The Rise of the Imperial Class

Matt Welch, the new editor of Reason, gave a talk at the Cato Institute about his new book, John McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, in which he sums up the grave danger to the republic represented by the McCain campaign. Welch remarked that McCain is part of the “imperial class,” pointing to the politico-military legacy of his father, an admiral, to underscore the point that the putative GOP nominee is revving up his motor to become the most militaristic American president since at least Teddy Roosevelt – perhaps the most belligerent ever.

I agree with him about McCain, but what I want to focus on is the rise of this “imperial class,” which seems like a good moniker: certainly it captures the essence of what this phenomenon is all about – a development made possible by and intimately bound up with our “progress” on the road to empire.

The evidence for the rise of this new class – and its exponentially increasing power – is all around us. U.S. arms exports have hit a new high. Since 9/11, the United States has stood astride the global arms market and shows no signs of slacking off. In 2006, Washington wrapped up the biggest number of new arms deals, to the tune of some $16.9 billion, over 40 percent of the worldwide total. Russia came in second, with a mere $8.7 billion. More than half of the global arms deliveries were made by the U.S.

Just last week, on Feb. 8, 18 “defense”-related contracts were announced totaling $326,664,244. That makes 58 publicly-reported defense contracts for the week, totaling $1,584,635,220. Last month, there were 223 publicly-reported defense contracts, totaling $19,625,989,716. While the civilian economy is shrinking, the military sector is expanding – and, if either of the eventual major party candidates have their way, the military expenditures will balloon. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are pledged to an even bigger U.S. military. It’s good for business, if your business is war or war-related, and it’s good for votes – especially the votes, active support, and political contributions of the growing group of Americans whose livelihoods, and claim to some sort of social status, depend on the continuation of our foreign policy of perpetual war.

A perfect example of how this works is the campaign to expand NATO, which succeeded in admitting the former Warsaw Pact nations to the Western alliance. The political vehicle for this opening up of a largely outmoded military alliance was the Committee for NATO Expansion, led by Randy Scheunemann, a high-flying Washington lobbyist for the arms industry, who also authored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, authorizing $98 million in Pentagon aid for Ahmed Chalabi and his fellow “heroes in error.” Scheunemann now serves as – what else? – a senior national security adviser to John McCain. Along with Bruce Jackson, until 2002 planning and strategy vice president at Lockheed Martin, Scheunemann lobbied Congress and the various NATO aspirants to procure the funding that would get prospective NATO members up to code, so to speak, and bring their military assets up to Western standards. It was a very profitable venture, all around – and what we have to show for it is a whole lot of arms-related millionaires, both in the U.S. and Eastern Europe, and what Vladimir Putin calls a new Western-initiated arms race, with no end in sight.

For a relatively paltry investment – chump change, really – the military-industrial complex hauls in boatloads of cash. It’s nice work, if you can get it. The problem is that the rest of us pay, in the form of taxes, to subsidize this politically powerful new class: an America that isn’t producing anything all that useful, except for bombs and subprime mortgage securities, is growing poorer as a result of their labors. Every dollar locked up in the dead end of military equipment, which cannot be used except for a single, rather limited purpose, is one less dollar that is invested in productive capital, i.e., an investment that expands the private market, creates non-government jobs, and generally increases the level of well-being in our society.

In effect, the military-industrial complex lives very much like a vampire, draining the life’s blood from the productive sector and reducing the availability of capital investment where it’s really needed. Our foreign policy massively misallocates the distribution of wealth in our society and pumps funds into areas that are not productive, while starving those sectors that would benefit the civilian economy.

Conservatives, who are trenchant critics of socialism, at least in theory, in practice fail to see or appreciate the consequences of their drunken-sailor spending when it comes to the military. The caveats that they apply to government spending in the domestic sphere are forgotten – or even inverted – when it comes to military outlays. Yet problems such as influence-peddling – and worse – are encountered whenever monies are being handed out by an elected body. Lobbies spring up, a narrow but vocal and very well-organized slice of the public becomes very passionate about maintaining and expanding these subsidies, and a politically driven process expands the program, whatever it might be, so far beyond its original intent that it becomes a kind of parody – like the $1,000 toilet or the $800 screwdriver, only on a much larger scale.

As America drives – or is pushed – toward empire, the power of this class increases with each milestone passed. More Americans become dependent on their military-oriented subsidies, whether they be Washington insiders with Pentagon contracts or ordinary workers who make good union wages manufacturing cluster bombs for export to the Middle East’s bright, shining example of democracy. This permanent war economy is financed by government, of course, which goes into debt in order to pay for the biggest orgy of arms spending in history. That debt eats away at the very heart of our prosperity and threatens to hollow out our economic system as the markets shake and quiver, hinting at a financial meltdown that every half-awake economist and market maven expects – and fears. A few profit while the rest of us suffer the consequences. That isn’t capitalism; that’s government-subsidized cronyism.

We are borrowing from the Chinese in order to pay the costs of our Middle Eastern empire, but what will we do when they no longer buy our debt? When they dump our securities, our “empire” goes down the tubes – and the warlords of Washington know it. Unlike the Roman, the Spanish, and the British versions, the American Empire will have a very short life, and our enemies are looking forward to the collapse. As Osama bin Laden put it in his message to the American people on the eve of the 2004 election:

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers as we alongside the mujahedeen bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat. All praise is due to Allah.

“So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah is willing and nothing is too great for Allah.”

While the financial system creaks and totters and groans, some are fearless: they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

The Imperial class could not have a better champion and exemplar than McCain. If and when he is elected, we will be at war not only with Iran, Syria, and some portion of Pakistan, but we’ll be in a global face-off with the Russians, who will come back into fashion as credible villains shortly after President McCain has Scheunemann draft the “Russia Liberation Act,” authorizing the expenditure of funds for eventual “regime change” in the Kremlin.


As you may have noticed – or not, if you came here directly, instead of going to the home page first – this is the first day of what we at call “pledge week,” after public television’s fund drives. Of course, it isn’t done the old-fashioned way, with a telephone crew and us giving our pitch. Instead, we hijack our readers, make them read a splash page, and then return them to our regularly scheduled program of the best foreign policy-related news and commentary on the Web. Yet, in my mind, it’s still “pledge week” in the sense that we’re just like those PBS executives, albeit without the government subsidies, wondering if our high-minded and committed audience will come through, or if, perhaps, they’ll be forced to cancel their uplifting and/or informative programs and instead give their audience what they really want: the latest on Britney Spears!

Pardon me for rambling, but I know you don’t want to hear about the latest celebrity “news” – the real world is what interests you. Yet we can’t continue to give you the kind of hard news and even harder commentary you’ve come to expect without getting your financial support right now. We don’t have any big corporate contributors, no “sugar daddy” to succor us when times are tough – and they are tough, as you’ve no doubt noticed. We all know the economy is going bad, for the reasons outlined above, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it except to advocate the kind of comprehensive change that the end of the rule of militarism in America would signify.

Yes, times are tough, but someone has to watch the War Party, and that’s our job. We do it so you don’t have to, but we need your support in order to continue our work. So give today, as much as you can – and, don’t forget that your contribution is tax-deductible.


I‘ve been busy over at Taki’s Top Drawer, blogging up a storm on libertarianism, orthodox and otherwise; the politics of promiscuity, or – who’s the Paris Hilton of the Beltway pundits?; why mockery is the best weapon against the McCainiac; and the economics of doom. Oh, and don’t miss the first installment of a series on the Ron Paul Revolution: John Derbyshire’s “Only A Revolution Will Do.”

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].