Imperial America

Once upon a time, there was a colony that revolted against its ancestral kings and established itself as a republic. 

The people of the former colony constituted a government in which the men of the republic voted for their administrative officials by tribe, each of which was determined geographically, not ethnically or by kinship groups. Having established a government, the new state began extending its authority by conquest and trade, until eventually it controlled a vast region previously occupied by multiple peoples, including several older empires. 

Although citizenship was initially limited to the members of the founding tribes, over the centuries, as more and more nations were absorbed (or coerced) into the empire, the franchise was extended even to those whose ancestors had no association whatsoever with the founding of the state. These new citizens saw themselves as fully “native,” regardless of where they came from, within or without the empire. They adopted the language and valued the prestige of the empire, particularly its legal structures. 

Eventually, it became impossible to tell from nomenclature or dress who had been born to the original tribes of the state, until finally the empire broke apart into pieces, one governed by kings of the newer peoples, the other keeping the government structures and language of the original state even though that language had been imposed by the government of the empire. 

Pop quiz: What empire did I just describe? Hint: You know in your heart, you just don’t want to admit that it’s true.

The United States of America is an empire and has been since it established its first colony in May 1790. 

That there are people who live within the empire who insist on tracing their nationality back to the founding families of the republic is confusing, given that both they and those whose families came to the empire thereafter insist on calling themselves “real” Americans. 

The equivocation is further complicated by the insistence that anyone can become an “American” by assuming American citizenship, whether by being born to an American parent outside of the geographical boundaries of the empire or by entering the empire (legally or illegally) and establishing permanent residence such that their children are born citizens, whether they themselves are eventually legally recognized as citizens or not.

Nor does it help that the term “American” was originally applied not to the colonists from England whose descendants revolted against their king, but rather to those nations already inhabiting the territory when the English arrived. 

Nor, again, does it help that the original colonists included people not just from England (hardly a homogenous group), but also from the Netherlands (New Amsterdam), Scotland (particularly after they were forcibly expelled from their own kingdom by the English), and Germany (their descendants include the present-day Amish and Mennonites). 

Nor does it help that the Dutch and English colonies also included a sizable population of unfree peoples, both European and African. 

Will the real Americans please stand up?

I had an epiphany this past Fourth of July weekend after reading one of Vox Day’s blogposts about the problems with “American” patriotism. 

I have argued before with Vox about the definition of “America” as a nation—or, rather, with the definition of “American” based on the use of the term by the Scots-Irish—so I was prepared yet again to quibble over the identification of “American” with “British,” until, that is, I read this comment on his post, with his response: 

And the light went on. I commented on my own social media to this effect: 

I was born in the outposts of empire. No wonder it has always been hard for me to feel part of the story that starts with the colonies on the Atlantic coast. My family may trace itself back on both sides to the English, Scots-Irish, and Dutch who settled in Virginia and New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, but I spent my childhood in places with markedly not-English names. 

St. Louis, my birth city. Albuquerque, my earliest memories. Omaha, an outpost of empire in more ways that one—we lived there when my father was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base during the empire’s proxy war with China in North Vietnam. Louisville, another French city, with a large German population. Amarillo, founded in the late nineteenth century as a railway hub for the cattle ranchers. Not one English place name.

What was I doing growing up in places that had been named in French, Sioux, and Spanish? As the kids on the playground in Louisville asked us when we said we moved there from New Mexico, “Are you even American?!”

Well, were we?

Just think how different the map of the United States of America would look now if Napoleon had not wanted some easy cash in 1803. Or if Sir Francis Drake and his cousin Sir John Hawkins had not helped Queen Elizabeth I defeat King Philip II’s great armada in 1588. Or if... 

Perhaps the kids in the playground were right. Perhaps my siblings and I weren’t “really” American. Born where we were only a century or so earlier, we wouldn’t have been (allegedly). And yet, our families were “really” American—at least, in the sense that the Founders meant by “posterity.” Did our ancestors lose their nation when they moved out of the territory originally constituted as “the United States”? 

You will say, “America is founded on an idea, not a particular territory.” Well, then, it should not matter what territory “Americans” inhabit, right? Wherever the idea exists, there is “America,” meaning there could be no such thing as conquest, simply the movement of an idea. I wonder if the Carthaginians felt the same way after losing their territory to the Romans. No need to live in Carthage, they could just move somewhere else and be Carthaginians. After all, they had come from Phoenicia originally. 

Were the Carthaginians who had been conquered by the Romans “real” Romans? Were the Greeks? Were the Egyptians? We talk about the “Roman Empire” as if it were a real thing, but surely there was no Roman Empire, only places that the government of the city of Rome collected taxes from, much as the government of the United States of America collects taxes from its imperial hinterlands. 

“Oh,” you will say. “I didn’t mean that. Of course it was terrible that the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian empire, just as it was bad that they conquered the Greeks and the Egyptians, particularly the Ptolemies.” Who were Greek, but never mind. Conquest is bad. Except when the Aztecs or Mongols do it. Or when the Germanic tribes did it by moving into the western part of the Roman Empire and establishing their own kingdoms, while styling themselves senators and consuls. 

No, wait...

It is entirely appropriate that the monuments and buildings in our imperial American capital are modeled on the monuments and buildings of imperial Rome, including Rome’s appropriation of Greece and Egypt. Vox Day would arguably say that it is because “Americans” have lost our sense of nation just as the Romans lost theirs after allowing the other city-states of Italy to claim “Roman” citizenship—and he would not be wrong. 

What, at the height of the empire, did it mean to be Roman when every citizen of the empire claimed to be just as “Roman” as the descendants of the original families of the Republic? Certainly, Greeks like Aelius Aristides (A.D. 117-181) enjoyed the idea that they were as “Roman” as the next citizen—and said so in glowing orations to the glory that was Rome. 

You don’t believe me? Here are Aristides’s own words, most likely delivered in the Athenaeum built by the Emperor Hadrian for just such displays of rhetorical exuberance: 
But there is that which very decidedly deserves as much attention and admiration now as all the rest together. I mean your magnificent citizenship with its grand conception, because there is nothing like it in the records of all mankind. Dividing into two groups all those in your empire—and with this word I have indicated the entire civilized world—you have everywhere appointed to your citizenship, or even to kinship with you, the better part of the world’s talent, courage, and leadership, while the rest you recognized as a league under your hegemony. 

Neither sea nor intervening continent are bars to citizenship, nor are Asia and Europe divided in their treatment here. In your empire all paths are open to all. No one worthy of rule or trust remains an alien, but a civil community of the World has been established as a Free Republic under one, the best, ruler and teacher of order; and all come together as into a common civic center, in order to receive each man his due....

As we were saying, you who are “great greatly” distributed your citizenship. It was not because you stood off and refused to give a share in it to any of the others that you made your citizenship an object of wonder. On the contrary, you sought its expansion as a worthy aim, and you have caused the word Roman to be the label, not of membership in a city, but of some common nationality, and this not just one among all, but one balancing all the rest. For the categories into which you now divide the world are not Hellenes and Barbarians, and it is not absurd, the distinction which you made, because you show to them a citizenry more numerous, so to speak, than the entire Hellenic race. The division which you substituted is one into Romans and non-Romans. To such a degree have you expanded the name of your city. 
If “America” was founded on an idea, so, allegedly, was “Rome,” so much so that by Aristides’s day, “Roman” simply meant “civilized.”

Sound familiar?

Pace Aristides (and Lincoln), America is no more unique in its imperial ambitions than was Rome or the Hellenic conqueror Alexander. Just as the Greeks planted “Alexandrias” all over Asia and North Africa, so the Romans planted “Romes” in every territory they conquered, homogenizing the World so that every city under Roman rule boasted the same architecture, language, and law. 

As Aristides put it: “All localities are full of gymnasia, fountains, monumental approaches, temples, workshops, schools, and one can say that the civilized world, which had been sick from the beginning, as it were, has been brought by the right knowledge to a state of health.” To be Roman in the second century of the Christian Era was to be civilized, much as today, or so it would seem our globalist overlords would have us believe, to be American simply means to be alive.

And then the barbarians came pouring over the borders, eager to become just as “Roman” as the Egyptians and Greeks.

I am an historian, not a prophetess. I make no claims to be able to see into the future how America’s fall is going to play out. It took centuries from the founding of the Roman Republic for the city to expand its conceptual borders to encompass, as Aristides put it, “the entire civilized world.” Our Republic has already once fallen into civil war as the wealthiest families battled it out for dominance over the plebians. Perhaps we are now simply at the point when the Republic acknowledges reality and declares itself openly an Empire. Honestly admitting our imperial status might calm things down within our own borders, wherever they may be. 

Or perhaps we will be absorbed into the empire that should have been, if only my ancestors had not fought on the side of Good Queen Bess. 

Or perhaps the French will ask for their territory back. Or perhaps the descendants of the Founders will change their minds about describing themselves as “Americans.” 

Or perhaps Aeneas should never have fled Troy for Rome.


I wonder what language we will tell the tale in? Fun fact: Aelius Aristides delivered his oration to Greek. ¡Vive el imperio! ¿Sabes?

Photos taken September 2017. 

Citations from Aelius Aristides’s “Roman Oration” taken from James H. Oliver, “The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 1953 (43.4): 871-1003.

See MedievalGate for further reflections on the history of the American empire. For further meditations on the spiritual power of our imperial buildings, visit the Dragon Common Room.


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