An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Are Successful Countries Prisoners of their own narratives?

I have seen most successful people become their own caricatures after success… when their own "narrative" of themselves starts dictating their behavior rather than the other way round. This is an interesting article where the author makes a case of how that might also be true about societies and countries as well as empires. Very Interesting!

We are losing our wars in the Muslim world because our vision of history is at odds with reality. This is a well-established condition of successful societies, a condition that inevitably grows more worrisome with time and continuing success. In fact, what empires have most in common is how their sacred narratives come to rule their strategic behavior—and rule it badly. In America’s case, our war narrative works against us to promote our deepest fear: the end of modernity.

A nation’s evolving storyline gives concrete form to an accumulation of success and translates this into an assurance of transcendence. Those that claim to be the grandest societies in their own world inevitably style themselves as empires, not simply as large kingship domains exalted by good fortune but as regnant successors to a universal ideal. Thus the Ottoman vision as successor to the Roman Empire of Justinian, and of the contemporary Hapsburgs as the true heirs of the Western Roman Empire. Thus also Louis XIV, so too the Czars, as sons of Byzantium. This self-styling grows into a collective conviction that the once-national, now-imperial, soon-to-be-universal narrative is not only an inevitable story but is actually coterminous with history itself.

Later, when threats seem to come out of nowhere, society is surprised, affronted, and deeply apprehensive because the presence of such threats symbolically suggests that the narrative might be false. All threats are then mortal threats—not because they put at risk the viability of the society itself but because they threaten the sacred symbolism of history that has become inseparable from national identity. They are a chilling announcement that the story is about to meet a bad end, or worse—be replaced by someone else’s story.

Empires in their later stages therefore see threats not only as physical but also as symbolic, and the symbolic threat is always the more important, for it represents existential value—identity itself—and requires a necessarily existential response. It is not simply the actual threat that must be countered: the experience of meeting the threat must reclaim the divine certainty of the imperial narrative for all to see

When such attacks come, they come for a reason. Their very existence reveals that the imperial-sacred narrative has become a war objective in its own right. Indeed, because the narrative has become enshrined as a sort of national tabernacle, successfully attacking it can reap as many rewards for an enemy in terms of authority as any material gains.

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