On Empire

Empire: how is it created and sustained?

  1. Being right, making wrong. Certainty of rightness… of the best or only way. Dissent is dangerous to empire. Empire is a top-down conditioning process that puts all ducks in a row. “Ambivalence is what empires fear, because they need their subjects to believe that the dominant way of life is the only one and that there are no alternatives. In the Roman Empire ambivalence is what the early Christians embodied when they exposed the false gods of power who imposed their burdens on the masses, worshiping instead a God who rejected top-down power (Matt 4:8-11). This is what made them dangerous and it has been argued that this is what helped bring down the empire eventually.” Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2014/11/reconsidering-empire-does-it-matter/#ixzz3KagZh0DP
  2. Power and control through fear.  Empire is maintained through fear. Fearmongering is created, often through political and even religious propaganda, with many tentacles: healthcare, health, terror, immigration, the poor, race, drugs, religion, death, etc. Anything “different” or dissenting is a threat.

“In the globalizing empire of today, ambivalence is embodied in alternative movements that once again expose the false gods whose power is built on the backs of the many for the benefit of the few. The difference is that this power is exercised in more hidden but no less effective ways than in the past: instead of crucifixions, conquest and concentration camps, the threat of unemployment and financial ruin is what pacifies people, and the production of desire has reached new levels of intensity. And if movements continue to resist the peace of the empire (recall the Pax Romana), they will be dispersed by other means, from the common practice of union busting to the traumatizing raids of the encampments of the Occupy Wall Street movement around the nation.”

3. Invisibility. The tactics of empire are quite insidious in that it maintains itself through its own invisibility. Its subjects become submerged within it and their reality is shaped and determined by empire. If we could clearly see this, we, the people, would not so easily become its subjects.

“There is a historical lesson here: empires have in common the effort to control all of life, but they take on different shapes and forms. Some even look benevolent and most produce useful results like roads and technological progress. This makes them at times difficult to spot before it is too late, as the history of the church in Nazi Germany teaches us. Many Christians in Germany did not realize that carrying flags into churches might be a problem until after the empire had fallen.” Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2014/11/reconsidering-empire-does-it-matter/#ixzz3KajPDZcj

4. Structural inequality. Empire, by nature, is constructed on the building blocks of structural inequality, working across and at the intersections of target groups. Prestige and privilege serve to create structures of power that have a backlash of oppression among targeted groups of the powerless. Empire maintains itself through structural inequality which is itself maintained by invisibility. By suppressing and oppressing those that benefit the least from the privileges and power of empire, dissenting voices are also suppressed allowing for the ambivalence that is the “turning away” needed for the continuance of empire unquestioned.

5. Consumer Society (see more below). The systematic destruction of community dis-empowers “the People”.  When we professionalize “The Good” (individual and collective), our common good can then be dictated and controlled by the empire through the consumer society. Rather than community being the source of fulfilling our individual and collective needs and happiness, we contract it out to “those that know”, to the professionals. Not only does this dis-empower “the People” but it also creates silos that increase power and control by making the rich richer and the poor poorer. These “normal” but not “natural” cultural “ways” serve to increase “invisibility” and decrease dissent and the voice of “the People”. See more on the Consumer Society here: https://ronirvine.wordpress.com/abundant-community/


Questioning what we think we know…

“Empire in this sense is a more comprehensive term than culture because it incorporates more complex notions of culture (including the constant tensions between dominant and subaltern forms of culture) and because it incorporates concerns of power that commend to our attention a closer look at other phenomena as well, not only politics but also economics, and the complex ways in which these phenomena impact each other.” (Christ & Empire by Joerg Rieger)

“The scope of empire continues to widen throughout history. Current structures of empire are more all-encompassing than anything that has gone before, not only in terms of their geographical reach and ability to enforce order but also in their ability to reach into cultural and even personal spheres and to redefine them. One of the things that distinguishes contemporary empire from past empires is that its  pressures appear to be more overpowering, even as the structures of empire are less visible than ever before. In the present situation, those two qualities seem to go hand in hand. Where the Roman Empire built streets and highways, for instance, a praxis that was still crucial to the expansion of European colonialism centuries later, empire now is less dependent on such visible structures and moves through the superhighways of technology, which reach farther than ever before (all the way into people’s minds) and which are mostly invisible at the same time…

“Moreover, the invisibility of the broadening influences of empire, aided by rapid technological developments in the realm of virtual reality, makes resistance much more difficult since most people never realize what it is that shapes them, that reaches all the way into and creates their deepest desires. In the final analysis, the forces of marketing and cultural persuasion through entertainment and education, also transmitted through technological superhighways, appear to be more powerful and irresistible than highly visble military displays of power that have the added disadvantage of revealing the real face of the empire.” (Christ & Empire by Joerg Rieger, pp. 4-5)

Empire is all inclusive of the

Military industrial complex

Food industrial complex

Fashion industrial complex

Health Care industrial complex

Education industrial complex

Retail industrial complex

Political industrial complex

Religious industrial complex

etc etc etc


Empire also carries with it the economic structures that have trumped and eroded community, the consumer society:

“There’s a growing movement of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that real satisfaction and the good life cannot be provided by corporations, institutions, or systems. No number of great executives, central offices, technical innovations, or long-range plans can produce what a community can produce. People are discovering that satisfying possibilities for their lives are in the neighborhood, not in the marketplace.

“In a consumer society, these (basic) functions are removed from family and community and and provided by the marketplace; they are designed to be purchased. We now depend on systems to provide our basic functions. For example:

~ We expect the school, coaches, agencies, and sitters to raise our children. We deliver our children in the morning and pick them up later in the day. Same-day service, just like the laundry.

~ We expect doctors to keep us healthy. We believe in better living though chemistry. We think that youth, a flat stomach, a strong heart, even sexual desire are all purchasable.

~ We want social workers and institutions to take care of the vulnerable. Retirement homes are a growth industry marketing aging as the ‘golden years’ best spent in a resort-like environment with other old people.

“What this means is that the space that the family and community were designed to fill has been sold and is now empty.” (The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block (pp. 1 & 10).

See more on the Consumer Society here: https://ronirvine.wordpress.com/abundant-community/

More quotes from Christ & Empire by Joerg Rieger:

“The theological issue to be pursued in terms of Christ and empire is this: Throughout the history of Christianity, Christ has often been understood in terms of the ruling empires: the Christ of empire became the Christ of the church. Even if this identification is not explicit, our most common images of Christ are top-down images. Christ is on the side of those who are successful, who have made it. This attitude defines even the images of the Christ who cares about the downtrodden and the marginalized, as we imagine a Christ who lifts them up, who integrates them into mainline society so that they, too, can benefit from the powers that be and find their place in empire. This has become the default position for our thinking about Christ to such a degree that it is hard to think about Christ in other ways. In this project, I want to show that the images of the top-down Christ have not managed to block out alternative vision of Christ completely. There is hope that Christ will once again assert a fidderent reality that cannot be contained by the powers that be and that creates space for different ways of life in situations of empire where alternatives are systematically persecuted and blotted out.” (preface)

Empire, in sum, has to do with massive concentrations of power that permeate all aspects of life and that cannot be controlled by any one factor alone. This is one of the basic marks of empire throughout history. Empire seeks to extend its control as far as possible; not only geographically, politically, and economically — these factors are comonly recognized — but also intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, culturally, and religiously. The problem with empire is not primarily a moral one — it is not that all empires are necessarily equally evil and wrong. Some empires and certain modes of colonialism claim to promote benevolent causes, as we shall see. The problem with empire has to do with forms of top-down control that are established on the back of the empire’s subjects and that do not allow those within its reach to pursue alternative purposes. The problem with this approach can be seen in Christology: in a situation of empire Christ becomes part of the system to such a degree that little or no room exists for the pursuit of alternative realities of Christ. Empire displays strong tendencies to domesticate Christ and anything else that poses a challenge to its powers.” (pp. 2-3)

“In the history of empire, one of the common features of the varying structures of empire has to do with the fact that they are so overpowering and so pressing that those living under their rule cannot remain neutral. They have no other choice than to develop forms of resistance, however small and insignificant, or surrender through acquiescent support, manifested often in the peoplethe simple silence of a people about the reality of the various empires in which they live. In the history of Christianity, both attitudes have found expression in many different forms. Resistance to empire is manifest in the lives of Jesus, of Paul, and in parts of the early church. At the same time, acquiescent support of empire can also be found in some of the earliest traditions, and this support becomes more pronounced when the church begins to benefit more and more from the powers of empire. Today, faced with an empire that is more all-pervasive and thus in many ways more overpowering than anything in the past, the questions are whether anything other than acquiescence can still be imagined and — this is the christological question posed in this book — whether there is something in the reality of Jesus Christ’s peculiar refusal to acquiesce to empire that continues to inspire us in the broadest sense of the word.” (p. 4, Christ & Empire by Joerg Rieger)

The “Consumer Society” of Empire contrasted with Ancient Wisdom

“The question is, ‘what is it that causes cultures to figure out how to live in balance and move into life that is good. If you read Peter Farb’s book “Man’s Rise to Civilization”, he goes through all these different cultures at first contact. And they often figured out very different ways, but one thing in common was this, THE ACCUMULATION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY BEYOND YOUR NEEDS IS CONSIDERED A MENTAL ILLNESS.” (from the movie, I Am)

“Nature is very clear, there is one fundamental law that all of nature obeys that mankind breaks everyday… nothing in nature takes more that it needs. And if something does, it becomes subject to this law and it dies off. An ocean, a rainforest, the human body are all cooperatives. A redwood tree does not take all of the soil’s nutrients, just what it needs to grow. A lion does not kill every gazelle, just one. WE HAVE A TERM FOR SOMETHING IN THE BODY WHEN IT TAKES MORE THAN ITS SHARE. WE CALL IT CANCER.” (from the movie “I am”)

It is a real challenge for a culture that is confronting a cancerous or mentally ill culture. “You can either allow them to destroy you. Or you can run, which many groups did. Or you can become them. The fourth option that many ancient cultures hoped for was that you can heal the people of their mental illness” … or cancer. (from the movie “I Am”)


3 Responses “On Empire” →
  1. Excellent article/summation. I would say a MUST read for anyone who is a “truther” and would be free!


2 Trackbacks For This Post
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