Cosmopolitan Empires

During the Cold War, few thought of the Soviet Union as an empire. At least the claim was not part of propaganda campaign against them. The communists, of course, liked to hurl around the term “western imperialists”, but no one thought of the West or America as an empire. That was just part of the rhetoric used in the ideological war fought between the two sides in the third world. Empires fight to conquer land. East and West in the Cold War fought to win hearts and minds.


Looking back, it is easier to see that the Soviet Union was an empire, because it is so obvious that America is an empire. We are also seeing more parallels between the two sides as the American empire enters its end phase. Like the Soviets at the end, the American empire is run by a collection of ossified geezers, clinging to a past for no other reason than they have no future. What happened to the Soviet Union thirty years ago is now happening to the American empire.

An important similarity is both sides were cosmopolitan in their structure, organizing their people around a set of ideas. Traditional empires were organized around the conquering people, who imposed their will on those they conquered. Both the Russian and the American empires sought to assimilate the people brought into their orbit through ideology, rather than force. The captive people of both empires participated in the maintenance and defense of the empire, often as equals.

An interesting point of comparison is that in the formation of both empires, Jews played an outsized role. Jews were a major part of the Bolshevik revolution. They were integral to the party and the formation of the Soviet state. It was only after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that Jews lost power. Stalin grew worried that the Jews would be more loyal to their ancestral homeland than the party. It was from the purge of Jewish intellectuals that we get the term “rootless cosmopolitan.”

Of course, Jews were right there at the creation of the American empire. By the time FDR and the New Dealers took office, Jews were entering the ruling class. After the war against the fascist, Jews were firmly established in the elite. As Yuri Slezkine points out in his book, The Jewish Century, Jews not only took up positions at the top of American institutions, they also transformed the country into a Jewish country. As with the Soviet Union, Jews played a key role in creating the American empire.

This is not surprising, given that European Jews are the product of empire. The Jews that helped form the Soviet Union were formed in the Russian empire. The Jews that helped create the American empire were formed in the Habsburg empire. Later, Jewish refugees from the Russian and Soviet empire led the fight against communism during the Cold War. Most of the neoconservatives traced their roots to the pale pf settlement and still harbor ill-will toward the lands of the ancestors.

The cosmopolitan nature of these two empires is probably the reason both will have short shelf lives. The Soviet Union barely outlived its creators. The empire phase started after the war and lasted about forty years. The American version has proven more durable, but the signs of collapse are everywhere. Washington has become a fortress city, because the ruling class now lives in terror. They are sure an insurrection will happen at any moment and they are probably right.

The problem with cosmopolitan empires is they erode the justification for empire in the effort to integrate the empire. If all peoples are the same, if nations do not really matter, then why is one people at the top of the system? The logic of cosmopolitan empire turns against the creators of it. In modern America, the Judeo-Puritan ruling class can no longer explain why they should be in charge. Like their Soviet analogs, the only reason is they like the perks that comes from being at the top.

The demise of the Soviets may provide clues as to how the American empire eventually comes to an end. The Soviets quickly disaggregated into the constituent parts once it was clear the ossified ruling elite was no longer willing to defend itself. The end of the Soviet Union was like a great awakening or maybe a slave revolt. It as if all of a sudden everyone realized that the people in charge had no power. It was not a long bloody fight to uproot the old system. Like bankruptcy, it just happened.

For the Soviets, the triggering event was Afghanistan. The failure of Soviet leadership there was the final nail in the coffin. For the American empire, it could be the incompetent handling of the Covid pandemic. What should have been a routine public health emergency has been turned into the Vietnam of pandemics. They cannot explain how we got into this and they cannot come up with an exist plan. The many lies are starting to become a problem for the regime.

One difference worth noting is that unlike Russia, America is not a stable nation with a clear identity as a people. Like the Soviet Union, America’s possessions can easily break away and stand on their own. Europe and Asia should have been set free a long time ago as they are rich now. The American homeland, however, is a demographic mess and may not survive the dissolution of empire. At least is may not be as peaceful a transition from a cosmopolitan system to a normal system.

In the end, cosmopolitan empire will prove to be the worst form of empire. Impersonal and transactional, it destroys the creator quickly, by robbing him of his reason to exist at the top of the empire. The empires of old never lost sight of who was in charge and why they were in charge. The great experiment in transnational cosmopolitanism, communism, and liberal democracy, is proving to be not much of a match for the realities of human biology. It is headed to the dustbin of history.