The End of the American Empire

The Challenges and Choices Facing the United States in the Twenty-First Century - and the Positive Change Needed to Save It

We warmly welcome Patrick Watts, author of The End of The American Empire, as our featured author this month. His book is written from a sympathetic and non-partisan perspective and addresses the current climate as America gears up for the 2024 presidential election. With bracing honesty and compassionate concern, Patrick’s book lays out the historical, political, socio-economic and geopolitical reasons why the American Empire might crumble sooner rather than later, with enormous domestic and global consequences unless action is taken at every level to bring about necessary change. In his article, Patrick gives the reader an overview of the issues involved, inviting us to join in a meaningful dialogue conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and concern for a better future.

You can interact with Patrick on our AoM Forum here.

Patrick will host a live ‘meet the author’ Q&A towards the end of the year. A link to join this will be available soon. 


The idea for my first book: The End of the American Empire, was conceived in January 2021, during the final weeks of the Trump administration, as I prepared to complete my MA dissertation in International Relations and Contemporary Warfare. My study into the lasting effects of the Trump presidency on established democratic and international norms seemed to be writing itself. Rioters, spurred on by their commander-in-chief, stormed the Capitol building and American democracy was shown to be vulnerable and not as invincible as we had always believed. This violent attempt to subvert democracy, and the subsequent whitewashing of the events by the Republican members of an increasingly partisan Congress, only served to heighten my belief that we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the American Empire.

The motive for writing this book is not to attack, as a foreign commentator, what is, in many respects, a great country, with great people. I have driven thousands of miles of US highways, visited blue states and red, city and country, Atlantic and Pacific, and my feelings about America have progressed from trepidation to awe, to affection and finally to concern. It is in this spirit that I have written this book, to highlight the warning signs that appear to me to be simultaneously glaring and terrifying, in the potentially naive hope that this decline can be postponed.

I am also under no illusions as to the many faults and past transgressions of the American Empire during its time in the sun, but I have greater concerns for how the world may look after a democratic decline, with authoritarian regimes rising to challenge the established norms of governance. I also have no partisan motive to attack either the Republicans or the Democrats; I simply wish to observe the factors that are driving the parties further apart, creating a “cold civil war” in which agreement and compromise are treated with contempt. The dearth of credible enemies without has driven many to seek enemies within. As political fault lines widen and intolerant discourse spreads, cordial differences of opinion are replaced by expressions of visceral hatred. Shared history and core American values are increasingly forgotten.

This book is also no lazy critique of President Trump. I view him not as evil or deranged but as both a skilled opportunist and a troll par excellence, able to identify and leverage the grievances of many of his countryfolk, to assist in his primary goal: individual aggrandizement above all else. To simply blame one man, or even one party, for American decline would be both wilfully ignorant and dangerously short-sighted.

The world is always changing, and history has not ended. It is inevitable that America’s global dominance, or unipolarity, will give way to multipolarity (if it has not already). What is yet to be decided is the timeline of this change and how the world will look geopolitically after this has come to pass. This book aims to highlight the causal factors, both within the US and internationally, which may provide insight into these two great unknowns.

One final point before we begin: I urge every reader to keep in mind why this book, and indeed this article, was written. Many of you will disagree with some or indeed all of what I say, but to you I offer the following invitation. Rather than hurl insults, why not use your energy more effectively: let’s engage in a meaningful dialogue, conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and concern for a better future.

What is the American Empire? The label itself provokes argument and disagreement among scholars, diplomats and policymakers. No longer seen as a source of pride, “empire” is now a dirty word, replete with negative connotations, conjuring up images of subjugation and oppression. Those who possess empires and enjoy the associated benefits are at pains to explain why their critics are wrong, and many Americans are particularly keen to argue that global US dominance is, in fact, “different”, benign and well-intentioned.

The first task to address is to explain why – contrary to popular opinion, especially within the US – the label of “empire” can and should be attached to US hegemony and global dominance. It may have been masterfully hidden and packaged as something different but make no mistake: this is a modern empire in every sense of the word that matters. This is of vital importance, as only once this point has been understood can we view the decline of American geopolitical hegemony through the prism of empire and thereby apply the lessons of the past.

Once the definition of “American Empire” has been accepted, we can examine the decline of previous empires, highlighting patterns and similarities with regard to the American Empire today. Do empires collapse due to overexpansion and military misadventure? Sickness and plague? Environmental factors? Largesse and decadence, as victims of their own success? Do they implode through competing domestic interests and civil war, or are they toppled by rising peer competitors? In The End of the American Empire, I examine these historical questions to establish precedents that will guide us in our study.

We must also address the individual aspects of American Empire that could result in its demise before this century is over. A necessary focus must be placed on the internal pressures that can cause an empire to collapse from within. For this to occur, powerful factors must degrade the social fabric that unites the citizenry in striving for a common cause. Seemingly inconsequential decisions can have significant consequences as existing grievances are exacerbated and discontent catches fire. Inequality of wealth is a key issue in this area and will be addressed thoroughly. The entrenchment of political positions of “faux-left” and “faux-right” must also be examined, as traits from each construct deepen existing divisions. The faux-right pursues a destructive goal of “individual freedom at any cost”, while the faux-left uses cultish identity politics and puritanical assaults on free thinking to further label and divide. Civil unrest arising from structural injustices based on race or gender is weaponized and exploited by media and politicians from both parties, rather than addressed and alleviated. A nation whose history is inextricably linked to genocide, racism and subjugation, therefore, cannot confront and heal these wounds, as these painful subjects are instead repurposed as a reflection of partisan loyalty. Meanwhile, religious fundamentalism drives Republican policy to an alarming degree in an educated, secular, Western democracy. Rigid adherence to fringe beliefs, at odds with the majority of the population, guides policymakers and judges to restrict individual freedoms for women seeking abortions from unwanted pregnancies.

While the social fabric is fraying, the US political system is broken. The two parties now exist in a state of permanent disagreement, claiming and blindly defending ideological beachheads at the expense of all else. Compromise and the back-and-forth of opposing ideas are banished to history as relics of a bygone era. There exists instead a new political reality: a cold civil war is being fought within America’s oligarchical class. Career politicians flourish in a system seemingly designed for corruption –unlimited congressional and senatorial terms; billions of dollars flowing from special-interest groups; industry, religion and ideology shaping elections and the voting intentions of elected officials. The revolving door between private and public sectors ensures that officials can move seamlessly from one to the other, enriching themselves in the process. The decisions they make in government are likely to be motivated by their future outside of it. Elected officials are able to move in and out of stock-market positions using insider information, all while claiming to protect the sanctity of the “free market”. The financial system is so complex that those responsible for the largest crash since the Great Depression are not sent to jail, but instead installed in treasury positions – poaching turned gamekeeping writ large. A system of government designed two centuries ago, whose arcane processes have become unfit for purpose, cannot be replaced without provoking accusations of treason against the wishes of the revered founding fathers. The Supreme Court, supposed to represent the highest independent judiciary, is instead stacked on ideological grounds and its rulings are often out of step with the majority of the citizens who will be governed by its decisions. It is not hyperbole to talk of the potential secession of liberal coastal states, aghast at the erosion of reproductive rights for their citizenry. The Electoral College, widely seen as ceremonial but with huge constitutional power, had its procedures nearly hijacked by a president intent on keeping power.

The use of chicanery and deception to subvert democracy is not new, as seen in the 2000 presidential election and George W. Bush’s early declaration of “victory” in Florida. Attempts to legislate are stymied by the filibuster in the Senate; for the outside observer, this is the most ludicrous example of a broken political system. Rather than attempt to seek common ground and compromise in the interests of the people, an individual politician will instead effectively end a debate by speaking for many hours on often irrelevant topics. Is it any wonder that trust in politicians and the political system is at an all-time low?

Whereas this distrust would be a problem for a single party, America’s oligarchical class can continue to flourish by ensuring that, with a few exceptions, everyone continues to play the game. The 2016 election of Donald Trump, a billionaire playing to perfection the role of aggrieved everyman outsider, was in part a reaction to the reality of an exclusive and elitist political system. The oligarchical class provides pantomime political theatre by highlighting superficial differences to keep the public from examining the reality of the system too closely. The average person is not expected to understand how laws are made. This is perhaps fortunate, as the reality of bills passing to committee, just to be bastardized into a Frankenstein’s monster, would be horrifying to any who truly understood the process. With these issues at the heart of US politics, is it surprising that Trump’s “Big Lie” of a stolen election is believed by over a third of the population?

We are in dangerous territory, as democracy, like any other human-made construct, only exists for as long as people believe in it and grant it power. If it is shown to be a fugazi, a fraud, it will lose the power to control – and this power will not be easily reclaimed. Without thorough action to tackle every deficiency mentioned above, American democracy, and subsequently the American Empire, is likely to enter a death spiral from which it cannot recover. A nation built so heavily on the idea of freedom, whether or not it has always lived up to this ideal, cannot now endure under any other system of government than a liberal democracy.

It is not simply the political class that is involved in the waging of this “cold civil war”. The level of distrust and division in the country would not be possible without the concerted efforts of a partisan media. Traditionally acting as a check on power, the fourth estate, with few exceptions, has been transformed into a partisan mouthpiece designed to use outrage to attract clicks, likes, views and shares. The packaging of news as infotainment, available 24/7, can be viewed as the beginning of the end of objective media in the US. There are few media outlets – in print, on the airwaves, or online – that can be seen as truly independent, and this leaves the public to “pick a side” and consume their version of current affairs from a cheerleader similarly aligned. This skewed reporting of events, seen constantly through the partisan prism, reduces discourse to mud-slinging and angry invective.

To compound matters, aggressively partisan opinion pieces are presented as fact, and token representatives from the opposing side are offered up as straw men to be smugly dispatched by the standard-bearers of one’s chosen side. To reduce politics to sport is a dangerous game, as once people have been taught to hate their own countrymen and women, it is difficult to bring them together again when necessary to avoid or respond to crisis. The rise of social media is also significant, further damaging the discourse by disseminating unchecked “facts” without any shred of journalistic integrity or peer review. The weaponizing of “fake news” and deepfake videos will further distort the idea of objective truth and fact, leaving the average citizen confused, misled or simply distrusting of anything and everything that does not fit their existing worldview.

The rising belief in conspiracy theories, and the weaponisation of the term to shut down independent thought, must also be examined, as this represents both the logical end point of growing distrust and a significant threat to the idea of fact-based discourse. This situation is not helped by the numerous failures of traditional authorities and institutions to investigate the truth and present it to the public. Is it surprising that the 9/11 truth movement exists when certain events during the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 were manufactured to justify escalation of the Vietnam War? Are we shocked that people question the accepted narrative of the Wuhan wet market being the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic when the same journalists regurgitated lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? And do we want to ignore the uncomfortable reality that a lot of impoverished white Americans feel so unvalued and disrespected that they gravitate toward QAnon and other conspiracies denouncing the rich and powerful?

It is not simply internal pressures that threaten the American Empire, and we must also examine the idea that an empire can be toppled under pressure from external forces. The changing nature of warfare must be examined, as the realist doctrine of military “might is right” is challenged by changing attitudes to warfare as well as technological and strategic developments. For previous empires, potential competitors could be attacked preventatively to stymie their rise before they could become a realistic military threat. Attitudes to conflict have now changed after the world wars of the twentieth century; any military action must be packaged not in terms of glory and heroic victory but with PR-friendly motivations, like humanitarian intervention and liberation of oppressed peoples. The coming of the internet and the digital age has removed the state monopoly on information and undermined the state’s ability to conduct successful propaganda campaigns. The public is rightly distrustful of its government’s motivations for warfare after the truth emerged regarding US involvement in Vietnam and Iraq.

Fake news and misinformation have now been weaponized by domestic and international forces to further entrench these feelings of distrust and reduce any support for military actions that lead to bloodshed. What good, US strategists may wonder, are the most sophisticated and expensive aircraft carriers, battlegroups and military hardware the world has ever known, if you are unable to use these resources against your potential enemies? In the same context, wars for conquest and control of territory now seem outdated, the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed as at best pyrrhic victories and, at worst, humiliating failures.

The changing nature of warfare also presents further limitations, as traditional military might is undermined by new technologies. Interconnected societies are at risk of attack from cyber actors, both state and private, who require only a laptop and an internet connection to wreak havoc. A renewed military space race now exists, with both China and Russia possessing the ability to destroy orbital satellites from the ground, adding an unpredictable theatre to future war planning. Exotic technologies that are being developed apace further threaten the traditional military paradigm, with areas as outlandish as genetic modification and AI moving from science fiction to potential science fact.

We must also look at the forces at play on the global stage, as the international system reacts to the unmasking of America’s “Hollywood myth” of being motivated by purely benign intentions. The carefully crafted façade of the American Empire has been exposed, revealing motives that are too often cynical and self-serving. If the cruel and indiscriminate massacres in Vietnam and Laos began this unmasking process, then misadventure in Iraq – driven principally by a lust for oil rather than the urge to spread liberty – has compounded the loss of the moral high ground enjoyed after the world wars of the twentieth century. Support for unpopular partners like Israel and Saudi Arabia, and tolerance of their cruel policies toward the Palestinians and Yemeni rebels respectively, further exacerbate the problem. Globalization itself, the engine of American Empire that shaped the world for decades after the Second World War, is under attack from all sides. Nations are increasingly retreating from multinationalism to protectionism, while the actions of President Trump did more to damage the US-led, rules-based order than any adversary has accomplished.

Within this new reality, the rise of China continues at pace; this single-party state is able to plan for generations, not election cycles. Patience has historically not been an issue for China, but impending demographic collapse caused by an aging population and years of depressed birth rates may well shake things up. Chinese motivations and actions must be examined in depth in an effort to understand the threat posed to the American Empire by its Asian rival.

There also exists environmental threats to the American Empire, some specific to the US and some affecting the entire world. While climate change is quite rightly the most discussed concern in this regard, it is by no means the only environmental threat. Numerous issues require attention if the US is to ensure that its future citizens will be able to breathe clean air, grow sufficient food and respond to viral outbreaks or the spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

It is not enough to simply observe events passively, and we must also aim to peer into the future and look at what could come next. This is never an exact science given that there are so many factors at play, but the conclusions in this book are meant more as guidelines to possible outcomes than predictions made with psychic certainty. Will US democracy survive in its current form if Donald Trump or a fellow election denier wins the presidential election in November 2024? If the Republicans lose, will they simply complain of a “Bigger Lie”, and how would the nation’s military, judicial and legislative institutions respond? Thinking globally, how will the US behave when confronted with its diminishing hegemony? A slow retreat into isolationism or a catastrophic confrontation with China, either pre-emptively or in reaction to any of the numerous flashpoints currently simmering? Will it be an invasion of Taiwan, actions in the South China Sea or an issue unknown at this point in time that lights the fuse for military confrontation?

The decline of American influence, and the end of the American Empire, is inevitable, like that of all empires before it. But the crucial questions are about the timing, the suffering that might be involved or avoided, and how the world will look in the aftermath. It is one thing to simply observe events as they occur, chronicling for future generations and this was the original intention of The End of the American Empire. During the process of writing, however, it soon became clear that more was needed, and to function as merely an observer was an abdication of responsibility.

There is a much-quoted maxim: “Take the world as it is, not as you think it ought to be”. I disagree. This is defeatist and only serves to limit our thinking as a species. I prefer to be clear-eyed about the realities of the current global situation, while also striving to think better and dream bigger.

At the heart of that maxim is an assumption that realism is the dominant force shaping international relations and, ultimately, human interactions on a global scale. Realism is the theory in international relations that the world is a chaotic and dangerous place, with nation-states engaged in constant competition with one another to obtain and wield power. While I believe that this state of affairs is evident through much of human history, I do not believe that realism represents the pinnacle of where we should be aiming as a species. It stresses contest over collaboration and power over compassion.

The very nature of this mindset fosters a zero-sum ideology – my gain can only come at your loss – which I see as fundamentally destructive for humanity as a whole. I believe that realism does not represent the inevitable state of human interactions, but it has been the default setting, and the easy option, for much of human history. When alternative models of collaboration are explored but do not immediately seem to succeed, the reflex response is a return to the realist mindset. We might be tempted to view this as “human nature”, but the realist mindset simply ensures that, whatever its origins, we will never escape this destructive world view.

This brings me to a crucial question that many readers may still be asking: why do I argue for the continuation of the American Empire, and warn of the dangers of its collapse? Surely the world is better off without an empire like this. An empire that has been responsible for so much harm, destruction and misery for so many people around the world. An empire that is ruled by a reverence for a broken capitalist model that perpetuates selfishness and inequality and spreads this ideology across the globe. An empire with a ruling class mired in corruption and supported by a meek and complicit media class. An empire that regularly employs staggering double standards to justify inhumane actions by itself and its allies while simultaneously condemning the same actions by those it opposes. Is any empire, or hegemon, by its very nature antagonistic to global collaboration? Would a more multipolar world not be better for all, with many states of similar strength jostling for influence?

No, I do not believe so. My reasoning is simple: I am taking the world as it is, but also how I think it ought to be. The reality is that the most likely alternative to the current state of affairs is not democratic and collaborative – it is authoritarian and intolerant.

The reflexive resort to realism still exists, and for a new paradigm to take hold it will require leadership by example: genuine, unhypocritical leadership that shows the world the benefits of an equitable reality for all, where people are treated with respect and dignity. America has all the attributes required to be this leader, to evolve into a compassionate empire that serves to help all mankind.

This type of leadership could bring about an aspirational multipolar reality, one of collaboration not competition. America’s size, language, natural resources, position of security, influence, and stable demographic outlook make it the only possible candidate for this role today. Above all, it has also demonstrated an ability to reflect on past mistakes and make efforts to avoid repeating the same errors in future. The words of two American presidents illustrate this best. President Obama’s acknowledgement in 2016 of the toll inflicted by US bombings of Laos during the Vietnam War was a crucial first step. President Biden’s warning to Israel after the Hamas atrocities of October 2023 built upon this, urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to not follow American example in reacting to 9/11 and be “consumed” by rage. Biden conceded that America had “sought justice and got justice” but also that it had “made mistakes”.i

It is easy to dismiss the words of both presidents as empty rhetoric, but I believe they represent more. A nation that is willing to reflect on and apologize for even some of its mistakes is rarer than you might think. For a hegemon or empire to do so, while still in a position of global dominance, is unheard of. Can you picture Putin apologizing for the massacre at Grozny or Xi Jinping apologizing for Tiananmen Square, even in their current geopolitical position, let alone if they enjoyed America’s superiority?

America is an empire in its relative infancy; it can and must evolve in the interest of its own survival but also to help bring about a fairer future for the world. One thing is for certain: the status quo will not lead to the achievement of these goals. As access to information continues to expand, widening inequality and the hypocrisy of America’s oligarchical class are becoming harder to conceal and, therefore, harder to ignore. Advances in technology will only exacerbate this situation in the future. The leadership of both the major political parties should consider the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and take a look at themselves:

I should like to have it said of my first administration that the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.ii

As we have seen, there is much that needs to change, and there will be much opposition from an entrenched oligarchical class, but a better future is possible for those brave enough to strive for it. I end my book as I began it, with optimism and a clarion call for change. Change centred on four specific areas:

Capitalism 2.0. Democracy reimagined. Compassionate international relations. New media.

If there is one message I wish readers to take away from my book, it is this: the American people deserve better and must demand better. The oligarchical class must recognize the dangerous ground on which they tread, as rampant inequality, disputes over succession legitimacy, military misadventure, economic oppression and environmental degradation have all led to the fall of many empires in the past. Hopefully, new generations with less susceptibility to groupthink, fewer entrenched views, and greater faith in what can and should be achieved will be able to take the American Empire forward, for the good of the country and the benefit of the world.

I look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with you all, in a spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and striving toward a better, more just future for all humanity. Lasting change can develop from a ripple into a wave.

Help us make it happen.


The End of the American Empire is available to buy now in Paperback, E-reader and Audible. Head to www.patrickwattsbooks.com for more info, podcast and media appearances, sign up to my bi-weekly newsletter, and for links to retailers to purchase in your chosen format.

Endorsements 

“A charismatic and erudite display of a fascinating worldview…less about the when but more interestingly about the why and the how.”-Ryan Faulkner-Hogg, Host of the Curious Worldview Podcast

“This guy may not be American, he’s British, but he sure as hell does know a lot about our country.”-Bob Gatty, Host of the Lean to the Left Podcast

i Julian Borger, “Biden tells Israel not to ‘repeat mistakes’ made by US after 9/11”, Guardian, 18 October 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/18/joe-biden-urges-israel-not-be-consumed-by-rage-pledges-support-netanyahu-gaza-hamas

ii Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Address at Madison Square Garden, New York City”, 31 October 1936, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-madison-square-garden-new-york-city-1

The End of the American Empire

The Challenges and Choices Facing the United States in the Twenty-First Century - and the Positive Change Needed to Save It

Patrick Watts obtained his bachelor’s degree in History at Birmingham University in England. While working as a chartered financial adviser, he completed his master’s degree in International Relations and Contemporary Warfare at King’s College London within the Department of War Studies. His dissertation, “Method not madness: discourse analysis to examine how President Trump has attempted to alter NATO principles, identity and culture”, laid the groundwork for his first book, The End of the American Empire.

Patrick is currently studying to complete his MSc degree with the Alef Trust, in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. Based in London, he has travelled widely across the United States, developing a deep and non-partisan understanding of American politics, culture and society.

Visit PatrickWattsBooks.com for more information, or follow him on Instagram @patrickwattsbooks.

5 thoughts on “The End of the American Empire: The Challenges and Choices Facing the United States in the Twenty-First Century – and the Positive Change Needed to Save It”

  1. Kennan says:

    Very thought provoking. Not only spot on observations, but thoughtful suggestions. Thank you.

  2. Duane says:

    You didn’t ask the most important question, is it worth saving? This ,like every other european nation, is based on the worst aspects of human nature. You cannot build a home if the ground is soaked with blood.

    1. Edmond Furter says:

      Duane, do you have any shining examples of any culture, or any civilisation, or any empire, built and sustained on the best aspects of human nature? Which are ‘worth saving’?

      1. Howard Parker says:

        Cuba? Its not perfect but its broadly doing the right thing and would be doing better if the USA got off its back

  3. Curtis Carey says:

    Your views are quite interesting. I have found, as I did when I started understanding Graham Hancock’s view of what we have been told about history. That sometimes the perception of things are quite different as you open your eyes and start to try to really understand it. As some of your views on things may be quite different if you open your eyes to try to really understand it. Thanks for your time.

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