Feedback from Warren Wagar

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat May 31 14:28:34 MDT 2003

At 03:09 PM 5/31/2003 -0400, wwagar at wrote:

My responses are interleaved.


 > Warren writes, "England never sought global political domination." That is
 > because it didn't need to. By the Victorian era, it had direct possession
 > of India, effective control of China and most of Africa. People like Niall
 > Ferguson extol the British Empire for its seemingly benign character. Why
 > world systems theorists would resonate with this is beyond me.  This
 > cedes too much to England.

         There was nothing in my post to suggest any "resonance" with the
view of the former British Empire as "benign."  Nor would any
world-systems proponent characterize it as "benign."  Of course it was not
benign.  Like all the other empires acquired by the European powers
between the 16th and early 20th Centuries, it was a grab for wealth, power,
and glory.  I was simply pointing out, and Louis seems to agree, that the
object of British imperialism was not world conquest and that in
world-systems terminology, it was never a "world-empire" with the hyphen.
The capitalists of Britain, like their counterparts in the other European
great powers, benefitted from a system with a plurality of polities,
preventing any single power from regulating, restricting, and otherwise
hampering their predatory doings, as for example someone like Napoleon
might well have done had he succeeded in creating and sustaining a
world-empire run from Paris.

         By the way, the British Empire, as of 1914, did not include "most
of Africa."  French holdings in Africa were almost as extensive, and by
the time you add in the substantial colonies of Portugal, Italy, Belgium,
and Germany, you find that most of Africa was not in British hands.
Britain's share increased quite a bit after it largely replaced the
Germans in the 1920s, but so did the share of France.

 > From the point of view of the German ruling class, the
 > Versailles treaty did not leave Europe in a balance of power after WWI. It
 > was legitimate grievances against British and American heavy-handedness
 > that allowed Hitler to gain a hearing.

         The heaviest hand against Germany in 1919 and throughout the 1920s
was wielded by France.

 > When Warren says that the USA rushed "into the power vacuum left by the
 > collapse of the Soviet Union", it sounds as if there is about as much
 > connection between the collapse of the USSR and the US's bid to rule the
 > world as there is in somebody salvaging the wreck of a 17th century Spanish
 > galleon that they accidentally ran into off the coast of Florida. In fact,

         It may "sound" that way, but rest assured that was not what I
meant.  As long as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were locked in their postwar
struggle, from 1945 to 1990, the chief mission of the U.S. was to win the
competition by a policy of armed containment, reminiscent of German
perceptions of Entente policy before World War One.  As soon as Soviet
power collapsed, it became possible and overwhelmingly tempting for the
U.S. to aim "higher," not just to contemplate but actually begin to
achieve global dominion.  Obviously the U.S. could not have rushed into
the vacuum had it not been well prepared by 45 years of vigorous struggle
on a world scale.  There was nothing accidental about the speed and
eagerness with which it began to exploit its new opportunities in the
1990s, and there was really nothing in my post to suggest otherwise.

 > the imposition of a powerful US military presence in Kosovo, Afghanistan
 > and now Iraq is directly related to the rise of the US as a hegemonic power
 > during WWII. The first goal was to smash the USSR; the next was to
 > establish economic and military domination in a region traditionally
 > controlled by Great Britain. This has nothing to do with machismo or lack
 > of machismo. These policies were hammered out by Yale graduates who work
 > for the CIA and State Department and who would very likely weep
 > uncontrollably at a Maria Callas Aida performance.

         Ah, but real men also eat quiche!  Seriously, I don't mean to
blame anything on machismo.  Aggressiveness is a constant throughout all
of history (and prehistory), but it does no good to speculate about who is
more macho than who.  As for the "first goal" of smashing the U.S.S.R. and
the "next goal" of replacing Britain, that's close to what I said in my
post.  First, win the Cold War.  Then, take over the world.

 > To repeat myself, I find the distinctions between Napoleonic France,
 > Hitlerite Germany and Bush W. on
 > one hand and Victorian England and JFK on the other to be overstated. JFK's
 > showdown with the USSR over Cuba's right to defend herself from invasion
 > brought this country closer to a nuclear Armageddon than any other time in
 > our history. Some might attribute this to 'machismo'. I prefer to think of
 > it as an imperial hegemon acting in its class interests, the rest of the
 > world be damned. You don't have to be a bible-thumping C student from Texas
 > to risk humanity in this fashion. You simply have to be committed to
 > private property and the US's role as king of the mountain.

         Where did I say something good about JFK?  The power elite in the
United States has always been committed to private property and extending
the wealth and power and lands of Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.  So of
course it doesn't matter whether its presidents are idiots or geniuses, C
students or Rhodes Scholars.  They all do the same kinds of things,
whether they have to be told what to do or think of it all by themselves.
I don't think we disagree in any fundamental way.  In my reading of the
principal texts of world-systems analysis, the influence of Marx and
Engels is about ten times greater than the influence of Fernand Braudel
and the whole Annales School put together.


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