As the saying goes, history does not repeat, but it rhymes. But what if, to extend the poetry metaphor, it resonates symbolically too. What if history shows symbolic inversions such as we see in one of my favourite poems, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.
Although only a short poem, the recurring theme of Kubla Khan is the contrast between the overt, explicit, exoteric structure of power built by the Khan and the chaotic, subconscious, esoteric nature that surrounds it. Take the opening lines:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
The caverns are measureless and therefore not amenable to reason. We are later told they are savage, haunted and enchanted while the “shadow of the pleasure dome floated midway on the waves”. Readers of Jung will note the use of the “shadow” here and Coleridge was clearly referring to the unconscious in his poem although, like most of the romantic poets, he embodied this in the concept of nature. Nature is savage and enchanted. It is the inverse of civilisation embodied in the great work of architecture – the pleasure dome – built by a great ruler. The shadow lurks there as a threat to the ruler and reminds us of another work of a great romantic poet, Shelley’s Ozymandias:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Coleridge invokes the dichotomy between order and disorder, civilisation and barbarism, society and nature, conscious and unconscious. The great Kubla Khan is the carrier of the former but tragically fated to yield to the latter just like Ozymandias.
In last week’s post, I talked about the concept of the Philosopher Kings who, like Ozymandias and Kubla Khan, represent the exoteric structure, the collective consciousness of society. I contrasted this with what I called networks referring to the organisational structure of early Christianity which I said was esoteric in nature and also unconscious. Coleridge assumes what most thinkers down through the ages have also believed which is that the esoteric and the unconscious are a threat to order and must be kept in check or, if necessary, destroyed.
The current global hegemony of the “globalists” runs on networks and those networks are destructive of the exoteric order of the nation states who facilitate their activity. In that sense, Coleridge was right. And yet the overarching empire is those networks. That implies that the empire of the globalists is an esoteric empire and therefore also belongs to the unconscious.
But this contradicts the old beliefs of Coleridge and others. The esoteric and unconscious is supposed to be a threat to civilisation and empire. The idea that you could run civilisation and empire unconsciously would have seemed absurd to most thinkers throughout history. And yet that seems to be exactly where we are in the modern world and the empire that has brought that about is the US Empire.
History does not repeat, it rhymes. Can it rhyme over millennia? Apparently so. Let’s look at one of the rhymes most relevant to what we have gone through in the last three years.
In 249 A.D., Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius became the emperor of the Roman Empire. The empire was well on its downward slide by this time as we can see in the manner in which Decius got to power; namely, he won an important battle in the Balkans and, rather than return to his garrison as commander of the region, decided to take his troops and fight against the incumbent emperor, Philip the Arab. Needless to say, Decius won.
Almost the first thing Decius did on becoming emperor is what he subsequently became famous for largely because it triggered what became a pattern of persecution of the Christians for the next century or so. As far as we can tell, Decius did not intend to persecute the Christians. What he was trying to do was the hold the Empire together and he did it by way of an edict that required every inhabitant of the Empire to sacrifice to the Emperor before their local magistrate. The magistrate would witness the sacrifice and provide an official certificate to say the person had done their duty. Anybody who failed to perform the sacrifice by a fixed date faced torture and death.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, the exoteric rites required by the Roman Empire had been hollowed out well before Decius’ time. Decius seems to have understood that but his brute force attempt to try and spark some life back into the rites accidentally caused a persecution of the Christians of the empire who were forbidden by their faith from sacrificing to the Roman Gods. As a historical irony, the Jewish population of the Empire were not required to perform the sacrifice due to a longstanding religious exemption going back to Marcus Aurelius. Many high profile Christians were put to death for refusing to perform the sacrifice, others fled and many more simply acquiesced rather than face punishment.
Does all this sound familiar? Official certificates, cut-off dates and threats of punishment for non-compliance. We saw something very similar in the last couple of years. Thankfully, we live in a less violent society than ancient Rome. But those who failed to get their official corona vaccine certificate by a certain date could expect to lose their job and other privileges and to this day there are still people being fired over the matter. Decius required a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Corona required a sacrifice to the almighty god of Science, one of the primary gods of the US Empire.
If that’s not enough of a coincidence for you, consider the two other main events that happened during Decius’ short reign (not quite 2 years). Firstly, there was a plague which started at exactly the same time that Decius’ sacrifice edict went out from Rome. This was a genuine old-school plague, the kind where somebody in every household could be expected to die. As with plagues in that day, it duly caused a famine. And just to round out the Four Horsemen motif of Decius’ reign, the event which brought an end to that reign was a war against the Goths.
Both Decius and his son, who had been co-emperor, were killed. Decius became the first Roman emperor ever to die in battle against the barbarians. The Roman position was so weak after the defeat that the next emperor had to sign peace conditions where the Goths got to keep the booty they stole, an added humiliation for a once great Empire.
Does that latter part of the story sound a whole lot like the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving behind all kinds of military hardware for the Taliban? And how about the weird coincidence that just as Decius and his son were co-rulers of Rome, the current US president’s son had some dodgy business dealings with the nation where another war currently rages, Ukraine. History sure does rhyme.
What Decius did in 249 A.D. was to require an explicit, conscious, exoteric commitment to the Roman Empire by the people who lived in it. He didn’t require you to believe in the sacrifice because, like all Roman authorities, what he wanted primarily was a visible display of allegiance. When the Christians objected, it was because they did believe. They believed in something different and that esoteric belief prevented them from taking part in the exoteric, just as Jesus had failed to do standing before Pontius Pilate.
Most people who took the corona vaccine were people who really believed. They would say they believed there was a pandemic and that the vaccine would protect them from it. When I claim that it was really a test of allegiance, I am positing an explanation from the unconscious. In order to understand that we need to acknowledge that the US Empire itself is unconscious. The Roman Empire was a Conscious Empire. Its tests of allegiance were overt and exoteric. The US Empire is an Unconscious Empire. Its tests of allegiance are (mostly) covert and esoteric.
There are a number of historical reasons why the US Empire is an Unconscious Empire. Let’s just take the few most important ones.
Firstly, right from the start of US imperialist operations in the late 19th century, there was significant anti-imperialist political opposition inside the US itself. Sometimes this opposition got the upper hand and actively curtailed imperial activity as, for example, between WW1 and WW2. Mostly it was overcome through politics. But the underlying anti-imperialist ethos always had strong resonance among the US public. For this reason, ever since the conquest of the Philippines, the US has always conducted its overt imperialist operations under false pretences. We’ve all heard those false pretences so many times that most people could recite them in their sleep. Something something bringing democracy to somewhere.
It’s important to understand how unusual this is historically. Almost all empires have been about conquest of land and the conquerors were not shy at all about making their intentions clear beforehand and gloating about victory afterwards. Decius was not trying to bring democracy or civilisation to the savage tribes of the Balkans. He was telling them to stay on their side of the Danube, or else. Romans were interested in land. Almost all empires have been. Even Hitler, who was trying to build a thousand year Reich (empire), was worried about lebensraum; land.
This brings us to the second historical reason why the US empire is unusual. From the start, it was not about land but about trade. The reason was because the US industrial economy produced a surplus of goods. It needed markets for those goods and it needed raw materials in exchange. Why occupy somebody else’s land with all the administrative and military cost that entails when you can just have a friendly regime do business with your businesses? This model is far cheaper than the older models of empire but it is also invisible, subliminal. It looks cooperative on the surface. To know what is really happening requires you to look beneath the surface (to the unconscious).
The US could already rely on compliance from many countries who wanted access to US products and for whom such a trade relationship was beneficial. For those to whom it wasn’t beneficial, the CIA was there to ensure that the right politicians were inserted into positions of power. Note that this is an explicitly clandestine way to run an empire. By its very nature it is secretive, subconscious. It also requires an amount of gaslighting. Newspapers report that such-and-such a leader had a “heart attack”. A new leader is found who just happens to be willing to open up local markets on terms favourable to the empire. In this model of empire, the exoteric, official, conscious explanation is wrong. To understand what is really going on, you need to be able to question the official narrative.
The third reason the US empire is an Unconscious Empire is tied up in the age of European imperialism that led to the world wars. What was really going on in those wars was that Germany was attempting to dethrone the British Empire from world domination. In the post-war world, we’re so used to the false pretences under which the US empire operates that we forget that once upon a time empires were not at all shy about their intentions. When Hitler dreamed of a thousand year Reich, this was not some new idea, it was a deliberate throwback not just to the Roman empire but also to the Holy Roman Empire which had lasted almost as long.
The carnage of WW2 and the holocaust gave empire a very bad name. If the concept of imperialism was already politically inexpedient due to internal political reasons in the US prior to the wars, it became completely verboten in the years following as the atrocities of the Nazi regime came to light. Nobody in their right mind would talk about empire in public as a serious idea worth thinking about. The very concept was now associated with brutality and violence.
This brings us to the fourth and final point. Hitler explicitly wanted to usurp the British Empire. He attempted to do so in the time-honoured tradition of military conquest. That’s the way the battle for empire had been conducted since time immemorial. But the US ended up usurping the British Empire not by fighting against it but by ostensibly helping it out.
The US had been supporting the British empire and its allies throughout both wars with its enormous industrial and agricultural output. There was also substantial financial aid which meant that Britain and France were in debt to the US. By the end of WW2, Britain and the other European countries were exhausted, materially flattened and massively indebted to the US. It might have been one of the easiest transfers of empire in history and it all happened behind the scenes through meetings and accords and other seemingly cooperative activities. This was not the normal exoteric, overt, conscious way empires are won and lost. It was invisible and, therefore, unconscious.
For all of these reasons and more, the US empire, especially in the post-war years has been an Unconscious Empire almost entirely lacking the usual exoteric markers of imperialism. It utilises networks to achieve its aims; primarily financial networks but also the ideological networks of NGOs and globalist institutions. These all have tie-ins with global media outlets who manage the propaganda. We’ve all been exposed to that propaganda: democracy, free trade, science, progress. The US Empire achieves economic coordination through markets and political coordination through ideology. The leaders of the vassal states of the empire are those who can parrot the ideology and implement the implied agenda.
The ideology of the US Empire is kind of like the software that runs the imperial machine. The leaders of each country are computer programmers who need to know how to interpret the software and customise it to local conditions. It’s that software that facilitates economic exchange but also drives ideological coordination through the propaganda networks. If you noticed during corona how leaders in very different countries were all using the same words and phrases as if they were copying each other, that’s because they were. There was no central planning required and no overt coordination. The whole thing runs on imitation. It all happens automatically, unconsciously.
It can’t be a coincidence that the US empire was just taking off at almost the exact time that Freud and Jung were making their great breakthroughs into the Unconscious. The Empire has made use of that knowledge in the advertising and marketing of consumer products but, as I have pointed out in the past, those techniques and tactics also gradually seeped into the political discourse itself. It’s no exaggeration at the moment to say that the propaganda of the Empire is quite literally a psychic battle. If you feel like your sanity is under attack these days, it’s because it is. More specifically, the Empire now directly targets the subconscious and its propaganda works almost entirely subliminally.
Which brings us back around to Decius. By modern standards, his edict requiring citizens to make a sacrifice to the empire looks rather unsophisticated. But it was in line with the story of Moses I talked about last week. That was the way rulers and empires functioned at that time: simple and clear rules with simple and clear (and usually really painful) punishments for those who didn’t follow them. All of this is overt and exoteric.
The Unconscious Empire is far more sophisticated. It achieves compliance through ideology while punishments are vague, arbitrary and unpredictable (eg. de-platforming with no reason given). People now voluntarily create accounts on social media or use search engines all of which are provided free of charge. But as the saying goes, if you are not paying for the product, you are the product. The product is obedience and compliance through ideology.
For those who want to continue to be part of the US empire and have access to its benefits, we can expect more obedience requirements in the years ahead with CBDCs and associated “products”. That is what they would like to do. Whether they can technically pull it off is another question.
There is a final important correspondence between our time and the time of Decius. Decius was an Emperor in the final phase of the Roman Empire. His actions were indicative of that Empire’s impending fall. Decius kicked off a century of overt persecution of the Christians. This was another sign of decline. The Empire needed a scapegoat to blame its failures on. But that scapegoat was inside its borders. It was its own citizens.
This pattern is what Toynbee called the internal and external proletariat. For the Romans, the external proletariat were the barbarians and they had been around for ever. The Christians became, apparently quite accidentally, the internal proletariat starting with the reign of Decius. With the Trump and Brexit votes, the US Empire found its own internal proletariat and with the Ukraine War it has rediscovered the external enemy that has been with it ever since its early days: Russia.
This is why the Unconscious Empire has been pulling out every weapon in its arsenal over the last three years including an empire-wide test of allegiance in the form of vaccine mandates. Just like for Decius, the internal proletariat is now a problem that the Empire needs to directly deal with but the Unconscious Empire doesn’t do so by clumsy exoteric means but by psychological manipulation, gaslighting and ideology.
For that reason, the number one task for the years ahead is simply to retain your sanity in an empire that is at psychic war not just with its enemies but with its own citizens.
All posts in this series:-
Philosopher Kings vs Networks
The Unconscious Empire
The Unconscious Empire Pt 2: The Hitler Complex
The Unconscious Empire Pt 3: A Prison for your Mind
The Unconscious Empire Pt 4: Becoming the Other
The Unconscious Empire Final: Benevolent Totalitarianism
23 thoughts on “The Unconscious Empire”
I have developed similar thoughts. The US empire seems to be the first empire that denies being an empire. That is one of the reasons why the USA has dropped precipitously in my book in terms of reputation. I don’t like disonesty at all. In this regard, I am more sympathetic to old school empires.
Secretface – I don’t think it’s dishonesty. As the quip goes “it’s not a lie if you believe it” 😉
More importantly, though, I think it’s important to understand that the complexity of the modern world is only possible due to networks. The US empire would not be possible without them. It’s notable that China seems to have learned the lesson from the US and is using its Belt and Road initiative to expand its markets. However, China is hamstrung by its authoritarian government. Meanwhile, Putin is proposing a reversion to the 19th century. Neither of these looks like a viable way forward to me.
Would you say that the inner circle of the US government really believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? I don’t think so. As you said, imperialism was tainted after WW2. Therefore, the imperialists had to be creative to obscure the fact that they are building an empire.
In addition, would you call spying on your “friends” an act of honesty? A friend is someone whom I trust. Spying is something that is done to enemies. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to care when this issue was revealed by Snowden.
Secretface – fair point. The neocons were a bit of an anomaly, I think, since they were openly talking about a US empire at one point and they explicitly flouted the rules. I guess it is a fine line between dishonest and unconsciousness. I suspect most of the players involved really don’t know they are lying and that’s a far scarier proposition.
Completely agree that most people don’t lie on purpose.
They just trumpet out what gets implanted into their brains by the media.
They don’t care whether it is true.
They just want to pledge their allegiance to the “good” people.
Interestingly, this seems to more widespread with more educated people. At least, that is my impression.
Rule by rube™ <– everyone's favourite interwebz feline aptly postulates. Explains much and then some 😇
Btw, are you so sure *fell* is the right verb to refer to Roman empire's demise? ↓↓ Casts some legit doubts 😏 [When it reaches our day & age though, the piece quickly goes off the rails in a handbasket w/o any silver lining 🤦]
Secretface – yes, but now imagine that the leaders of countries also believe whatever the media says and act based on that rather than on reality. The fish rots from the head.
Daiva – El Gato on the money, as usual. Did I say Rome fell? If so, I meant “gently slid into oblivion” 😉
Don’t you think it’s fascinating, though, that even though we governed by imbeciles who say absurd things on a daily basis, their behaviour is not random stupidity but they are subconsciously re-enacting the past. More evidence for the theory of archetypes.
Although I agree with your gist here, the USA was most certainly a militarily conquered empire, with the native population dealt with in the same way as other empires.
The heartland of the Empire is the North Eastern industrial states, and all the other states were either conquered later from natives, Spain/Mexico, and even other English speaking colonists (US civil war). There is a reason New York is called the Empire State. Plus the USA currently has military bases in all parts of the world, and even here in Aus they didn’t take over culturally until their military moved in during WW2.
Hitler himself noted this during WW2, that Germany was merely doing the same thing that Britain and US had done in the Americas and Asia. If they had done it 200 years earlier it most likely would have been accepted with applause.
And Hitler explicitly mentioned he did not want to usurp the British Empire. He correctly foresaw that Britain losing its empire would be bad for Europe, and just allow the USA, USSR and China to dominate world trade. He envisioned a pan European Empire with the British Navy and German Army as it’s power projection. It frustrates me that we portray him sometimes as a bit of a buffoon, where he was a deeply flawed character who had moments of insightful brilliance.
Simon – This could be the case for some leaders (Trump boasted once how much TV he was watching) but I am not sure whether it is generally valid. I read quite a few German dissident bloggers, some of them have insights into the media business. The German media seems to get orders behind closed doors on what is acceptable news. Guess by whom. It is also an open secret that political parties own quite a few newspapers (obviously not directly). So while I agree that the rulers are influenced by the media, it seems to be some kind of reinforcing loop (of stupidity).
Sometimes I think that while the factory made our physical strength superfluos leading to deteriorated bodies the computer makes our mental strenght superfluos leading to deteriorating minds. Apparently, the Flynn effect reversed during the 1990s when computers became widespread in homes. Maybe we are now reaping what we have sown.
Skip – maybe I haven’t explained it properly. I’m primarily concerned about psychology here.
Perhaps another way to explain it is to draw a hard line at the end of WW2. Everything that came before the wars became “bad” and everything after “good”. Why? Because the wars were a major psychic trauma for everybody. Note that the allies committed serious sins in the war, primarily the targeting of civilians. The allies killed hundreds of thousands of civilians through firebombing in Germany and Japan. The atomic bomb was just a more dramatic way to achieve the same outcome.
This and all the other atrocities of the war created an overwhelming moral and psychological need to distance ourselves from what happened. We did this by turning Hitler into Satan and projecting all the evils of the war onto him. As part of this projection, everything Hitler stood for became evil by default. Hitler wanted an empire, therefore empires must be evil.
At the same time, the US inherited the British Empire by a kind of financial default in the same way a bank inherits a house when you can’t pay the mortgage. So, now the US had an empire but it could under no circumstances admit to the public that it had an empire because empires are evil. Ever since then, the empire has had to be run subconsciously. That’s what I mean when I say it’s an Unconscious Empire.
Secretface – I assume it’s a kind of soft policing. That is, as long as you correctly parrot the approved lines, you get left alone. Every now and then you get it wrong and somebody steps in to make sure you correct your mistake. That system doesn’t require centralised, formal mechanisms. It’s actually just a kind of groupthink.
In yet another weird synchronicity, Kanye West went viral this morning for committing the heresy of stating that Hitler might have done something that wasn’t evil once upon a time. Most of the “criticism” of his statement are that he is mentally ill or “literally insane”. Gaslighting at its finest. (Update: ok, I actually watched a bit of the interview and looks to me like Kanye was really trying to look insane, complete with gimp mask. Don’t know enough about the guy to say for sure but looks like performance art to me).
Ok, yeah I got you now.
There is a school of thought out there that the real combatants of WW2 outside of Europe were actually all the allies against each other. Japan was goaded into war allowing the US a neat excuse to take all of the UK’s Asian possessions. The quotes from Hitler are unreal from this time, as he berates the UK for being so stupid as to not see that the US was playing them (Churchill in particular) to take their empire.
This relates to what you are saying that the real war was not necessarily the conscious war in the newspapers.
Skip – what’s blowing my mind is that this all aligns with my Devouring Mother analysis i.e. what would an Unconscious Empire look like? Well, it would be a feminine empire because the feminine has traditionally been assigned to the Unconscious, at least in the West. That would align with Jung’s analysis in Answer to Job. It would entail gaslighting and clandestine operations just like Mrs Flack in White’s Riders in the Chariot. It would also be evidence for the microcosm-macrocosm concept too because it implies that the overarching political structure and the underlying culture are archetypally in sync.
Nothing, literally nothing, is what it seems—def no longer anywhoo. The perceived history [record?] keeps changing at accelerating pace 🤦
For comments rule out the in-box pics, here’s one outsourced that illustrates my exact sentiment –> https://un-denial.com/about/
Daiva – as the saying goes, if the news is fake, how fake is history. Actually, it’s the perfect time to revive the lost discipline of philology: the interpretation of text combined with history and linguistics. Make Philology Great Again!
If we have an unconscious empire, the question would be how to deal with it. Just trying to stay sane seems pretty passive for me.
Sorry for double posting, but I found a good word at Charles Hugh Smith’s blog to describe the relations within the unconscious empire: frenemies. Consciously, we think that we are all friends while the empire unconsciously treats his allies as enemies (see my comment regarding spying above).
Secretface – how you deal with it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to become President? You can deal with it the way Trump and Kanye deal with it. At the other end of the scale, maybe you just want to be a good citizen and live a comfortable life. In that case you’ll take your vaccine, proudly show your vaccine certificate to get into the local restaurant and sign up for your CBDCs.
It all looked like an outward display of loyalty to me too. Sadly, I too expect more weirdness to come, but each bout of weirdness has diminishing returns and most likely increased costs at a time where they can ill afford to do so. And candidly there are real-world economic consequences for these sorts of shenanigans. In the 1930’s the economist John Maynard Keynes is quoted as having said: “Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” For a while now, I’ve been wondering if this quote applies to the sort of crazy you were writing about?
I’m not really sure how much stress the US Empire can deliver, probably quite a lot, but until the rubble stops bouncing, we won’t really know the upper limits. The loss in Afghanistan (and we were also there up to our eyeballs in that fiasco too) probably sent a very bad message which clearly has been noted in several corners of the world.
The comparisons to the decline of the Roman Empire are valid. No getting around it, and at some point Alaric I was let through the gates by the very citizens who were probably being gaslighted and bled dry.
Truly, the economics of all this is very weird, and that is their weakest point. Check out how much the weekly loan repayments on US Federal debt is. The numbers are so large that they make little sense to me, but you get a sneak peak of the diminishing returns in play.
Might Elon Musk function not as philosopher-king, but as priest-king?
Chris – nothing makes much sense anymore which I suspect is why we’re seeing what amounts to a society-wide psychological meltdown. Hopefully, there are some people in positions of power who are making plans about what to do if things really hit the skids.
Fuzzy – good point. The man who came up with the philosopher-king concept (Plato) was actually an initiate into the mysteries and wouldn’t have drawn a hard distinction between philosopher and priest.