

In Antiquity, the Stoics used to say "the wise man's city is the world."

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