Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires

Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires

Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires

Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires

Synopsis

Despite their historical importance, empires have received scant attention from social scientists. Now, Alexander J. Motyl examines the structure, dynamics, and continuing relevance of empire -- and asks, "Why do empires decline? Why do some empires collapse? And why do some collapsed empires revive?" Rejecting choice-centered theories of imperial decline, Motyl maintains that the very structure of empires promotes decay and that decay in turn facilitates the progressive loss of territory. Although most major empires have in fact declined in this manner, some, such as the Soviet Union, have collapsed suddenly and comprehensively. Motyl explains how and why collapse occurs, why such an outcome is hard to foresee, and why some collapsed empires revive. While broad-ranging historically and empirically, Imperial Ends focuses on five modern empires: the Soviet, Romanov, Ottoman, Habsburg, and Wilhelmine. Examining the possibility of a revival of the Soviet empire, Motyl points out that the expansion of NATO and the European Union, along with increasing globalization, will isolate Russia and its neighbors, promoting their dependence upon one another and perhaps facilitating the rise of the former core. With boldly stated conclusions and concise analytical interpretations, Imperial Ends cohesively illustrates to policymakers and social scientists alike the importance of possible imperial revivals and the rise of future empires.

Excerpt

Although empires do appear to slide down Taagepera's parabolas in the right way and for the right reasons, it is, alas, also true that attrition does not always follow on the heels of decay. However discomfiting theoretically, this fact should not surprise us too much: decay is internal to the workings of empire and as such is more or less indifferent to exogenous goings-on. In contrast, attrition—as a function of war and externally abetted liberation struggles—depends at least in part on an empire's overall geopolitical position and should as a result be susceptible to a variety of intervening variables. Even so, nonattrition is, if not a puzzle, then certainly an anomaly. We shall have to account for it in a manner that pays tribute to the priority of decay and that treats exceptions to the rule in a way that either minimizes, if not fully eliminates, the unpredictability of exogenous factors or incorporates them meaningfully into the explanatory narrative.

The three exceptions I consider are the USSR, Austria-Hungary, and Romanov Russia. All decayed, and all experienced various forms of the pathologies identified in chapter 2. But none experienced attrition or as much attrition as we might—counterfactually—have expected. A perfectly plausible reason is that all three empires had actually decayed very little. Taagepera's parabolas show that the Soviet and Russian realms had reached their maximum territorial extent just before they collapsed. One could argue that attrition would have taken place had these empires not encountered cataclysms that destroyed them prematurely, before they began really to decay. That Austria had lost much territory in the nineteenth century weakens these . . .

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