Behind Bars

When Empires End

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Recently, there was published an extraordinary article in the journal, Foreign Affairs. Penned by the conservative British historian, Niall Ferguson1, of Harvard and Oxford Universities, he surveys the trends that spelled an end to half a score of great Empires.

His basic thesis is that great and powerful empires can fall with amazing rapidity, often in the space of a lifetime—or even less.

Citing the works of historians and scholars, Ferguson notes the Roman, British, French, Ottoman, Ming, Qing, and Russian Empires (among others).

Many lasted centuries and exercised almost global power.

How did they fall? Some fell from economic crisis, often spurred on by military adventures, as the French example. The French gave money and troops to the fledgling Americans trying to repel their British occupiers, France’s historical enemy.

Within two decades, they were virtually broke, and people were in the streets in rebellion against the nobility. In a few brief years, a revolution raged through France, and a king, Louis XVI, would lose his noble head.

Rome, the glory of Europe, fell to forces both internal and external.

Within 50 years, its population fell by 75 percent. Vandals tore at its borders, as its former soldiers turned brigands. The East-West split, between Rome and Constantinople, weakened imperial unity. According to Ferguson, Rome’s great fall took less than a decade.

Ferguson wasn’t just giving a bland history lesson. His article pointed to the U.S. Empire—one of the wealthiest and strongest in history.

His point?

That Empires—even those which seem impregnable—can suffer from a convergence of ills, financial, military, environmental and otherwise, and crack like an egg.

That’s history’s lesson—no Empire lasts forever., April 4, 2010

1 Source: Ferguson, N “Complexity and Collapse,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010, pp. 18-31