What Wikileaks is Teaching Us about Empire

I’ve been going back and forth on what I think about the Wikileaks release of State Department cables. I generally come down on the side of Wikileaks, but the State Dept memos dump seemed more like a stunt, as opposed to the earlier release of Iraq material. Francis Shor’s essay, WikiLeaks, Ideological Legitimacy, and the Crisis of Empire, excerpted below, helped me analyze the information release and especially the dangerous backlash through the lens of how empires operate. Empires are almost always antithetical to the dreams of God for how humanity can be. They sacrifice human dignity and feed on fear.

Shor teaches at Wayne State in Detroit and wrote “Dying Empire: U.S. Imperialism and Global Resistance” (find more on the web site www.dyingempire.org). I particularly appreciate Shor bringing in Filipino scholar-activist Walden Bello, a leading defender of empowering the Global South.

While empires try to maintain their hegemony through economic and military prowess, they must also rely on a form of ideological legitimacy to guarantee their rule. Such legitimacy is often embedded in the geopolitical reputation of the empire among its allies and reluctant admirers. Once that reputation begins to unravel, the empire appears illegitimate. …

Given the battered economic and military standing of the United States over the past several years, the hysterical reaction of the American political class over the recent release of State Department cables by WikiLeaks is not surprising. However, it is instructive to note the response of those in the West to such “displays (of) imperial arrogance and hypocrisy” as reported by Steven Erlanger in The New York Times. Erlanger cites an important editorial from the Berliner Zeitung that underscores the question of ideological legitimacy: “The U.S. is betraying one of its founding myths: freedom of information. And they are doing so now, because for the first time since the end of the cold war, they are threatened with losing worldwide control of information.” …

In their desperation to retain the empire, the US political class is undermining the remaining vestiges of the empire’s legitimacy over the WikiLeaks affair. They may also be preparing to expand the definition of treason to include those who are dedicated, as is Assange and WikiLeaks, to freedom of information, especially when it reveals the duplicities of empire. Beyond WikiLeaks, the crisis of empire, according to Filipino scholar-activist Walden Bello, “bodes well not only for the rest of the world. It may also benefit the people of the United States. It opens up the possibility of Americans relating to other people as equals and not as masters.” …

Read the full essay here.

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