Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age?

The last fifty years are defined and understood by some researchers (Dunababin, p. 3) as the post-imperial age characterized by strong state power and the rise of new conflicts. The first is the strong nationalist movement in countries that have been the object of political domination or economic exploitation by imperialist Powers. While the attainment of an independent national State is, in most cases, the immediate object of these movements, it is associated with a social movement that does not consider the national State as its ultimate object but links the emancipation of the oppressed nations with that of the oppressed classes everywhere in the world. Moreover, these movements are developing within the framework of a worldwide conflict that compels the association of national groups in wider international alignments. The strongest force in support of the national State is patriotism. Both in aggressor and attacked States, the appeal to patriotism, spurious or genuine, has been as powerful as it has been successful. In the attacked nations, in particular, the emotions and reactions stirred up by invasion, destruction and suppression crystallise around the national State as the paramount focusing point, not only of the political, military and economic organization but also of a common tradition and culture.

We will write a
custom essay
specifically for you

for only $16.05 $11/page
308 certified writers online
Learn More

Hardt and Negri understand empire as a web of sociological forces. “These conceptions of the society of control and biopower both describe central aspects of the concept of Empire. The concept of Empire is the framework in which the new universality of subjects has to be understood” (Hardt and Negri, p. 25). The conflict between highly developed and powerful national States may eventually follow upon the inability of rival imperial interests to come to an understanding, but the principal objects of modern economic imperialism have been India, Africa, the Middle East, China, South America, the Balkan States, that is, countries or continents unable to resist penetration. It should be added that, as in the case of the bureaucracy and the intellectuals, the change of attitude towards the national State is the result of economic and sociological development, which often precedes a conscious and deliberate change of ideology (Bealey, p. 93). The great majority of those who today are instrumental in the abandonment of the national State professes to be nationalists. Many of those businessmen and industrialists whose economic policy, interests and philosophy caused them to supply vital materials to the mortal enemies of their country were and are ready to fight and die for it, once the opening of direct hostilities had convinced them that there was no other course (Adrian, p. 35).

The modern age is characterized by the strong power of such political institutions like the United Nations and ASEAN. “The enemies that Empire opposes today may present more of an ideological threat than a military challenge, but nonetheless the power of Empire exercised” (Hardt and Negri, p. 35). Of the current international ideologies, the ideals of international security against aggression, of Federal Union, of an international charter of rights of man, and the Commonwealth ideal, all militate, in differing forms, in the name of humanity and a cosmopolitan outlook against the symbol of the national State as the supreme object of loyalty and the ultimate form of political and economic organization (Mann, p. 32). Modern socialist ideology tends to adopt elements of these different international ideologies with emphasis on the rights of the “common man”. On the other side, the International glorifies the dominion of the strongest as the apex of Empire (Bealey and Sewel, p. 65).

Modern political powers can be characterized as Empire showing strong political, social and economic control over the life of people. Modern economic conditions do not, in themselves, point to any particular development. Where a liberal economic system allowed capitalist, financial, industrial and trade interests to develop autonomously, the result has been widespread internationalization, in the form of international investments and monopolistic control of international markets (Bealey and Sewel, p. 65). Where, as in the younger national States, economic interests were allowed to develop only within a definite political plan, the resulting international interdependence and entanglement have been countered by a largely successful movement towards greater independence and self-sufficiency. Modern scientific and industrial developments actually reduce the degree of international economic interdependence, and it would now be easier for many of the existing national States to satisfy the needs of their peoples than in the earlier stages of the Industrial Revolution. The political instability of a world living under the fear of war greatly widens; however, the range of materials and resources needed for war and international economic interdependence has, therefore, given way not to national self-sufficiency, but to continental self-sufficiency, the formation of large and powerful blocks able to wage and sustain war without being vitally dependent on outside resources. At present, therefore, economic conditions are, to a large extent, moulded by political planning (Mann, p. 31).

Ferguson (2001a) states that the USA is one of the strong political empires with independent politics and economy. “World’s military-power balance have followed alterations in the productive balances; and further, that the rising and falling of the various empires” (Ferguson a 370). Socially this modern Imperialism becomes possible, as the principal pillar of the national State, the middle class, abandons its Nationalism. The professional military, by a combination of professional interest and social prejudice — especially where the aristocratic background prevails — joins forces with modern dictators in the conduct of large-scale warfare, which ignores, sacrifices and mutilates the national State. The modern bureaucracy is trained in absolute obedience to the State and follows its rulers. The working class gradually turns from international class solidarity towards loyalty to the national State, but recently, with the merging of social issues in present-day international conflict, a new element of international class solidarity struggles with the support given by organised labour to the national State. Lastly, the commercial and industrial class abandons its earlier alliance with the national State (Beetham, p. 73). In the older national States, with economic liberalism prevailing and correspondingly greater freedom of movement, industrial and commercial interests spread beyond national frontiers towards a system of international investments, cartels and other forms of international combinations which tend either to control or clash with the interests of the national State. In the younger national States, on the other hand, the same class, from the beginning, works in close alliance with the political and military authorities in the pursuit of imperialistic objects. Under Imperialism, big business and industry, in these States, thus easily assumes the position of executive agents in the business of international economic organization and exploitation (Lukes , p. 54).

Historical theories of Empire are based on class struggle and separation of powers in the state. In assuming a priority of economic conditions under all circumstances, Marxism substituted, however, a political hypothesis of its own for scientific analysis; it elevated a relative into an absolute. For the predominance of the economic over any other factor, as a history-making force, more plausible at the time when Marx wrote than in our own time, is itself the expression of a particular ideology. The neglect of other than economic factors is largely responsible for the error committed by Marxist thought in regard to the working-class attitude towards Nationalism (Beetham, p. 71). At the same time, the Utopia of a classless society caused Marx to regard the State as an instrument of coercion necessary solely in the capitalist society of oppression, but not in the classless society of the future when the means of production would be owned by the community. The Socialist State, far from being a contradiction in terms, has become a familiar expression, and the Socialist community of Soviet Russia has witnessed a steady strengthening of State authority with all its apparatus of coercion. It might, of course, be argued that the State would have become superfluous had Socialism become worldwide instead of being confined to one country amidst a hostile world. But it is doubtful whether more than a handful of orthodox Marxists would believe in the necessity or even desirability of a withering of the State, even if Socialism became universal. A century of bitter experience has produced among contemporaries a different attitude towards force. Especially after the failure of the League of Nations and the ideology of the League as a pacifist alternative to power, the realization has spread that every political institution must be backed by adequate force to be effective. Mankind is prepared to pay the price for the order, and coercion as such is not thought objectionable by the majority of socialists of today. Would be owned by the community (Berle 44). The Socialist State, far from being a contradiction in terms, has become a familiar expression, and the Socialist community of Soviet Russia has witnessed a steady strengthening of State authority with all its apparatus of coercion. It might, of course, be argued that the State would have become superfluous had Socialism become worldwide instead of being confined to one country amidst a hostile world. But it is doubtful whether more than a handful of orthodox Marxists would believe in the necessity or even desirability of a withering of the State, even if Socialism became universal (Blunkett and Jackson, p. 76). A century of bitter experience has produced among contemporaries a different attitude towards force. Especially after the failure of the League of Nations and the ideology of the League as a pacifist alternative to power, the realization has spread that every political institution must be backed by adequate force to be effective. Mankind is prepared to pay the price for the order, and coercion as such is not thought objectionable by the majority of socialists of today (Dunababin, p. 65).

Hegel’s ideal empire is based on a bureaucratic system like the Prussian monarchy. The theoretical separation of powers was largely cancelled by the intimate connexions between big economic groups, Parliamentarians, the Ministry of Justice, the organs of Public Prosecution, and through the control of the Ministry of Justice over promotions, the Judiciary. If the Senate largely represented the small bourgeoisie of farmers and other small proprietors, the bigger economic interests operated largely through the Chambre des Députés, the Executive and the Press. It is in international affairs that the intimate links between powerful capitalist interests, Cabinet, Parliament and the organs of public opinion produced a position not quite paralleled anywhere else (Cerny and Schain 87). Secondly, national aspirations were strongly interwoven with a positive and active function of the State as the protector of these aspirations. This was prepared by the romantic conception of the State as an organic community and integration of all individuals who find their highest fulfilment in service to the national State. From Rousseau, the development led to Fichte, Hegel and the complete extinction of individual autonomy in the system. The State absorbed the nation and moulded it like clay in the potter’s hand (Dunababin, p. 41).

Get your
100% original paper
on any topic

done in as little as
3 hours
Learn More

The disruptive force of national movements within a State is strongly influenced by the existence of coercive power which the State, controlled by the preponderant national group, is able to muster. Germany has not suffered serious trouble from her considerable Polish or Danish minorities or from Alsace-Lorraine, simply because the predominant element was united in a State strong enough to cope with irredentist movements (Ferguson b, p. 54). The adjustment of frontiers meets almost invariably with the difficulty of exchanging one minority problem for another and the discrepancy between economic and national needs. The Upper Silesian frontier between Germany and Poland demonstrated the clash between the two principles. There remains — always assuming the restriction of a solution within limits set by a society of sovereign national States — the policy of conciliation and integration. Any chances to achieve this have been destroyed by the sheer physical force of an imperialistic and more powerful State outside the frontiers. Germany, aided by her satellites, has destroyed the States of the Peace Settlement of Versailles by sheer force, using, it is true, minority grievances, grievances which, if the power position had been reversed, would never have had a chance. For two reasons, the dilemma of national self-determination is often seen entirely as a problem of the smaller States (Lukes, p. 43). First, the recent products of the ideology of self-determination, especially the creations of the Peace Settlement of Versailles, have all been smaller States, whose comparative weakness has been accentuated by the need to solve a host of internal problems -racial, economic, social, constitutional – in a very short time. Second, the development of modern totalitarian warfare and of the air war, in particular, has greatly altered the balance of strength between greater and smaller States. Small space, lack of manpower reserves, the necessary absence of an economy balanced between raw materials, the industrial and agricultural capacity have combined to expose the smaller States to military threats which larger States — given adequate preparation — can withstand better (Alford and Friedland, p. 32).

Following Foucault, the modern world is characterized as an empire based on strong political power and globalization processes. “Globalization, which is spurred by free-trade and other universalistic discourses, is merely proliferating the discipline and punishment, which is tantamount to the concrete manifestations of power, that effectively maintain Empire” (cited Bealey et al. 32). Post-imperial is no more necessarily aggressive than democracy is necessarily pacific in character, or modern technique necessarily destructive. Systems and forms of political and social organisation are devices of group life adapted to particular conditions, devoid of a particular purpose or quality. These they receive from the men who operate and control them. It is because the majority of people seem incapable of resisting the temptation to increase their wealth, their political or social position, their prestige at the expense of others that capitalist enterprise has produced exploitation, and Nationalism has led to war (Allen, p. 92). The conflict between the post-imperial age and Imperialism has almost everywhere accompanied the development of the national State. When a national group had succeeded in establishing a state powerful enough to challenge other States, it has almost invariably done so and, in the process, denied some other nation the right to independent existence. The ideal of liberty is at once national and cosmopolitan. It is revolutionary, for it wants to do away with all dominion incompatible with its principle, but it is also a pacifist. What reason for wars could there be once all peoples are free? In this, political Liberalism meets economic Liberalism, which proclaims the solidarity of the interests of all peoples. While, in the nationalist era, dynastic wars were legitimated by some claims or other to rights of succession, the modern national State invokes the suppression of a minority, the need for living space or raw materials, an alleged injustice done to a national abroad or — and this is more subtle — intervenes to enforce financial claims, themselves the result of economic exploitation and penetration of another country (Lukes, p. 13).

The principle of formal equality of nations as a maxim of International Law has always been opposed, in practice, by the supremacy enjoyed by the stronger over, the weaker States and ranging from diplomatic pressure to war. But while conquests before the era of Nationalism did not have to trouble with the principle of national independence, power politics of the last two centuries were marked by what is called Balance of Power, a policy adopted by Britain during the period of her hegemony and designed to prevent the absolute domination of anyone Continental Power. This meant the prevention of the complete extinction of any vanquished State and British assistance to help it on its feet. The balance of power collapsed with the emergence of Germany as a national State able singly to face any combination of Continental Powers and the corresponding, unsuccessful attempt of Britain to counter the danger by a permanent alliance with France, as well as the failure of the Allied Powers to develop the League of Nations into an effective instrument of resistance to German ambitions (Allen, p. 91). Finally, nationalism combines all the other elements of totalitarian philosophy into a reasonably coherent whole. It is a hierarchical society, the different layers of which must, if necessary, be kept in complete isolation from each other. It is true that people stock are allotted the principal though not the exclusive part in the top layers of this society. But this is simply because, on racial “pedigree” grounds, they are, in association with other people of Nordic stock, considered as fittest to rule. Economically, the one-time drive for national self-sufficiency stands clearly revealed as a necessary measure of preparation for war, but not as a principle of nationalist economy. The new economic empire is based on international planning, in which the borderlines between national States mean nothing (Alford and Scobie, p.82).

On the whole, the widespread abandonment of national ideals cherished in the nineteenth century by the professional and intellectual middle classes is not entirely, or not even predominantly, the result of a conscious betrayal. Rather is it inherent in the dialectic of the position which both classes have adopted during the nineteenth century? This development has been powerfully reinforced by the growing concentration of power in the hands of the rulers of the State. In most European countries, the economic depressions following the First World War produced a larger intellectual proletariat: students of all faculties and members of the free professions with little or no prospect in the career for which they were trained (Mann 76). In Germany and Italy, the part played by students and members of the professions is notorious. Self-preservation, the struggle for survival, partly made, partly reinforced ideology. Services were offered to whoever was ready to accept and remunerate them. The theory that the law of capitalist economy forces it, after an initial national stage, to seek expansion abroad and exploit foreign markets and countries illuminates a different aspect of the relations between the national State and international economic interests. This theory, too, derives its foundation from the Marxist thesis that capitalist economy means the accumulation of the surplus value taken from labour, an accumulation that cannot find a sufficient outlet within the country (Alford and Scobie, p. 52).

The improvement in the status of organized industrial labour in the more highly industrialized countries affected the position of the working classes in the national State in a twofold way: it gave that part of labour, not only through better pay, but through relatively greater security of employment, a small stake in the whole political and social fabric of the State, but it also created a rift in the unity of the working class, and thus undermined an essential foundation of thus far, the development since the early days of the Industrial Revolution and original Marxist analysis seems to point to an almost unmitigated movement of the industrial working class towards closer association with the national State. On the one hand, a share in the growing prosperity of the industrial States gave the influential part of the working classes greater security and caused a strengthening of reformist tendencies. Social developments raised the majority of organizations of Labor to an important factor in the organization of the national State. The new totalitarian Imperialism, threatening the gains of the working class, compelled them to rally around the anti-national States in defence of these rights (Mann, p. 76). The case of the USA shows that Though the weight of modern intellectual ability has been exercised in support, first, of Nationalism, then of Imperialism, and more recently in support of dictatorial power wherever it may lead; it would be one-sided to assert that this has been universally the case (Alford and Scobie 82). The internationalist ideology of Marxism and its offsprings has been largely the work of intellectuals, and the same applies to a large extent to the League of Nations ideology. Moreover, a considerable weight of intellectual influence, in particular in the Anglo-Saxon countries, has been exercised in support and defence of Christian, cosmopolitan, liberal and democratic ideals (Banfield, p. 92).

In this last formative phase of the national State, which reached its full development only in Great Britain and the United States, economic interests, internally and internationally, strengthened their position in an unprecedented manner. But sooner or later, this development was bound to lead to a crisis (Banfield and Wilson, p. 83). The nice balance between political aloofness and economic profit-making in other people’s wars could not be indefinitely maintained, and it was clear that eventually, the growing international economic interests of capitalists left unchecked would lead to an open conflict between private interests and national State policy. On the other hand, where economic interests were associated with imperialist State policy, their joint enterprise would challenge the whole structure of a society of national States (Mann, p.56).

They reflect the shifting of the centre of gravity from the third estate to the fourth estate, from the middle classes to the lower classes, to the “common man” whose voice in international politics is becoming more articulate and more audible (Mann, p. 76). All these national movements, while aiming, in the first place, at the foundation or consolidation of an independent national State, point beyond the purely nationalist aspect by their appeal to the international solidarity of “oppressed classes and peoples”. The post-imperial State is thus an institution that has gained its strength and importance from the combination of two forces neither identical nor necessarily parallel or allied: the machinery of the highly organized modern State (Banfield and Wilson 53). It depends on historical circumstances whether the State or the national movement is the stronger partner (Mann 46). Politically conscious national movements have, in particular during the nineteenth century, reinforced the claims of the State to growing power and authority and tended to become crystallised in national States. Without the ordering power of the State, Nationalism is politically impotent because it is diffuse and indeterminate in character, while a nationalism that has been infected and perverted by the idea of the supremacy of any particular people is bound to become anti-nationalist by dissolving and undermining the loyalties which restrain Nationalism under an ordering government (Barber, p. 76).

We will write a custom
for you!
Get your first paper with
15% OFF
Learn More

In sum, the modern world cannot be characterized by the post-industrial age as it reflects the main principles of imperial power: powerful machinery under the strict rule of law. The respective strength of these various elements has greatly varied in different countries and at different times. Two essential phases have to be distinguished: that of Mercantilism, when the political rulers of the State assume the leadership and stimulate economic developments and interests for the furtherance of State power; and that of Economic Liberalism, when the economic classes feel strong enough to oppose the tutelage of the State, and the emphasis turns from the furtherance of State power to the furtherance of wealth through free trade and the autonomy of economic interests. But both movements have been indispensable to the development of the modern national State, and the much-exercised antithesis of mercantilist State regulation and liberal laissez-faire must be qualified by the recognition that both movements have much in common. The new era of Laissez-faire in economic development and Liberalism in political affairs had a decisive influence on the evolution of the national State, in liberating forces fostered but contained by mercantilist government. It is clear from the foregoing survey that mercantilist governments not only prepared the internal and international reorganization, which was indispensable to the subsequent growth of industry and trade but also promoted the prosperity of the rising commercial class, though, with the exception of the Netherlands, this class had not yet complete freedom of action.

Works Cited

  1. Adrian, C.R. “State and Local Government Participation in the Design and Administration of Intergovernmental Programs’, Annals, May 1965, pp. 35-43.
  2. Alford, R. and Friedland, R., The Powers of Theory, Cambridge, CUP, 1985.
  3. Alford, R.R. and Scobie, H.M., Bureaucracy and Participation, Chicago, Rand McNally, 1969.
  4. Allen, V.L., Trade Unions and the Government, London, Longman, 1960.
  5. Banfield, E.C., The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, Glencoe, NY, Free Press, 1963.
  6. Banfieid, E.C. and Wilson, J.Q., City Politics, Cambridge, Mass., HUP, 1963.
  7. Barber, J.D., Presidential Behaviour, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1977.
  8. Bealey, F.W., Democracy in the Contemporary State , Oxford, OUP, 1988.
  9. Bealey, F.W. and Sewel, J., The Politics of Independence, Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Press, 1981.
  10. Bealey, F.W., Blondel, J. and McCann, W.P., Constituency Politics, London, Faber, 1965.
  11. Beetham, D., Max Weber and the Theory of Modern Politics, London, Allen & Unwin, 1974.
  12. Berle, A.A., The Twentieth Century Capitalist, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1955.
  13. Blunkett, D. and Jackson, K., Democracy in Crisis, London, Hogarth, 1987.
  14. Cerny, P.G. and Schain, M.A. (eds) Socialism, the State and Public Policy in France, London, Frances Pinter, 1985.
  15. Dunababin, J. P.D. The Post-Imperial Age: The Great Powers and the Wider World : International Relations Since 1945 a History in Two Volumes. Longman Publishing Group, 1994.
  16. Ferguson, Niall. (a). Empire: the rise and demise of the British world order and the lessons for global power. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
  17. Ferguson, Niall (b)The cash nexus: money and power in the modern world, 1700-2000. London: Allen Lane, 2001.
  18. Hardt, M., Negri, A. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2001.
  19. Lukes, S. Power: A Radical View, London, Macmillan, 1974.
  20. Mann, M., The Sources of Social Power, Cambridge, CUP, 1993.
Print Сite this

Cite this paper

Select style


StudyCorgi. (2021, October 12). Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age? Retrieved from

Work Cited

"Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age?" StudyCorgi, 12 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age?" October 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age?" October 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age?" October 12, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Do We Live In a Post-Imperial Age'. 12 October.

This paper was written and submitted to our database by a student to assist your with your own studies. You are free to use it to write your own assignment, however you must reference it properly.

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on StudyCorgi, request the removal.