I am against imperialism. I don’t think anything good comes out of it. Ideally, we should have many truly sovereign states. These states should be able to set their own policies without foreign interference, as long as they don’t threaten anyone.
I say ideally, but that is actually not totally true. It is important to understand that this is not a moral position. It is very pragmatic. Ideally we should just see a global system of individual liberty. However, in the real world that is extremely difficult to get. Realistically, there will always be people trying to gain as much power as possible.
The nation state system that was implemented after the Westphalian Peace of 1648, was a pragmatic solution. The participants realised that it was impossible to get everyone under the same ideology and rules. Fighting over trying to get a unified system just resulted in constant wars that were devastating to everyone.
In a complex world, like the one we live in, this pragmatic solution of respecting the sovereignty of the many little states seems to aid better outcomes. Not only does this solution benefit peace, but it also creates competition between the states. As a consequence, there is pressure on the states to have good rather than bad governments. This does not guarantee good governments. Every government is inherently evil. However, competition creates incentives for better governance.
The resulting pressure, however, is what makes it difficult to maintain such an order. The big problem that we have to deal with is that large states with large guns have an inherent strategic advantage over small states with small guns. That makes it very tempting for those large states to use their guns to keep smaller states from implementing policies that are more attractive than theirs. In other words, the way the world is set up is that there is an inherent bias towards tyranny over liberty.
If one site has no problem with using terror and force on a large scale, and the other site tries to restrain from terror and uncivilised violence, the site that is using terror has as strategic advantage over the peace lovers. That is why tyranny is a winning formula. Either the site using terror wins directly, or the peaceful oriented site will have to change course and also start to use force on a large scale. Either way, a liberal society won’t survive.
Libertarians like to point out how well a free society would function. That is true. In almost any respect, free societies would be wonderful for almost everyone involved. The only people that are not so happy with it are tyrants. That looks like a good thing at first until one discovers that tyrants have the means to destroy free societies. In such a power struggle between tyrants and freedom, the tyrants win almost every time. It is an absolute exception in history that the tyrants lost.
But despite the odds being against the existence of liberal societies, part of the western world has actually managed in the past to fight back the tyrants somewhat. This has largely to do with the fact that at events like the Westphalian Peace, no single tyrant could prevail. Therefore, the tyrants had to accept an order that was not optimal for them.
The result of such historic accidents was that parts of the western world, in particular the English speaking world, were able to move to somewhat liberal societies. However, as I already pointed out, these societies are not very stable. Historically, it was rare that more liberal societies prevailed for very long against the tyrants. Nevertheless, the west had one advantage over the tyrants.
Western liberalism lead to the industrial revolution and modern capitalism. This allowed a free society to produce, both qualitatively and quantitatively, enough weapons to defend the liberal order against the tyrants. In addition, it rigged the incentives somewhat against tyrannies. There is simply more to loot in a free society. Therefore, for the first time in history, liberalism had the upper hand.
Unfortunately, one crucial mistake was made. The liberal oriented societies started to use their superior militaries to not just defend themselves against attacks, but to actively meddle in the not liberal societies. At first this does not look like a terrible idea. If liberalism is better than tyranny, then the liberal societies should help the rest of humanity to get rid of their tyrants.
The problem with that strategy is that a lot of resources are needed to fight these conflicts. This severely weakens the ability to defend the core of a liberal social order. More importantly, hot military conflicts have a huge tendency to erode liberalism. As already mentioned, terror works very well in a conflict. If liberalism wants to prevail militarily, it will therefore have to sooner or later become less liberal.
And we have seen that. We have seen the west turning from fighting in a way that had some respect for human rights, to using some of the most barbaric war tactics available. These go from firebombing cities, using nuclear bombs, wiping out wedding parties with drones and operating secret torture prisons to torture innocent people. The liberal west also has no problem of allying with some of the biggest tyrants in the world, be that Stalin in WW2 or Saudi Arabia recently.
The strategy to spread liberalism via western military power can only be described as a total failure. There is not a single convincing example of a country that was liberalised in this manner. What this strategy has done, however, is to almost completely destroy liberalism in the West.
In order to finance these wars, the west had little choice but to install central banks. These central banks have been the key to sucking the lifeblood out of our free market economies and channelling resources into the illiberal state bureaucracy. By doing that, we have systematically bread our own tyrant classes that have taken over the state. Now that these tyrants have installed themselves on every level of our system, it will be very difficult to get rid of them again.
In the unlikely, but not impossible, event that we will succeed to do so, we need to learn from these mistakes. Liberalism should have never become imperialist. We should have had strong armies as a deterrent, but should have only used them to fight back a direct attack. Staying out of wars and entangling alliances is the number one priority for everyone who wants to live in a liberal society.
There is no such thing as a good empire. Not even a liberal empire, as a liberal empire will almost instantly turn a liberal society into an illiberal one. Needless to say that the people hoping to be freed from our western tyrants by foreign governments will be disappointed. While the West has turned into an evil empire, this evil empire is definitely not worse, and probably still better, than alternative empires.
The States that are in the process of challenging the western empire, which is Russia and China, are not going to be better empires. They will, however, be empires. The idea that only the west runs empires is completely false. Empires exist because they are a winning strategy, at least for a while. Therefore, there are almost countless examples of historical empires, non of which were even pretending to be liberal before the British one. A simple look on the map reveals that China and Russia are already empires. These giant states did not come about peacefully, and they are already protecting their powers outside their borders.
Russia immediately intervened when the people stood up against election fraud in Belarus. It also very quickly send its army into Kazakhstan when the government there was challenged in 2022. And of course it invaded Ukraine to protect its interests there. Russia does not look very non interventionist to me. They are definitely defending their perceived interests abroad, militarily if necessary. The same is true for China. It did not respect the autonomy of Hong Kong and it will not tolerate Taiwan going its own way.
Other than the western empire, these empires don’t even pretend to be liberal in any shape or form. Their goal is stability at all costs. Human rights and the freedom of the individual are no considerations whatsoever. The best example of this is that the worst state of all, North Korea, which is not more than a giant slave colony for Kim Yong Un, is heavily supported by both China and Russia.
There is no good empire, and there is no good alternative empire to the western empire. The western empire needs to be closed, not so much to help others, but to safe liberalism in the west. And only in liberal societies, not having an empire is an option, because only in liberal societies there can possible be strong enough forces to protect the liberal society from other empires.