Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

In an email exchange with a friend the other day I opined that one of the tragedies of the Bush Administration has been that by squandering the United States' moral authority they have almost certainly hastened the end of the American Empire. I'm not so sure I'll see it, but my children certainly will. Oh, well, I guess-- empires do end, after all. People my father's age have seen the end of three or four, and I've witnessed the end of the Soviet empire myself. Driving back from NoHo I was struck by the BBC coverage of the resignation of Warsaw's archbishop, Stanislaw Wielgus, and it occured to me that although we have a pretty good idea of what an empire's collapse looks like we really can't say the same for what is going on with the Catholic Church. It seems to me that you'd have to go back to the Reformation to find something similar, and this just might be bigger. Not Wielgus himself, obviously, but the thing that he is a symptom of. It is one thing for an empire to lose moral credibility after all-- we could argue the point, but I'd put it to you that the US has been unusual in that its moral authority has been a basis for its claim to empire. The Soviets didn't make that claim-- they were more about historical inevitability. The Brits claimed it, sort of and the Japanese probably believed it, but were sure to back it up with the necessary firepower. You don't have to be the shining city on the hill to be an empire, but if you are a world religion that's pretty much the whole thing, and the Roman Catholic Church has really gone a long way towards breaking the bank. What will that look like, I wonder, the collapse of the world's largest religion? The history of the Reformation doesn't really inform the question-- it was too different a world.

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