Modern Empire Apologia Is Mostly Just Westerners Arguing With Reality

Caitlin Johnstone
4 min readSep 30, 2023

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

It’s funny how much empire apologia in the 2020s consists of westerners saying that governments who aren’t aligned with the United States shouldn’t have the security concerns they have and shouldn’t regard their national interests the way they do.

Armchair proxy warriors against Russia defend the NATO expansionism which led to the war in Ukraine by saying that Russia should simply not have taken issue with a western military alliance amassing war machinery on its doorstep. If you bring up the fact that a great many western analysts spent a great many years warning that the actions of NATO powers after the fall of the USSR was going to provoke Russia into war, their only argument is to say that Russia should not have been provoked by those actions.

You see the same thing with regard to China. Beijing’s standoff with Taiwan is essentially an unresolved civil war that’s been frozen in its current state (largely by US interventionism) since the creation of the PRC, with a historical background that stretches back centuries. The western response to the Chinese push to reunify the island with the mainland has been to insist that Beijing simply begin regarding Taiwan as a sovereign nation, despite the fact that those western governments themselves do not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty due to the complex nature of the standoff.

In both cases, the US-centralized empire is confronting nations which have policies and positions in place regarding their immediate surroundings which run much deeper and go much further back than vapid liberal idealism. Russia was invaded through Ukraine by both Napoleon and Hitler. Taiwan was used by the Japanese as an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which to continuously attack the Chinese mainland during World War Two. You can disagree with the deep-rooted security concerns of these nations if you want, but what you can’t do is simply hand-wave them away just because they don’t fit in with the made-up rules the west likes to pretend it plays by.

The reason foreign policy realists like John Mearsheimer were able to correctly predict years in advance that the west’s aggressions toward Russia meant that “Ukraine is going to get wrecked” was because they were just looking objectively at the raw data of what the west was doing and what Russia’s national security positions were. They weren’t fixating on ideological shoulds and shouldn’ts or babbling about what would be the just and moral position for Russia to have in some alternate hypothetical universe, they were focused on what was happening and what would happen. And a lot of death and destruction would have been avoided if they’d been listened to.

Instead, the empire has opted to barrel forward with its aggressions against Russia and is now doing the same with China, and anyone who points out that these are terrifyingly incendiary provocations gets shouted down by what essentially amount to arguments against reality.

That’s the main tool in the empire apologist’s toolbox these days: arguing with reality. If you point out the reality of where people are at in Moscow and Beijing with regard to western provocations on their nations’ borders, their only answer is to say “Yeah well that’s not how things should be so we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

It’s like being warned that you’ll get punched if you keep yelling ethnic slurs in public but doing it anyway because you believe people should respect free speech, and then melodramatically clutching your broken nose and yelling that what happened should not have happened. Reality doesn’t care about your ideological shoulds and shouldn’ts; as far as reality is concerned, there’s just what happens and what does not happen. If you actually want to avoid certain outcomes, you can’t just heap a bunch of conceptual shoulds and shouldn’t on concrete circumstances — you’ve got to actually conduct yourself in a way that steers clear of those outcomes.

And the issue here is of course that the western empire doesn’t really want to avoid those outcomes. It stood everything to gain by provoking the war in Ukraine, and preventing the rise of China by any means necessary is an absolutely fundamental requirement for securing US planetary hegemony. The empire is just doing what it wants to do regardless of the consequences, and its propaganda machine is churning out shoulds and shouldn’ts in order to justify those actions that trusting members of the public then go on to regurgitate.

Arguing with reality never works, whether you’re talking about international relations, interpersonal relationships, or the inner workings of your own mind. The way out of suffering is the same on any scale: dealing with reality as it actually is, and working with life on life’s terms.

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