The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall

Overview

In The Rule of Empires, Timothy Parsons gives a sweeping account of the evolution of empire from ancient Rome to its most recent twentieth-century embodiment. He explains what constitutes an empire, what empires of the past can tell us about our own historical moment, and perhaps most important, why empires always fail.

Writing from the perspective of the common subject rather than that of the imperial conquerors, Parsons offers a historically grounded cautionary tale rich with ...

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Overview

In The Rule of Empires, Timothy Parsons gives a sweeping account of the evolution of empire from ancient Rome to its most recent twentieth-century embodiment. He explains what constitutes an empire, what empires of the past can tell us about our own historical moment, and perhaps most important, why empires always fail.

Writing from the perspective of the common subject rather than that of the imperial conquerors, Parsons offers a historically grounded cautionary tale rich with accounts of subjugated peoples throwing off the yoke of empire time and time again. The book takes us inside ancient Rome's conquest of Britain, Muslim rule in Spain, Spain's empire in Peru, Britain's "new" imperialism in India and Kenya, and the Third Reich's occupation of France, among other examples. Parsons illuminates the features common to all these empires, their evolutions and self-justifying myths, and the reasons for their inevitable decline. He argues that far from confirming some sort of Darwinian hierarchy of advanced and primitive societies, these conquests were invariably the product of a temporary advantage in military technology, wealth, and political will. And beneath the self-justifying rhetoric of benevolent paternalism and cultural superiority lay a naked desire for power—in short, to loot the wealth and exploit the labor of conquered peoples. Imperial ambitions are still viable in the twenty-first century, Parsons shows, because their defenders and detractors alike employ abstract and romanticized perspectives that fail to grasp the historical reality of subjugation.

In providing an accurate picture of what it is like to live as a subject, The Rule of Empires lays bare the rationalizations of imperial conquerors and their apologists and exposes the true limits of imperial power.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wide ranging, richly detailed, lucidly written, this compelling history of empires stresses the subject peoples on whose back these polities were built and whose resistance often caused their collapse. With his shrewdly selected mix of case studies, Parsons provides us with an important and timely rejoinder against those who romanticize imperial rule." —Dane Kennedy, George Washington University

"How refreshing to read a history of imperialism aimed at a broad audience that refuses to blur or soften the brutal effects and origins of empire.... Parsons offers a refreshing, engaging and cogently argued counterweight to the more usual neo-conservative reckoning of empire's alleged benefits." —Philippa Levine, H-Net

"A lucid, cold-eyed analysis of the mechanics of imperial control. The result is a compelling critique of empires past and of their latter-day nostalgists." —Publishers Weekly

"Parsons, an Africanist by training, samples instructive imperial experiences: Roman Britain, Muslim Spain, Spanish Peru, the East India Company in Italy, Napoleonic Italy, British Kenya, and Vichy France." —Charles S. Maie, Foreign Affairs

"Parsons sets an ambitious agenda for his case study on empires and largely succeeds. Explicitly setting out to counter the neoimperialist historiography of the last decade, Parsons uses a series of historic imperial episodes to illustrate the limits of empire and explain why empires subsequently fall.... Students of empire, historical or otherwise, would be well advised to read this book.... Highly recommended." —Choice

"Parsons deserves to be commended for tackling such a key question in imperial studies. He offers a thought-provoking interpretation of the dynamics of empire from ancient to modern manifestations. His questions touching the evolution of empires merit serious consideration by historians." —Jodie Mader, Thomas More College

"Parsons aims, laudably, to correct the imbalances... apologists of empire have introduced in readers' minds." —Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Times Literary Supplement

"Vigorously written and intellectually engaging...there should be little dissent from the relevancy of its anti-imperialist imperative in the twenty-first century." —David Levering Lewis, The Journal of Modern History

Publishers Weekly
Unhappy empires are, in crucial respects, all the same—and happy ones don't exist, according to this incisive study. Historian Parson (The British Imperial Century, 1815–1914) surveys imperial regimes from Rome's rule in ancient Britain to Spain's in Peru, Britain's in India and Kenya, and Nazi Germany's occupation of France. He identifies a single mercenary purpose behind these diverse examples: to loot the wealth and exploit the labor of conquered peoples. At the same time, he argues, stable rule requires the cooperation and assimilation of imperial subjects, which sets up a fatal contradiction—as an empire co-opts its subjects, it becomes harder to profitably exploit them, and the financial underpinnings of empire crumble. Challenging neo-imperialists like Niall Ferguson, the author insists that there is no such thing as benign empire; he fingers Britain's allegedly “liberal” empire as one of the most dysfunctional, because of its racist refusal to assimilate its populace. Parsons draws together an enormous amount of scholarship into a lucid, cold-eyed analysis of the mechanics of imperial control. The result is a compelling critique of empires past and of their latter-day nostalgists. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199931156
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 935,926
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy Parsons is a Professor of African History at Washington University. He is the author many books, including The British Imperial Century, 1815-1914: A World History Perspective and The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Subjects of Empire
1. Roman Britain: The Myth of the Civilizing Empire
2. Muslim Spain: Blurring Subjecthood in Imperial Al-Andalus
3. Spanish Peru: Empire by Franchise
4. Company India: Private Empire Building
5. Napoleonic Italy: Empire Aborted
6. British Kenya: The Short Life of the New Imperialism
7. France Under the Nazis: Imperial Endpoint
Conclusion: Imperial Epitaph

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