The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Europe: the Empire that wasn't


Napoleon Bonaparte in full imperial regalia. He got close to creating a European Empire, but he failed in the end. He faced the same strategic problem that other would-be European Emperors faced: having to fight on two opposite fronts at the same time, against Russia and against Britain. At present, the European Union (another form of European Empire) is facing the same strategic problems And it is being defeated, although in an economic war rather than in a conventional military one.

One of the fascinating things about history is how people tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. A couple of generations are more than sufficient for leaders to forget everything their predecessors did, and run straight into a new -- but similar -- catastrophe. It is also called "history never repeats itself, but it does rhyme."

Then, among the fascinating sections of history, there is how people tend to get together to form those entities that we call "states" or, if they are large, "empires." They grow, they decline, they collapse, in a dance that lasts for centuries and that normally implies war, exterminations, and great suffering for large numbers of people. But most people seem to think that these purely virtual entities are important enough that human lives can be sacrificed to them. On this, history has been rhyming for a long time. 

Europe was often on the verge of becoming an empire, a single state with a centralized government. But that never happened. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne was perhaps the first to have a go at a European Empire, during the 8th century AD. His "Holy Roman Empire" survived for nearly a millennium, but never included all of Western Europe. Then it was the turn of Napoleon Bonaparte, then the German Kaiser, then the German Nazis, and, recently, the European Union that, for the first time, didn't rely on military might. They were all failures, including the European Union -- an entity that nobody seems to want any longer. 

How should we see these events? A failure or a blessing? Of course, empires are not benevolent entities, and sometimes they do great damage. But a central European government might have avoided at least some of the bloodiest episodes of internecine European wars. It might also have injected some rules into the otherwise lawless worldwide expansion of the European states. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) enacted laws designed to stop the enslavement and the extermination of the Native Americans by the European colonists. Charles V ruled only part of Europe and these laws were ineffective. But we may imagine that, if they had been backed by a strong central authority, they could have helped the Native Americans to survive the European onslaught. 

So, why couldn't Western European states create a central government? After all, when it was a question of making some money by military conquest, they didn't find that it was so difficult to fight together. It happened during the crusades (12th-4th century), the attack on Russia by Napoleon in 1812, the Crimean war (1853-1856), the attack on China during the Boxer rebellion (1899 -1901), and a few more cases. But, normally, the European states preferred to carve their own empires and destroy each other in internecine wars. 

One major problem for a European government is simply geographical. Europe is a peninsula of Eurasia that ends with the Urals, but that's just a convention. Are the Russians Europeans? In many ways, yes, except when their Western neighbors decide that they are barbarians to be exterminated (as during WW2) or, at least, people whose culture is to be rejected or annihilated (as it is happening nowadays). So, where is the Eastern border of Europe? Nobody knows, and that's a sure recipe for war. 

Then, on the Western side, is Britain part of Europe? Geography says that it is, but do the British consider themselves Europeans? The best that can be said is that they normally do, but only when it is convenient for them. During WW2, there was a common saying in Italy that went as "che Dio stramaledica gli inglesi" (may God heavily curse the British). A bit nasty, sure, but it highlights a certain feeling that continental Europeans have for Britain.

Geography dominates politics, and the result is that all the attempts to create a stable coalition of European states faced, and still faces, an unsolvable strategic problem. At Europe's borders, on the East and the West, there are two powerful states, Great Britain (now largely replaced by the US Empire) and Russia (for a period, in the form of the Soviet Union). Neither has an interest in seeing a strong Europe arising, and they normally consider avoiding that as one of their strategic priorities. Neither Russia nor Britain ever were interested in invading Europe. The case is slightly different for the US Empire, which does keep its military stationed in Europe. But, even so, the US occupation is more a question of political, rather than military, control. In any case, during the past few centuries, emergent European Empires usually found themselves fighting on two opposite fronts, on the East, and on the West. An impossible strategic situation that always ended with not just defeat, but catastrophe. 

It was Napoleon who inaugurated the challenge of fighting Britain and Russia at the same time. The resulting disaster led to the disappearance of France from the list of the world's "great powers." Then, it was the turn of the German government to do the same mistake. As a remarkable example of the stupidity of government leaders, they managed to do it twice, in 1914, and in 1939. Note, incidentally, that Adolf Hitler himself, wrote in his Mein Kampf (1933) that Germany should never find itself fighting on two fronts. And then, he led Germany exactly into that! The mind of the "great leaders" is often imperscrutable, but you may be justified in thinking that they are not as smart as their followers think they are. 

After the catastrophe of World War 2, Europeans seemed to realize that the attempt to unify Europe by military means was hopeless. So, they tried a combination of diplomatic and economic actions. It was not a bad idea in itself, but it failed utterly as the result of several factors. Mainly, it was because the leaders never really believed in the idea of a United Europe and consistently tried to manage the European Union in such a way as to gather the most they could for their countries, without much regard for the collective good. In time, the higher layers of the EU fell into the hands of traitors bought by foreign powers. As a result, the attempts to create a European military force were sabotaged. During the past few decades, Europe was effectively defanged and declawed, and, to use an appropriate euphemism, "neutered" in military terms. (image below from "The Economist"). 

In the end, the EU went through the same sequence of failures that had doomed the previous attempts at unification. The "Brexit," the exit of the UK from the Union in 2020, was the economic equivalent of the military defeat of Napoleon at Trafalgar (1805), and of Hitler at the battle of Britain (1940). But the true disaster came with the current attempt of bankrupting Russia with economic sanctions. That was the equivalent of the disastrous dash to Moscow of Napoleon's army (1812) and of Hitler's "Operation Barbarossa" (1941). History does rhyme!

The economic war is still ongoing, but we can already say that Russia is surviving the sanctions while Europe has been badly damaging itself. No matter what the outcome of the war in Ukraine will be, Europeans now face a cold winter without a sufficient supply of fuel, and a probable economic disaster. The same outcome of Napoleon's and Hitler's campaigns -- even though not in military terms.  

And now? Disasters beget disasters, it is one more rule of history. The European relentless rejection of everything that has to do with Russian culture and traditions is a human disaster that cannot be measured in economic terms. The last thing Europeans needed was an enemy on their Eastern border. Now they have created it, and they will have to live with it, just as they will have to live with the climate disaster that they lost the capability to fight. And, most likely, the idea of a United Europe is now buried forever. 


  1. I think that this article is somehow misleading. The main problem in Europe now is climate change, which right now means not enough water. A cold winter is not so problematic, we are used to so much comfort that some energy saving can only be positive, and would anyway not be enough in regard of the reality of climate change.
    Of course Russians are great people, it is sad that we don't get along right now, but the reality is also that they are right now not a model of democracy and human rights.
    I don't understand your obsessions regarding empires. I'd be happy if they would be cut in pieces, if we would be more local, more Swadeshi (, the landing of our societies after the limit to growth is reached would be softer.

    1. You are right. Re-reading what I wrote, I see that I overused the term "Empire" -- which is not a good thing. I was referring more to a political unity of Europe that could have taken the shape of an empire. I modified the text to clarify this point. And thanks for the link to the "Swadeshi" concept. I learned something new!

    2. The use of the term Empire by Europeans might better be seen as group dominion over other groups. We see it at play between football fans, between religious or political factions. In Europe national dominion over neighbours is a historic cultural continuity. When we Europeans invented and populated our greatest colony, USA, I fear we have exported our cultural norm.

    3. Thanks, I really prefer the new version.

    4. Thanks to you, Etienne. One good thing about blogs, is that they can be adapted and modified as a result of the comments. It is a learning process

    5. Etienne, write to me at ugo.bardi(thingy) -- You may like to join a discussion forum on related subjects.

    6. Quello di considerare negativamente l'Impero, visto come uno strumento di sopraffazione è solo un pregiudizio; l'essenza dell'Impero è la progressione delle organizzazioni umane, capaci di allargarsi grandemente e così, autodeterminarsi, evitando lo scontro e la guerra. E' una cellula che da piccola, diventa sempre più grande. Parte che considera il territorio terrestre come sterminato, fino ai Romani che per Diritto Pubblico intendevano il "Disponibile", disbosca affianco al mio terreno e fatti un campo per conto tuo, non continuare a raccogliere"... Questi sono i concetti base. Se tutto, ogni volta, crolla è per via della dinamica ecologica; "ogni sistema che ha successo prepara il suo insuccesso"! Questo è il motivo che va compreso e compreso da tutti, almeno nei comportamenti... Non si può fare un Impero Romano o quello che si vuole anche planetario, con l'intersecarsi di azioni tradizionali, che rimangono con le spalle al futuro. Incrociare tecniche antiche, come fare tanti figli, in un epoca in cui disponiamo di un'igiene, una sanità, una pace... Molto efficiente; è una contraddizione, quegli usi, non sono un multiculturalismo, non sono una diversità, ma un'uguaglianza, dalle quali si esce appunto in un altro modo, con altre tecniche, altrimenti il cambio a cosa servirebbe?

    7. I apologize for not being politically correct but Gandhi was just a british agent put in place to develop an indian patriotism as long as Indians remained poor and could be exploited as before. After 2 world wars Europe could not pretend to rule the colonies by force so it was easier to buy a new generation of leaders each one of them pretending to represent traditional values. France did it in Africa and it was pretty dirty. Great Britain did the same. I remember I was horrified when I read the autobiography of Gandhi. He clearly wrote it to please the Indians and nothing is further from european "values" than his book. That makes me laugh when I hear western people taking Gandhi as an example. They clearly do not know who he was.

    8. Che Dio stramaledica gli inglesi!

    9. "An empire is a system of unequal exchanges designed to pump wealth out of other countries for the benefit of one." By JMG in

    10. E' come una scacchiera, su ogni quadrato vive una famiglia, quando l'area sarà completa non v'è più spazio, se non per il primogenito. Sorge la necessità di conquistare i quadrati di altri popoli. L'Impero è un'idea da realizzare, non un'idea realizzata, un'unione che superasse le guerre e le prevaricazioni, se non è riuscita è per il via del suo successo... Che porta ogni sistema a crollare, dopo aver puntualmente raggiunto il limite ecologico. Gli uomini all'origine erano famiglie e si sposavano tra loro. Così si formarono Clan e quindi Tribù e dunque popoli. Piccole strutture, ma già "Impero", come nel caso degli spartani, che avevano un regime comunista e paritario tra loro, mentre come "Famiglia" potente e di riferimento, si rapportavano diversamente nei confronti degli altri popoli/famiglie. Il singolo non può e non potrà esistere per molto tempo, una famiglia con terreno e casetta, sarà impensabile per millenni, perchè chiunque, avrebbe potuto assaltare e conquistare la proprietà; si viveva, nel senso che si riusciva a vivere, solo in quanto facenti parte di gruppi cospicui, una fattoria medievale dalle 300 alle 500 persone. Tutto il contesto comporta che si sviluppi l'idea "Spartano" o "Socialista", eppure crollerà ugualmente, sempre perchè non si riesce ad imporre un sistema unico su di un'area sempre più grande. Impero o Limite del Globo sono la stessa cosa, ci sono già state dunque esperienze su macroaree, che ci dicono che usare un'unica tecnologia, per un'unica organizzazione, è vincente, raggiunge gli obiettivi di pace e di benessere, ma ad un certo punto tutto crolla... Il motivo è il successo stesso, che porta ad una crescita del numero degli individui, un aumento dei consumi, che diventa insopportabile dal territorio; dunque lo sfociare in quello altrui. Oggi siamo ai limiti del Territorio, l'Impero è finalmente Globale, non possiamo più allargarci, da un interno amico, verso un esterno nemico. Per fortuna sappiamo che il problema appunto è tutto interno ed è di ordine semplicemente ecologico.

    11. I would never join a club that would accept me as a member.

  2. If the empires are cut to pieces it will be only the Americans that are not. I consider that a threat of danger. Checks and balances are always a good idea - also in international politics.

  3. So, where is the Western border of Europe? Nobody knows, and that's a sure recipe for war. Perhaps you meant "Eastern border of Europe"?

  4. It never fails to amaze me how many people don't understand how the US is the largest, most successful, most violent empire in the history of the world. The western world, primarily the US has determined the fate of virtually all the planet, the environment, poverty, death and destruction, and the trajectory of all humanity leading up to the extreme possibility of the end of all life on Earth.

    Past empires don't hold a candle to what the West has accomplished and it has done it in the modern age not in the rickety old past.

    It used to be that that kind of statement would be dismissed as the ravings of a mad man but is more than just a possibility it is certainty unless we make massive changes the likes of which we have not shown any ability of making.

    If you don't understand what I am talking about you have a massive amount of work ahead of you discovering the truth.

  5. From here in the USA it looks like our `please don`t call it an Empire` may split up into several smaller states like the EU ... probably without a civil war, but I can`t completely rule that out.
    There is already economic 'warfare` among the wealthy states, the federal government, and the poorer states. Fuel and food cost increases brought on by war or climate change or something else could cause that existing split to become a chasm.

  6. Regarding the EU, I don't think that the problem is that everybody wanted as much back for his own country. I see more the problem that the countries of the EU wanted to show some unity without sharing too much of their power. The best way to do this is to analyse and study the context (i.e. to make statistics). So instead of concentrating on some domains of excellence (common regulation, standardization of goods, agriculture, erasmus, telecommunications...), we get useless data about almost anything. The data requires a lot of work inside the states and inside the EU administration, and furthermore once you have these data, you feel like you should make something out of it which means even more work inside the administration and the member states. And basic things like getting my ID Card at the local administration only works for nationals.

    1. Replying both to my post and Etienne's. These issues of ridiculous amounts of work to communicate useless data is one example of the type of expense that can cause the kind of rifts that cause states to break apart .

  7. That is an interesting point of view. The premise that European attempt at union resulted in the hmmmmmmm 'Russian conflict'? The two front tie-in masterful. And interpreting the horrors of colonial times on a chaos of European disunion, superb. But what about the financial gravy train the United States gave far right ethnic cleansing nationalists that quite understandably provoked the bear. How does that jive with your 'European empire' narrative?

    I don't see the size of a 'state' having anything to do with moral behavior except that after a certain size, money takes over and ethics die.

  8. I lived in Germany, Austria and France in the early 1990's. One thing I learned was the embedded racism and animosity between the former warring factions.
    When I lived in France I was an unrepentant anti-nuclear activist with a chip on his shoulder about the bombing of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior, and the murder of our comrade Fernando Pereira.
    The French schooled me on why nuclear power was a necessity because they will never trust their neighbours again after being invaded so often and they needed to generate their electricity from internal resources, uranium stolen from Africa or bought from Australia not withstanding.
    I'd say there is virtually zero possibility of a successful European union. They have way too much 'baggage' with each other imho.

  9. "A coal miner who consumes in his own body about 3,500 Calories a day will, if he mines 500 pounds of coal, produce coal with a heat value 500 times the heat value of the food which he consumed while mining it. At 20 per cent efficiency he expends about 1 horsepowerhour of mechanical energy to get the coal. Now, if the coal he mines is burned in a steam engine of even 1 per cent efficiency it will yield about 27 horsepower-hours of mechanical energy. The surplus of mechanical energy gained would thus be 26 horsepower-hours, or the equivalent of 26 man-days per man-day. A coal miner, who consumed about 1 5 as much food as a horse, could thus deliver through the steam engine about 4 times the mechanicalenergy which the average horse in Watt’s day was found to deliver." - Energy and the English Industrial Revolution. E. A. Wrigley (also see

    Wrigley here has overlooked, again, the energy needed to animate the social contract - which has organised the scene for his miner to function - mining coal and getting the surplus energy claimed.

    Add health-care and the rest of the social contract - and you'll see the assumed surplus energy - is actually an energy-sink.

    If you remove the Sukhois and B-52s - you would see the Iraqis, for example, burn their crude oil - building their own nation before the nations of others.

    Instead, Iraq has largely departed the industrial age since 1980 - while its oil has been practically looted - and looting - since 1914.

    Europe needed to understand that:

    "In any system of Energy, Control is what consumes Energy the most"

    Europe did not - or it would have refrained from socialising fossil fuels among the masses.

    Europe has seen the masses being THE target of its Empire, like all Empires before it - primarily for one reason:

    Fear that someone else would control Energy resources for himself, if Europe did not.

    Europe missed out that with fossil fuels - being now the energy resource for its Empire, not humans' labour - it should keep the consumption of the fuels to the absolute minimum.

    Unfathomably more fossil fuels reserves have been burned by the Western Empire to control fossil fuels resources, since Newcommons - than burning fossil fuels for the continuity of humanity, or the Empire - in the future...

    Fossil fuel reserves have been destroyed to the ground by Europe - out of fear - it will lose fossil fuel reserves - for others.

    Fear in humans - has been the primary reason why humans have destroyed all fossil fuel reserves - to the ground - in no time - the only reserves they will have - ever.

    The West has built its current Empire based on Fear - embedded in humans' DNA...

    The Western Empire has been truly - humane...

    It should have kept itself just - an Empire - instead

    One-off fossil fuel reserves became - the sacrifice...


  10. Per this jacobin piece, the EU was not meant to be a democratic institution from the start
    You mention "traitors" above in reference to the EU, but I don't think you specify. Why? It was meant to be totalitarian...along with the joint projects started in the 70s...the WEF and the New World Order. So, it was, perhaps from the start, has been, incorporated into the largest, most violent, Empire in history in an ongoing project to further take Russia and China et al. C.

    1. Totalitarianism is not the same as treason. For instance, Stalin was a totalitarian leader, but he didn't betray the people of the Soviet Union. The European government is far less totalitarian than Stalin's one, but it is staffed with traitors who sold the European people to foreign powers. To understand who they are, just read the news.

    2. I think I did not make myself clear, or maybe I am not clear, but if Totalitarianism is posing as democracy and liberty, then it is treason regardless...?
      ( Part One of these two articles traced the origins of this concealed totalitarianism within European culture. The second piece takes the story and its implications further)

      From a link on TAE this a.m.

      The Masque of Pandora

      What happens when people awake to the deceit of Totalitarian-Lite posing as liberty and individualism (let alone democracy)?
      Strategic Culture Foundation

      The deceit is the treason.

    3. Sorry, Christine (is this you, right?) but I am lost, here. What is your point?

    4. Yes, it's me.

      I have to think more about this. I do not think the US would have ever (and has not) tolerated an EU "empire" that was in a position to be independent and challenge it, even from the early stages, post WWII, with the Dulleses et al. I think the EU failure was built in. The article in Jacobin talks about the '50s and '60s and economics and the IMF, and others about the Marshall Plan. As usual, you have been provocative.Thanks.Yes, Christine.