Empire from the point of view of those ruled, rather than the rulers. The HBO series Rome is one of the few resources which did this, at least in part. Timothy Parsons has done it is exhaustive detail.
Here is a book which challenged and altered some of my preconceptions. Cultural blinders afflicts us all to varying degrees. One of the pleasant things about Timothy Parsons’ writing style is that he will skewer all sides of the political spectrum. His own preferences can be determined only in a small way, and do not interfere with his facts. It is his facts which are ruthlessly but “gently” offered. This is a book which is a must read if one wants to understand just what Empires, formal and informal, really are and how they work.
In The Rule of Empires , Timothy Parsons gives a sweeping account of the evolution of empire from its origins in ancient Rome to its most recent twentieth-century embodiment. He explains what constitutes an empire and offers suggestions about what empires of the past can tell us about our own historical moment.
Parsons uses imperial examples that stretch from ancient Rome, to Britain’s “new” imperialism in Kenya, to the Third Reich to parse the features common to all empires, their evolutions and self-justifying myths, and the reasons for their inevitable decline. Parsons argues that far from confirming some sort of Darwinian hierarchy of advanced and primitive societies, conquests were simply the products of a temporary advantage in military technology, wealth, and political will. Beneath the self-justifying rhetoric of benevolent paternalism and cultural superiority lay economic exploitation and the desire for power. Yet imperial ambitions still appear viable in the twenty-first century, Parsons shows, because their defenders and detractors alike employ abstract and romanticized perspectives that fail to grasp the historical reality of subjugation.
Writing from the perspective of the common subject rather than that of the imperial conquerors, Parsons offers a historically grounded cautionary tale rich with accounts of subjugated peoples throwing off the yoke of empire time and time again. In providing an accurate picture of what it is like to live as a subject, The Rule of Empires lays bare the rationalizations of imperial conquerors and their apologists and exposes the true limits of hard power.
Forcefully engages the debate about the limits and possibilities of empire.
Included in the book are examples of empire dating back to the Romans and spanning four continents.
“A lucid, cold-eyed analysis of the mechanics of imperial control. The result is a compelling critique of empires past and of their latter-day nostalgists.” –Publishers Weekly
“Parsons, an Africanist by training, samples instructive imperial experiences: Roman Britain, Muslim Spain, Spanish Peru, the East India Company in Italy, Napoleonic Italy, British Kenya, and Vichy France.” –Charles S. Maie, Foreign Affairs
496 pages; 25 halftones; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4;
About the Author(s)
Timothy Parsons is a Professor of African History at Washington University. He is the author many books, including The British Imperial Century, 1815-1914: A World History Perspective, and The 1964 Army Mutinies and the Making of Modern East Africa.