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What causes empires to form?

  1. Apr 12, 2007 #1
    why do empires form?

    What causes empires/superpowers to form - megolomania,economics or the need to be protected from enemies?
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
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  3. Apr 12, 2007 #2


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    What is your definition of "empire" and "superpower"? The most simplistic definition of "superpower" has it as just a label given to the largest power in the world (or two, if there are two near-equal). So there isn't any cause needed unless you are asking what causes countries to be powerful.

    The US became powerful because it has a large and resourceful land area and a government well-designed to stimulate economic growth.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
  4. Apr 12, 2007 #3
    Is it the case that the US is powerful because it attracts the best educated people from around the world, with high salaries? Centuries ago the Japanese took the best educated Koreans by force from Korea and this made Korea backward compared to Japan.Getting your hands on the educated people seems to help.
  5. Apr 12, 2007 #4


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    No, most of our immigrants are relatively uneducated. They come here for a better life because they don't have on in their home country. Usually, though, they have highly motivated children.
  6. Apr 12, 2007 #5
    All of the above, certainly, but I believe there is a cultural aspect to empire as well.

    For instance, the Roman empire had a culture of conquest. By that I mean that Roman society highly valued military prowess and richly rewarded those who demonstrated this ability by expanding or defending the empire, rewarded them not only materially but also socially through increased status and influence (power), which in turn brought into play any number of motivating individual psychological factors.

    Another cultural motivation for empire I will call the Rule of Divine Right. Let's take as an example another now defunct empire so as not to inadvertently offend anyone. The Egyptian pharaohs and their subjects believed that the pharaohs were divine. Being gods, it quite naturally follows that all people, places and things belong to them and are subject to their will. Whatever they wanted they took because to their way of thinking it belonged to them already. Any defiance was an insult and a threat to the natual order of things and therefore had to be summarily squelched militarily.

    Just my opinion.
  7. Apr 13, 2007 #6
    Same could be said of the Persians too. But not of the Greeks or Romans, or even the Ottomans.

    I cant think of any 1 thing that is in common with the building of empires, except the want for Power, that seems to be the only common thread through all the empires of old and new.


    All expanded their influence in political, economical, cultural, and resource within other geographical area’s and countries and thus their power.
  8. Apr 13, 2007 #7
    Climate is a major issue as well.

    If the climate is harsh you may find yourself surviving hunting with arrows and spears. If the climate is okay you could farm and settle. If crops are plentiful, you have time to look around and think of things that can make life easier.

    The North African to Middle east cultures of several 1000 years ago developed thanks to the African Humid Period, when it was a big land of milk and honey. These cultures eventually collapsed with the return of the hadley cell aridness.
  9. Apr 13, 2007 #8


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    It is broader than climate alone, but you're on the right track, Andre. It is simply the need for natural resources in general that necessitates expansion. Climate alone may only cause a group to move (or just not transition from nomadic to agrarian). And Anttech is right that the needs/wants of different societies are different, but pure ambition and the need for resources are the two big drivers for expansion. Most societies have some mixture of the two.
  10. Apr 13, 2007 #9


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    I'd say the US attracts the best educated because it's economic power offers a lot more opportunities than other places. But attracting the best educated does help to sustain the US's economic power. Military power is one of the by-products of being an economic power (in other words, Japan could attract a large number of Koreans without using force).

    Developing economic power is, as others have said, primarily a result of natural resources, but a country also has to have enough organization to exploit those resources. Quite a few transitions in world power occur because the old world power loses focus - they start spending more time arguing over how to divide the rewards of economic power than they do sustaining their economic power.
  11. Apr 13, 2007 #10
    leadership has the strongest influence on the success or collapse of an empire or world power.
  12. Apr 13, 2007 #11
    "ldership has the strongest influence on the success or collapse of an empire or world power."

    In the case of spain in 1600-1700 AD the spanish had acquired so much gold that inflation destroyed their economy.You could blame poor leadership for this.
  13. Apr 13, 2007 #12
    The Great Man theory?
    Or leadership as a national characteristic?

    It is true that several nations/kingdoms in a given era have similar ambitions and needs, yet one expands and dominates the others. Why? Was Virgil right that fortune favors the bold? Would there have been a Macedonian empire without Alexander or a French empire without Napoleon? Very likely not. And yet, I would argue that those empires were anomalies and not really representative of true empire.

    It seems to me that a genuine empire or world power is one which exerts control and influence over a wide geographic area, over a large (relative to the historical era) population, over diverse cultures, and does so from a centralized power base (all roads lead to Rome). True for Alexander and Napoleon. But there is one more aspect of empire - Time. The force of individual genius or personality might be that which initiates empire, but often the ‘empire’ collapses upon the death or fall from power of the great man. True empires span generations.

    What is it that sustains an empire once that initial ambition has been satisfied and the resources have been secured? How does a world power remain so for centuries? It would seem that each successive generation of leaders continues to make the right policy decisions. How is this so? Were the men of any given empire naturally more intelligent than men elsewhere? Of course not. Was it better nutrition? I doubt it. So what societal influences consistently produced such exceptional leaders?

    I can only surmise that it’s a combination of values and education. But what are those values?

    In a society where the leaders are elected, what should the educational system be teaching the potential leaders and the electorate?
  14. Apr 13, 2007 #13

    If the bold presents good leadership. Shy people seem to end up with the smallest cookie.

    Hard to tell on that one. Alexander died young and Napoleon stepped on too many toes.

    I'll stick with leadership here too. It has to be continuous for an empire to span generations.

    This almost seems to fall back on a small serving of "survival of the fittest", along with a good sized portion of best leadership over time.

    I think the values would change from one group to another. Insight as to what must be done to survive over time is the thing that sticks in my mind.

    I think we have become a bit confused on the education issue. We have allowed money and the power that goes with it to put dubious people into positions of leadership.

    Good education can not just be demanded by law. Young people have to want to learn. And they need to learn a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills. An ability to use interpersonal skills, for example, is important for one to become a good leader.

    If and when the USA goes down the tubes as a world leader, I think that poor education will start that downward spiral. It may have already started.
  15. Apr 14, 2007 #14
    I agree. I think the most potentially damaging inadequacy of our current state of public education is the lack of emphasis on teaching critical thinking skills. Americans have a tendency to let others do their thinking for them, whether those others be political pundits, 'experts' of one shade or another, or (God help us) celebrities and talk show hosts.

    Exactly. Breadth of knowledge used to be synonymous with education. These days the notion common among students (and some educators) is why study subjects that aren't in line with the career field being pursued. Liberal arts students eschew (even fear) science and technology. The science and tech students disregard (even disrespect) the 'soft' subjects like history and the arts.

    As for the long term survival of the great American experiment, perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best:

    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
  16. Apr 14, 2007 #15
    It is greed.
  17. Apr 15, 2007 #16

    May have started? You have a country with two political parties and a system or primaries that assures that all candidates have the support of the power brokers. Why would they want an educational system that encourages people to think for themselves? Pick a team, identify yourself with that team's pre-selected set of left/right opinions, and go to school for job skills.
  18. May 1, 2007 #17


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