Review of “Ancient and Modern Imperialism” by Lord Cromer

The book is here, and I’m – of course – reading it because Cromer is a favorite of Mencius Moldbug. The book is a short comparison between ancient (i.e Roman) imperialism and modern (i.e. mostly British but also French and Russian) imperialism. I’m going to dive right into some quotes that summarize Cromer’s ideas and then I’m going to compare modern American imperialism to the imperialisms discussed by Cromer.

1) Imperialism for both Rome and Britain is driven by geography:

The first points of anal­ogy which must strike any­one who en­deav­ours to in­sti­tute a com­par­ison be­tween Ro­man and mod­ern—no­tably British—Im­pe­ri­al pol­icy are that in proceed­ing from con­quest to con­quest each step in ad­vance was in an­cient, as it has been in mod­ern, times ac­com­pa­nied by mis­giv­ings, and was of­ten tak­en with a reluctance which was by no means feigned; that Rome, equal­ly with the mod­ern ex­pan­sive Pow­ers, more es­pe­cial­ly Great Britain and Rus­sia, was im­pelled on­wards by the im­pe­ri­ous and ir­re­sistible ne­ces­si­ty of ac­quir­ing de­fen­si­ble fron­tiers; that the pub­lic opin­ion of the world scoffed 2,000 years ago, as it does now, at the al­leged ne­ces­si­ty; and that each on­ward move was at­tribut­ed to an in­sa­tiable lust for an ex­tend­ed do­min­ion.

In this Cromer has much in common with George Friedman.

2) Both empires made us of foreign troops.

In re­spect to an­oth­er point, the meth­ods em­ployed by the British, both in In­dia and in Egypt, bear a strik­ing sim­ilar­ity to that adopt­ed by the Ro­mans. Both na­tions have been large­ly aid­ed by aux­il­iaries drawn from the coun­tries which they con­quered.

3) Both exact some form of tribute from conquered nations, but this form changes dramatically:

An Im­pe­ri­al Pow­er nat­ural­ly ex­pects to de­rive some ben­efits for it­self from its Impe­ri­al­ism. There can be no doubt as to the quar­ter to which the Ro­mans looked for their prof­it. They ex­act­ed heavy trib­utes from their de­pen­den­cies. . . . Eng­land has re­gard­ed trade with In­dia, and not trib­ute from In­dia, as the fi­nan­cial as­set which coun­ter­bal­ances the burden of gov­ern­ing the coun­try.

4) Next we turn to the ability of empires to assimilate their subjects:

If we turn to the­ com­par­ative re­sults ob­tained by an­cient and modern imperialists; if we ask our­selves whether the Ro­mans, with their im­per­fect means of lo­co­mo­tion and commu­ni­ca­tion, their rel­ative­ly low stan­dard of pub­lic moral­ity, and their ig­no­rance of many eco­nom­ic and po­lit­ical truths, which have now be­come ax­iomat­ic, suc­ceed­ed as well as any mod­ern peo­ple in as­sim­ilat­ing the na­tions which the prowess of their arms had brought un­der their sway, the an­swer can­not be doubt­ful. They suc­ceed­ed far better. . . . They ei­ther Ro­man­ized the races who were at first their sub­jects and even­tu­al­ly their mas­ters or left those races to be the will­ing agents of their own Ro­man­iza­tion. . . . A great deal has been said and writ­ten on the sub­ject of the in­abil­ity of mod­ern Eu­ro­pean Pow­ers to as­sim­ilate subject races. . It is very gen­er­al­ly held that this in­abil­ity is es­pe­cial­ly marked in the case of the British.

In this area of assimilation, the Romans had two distinct advantages. First, the Romans did not have to contend with such strong, divergent religions in the populations they conquered:

In one of those bold and pro­found gen­er­al­iza­tions on East­ern pol­itics in which he ex­cels, Sir Al­fred Lyall has very tru­ly point­ed out that the Ro­mans on­ly had, for the most part, to deal with tribes. It was Chris­tian­ity and its off­shoot, Is­lam, that cre­at­ed na­tions and in­tro­duced the re­li­gious el­ement in­to pol­itics. Now, in the pro­cess of as­sim­ila­tion the Romans eas­ily sur­mount­ed any dif­fi­cul­ties based on re­li­gion. The easy-go­ing poly­the­ism and pan­the­ism of the an­cient world read­ily adapt­ed it­self to changed cir­cum­stances. . . . Far dif­fer­ent has been the sit­ua­tion in more mod­ern times. Alone amongst Im­pe­ri­al­ist na­tions, the Spaniards en­deav­oured to force their faith on their re­luc­tant sub­jects, with results that con­tribut­ed to their own un­do­ing. In all oth­er cas­es there has been tol­er­ation, but no pros­elytism—or, at all events, no of­fi­cial pros­elytism. That tol­er­ation has, indeed, been at times pushed so far—as in the case of the tac­it ac­qui­es­cence at one time ac­cord­ed to the sav­age rites of Jug­ger­nauth—as to strain the con­sciences of many earnest Chris­tians. Tol­er­ation, how­ev­er, is, from a po­lit­ical point of view, but a poor sub­sti­tute for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. It does not tend to break down one of the most formidable obstacles which stand in the way of fu­sion.

The Romans also had the advantage of Latin and Greek:

In di­rect op­po­si­tion to the case of the Ro­mans, who had to deal with con­quered races ea­ger­ly de­sirous of adopt­ing the lan­guage of their con­querors, mod­ern Im­pe­ri­al­ist na­tions have to deal with na­tion­al sen­ti­ments which of­ten clus­ter round the idea that the ex­tru­sion of the ver­nac­ular lan­guage should be stout­ly re­sist­ed.

5) Our final difference, is that much more is expected from modern administration than was expected of ancient administration:

Nowhere does the pol­icy of mod­ern dif­fer more wide­ly from that of an­cient Im­pe­ri­al­ism than in deal­ing with mat­ters of this sort. The mod­ern Im­pe­ri­al­ist will not ac­cept the decrees of Na­ture. He strug­gles man­ful­ly, and at enor­mous cost, to re­sist them. In the case of dis­ease he brings sci­ence to his aid, and, in the case of famine, his re­sis­tance is by no means in­ef­fec­tu­al, for he has dis­cov­ered that Na­ture will gen­er­al­ly pro­duce a suf­fi­cien­cy of food if man can ar­range for its time­ly dis­tri­bu­tion.

The pol­icy of pre­serv­ing and pro­long­ing’ hu­man life—even use­less hu­man life—is no­ble. It is the on­ly pol­icy wor­thy of a civ­ilized na­tion. But its ex­ecu­tion in­evitably in­creas­es the dif­fi­cul­ty of gov­ern­ment.

Before I compare our modern imperialism (i.e America’s) with Cromer’s imperialisms, I can’t help but quote some good advice from Cromer, who has so much governing experience:

Very great im­prove­ments were, in­deed, made by Au­gus­tus. Like all who have had to en­counter the prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of ad­min­is­tra­tive work, he found that the first and most es­sen­tial step to­wards the cre­ation of a sound ad­min­is­tra­tion was to es­tab­lish an ef­fi­cient De­part­ment of Ac­counts.

I think budgetary reform in the US will only be possible once we have an honest governmental accounting system. The government requires companies to honestly report their financial status, but the government subjects itself to a separate, dishonest system. The government is not forced to recognize implicit liabilities, such as investments in government-sponsored entities, potential ownership of institutions that are too big to fail, social security, medicare, and guaranteed employment contracts and pensions. The list could go on. If we follow Cromer and Augustus down the path to fiscal responsibility (and who else would be better to follow, dear reader?) then we see that "sound administration" is impossible given our current accounting system.

Cromer also comments on the need to separate administration of colonies from commercial exploitation, after criticizing British rule of India under the East India Company, Cromer says:

It was not, how­ev­er, un­til sev­en­ty-​four years lat­er that the adop­tion of the prin­ci­ple which lies at the root of all sound ad­min­is­tra­tion, and which in quite re­cent times has been fla­grant­ly vi­olat­ed in Turkey, Egypt, and the Con­go, was forced up­on the rulers of In­dia by the con­vul­sion of 1857. That prin­ci­ple is that ad­min­is­tra­tion and com­mer­cial exploitation should not be en­trust­ed to the same hands. State of­fi­cials may err, but they have no in­ter­ests to serve but those of good gov­ern­ment, where­as com­mer­cial agents must al­most of ne­ces­si­ty at times ne­glect the wel­fare of the sub­ject race in the re­al or pre­sumed pe­cu­niary in­ter­ests of their em­ploy­ers. For the last fifty years, al­though errors of judg­ment may pos­si­bly be im­put­ed to the rulers of In­dia, more es­pe­cial­ly in the di­rec­tion of a some­what reck­less adap­ta­tion of West­ern ideas to East­ern requirements, not a word of re­proach can be breathed against the spir­it which has an­imat­ed their rule.

Now, in turning to our modern imperialism, we must first explain the form of modern imperialism. The long explanation can be found in the "Vampire of the World" series by Mencius Moldbug (helpfully collected here with direct links here and here). The short version can be found here and in this money quote:

The unspeakable truth was that by 1941 we were a defeated nation [Britain], whose conquerors had neglected to invade us. Impoverished, beaten in battle in Flanders and Malaya, condemned as it seemed to grey years of sacrifice with no certain end, we were invaded by our allies instead. . . . [British traditions] simply could not compete with the vigorous, wealthy, well-fed, sheer success of the Americans . . .

As Mr Moldbug has said, the post-1945 world has the exact same opinions as the Harvard faculty of 1945 – this is not a coincidence.

America is an empire of a different sort. The American empire compares easily to the British empire described by Cromer, except the Americans have figured out 4) assimilation. Alas, we suffer under ever-increasing expectations in 5), which will perhaps be our downfall.

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