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.