The supranational empire

WHENEVER those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you;

but when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree in making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily.” – The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)

The new supranational empire is possible because recent history and overwhelming coercion have rendered the majority of the world incapable of self-governance. The populations described in the first paragraph have almost all transitioned through the recommended procedures and they are now the second type which Machiavelli identified as easily controlled from a remote centre. Outside of a very few, very isolated first age tribal nations, there is no longer anything close to autonomy or self-governance anywhere on earth and memories and belief in its possibility have all but been erased. The transition through state control has made it far easier for the entire world to now be governed by multinational corporations.

First age tribal networks

For almost one hundred percent of human history, people lived in autonomous, networked tribes. Their feats of exploration and the knowledge handed down over generations were equal to or greater than more complex societies, even in highly specialized areas. The medicinal knowledge of the Kallawaya in pre and post Inca society included brain surgery in 700 CE and using quinine to cure malaria before anyone else.[cite] The navigation and seafaring skill of the Polynesians brought them to over 25 million square kilometres of territory between Easter Island, New Zealand and Hawaii and also took them to America and possibly close to Antarctica.[cite] Polynesians and probably many others were not following or seeking food. They explored even when their survival needs were all met. Kallawaya still travel great distances to share their knowledge and skill, not because they need to but because it is their accepted social responsibility to do so. Kallawaya traditional knowledge includes uses for almost a thousand plant species[cite] and Polynesian traditional knowledge allows them to navigate using 220 stars[cite]. All of this knowledge was preserved in oral tradition for hundreds or thousands of years and was shared by the tribe, held by those with the interest and aptitude to learn it.

When tribes created complex societies, their achievements were not always the result of imperial control or warlike competition. The water management and sewage systems of the Indus Valley around 2600 BCE have been called greater than what exists in the region today[cite]. At least two cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, had flush toilets and wells in every household, public and private baths and very sophisticated sewage and water retention systems[cite] in cities with no discernible state apparatus, priests, security forces or significant wealth disparity[cite]. The Caral society of the southern Andes has so far shown no evidence of violence or defensive architecture but they collaborated on monumental architecture and were one of the most densely populated early civilizations in the world[cite]. Hierarchy and oppression were evidently not necessary for the evolution or progress of civilization.

However, many very hierarchical and warlike empires emerged all over the world in the third millennium BCE as population densities increased. Early empires brought infrastructure, education, social evolution, religion, technology, judiciaries, all of the trappings of civilization which could be used to prove the benefits of alliances. The Inca fed ten million people with no hunger over a vast expanse in one of the world’s most difficult regions and created tiered agricultural zones to provide great food diversity and climate resistance in a solitary site[cite]. Kush used a water wheel to create agricultural surplus[cite]. Benin brought dozens of languages and ethnic groups to co-exist in one multi-cultural centre[cite].

Each showed unique motivations and methods for collaboration but all of the hierarchical nations required great strategy to manage as they inherited all of the responsibilities of the tribes. To maintain control, these empires required constant military presence, puppet governments which must be kept loyal, or very involved and physically present imperial governance. Although few hierarchical nations seriously disrupted the co-dependency of nations at their most base level, the relationships of families to each other and the peasants to the land, they all entrenched stratification and some level of bureaucracy and began the dissociation of relationships in communities.

Second age hierarchical trading nations

In the third millennium BCE, the first long distance trade route appeared between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.[cite] International trade meant other tribes and resources could be conquered for profit and trade provided motivation to produce and hoard more than any nation could personally use. With incredible speed, the great trade empires of the Middle East, China, India, Europe and Africa first obliterated all of the neighbouring societies not primarily built around trade and then spent the last two millennia fighting for dominance over trade routes, much as the same states and attempts at resurrected caliphates are still doing today.

The trade empires of the second age, like the Incas, Greeks and Aksumites, started by occupying neighbouring territory and sharing knowledge and systems of government, religion and philosophy as well as trade. While extensive tribal knowledge was always held by only a part of the tribe due to unequal ability and interest or tradition, the greatly increased amount of knowledge in the new complex societies required much more knowledge specialization. With the establishment of the trade economy, that knowledge specialization became knowledge ownership. Guilds and other traditions and laws were set up to protect that ownership.

Trade economies have always resulted in tribes protecting assets which could bring them trade advantage, whether it was a volcanic mountain as a source of obsidian or access to outside trading partners. The global trade economy produced a great increase in trade secrets from tulips, silk and ermine to knowledge on all topics. As trade expanded, so did the idea of ownership, not only of resources and knowledge but also of rights and access to trading partners. Militarized borders were created to protect this access, block competition and increase profit to merchants. Instead of walling cities and surrounding agricultural areas for protection against invaders, kingdoms began claiming trade routes and protecting economic markets. Later trade treaties created trade cartels and access to capital was restricted by strata.

The growth of trade meant occupation of huge tracts of land and control of populations were no longer necessary for great empires. Control of the trade routes was enough for wealth. With the move of the western Roman empire to Constantinople, Europe’s trade to Africa, the Middle East, India and China was controlled by one city. Instead of all roads leading to Rome, all roads went through Constantinople. The fall of the Western Roman Empire caused Europe to lose a great deal of the empire’s knowledge from the loss of trade and collaboration and also because stratification, guilds and literacy had locked knowledge into only a small part of society. This loss of knowledge plummeted Europe into a period their history called The Dark Ages. Long before Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Caliphate, when it was still simply the new seat of the Roman Empire, the Venetians found their control intolerable and sacked the city in 1204 with the help of the rest of Europe. The knowledge and plunder from the sacking and fall of Constantinople during the fourth crusade was enough to play a major role in kickstarting the European renaissance and Europe refused to go back to controlled trade access with the east.

During the fourth crusade, the sacking of Constantinople was said to be the result of a schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church with no explanation of what the plunder of gold and silk has to do with theological differences. After Constantinople fell again in 1453, this time to the Ottoman Empire, the European resistance to any control of their trade was framed as a Muslim vs Christian conflict, a ridiculous premise since both Roman and Greek empires had thrived (with aberrations) as polytheist states and the Ottoman Empire governed with millets, independent systems of law for each of the major religions under the empire. Intolerance existed, but the use of religion has never ceased being effective propaganda for wars to protect access to trade for the elite. Identical propaganda is still being used over the exact same trade routes today, by states and also by neo-caliphate groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram who use the promised second age of the caliphate to try to control trade once again.


Third age supranational empire

With the strengthening of Constantinople under the Ottoman Empire as the centre of trade once more, Europe was determined to circumvent the old routes and Ottoman control. Years of trade domination by the Middle East were finally broken by sea voyages from Europe which suddenly connected them directly with the entire world and allowed them to transport far more goods than had previously been possible by horse and camel caravans. As Europeans took to the sea in the late fifteenth century and established trade empires all over the world, they followed the Machiavellian maxim of occupation, slaughter or tribute until it became apparent that the old methods were not enough to hold a global empire.

The trade empires of Europe were hardly the first to exploit dependency or trade, but they were the first to use both to create a fully dissociated global empire. First, the trade empires would dismantle the entire social structure of a newly occupied people and establish dependency on trade at every level of society. Second, they would coerce the dependent people to trade something for nothing in the form of currency, debt payment, rights, intellectual property or other abstract, conceptual euphemisms for a tribute shakedown. The difference between these and former imperial tributes is that these new payments were to be made to corporations. Trade had fully abstracted the relationship between empires and the people they were exploiting. The newly dissociated and dependent societies would form the third age of nations, first under imperialism, then under puppet states and finally under a supranational corporate empire.

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

4 thoughts on “The supranational empire

  1. What are your thoughts on the possibility of a new Westphalia as a possible solution to this problem? Obviously the anarchist in you may not find the restoration of nationalism posited here as a positive thing but is it not possible this is a way forward:

    Seeking back to a system of nationalism seems to be the way the peasants are now going as a way to try and end the supra national empire that they finally realise is destroying them all. Indeed a great deal of the appeal of Trump to some on the Left was that he was not only talking about building strong borders to Human Labour (the infamous wall) but that he would finally restore borders to capital flows (his promise to tear up NAFTA). Obviously he has yet to do this so the proof will be in the pudding but he does talk lots about Fair Trade vs Free Trade. Which is very strange coming from a Republican. Especially in light of all the “Battle of Seattle” days in the late 90’s I remember as the anti Globalisation movement was still a icon of the LEFT at the time.

    This past election cycle seems to have turned everything backwards. Anyway interested to hear more on these topics from a great mind such as yours.


    • Hey,

      Thanks for your feedback. I sympathize with the author of this blogpost and some other nationalists, at least on some points. I see what it is they are trying to achieve and agree with some of their goals. I do not agree that their methods are going to help them achieve their goals. This book will have two more sections which will hopefully explain more clearly how I feel about borders and what sort of new structure I would like to try. In the meantime, Binding Chaos chapter Beyond nation states might help clarify.

      In brief re the blogpost:
      1. We have very different definitions of ‘supranational’. Theirs seems to be the same as ‘imperiial’ which is a form of governance. My definition is a power above governance. (That is also a topic for the next book.)
      2. The Treaty of Westphalia is a recent and regional point of history that cannot be studied by itself for any real understanding. More anon.
      3. This post (and most others) still wants to create a horizontal system out of many mini-hierarchies (states). It doesn’t work that way. The components dictate the shape of the whole, states brought us the UN, IMF etc and they will again.

      This answer is frustratingly incomplete but bear with me and let me know what you think when I finish the whole book (by May). And in the next book we can talk more about power! 😉


  2. Pingback: &#8212 Why are Southern Magnolia trees in Seattle?

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