Strategic History and Themes of Legitimacy
June 23rd 2013 in Publications
By Dr. Terry Tukker, PhD
History is supposed to be a look back in an effort to guide the way forward. Pax Britannica looked back to Rome, but the Rome of the historians was many Rome’s; there was republican Rome, Catholic Rome and the Rome of Antonines. In essence, this period of history could be all things for all men.
De Tocqueville, described Americans as without philosophy, yet guided by classical principles. One example of the clarity, and yet ambiguity of this philosophy is Theodore Roosevelt’s, realizable ideal’s: Keep your eyes on the stars, but keep your feet on the ground. T. Rex, as one author has hailed him, was Hamilton’s means to achieve Jefferson’s ends. In another example, it is Calvinist, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Pragmatism, Personalism, Objective Idealism, Modernism, Reductionism, Intellectualism, et.al.
America, like Rome, has been, and could be, many things to many people.
Britain claimed to be the spiritual heir of Rome. The US does not make this claim, but claims to be the bastion and heir of liberty, freedom and democracy. British historians would claim that “the English and the Romans essentially resemble one another” and Pax Britannica depicted its imperial growth and expansion to liberty and science. Americans attribute its growth to liberty, science, technology and freedom.
Americans claim that they are the standard bearers of freedom and democratic rule, yet a spate of scandals appear to reflect serious cracks in these claims. National sentiment over certain issues has been radical before.
Between 1898 and 1900, the national mood and sentiment was divisive as some Americans clearly felt that bundling the issue of Hawaii and the Philippines with Cuba was a betrayal of American principle of the highest order. Opponents included ex-President Cleveland, Speaker Reed, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, William Endicott, and several Senators, Congressman, and University Presidents.
The media and the nation expressed its sentiment and felt the actions scandalous. The Atlantic Monthly published Ode in a Time of Hesitation, and Edwin Godkin, Editor of the New York Evening Post, wrote,“the military spirit has taken possession of the masses to whom power has passed.” Theodore Roosevelt would deride the specter of militarism as a “shadowy ghost.”
Sentiments of the past that appear to ring familiar in the present.
Similarly, the Empire behaved just as despotically and suffered its share of crisis of legitimacy.
England’s crisis of legitimacy in the 19th Century was one of ideology. This Political debate would have important implications as two distinct visions would struggle for primacy. Two men would dominate the ideological struggle at different periods in time. J.D Mills and his son, J.S Mills, would dominate until the Mutiny of 1857. Later, after the mutiny, Viceroy Lord Curzon, (1899-1905) would essentially refocus the ideology and “legitimization through reinterpretation.”
“The clash between the two competing strands of liberalism of utilitarianism… was represented in India by the competing interests of the…focus on the ‘sameness’ of the Indian and the civilizing power of reform, and the conservative ‘oriental’ view that emphasized difference and the preservation of tradition.”
One British historian would describe the height of this period (after 1872) as one of “invented tradition”
History teaches, warns, and admonishes.
During Pax Britannica, “Indian civil servants nervous about the North-West Frontier discussed the lessons of Roman provincial policy with W.D.Arnold, an Oxford don “haunted lest the tragedy of the Roman Empire. Whose extremities grew at the expense of its heart, should repeat itself.” Americans have had this almost exact same discussion.
Americans have also drawn comparisons of Pax Americana, Pax Britannica and the multiple Rome’s. Likewise, Anglo and Saxon have mocked, hailed, or ignored the discourse and intimated impending doom.
In 1852, historians of the empire proposed an Anglo-Saxon federation of peoples of “one destiny.” Similar federations have developed based on the needs of commerce, defense or both; examples include: NATO, SEATO, Economic and Monetary Union, Common Markets, and Multilateral Free Trade Area’s.
The Monikers of “Globalization” and “Global Village” appear to inveigh the same idea of “one destiny,” albeit different from that of Empire, but similar in the sense of the spirit and intent of “convergence” as a federation, treaty, or, as part of the requirement of competing in this growing globalization. On one hand, the convergence is economically beneficial, on the other, it ignores identity, culture and dangerously assumes that some kind of “universalism” will be accepted over sovereignty.
A blinding commonality between Pax Britannica and America is our binding principles of freedom and liberty. in light of recent events and scandals this must sound like a brazen affirmation of hypocrisy.
Gibbons warned of comparing remote historical epochs an admonition we have promptly ignored. Gibbons also criticized the simple-minded historian “who in avoiding details have avoided difficulties.”
But, history also has a way of being strategic. Themes within history do repeat themselves.