Will America Suffer the Same ‘Fate of Empires’?

Originally published in 1978, The Fate of Empires should be required reading for every American. In fact, I think it should be a requirement for graduating high school.

Its author, Sir John Glubb, points out that the only thing we learn from history is that men never learn from history. And he explains why, in part, by saying that the history we learn is often propaganda. We’re often taught the periods of prosperity, and forego the periods of failure and disgrace. That, he implies, leads us to not learn the lessons we should, and it’s why we will commit the same mistakes again.

If there’s one lesson, in particular, that we should all learn about history, then it’s about the fate of empires. There have been many empires, and while Glubb points out that empires don’t begin or end on a certain date, they all share one thing in common. From the Assyrian empire which lasted roughly 247 years, to the Roman republic of 233 years, to the Ottoman Empire which lasted 250 years, or the British empire which also lasted 250 years; the lesson learned here is that empires have expiration dates. The average lifespan of empires is about 250 years, from birth to collapse.

He points out that the Assyrians fought with bows and spears, and the British fought with ships and artillery, but the lifespan of both empires was about the same.

This “remarkable similarity” expands through the course of human history, or the history of empires, as it were. This year the American Empire turns 242. We are younger than the average by almost a decade. And while Glubb points out that the average lifespan of empires is just that — an average — in the end, all empires collapse. I think the evidence deserves some due diligence in our thinking about the future.


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4 Responses to Will America Suffer the Same ‘Fate of Empires’?

  1. John Gault says:


    The USA as a country has been around for 242 years, it’s empire didn’t begin until after WW2. That’s just 73 years as an empire. Before WW2 the world was living under the British empire. Erroneous facts like this undermine the legitimacy of the article.

    • David says:

      I respectfully disagree. Although I see your point, I would place the starting point as outlined in this article.

    • Samuel Culper says:

      Empire doesn’t mean global. Empires can be regional, as they most often are.

      The U.S. was absolutely in a period of empire expansion post-revolution.

      Manifest Destiny.

      Monroe Doctrine.

      We were fighting in north Africa by 1801 and through the first half of the 19th century.

      We fought in present-day Canada in the War of 1812.

      In Mexico by 1846.

      In China’s Opium War by the mid-1850s.

      Korea in 1871.

      Need I go on?

  2. Paul Holstein says:

    It would be very helpful if we could define exactly what an empire is. Then we could look at the data as to exactly when the empire began and when does it end. I’d love to see some data here that we could all agree on. Otherwise, I’m not sure what the conclusions are.

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