The Ends of Empire

Comparative Studies on Regional Powers, No. 14

The twentieth century witnessed the demolition of multiple empires and the decisive discrediting of the legitimacy of empire as a concept, although perhaps not the disappearance of empire as a reality. Against empire, that century saw the triumph of the national idea, which had been gathering strength throughout the nineteenth century. In brief, the national idea is the belief that humanity is naturally and reductively divided into nations, each of which holds a sacred and inviolable right to self-determining statehood. 2 Nations, in short, constitute the proper fundamental unit of global politics, and empire, because it denies the right of nations to sovereignty, is illegitimate. So strong had the association of nation with statehood become that the (nominally) supreme organizations of global society in the twentieth century were incarnated under the names “The League of Nations” and “The United Nations.” A far more accurate name for these organizations might have been something like “The Association of States.”

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