Race and Empire

America is obsessed with matters of race, and always has been. Back in the day, this preoccupation was focused on who could and could not sit at a lunch counter, or at the front of the bus. Now that we are living in a “post-racial” world, and the President of these United States is what we used to call a “Negro,” our obsession, far from disappearing along with Bull Connor’s truncheons, is intensified: instead of ferreting out “uppity” African-Americans – one of J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite pastimes – our elites are busy ferreting out racists, or those they imagine are racists, in a series of purges and public stonings that recall the Salem witch trials.

Yet this self-purgation is awfully suspicious, for a number of reasons – the first being that its ferocity suggests an underlying uncertainty, the suspicion that, the louder we denounce racism, the more unsure we are it hasn’t infected our very being. I view this campaign of militant political correctness with a jaundiced eye for the simple reason that it is entirely internal: that is, the campaign – like our politics – stops at the water’s edge.

Yet even the most cursory glance at our foreign policy since World War II, and particularly since the end of the cold war and the commencement of our eternal “war on terrorism,” reveals the unmitigated racism at the heart of the way we divide the world up into friends and enemies.

This racism is illustrated by the concept Thomas Barnett popularized in his book, The Pentagon’s New Map, which divides the world up into the “Functioning Core,” i.e. the Western democracies, and the “Non-Integrated Gap,” i.e. what we used to call the “Third World” before “anti-racism” elevated our language but not our conceptual framework. To be sure, Barnett is hardly a racist, or, at least, his paradigm is no more (or less) race-oriented than any of a number of foreign policy conceptions that have been floated in recent times, e.g. the “clash of civilizations.” [.pdf] Outside the Core, says Barnett, all is chaos, and it is the task – nay, the duty – of the US and its allies to keep order in this global No-Man’s Land where trouble can break out at any moment.

That this is merely an updated and rephrased version of the old White Man’s Burden rationale for imperialism should be fairly obvious, but it is worth noting that this mindset has become even more dominant now that we have supposedly left the Old Racism behind. Barnett’s thesis merely reflects the way Western elites view themselves and their relation to the rest of the world: among the nations of the Core – North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia – there are no threats to World Peace, because it is of course inconceivable that we ourselves are the problem.

It’s no accident that this Core roughly defines the boundaries of the old British empire, or, at least, Britain’s sphere of influence at the height of its imperial glory. As Frank Chodorov, a libertarian theorist and pamphleteer of the 1950s, pointed out in a prescient 1947 essay, America’s succession to Britain’s role as enforcer of “world peace” meant the creation of a “Byzantine Empire of the West,” one that reflected the mores of the old British Foreign Office and its mercantilist mindset:

“It would seem from the constant recurrence of empires that there is something inevitable about the business, that it belongs ‘in the natural order.’ Even now, while the British Empire is hardly laid away, the outlines of a new imperialistic picture are clearly discernible. In the West a lusty heir apparent is flexing his muscles, while the ponderous bear in the East is bellowing his ferocious lust. It looks like another Armageddon is coming down the line.”

It was certainly natural for the American elites to emulate their British cousins: after all, the former fancied themselves lords and ladies in the style of Brideshead Revisited. Sitting in their fake-Tudor mansions, they sent their progeny to boarding schools that aped the pretensions of the originals, complete with coats of arms, obligatory buggery, and gothic grotesques leering from the parapets – nodding sagely and with no little satisfaction at Henry Luce’s editorials in Life magazine heralding the onset of the American Century.

There is quite a literature devoted to tracing the intellectual and organizational influence of Perfidious Albion on the worldview of the American foreign policy elite, but suffice to say here that it didn’t require any kind of conspiracy to foresee, as Chodorov did, the passing of the torch from the heirs of King George III to the descendants of his formerly rebellious subjects.

That the British empire expanded under the rubric of an openly racist doctrine, given full-throated if half-ironic expression in Kipling’s paean to the joys of the White Man’s Burden, is today acknowledged by all but the sort of unreconstructed Tories who don’t dare show their faces anymore. The British are so mortified by their dark legacy that they’ve outlawed even the faintest public expression of sympathy for the worldview that sustained it – and suffused British culture – since the Victorian era: today, in “free” Britannia, you can be arrested for making an ethnic joke in a pub – yet it is perfectly legal to call for (and launch) a war that will inevitably result in the deaths of untold numbers of dark-skinned peoples.

Which brings us to an interesting point: how is it that nearly all the perceived enemies of the US, the Western alliance, and “democracy” in general are non-whites? Look at the various Hitlers-of-the-year who have entered the pantheon of officially-designated villains and been subjected to a campaign of vigorous “regime change.” In the Reagan years it was the the Sandinistas, the Grenadians, the Salvadorans, the Brown Threat, which was supposedly inching up the Central American isthmus and would eventually get to Texas. Sure, there was also the Evil Empire, in those days, but they were just a bunch of white guys who were trying to horn in on Uncle Sam’s racket, a sin repeated by the Serbs after the Soviet collapse. Once they had the Slavs out of the way, the West once again took up the cudgels against the Colored Threat, from Manuel Noriega to Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi. Now the Iranians and the Syrians are getting their turn.

During the height of the black civil rights movement and the rise of black nationalism, this color-selectivity when it comes to choosing our enemies became all too readily apparent to large numbers of white radicals and African-Americans and other people of color: “No Viet Cong ever called me a n****r,” Muhammad Ali famously averred. This insight aroused so much controversy precisely because it exposed the underlying reality with such trenchant simplicity.

Don’t forget the specter of the Yellow Peril, which yet looms large in the neoconservative imagination – and it isn’t just the neocons anymore. Visions of an aggressive China haunt the nightmares of the Obama administration’s national security brain trust, which is overseeing the Great Strategic Shift away from an Atlantic-centric forward stance and extending its reach into the Pacific to meet the alleged Chinese Threat. Whether they can Japanize Beijing – i.e. bring it into the Core – before it becomes a credible military rival remains to be seen: in the meantime, however, Washington is making sure it stokes the fires of nationalistic resentment by intervening in the South China Sea dispute and planting the stars-and-stripes in Australia, where our newest base boasts some 2,500 troops, with more on the way you can be sure.

It’s a paradoxical fact of life in Imperial America that the more intolerant we are of racism – real or imaginary – here on the home front, the more blatantly ethnocentric our foreign policy becomes. This is reflected in the US government’s shocking disregard for non-white lives. The politically correct mandarins of Washington thought nothing of imposing murderous economic sanctions on non-white Iraq, a blockade that literally took the milk right out of the mouths of babies: many thousands perished. Our drones roam the skies over the Middle East and Africa, taking out scores of innocents in the pursuit of “terrorists.” Can you imagine a similar drone strike aimed at a terrorist cell in Hamburg, or Britain? Thought not.

Racism of the variety under discussion is the belief that a white life is worth more than a non-white life, and if the history of US military interventions in the post-9/11 era illustrates a single consistent principle, then it is surely that. When Robert Bales murdered 17 Afghan civilians, more than half of them children, the US government immediately cut the families checks for $40,000 for each victim – which, parsimonious as it is, represents a marked increase over what is usually offered. Imagine the uproar if they tried to get away with that in a white country.

This is why I tend to roll my eyes and sigh rather too loudly whenever I hear the cries of the “anti-racism” brigade calling for the head, or the job, of some harmless writer or other marginal figure who has been chosen as the subject of the latest Two Minute Hate. In the meantime, Obama’s army of drones, both mechanized and human, invades and devastates the nether regions of the non-white Non-Integrated Gap, wreaking death and destruction at will – while these “anti-racists” either sit in silence or stand and cheer.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, 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].