The Central Weakness of Imperial Overreach

There are a number of examples of the impatient attempt to create an empire before a solid foundation of national unity was achieved.  The vital force which led to the first conquests of local groups drove the conqueror to attempt to subjugate ever-larger territories, thereby incorporating peoples and cultures who were heterogeneous to the core group of the first phase.  The speed of the action, and the complexity of the resultant administrative issues represented a central weakness that eventually led to their dissolution.  Every rapid movement eventually requires a period of consolidation during which issues, potential contradictions or conflicts, and systems and protocols can be worked out and thus, provide a field for the development of a psychological unity.  Where such a consolidation period is missing, the seeds of dissolution are able to germinate and grow.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “One who first founds on a large scale and raplidly, needs always as his successor a man with the talent or the genius for organisation rather than an impetus for expansion.  A Caesar followed by an Augustus meant a work of massive durability; a Philip followed by an Alexander an achievement of great importance to the world by its results, but in itself a mere splendour of short-lived brilliance.

Even the relatively long-lived Roman Empire suffered from the defect of failing to consolidate the Italian nation before trying to assimilate the diverse peoples of the extended empire.  “Therefore she had to face a much more difficult problem of assimilation, that of nation-nebulae and formed or inchoate cultures different from her own, before she had achieved and learned to apply to the new problem the art of complete and absolute unification on a smaller and easier scale, before she had welded into one living national organism, no longer Roman by Italian, the elements of difference and community offered by the Gallic, Latin, Umbrian, Oscan and Graeco-Apulian factors in ancient Italy.  Therefore, although her empire endured for several centuries, it achieved temporary conservation at the cost of energy of vitality and inner vigour; it accomplished neither the nation-unit nor the durable empire-unity, and like other ancient empires it had to collapse and make room for a new era of true nation-building.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 12, The Ancient Cycle of Prenational Empire-Building–The Modern Cycle of Nation-Building, pp. 95-96