Theoretical Foundation

By concentrating on the three leitmotifs of power, space and knowledge, we wish to construct an interdisciplinary theory of imperialism that is informed primarily through a materialist conception of history. Methodologically, this investigation starts from the perspective of the sociology of knowledge and rhetoric, but pivots around the operations of geopolitics. Philosophically, there is a distinction between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ knowledge, which distinguishes the ‘sociology of knowledge’ from the natural sciences. We investigate ‘inner’ knowledge through sociology, which looks at how societies actually cohere and function as political systems, as distinct from how liberal theory supposes they operate. From the macro or ‘outside’ perspective, one that gives nature an important role, we focus on the way in which the material world shapes the social substructure that human life depends upon. On the one hand, we look at a collective mentality’s world-view from the inside; on the other hand, from a macro perspective, we view the ways in which societies are shaped by geopolitics.

The most important theoretical change from the point of view of our postmodern era occurs in the concept and entity of geographical space. Instead of only understanding space in terms of a geographical absolute entity, we understand it in a relative and sociological context. This sociological notion has epistemologically revolutionized our traditional Categories of Understanding, particularly our ‘common sense’ understanding of space and time. Space is no longer Cartesian, it is relative to the identity of social collectivities. Subjective experience and concrete geographic space are relative. Daniel Boorstin has shown, from a subjective context how a modern flight passenger flies not through space but time; the passage through space is effortless and unnoticeable; on the other hand, time must be passed. Similarly, short distance auto travel is relative to social contingencies like traffic. In everyday experience space has become relational to social processes. The chronological onset of the post-modern period set in with the radical transformation of communication technologies, knowledge and energy that followed World War II.

Technology has been the greatest factor for social change. Of course, things like economics, polity and culture are also significant. But, in the final analysis, only technology allows man to fly thirty thousand feet above the earth. Today, the economic growth of developing economies spurs on technology. Advanced countries know that there competitive advantage will erode unless they move up the innovative ladder. Thus, they aim at sustained social change which involves differentiation, organization and control. Yet, too, much change can destroy the very fabric of society. Throughout most of history technological innovation has been driven by necessity and the struggle for existence. Moreover, the international struggle for Empire has provided a powerful impetus for both social competition and cooperation.

Human communities compete with one another for natural resources and Lebensraum, yet in order to ensure success, social cooperation, at least, among individual communities is necessary. The dominant community in most cases has been the most materially and socially complex one of its time, and has known how to collaborate with other groups in order to expand and prolong its power. The need to transport peoples, goods and information varies in importance throughout history, yet the demand for improving communications dramatically increases once a society pursues an imperial policy and expands outward. In modern times technological change has been driven by capital, government and science, and during WWII it turned into a collective effort involving everyone in society.

Technological change is stimulated through economic competition and warfare. In order to meet the demands of  20th century warfare, private and public capital as well as collective scientific research united to bring about “command technology.” The pressure to develop modern espionage and weapons systems during the Second World War caused the cybernetic revolution. In short, our basic understanding of the world was altered due to developments in communication technology. Geopolitically, our image of the earth shifted from a traditional “lands-man’s view” and “seaman’s view” towards an “airman’s view,” exemplified by our imaginative ascension to an aerial perspective, and recognition of the earth’s sphericity and unity.

Though space itself is socially constructed through a collective identity, it is nonetheless rooted in geographical space—territory. Power is defined as the ability to influence others, which includes (military) coercion as well as persuasion (economic control). Geopolitics is often synonymous with power politics, which presupposes that great powers are driven to expand in an attempt to secure natural resources and secure borders. Since geopolitics examines the relationship between power and geographical space, the sociology of knowledge must be understood within the framework of geopolitics; for both men and society are shaped by an international environment. If men are shaped by nation-states, the later are shaped by a Hobbesian state of nature. Thus, men make states, and states make men, yet international anarchy structures the power hierarchy of states.

The notion of empire provides a scheme for viewing world history and politics, which encompasses both the sciences and humanities. Although we are interested in historical and comparative studies (like the parallels that Dominic Lieven in 2000 has drawn between the Russian empire and the Soviet Union as well as new comparative studies between the 19th century American and Russian frontiers), our central focus is the American empire. Yet, we are also interested in other emerging empires. For example, there is talk already of a new European Empire, the European Union’s 15 members have just become 25, making the Eurozone the world’s second largest economy. With its ambitions plans of replacing the dollar as the principal international reserve currency, empire is becoming topical in journalism. Also, professors of political science have recently framed seminars under this new topos, using catchy titles like ‘E.U. and Empire.’ Charles Kupchan wrote a book in 2003 on the imperial ambitions of the European Union. However, the EU lacks the authority to enforce EU law. Charlemagne in the June 25th 2005 of the Economist points out that unlike a nation-state, “the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, like the pope, have no divisions. They rely on the good will of EU members and the credibility of the organization.” Finally, authors like Ross Terill has written on “The New Chinese Empire.” Finally, President Bush’s warning of “a potential radical Islamic empire spanning from Indonesia to Spain” and  Rumsfeld’s warning of “Islamic terrorists intention of forming a totalitarian caliphate” are backed by some Islamic scholars. Others think this sort of language is nonsense since the historic caliphate represented the height of Islamic Civilization’s achievement; the Caliph defended the faith—liking him to Osama bin Laden and jihadists is absurd.

We are interested in the ideas of diverse international scholars, who are constructing a new paradigm that deals with the changing nature of the world-imperial-system. Our aim is to better interpret emerging trends in the international system, by organizing information topically and providing links to relevant material as well as networking with diverse thinkers. Here are some writers who seem to meet our criteria: In Norway, Geir Lundestad, aware of  both traditional American historiography and the revisionists of the 1960 and 1970s, has shown in his post-revisionist’s work the way in which early American expansion into Western Europe was in accordance with the will of the population, and thus established a sort of ‘Empire by Invitation.’ In Germany, Herfried Münkler uses the term empire in a neutral-value descriptive sense to explore the new international system. In America and Britain, there are a handful of scholars of International Relations interested in exploring the notion of empire in a descriptive and theoretical sense as well.

On the other hand, opposed to liberal ‘bourgeois’ scholarship, we are also interested in radical theories of imperialism as well as the social movements they inspire. Examples of recent Anglo-American radical thought can be found in the works of Cold War revisionist historians, like William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, and Walter LaFeber, who were opposed to US wars like Vietnam, and whose intellectual legacy influenced journals, like the Radical History Review. American neo-Marxian political economists, like Harry Magdoff, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, founded the Monthly Review. Their outlook influenced the radical dependencia school–concerned  with the historical and structural relations of capitalism between the first and third worlds–gained prominence in Latin and Arab nations during the 1970s. British Marxian historians, like Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill, helped establish the more prestigious Past and Present. The corresponding British sociological journal would have to be The New Left Review. One of the central chains that links radical scholarship together is imperialism as well as its own rhetoric of opposing the injustice created by capitalism.