Published on October 15th, 20120
Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall
For centuries, civilizations have risen and civilizations have fallen — some by the despotic winds of external forces, others by the internal cancer of their own apparatus. But of the civilizations that have resonated longest and strongest, Professor Amy Chua asserts in her book, Day of Empire, one single trait spans them all: Tolerance.
Chua’s thesis commences examining the Achaemenid Empire, arguing that in 550 BC when Cyrus the Great, grandson of Astyages, overthrew Astyages as ruler of the Median kingdom, it wasn’t by way of cultural imposition, but rather clemency and broadmindedness. In fact, according to Chua, Cyrus, unlike other rulers of the time, actually preferred little to do with the personal lives of his subjects, writing that “[he] interfered very little…leaving them their gods and their desperate cultures.” Indeed, when Cyrus annexed the city of Babylon, he even paid homage to the god Marduk, demonstrating respect for the Babylonian people. Acknowledging the success of his father’s methodology, Cambyses, upon assuming the Achaemenid Empire, adopted a comparable philosophy. He not only refrained from “imposing Persian culture” on Egyptians after conquering Egypt, but he permitted Egypt’s culture to remain integral, subsequently allowing himself to become “Egyptianized” in the process.
The Achaemenid Empire isn’t the only civilization Chua contends benefited from tolerance, though. Chua surveys a number of former great societies, including China’s Tang Dynasty, The Mongol Empire, and Rome, and observes that while Rome may have territorially fallen short of The Achaemenid Empire, it idealistically mirrored Persia in respects to its citizenry producing the same favorable outcome: longevity. Rome for example, in its prime, was home to upwards of 60 million people, various languages, and a plethora of a literature, science and art. It was — to say — all-encompassing and tolerant, precisely what Chua argues fueled the “glory of Rome,” which handedly stretched thousands of years, far longer than those societies that rejected tolerance.
Moreover, to become an emperor in Rome, one needn’t even be born in Rome. Emperor Trajan, for example, was a native of Spain, as was his successor, Hadrian. Suffice it to say, Rome learned from Greece’s shortfalls. Greece not only promoted segregation, but reaped internal war and conflict as a result — an astute examination made by Emperor Claudius, who once asked, “What else was the downfall of Sparta and Athens, than that they held the conquered in contempt as foreigners?”
As Rome did with Greece, the Tang Dynasty also learned from the mistakes of its fragmented predecessors. In effect, after Li Yuan (also known as Gaozu) conquered the Sui, it sought to create and expand military alliances rather than additional conflict. In a stunning display of humility and respect, Gaozu even used the character qi in a letter to formally address the Turkic ruler — a character typically reserved for superiors. Tang military success was also largely a result of integrating and incorporating “foreigners.”
Similarly, the Mongol Empire too utilized an all-inclusive military strategy, unifying various clans, sects, and cultures all across Eastern Europe and Asia with the sole purpose of obtaining hegemonic dominance. Indeed, prior to Genghis’ conjoint tactics there was no Mongol Empire, but rather merely various unorganized bands of competing Mongol clans. Yet, by the height of Genghis’ rein, more land fell under the Mongol Empire than any other Empire before or since. And while the Mongol Empire was certainly known for its brutality towards the unwilling, it extended a surprisingly liberal amount of tolerance towards those cooperatively under its reign — even embracing intermarriage.
Chua goes on to cite numerous societal examples of cultural inclusivity and tolerance — as well as the benefits that permeated as a result — from early Spain to the economically explosive Dutch; however, is equally swift to recognize those societies that haven’t flourished, while successively hypothesizing causation. Spain, after the Spanish Inquisition becomes a searing example. According to Chua, early Spain’s successful expansion, in part, was due to its religious tolerance and ability to incorporate Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
However, by 1478, as the Spanish Inquisition commenced, religious tolerance was replaced by a number of decrees mandating Jews and Muslims convert to Catholicism or face reprisals. In other words, Spain’s self-destructive seed was only planted after “the Spanish monarchy…officially embraced intolerance.” Likewise, the British Empire, which industrially thrived preceding the integration of Jews, Huguenots, and Scots in 1689, met its fate after failing to note the successful tactics of The Achaemenid Empire. That is to say, as the British Empire expanded and conquered, it did not permit the various cultures under its umbrella to flourish, but rather “alienated its colonies and fomented intolerance” — ultimately fomenting its decline.
Chua ensues dissecting the contemporary world, in particular, the United States, citing Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket not breaks my leg.” Principally, Chua attributes the U.S.’s rise to hyperpower, despite commanding only 5 percent of the world’s population, to its “human capital” and religious tolerance. The Puritans, for example, who fled Europe because of religious persecution, viewed New England as a beacon of religious freedom and liberation.
Equally, according to Chua, roughly 95 percent of Americans today can trace their heritage to someone from another country. Suffice it to say, the U.S. indeed is still a nation comprised of immigrants and immigrant descendants. Moreover, America’s relatively tranquil assimilation process has facilitated the U.S. in garnering resources and talents from across the globe, while simultaneously helping mold it into a world leader of technology and innovation. Chua cautions, however, that America risks echoing the faults of its hegemonic predecessors by becoming complacent and intolerant, and overlooking what made America successful to begin with. Chua employs America’s hyperbolic rhetoric and politicization of immigration as merely one dangerous example.
Ultimately, Chua doesn’t just peg The United States as the first “nation of immigrants” and first “mature democracy,” but asserts that a measure of dissent is important, albeit vital, to the resonance of a liberal American society — arguing that for this reason authentic “enlightenment” may never be achievable.
And while Chua accentuates the concept of tolerance as a means to a society’s successful hegemony, even stating herself that, “To achieve not regional but world dominance, a society must attract, command the loyalty of, and motivate the world’s most valuable human capital.” Chua’s repeated employment of the notion of tolerance is likely, and more importantly, intended to underscore the plethora of societal advantages made possible only by way of the application of tolerance — a challenge to which Chua masterfully meets via historical exemplar.
About the Autor: Brandon Loran Maxwell is an essayist; political analyst; satirist; playwright; freelance journalist; and Editor and Chief of the blog 151 Proof Politics. He has been published in various local and national publications, including: The Hill, The Washington Examiner, PoliticIt, The Oregonian, Free Republic, Freedoms Journal, Hip Hop Republican, Street Motivation Magazine, and UtahPolicy.com. In addition, he has been personally profiled in a number of other publications and has been a guest on various news programs. In 2009, he spoke on judicial reform alongside then Congressman Wu. He is a winner of Portland, Oregon’s One Act Festival; a political activist; and a political science and film studies major.