“Day of Empire” by Amy Chua: Dominant Cultures in History Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale University. In her book, “Day of Empire: How Hyper powers Rise to Global Dominance and Why they Fall,” Chua evaluates various world-dominant empires or hyperpowers and explains why they rise and why they fall. Throughout the chapters, Chua examines the most dominant cultures in history starting with the traditional empires of Persia and China and later the recent hyperpowers of the United States and England. She uncovers the reasons behind the success of these empires as well as the cause of their sudden fall.

In her analysis, Chua suggests that policies of tolerance, assimilation, and military prowess toward conquered societies are necessary to propel an empire to success. However, the multicultural society that emerges creates tensions and fear that threaten to tear the empire aside from within if not well managed.

Her basic concern is that hyperpowers crumble because they turn to being intolerant through sidelining the expertise and efforts of various minority groups who are compelled to relocate and reinforce their rivals. For this review, this paper will show that for an empire to become a superpower, it does not necessarily have to use forceful means or coercion. On the contrary, it needs to involve the conquered party in running the empire. Nonetheless, if this diversity is taken for granted, it will lead to the fall of the hyperpowers.

Summary

This book provides a historical perspective of how powerful empires developed coupled with how several decisions led to their collapse. This analysis is contained in three subdivisions each comprising four chapters. The three sub-sections include, The Tolerance of Barbarians, The Enlightening of Tolerance, and The Future of the World Dominance.

The entire book covers several hyperpowers including the Persian Empire, the Tang Dynasty of China, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the British, and the US among others. Chua identifies that all of the mentioned powers attained dominance by a similar process and later crumbled to similar ills. The United States is identified as the lone survivor, but currently it is gravitating towards intolerance, which might see it succumb the same way its predecessors did.1

Chua argues that successful hyperpowers have a bond that brings its members together in the form of shared ideology and multiculturalism. For instance, the Roman Empire and the British Empire succeeded in developing the idea of integration. Chua also suggests that the US is privileged to have strong societal ties that unite its citizens.

Key to world dominance

Chua provides a well-developed and interesting analysis that demonstrates how great powers have to rise before they can fall. The ancient empires were building from small units and expanded through amassing formidable military abilities. However, military alone was not sufficient. The brute approach by a single country has never been sufficient to challenge the ancient empires or the modern hyperpowers. In a bid to flourish over time, Chua sheds light by arguing that a hyperpower has to improve its ability by using the strengths of those it aims to conquer.

In spite of the illiteracy among the Mongol rulers, they prevailed mainly because they embraced the Chinese art, music, and culture. Tolerance served as a key resource for developing an empire. All the dominant powers had backing from different areas across the world. After conquering new territories, the dominant powers accepted the beliefs, customs, and religious practices of the defeated people. They integrated them into the mainstream society by recruiting the best to serve in the government as well as sharing the benefits of the empire.2

For instance, the great Mongol Emperor, Akbar, prevailed by embracing what Chua in “Day of Empire” refers to as strategic tolerance. The Muslim Emperor intermarried from different religions, races, and ethnicities. This aspect supports Chua’s argument that such great empires prospered by a strategy of inclusion, the advancement of diversity, and difference.

Chua suggests that tolerance entails embracing diversity through multiculturalism and inclusion. For instance, at the zenith of the China’s Tang Dynasty, the emperor received and interacted with Arab ambassadors and reaffirmed the need to close differences. On the contrary, 10 centuries later, the Manchu rulers in China abandoned the very principles that made the Tang Dynasty by deporting a British diplomat over an insignificant issue. Largely, the Manchus ignored tolerance unlike Tang, which led to the failure of the empire.

This case brings out a justified view of Chua’s suggestions, thus making her ideas incredible. However, in the current era, empire and hyperpower are relatively differentiated terms. In the past, they connoted the physical expansion of territory and influence through military conquest. Today, most of the dominant powers, whether tolerant or brutal, are globalized and borderless.

There is an unlimited international flow of ideas, information, products, labor, and capital. For instance, the United States, being a hyperpower, has shown no intentions to expand its borders or force the immigrants to embrace the native culture. However, this aspect does not mean that the issue of empire is forgotten or the American case is very different from being one. The conditions have changed following civilization and modernization. The concepts of developing an empire are less coercive, but strategically tolerating. The result is the same, viz. a world-dominant entity.

Strengths

Chua’s work is rich with examples that clearly demonstrate what happens to states if they fail to tolerate immigrants from other ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds. The teachings highlighted are clear and easy to understand. The pertinent question remains whether the US will continue to prevail by integrating immigrants or is it a matter of time before it follows its predecessors.

The way she puts and answers such a question is engaging as well as entertaining. She connects history with the present in a great way, hence making her thesis stay relevant for a long time. In addition, the book is prognostic of what the US might face if it allows xenophobic backlash to permeate. This aspect serves as a warning and the United States seems to be consistent with this information because currently it has reinforced its military bases all over the world. This preparedness shows the determination of a dominant power that is not ready to give in to threats.

Chua unfolds undeniably plausible cases with simplicity. She does a great job when discussing the US by pointing out the negatives and positives. This aspect gives a clear picture of the United States’ present situation and implies that despite being an economic and military powerhouse, it must ensure tolerance at higher levels as compared to its competitors. Despite her deep emphasis on tolerance as necessary, she acknowledges that other factors such as geography, natural resource, and leadership are also important.

For instance, the Romans had a superior naval power that enabled them to move swiftly over large geographical areas via the sea. The United States encouraged immigrants from all over the world to move into its territory strategically to provide labor that led to massive growth in economic power. Chua offers a special case in which important lessons are learned and encourages hegemony through tolerance. However, she warns that such tolerance should not be intended to benefit the natives at the expense of the immigrants. If tolerance is misapplied, it can easily trigger conflicts, hatred, and rivalry.

Chua adopts good criteria upon which she qualifies various states as hyperpowers. In a bid to be world dominant, a society has to be leading in all fronts starting from technology, military, and economy. In particular, valuable human capital is viewed as a key for a nation to stand out from its competitors on a global scale. In addition, the nation has to attract and motivate the world’s best work force irrespective of ethnicity, religion, or origin. Every dominant power in the past has observed these principles and the current powers are emulating the same.3

This analysis makes Chua’s work educative as well as engaging. For instance, looking at the case of the British Empire from a modernist perspective, one will argue that the British were not tolerance because they allowed racism and dominance of the whites. Surprisingly, Chua’s analysis provides an insight that the British were tolerant in their own way. In this time, tolerance did not portray political or racial equality rather it meant allowing diverse people to live and work together in a society even if for strategic reasons. In this regard, Chua should have considered more empires that qualify her criteria such as the Ottoman Empire.

Weakness

Chua is biased in her selection for empires since she seems to discuss those that advance her thesis that tolerance and inclusion led to rise of an empire, and its subsequent fall came from intolerance and insistence of nativism or religious orthodoxy. She fails to view the Nazi Germany in Europe and the USSR as great Empires.

Irrespective of the means, the two can be considered as empires only that their approach was relatively different. Hitler brutally conquered subjects, but it does not imply that he failed to tolerate them because many people including natives fled to support the rivals. The concept of tolerance should be taken relatively of which Chua fails to consider. Relative in this case means that each hyperpower had limits to what it considered as tolerance. In this case, the Nazi Germany was less tolerant as compared to its competitors.

The book overestimates the capability of the United States’ tolerance. This aspect makes the book appear as a tribute to the US dominance. The author goes further to contradict herself when she argues that increasingly embracing tolerance can eventually lead to disintegration because it becomes too diverse to click a uniform political identity that builds coherence.

It is evident that the US has sourced most of the smartest and energetic people from all over the globe, thus if the country starts to reject them, is there a possibility that it will topple. Alternatively, will it crumble from within if it continues to let in immigrants, who threaten to weaken the glue that has created the cohesion for a long time? Chua tries to answer both questions with a yes, which further confuses the reader, as she does not take a firm stand on this issue. However, the former is true because the US needs this expertise to keep sustaining its power.

Another issue identified, as lacking concerning this book is that Chua seems to focus on breadth rather than depth. For example, when talking about a weighty subject like the fall of the Roman Empire, Chua seems to lose track of her objective as she spends a significant section tackling alternative reasons for the fall. She later introduces her major argument that religious intolerance of a Christian Rome was the main concern that led to the fall. This assertion is somewhat misleading to readers who have little or no knowledge about this topic.

Her approach would have been more elaborate if she had offered congruent facts based on figures to boost her claims. Unfortunately, she makes her book appear as a summary of other people’s work of which it might not be the case. In addition, her work lacks facts to support her arguments. Even though she offers a wide analysis, which is good in terms of scope, some of her claims are vague and highly contestable.

For instance, she talks about the rise of the Holland as a great power as having been influenced by Jews immigration and helping the development of the country due to assimilation. Conventionally, it is agreed that assimilation facilitated the growth of ancient empires, but she fails to offer real statistics to reinforce this strategy except that the population of Holland expanded swiftly.

Chua comes out as a biased author in many fronts. First, she considers the United States as a hyperpower rather than an empire. Even though it is highly defined as a hyperpower, it has been developed through similar characteristics as those undergone by ancient empires like the Roman Empire. The United States has developed as a world dominant power. A power that continues to amass military and economic force that is unique and compares with ancient empires such as the Persian, Mughal, and the Roman.4

Irrespective of how the American predominance might appear to be differing in some aspects from ancient empires, it can as well be viewed as an empire. Apparently, the American leadership has to maintain that spirit to make the system work, just as it did while creating its power. Nevertheless, Chua does not believe that the American leadership will survive following the rise of nativism as well as what she views as an overreliance on military response.

These claims are shortsighted because she fails to consider that the US is highly multicultural and arguing that it needs to foster soft power appeal is misleading. The expansion of the Mughal Empire relied on a quick army to progress swiftly. The United States boasts of military bases all over the world in the preparedness of any threats to its dominant status. This aspect implies that Chua’s analysis is lacking vital details that might render her work unreliable if put under strict scrutiny.

Even though tolerance remains the common approach employed by the dominant powers, the overreliance on one aspect reduces the magnitude or rather the effect of other aspects such as military and administrative excellence. Administrative prowess initiated military conquest of target territories after which the aspect of tolerance came in to integrate and sustain the conquered populations.

For example, the Persian Empire, despite being limited in number, had a disciplined military that was in a position to capture new territories after which it tolerated their beliefs and traditions.5 Nonetheless, despite overemphasizing tolerance, Chua fails to narrow on her argument because she only manages to show that tolerance was present, but she does not offer details on how it looked like.

Conclusion

Despite the few weaknesses in Chua’s book, her thesis is intriguing. Her writing style that involves the use of case studies improves the credibility of her work. Chua’s focus on the United States’ situation presents the book’s relevance to the modern scene that further contributes to this timely signal. This paper reaffirms Chua’s theory on why empires rise and fall. However, despite being an easy read and interesting, due to its lack of depth, this book can be easily replaced and forgotten if readers are provided with a highly detailed version.

Chua also discusses her own experience, family history, and intertwines this experience into the story, thus giving the reader an angle to identify with the situation. Finally, it is worth noting that Chua makes a precise conclusion that covers some of her flaws and drives the point home in style. She clears that her theory does not suggest that more tolerance always results in more prosperity, but a combination of other factors such as military power, economic power, and geographical location. She states that a number of intolerant societies emerged to become powerful.

Bibliography

Chua, Amy. Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Davies, Norman. Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations. New York: Viking, 2012.

Taylor, Andrew. The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires. London: Quercus, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. Amy Chua, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 36.
  2. Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and fall of States and Nations (New York: Viking, 2012), 27.
  3. Andrew Taylor, The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires (London: Quercus, 2008), 22.
  4. Chua, 61.
  5. Ibid, 55.
Read more