Modern imperialists, like their distant ancestors, lust after the usual things—prestige, power, money, status—all proxies, perhaps, for genetic dispersement. These were the same urges that enticed the Khans and the Caesars. But today’s imperialists feel ashamed to admit it. So, they pretend all manner of self less and world-improving motives, everyone of which is either an obvious fraud or a monumental bamboozle. But that is what makes the whole thing so much more amusing and entertaining than either a modest republic or a primitive empire: Modern empire builders are such quacks and popinjays that they practically sprout tail feathers and grow webbed feet.
The gist of the modern empire builder’s creed is that he has a duty to make the world a better place, and he can only do it by telling other people what to do. It is inconceivable to him that others might have their own ideas of what a better world would be like. Or that his own plans are nothing more than his own vain tastes and prejudices. It is as if he burst in on his neighbors to tell them what they were going to do on the weekend; it wouldn’t bother him at all that they had their own plans. His are more important!
The charm in this is not in watching the empire builder make a mess of things, which he invariably does—usually a bloody mess. The charm is in the elaborate lies and imbecilities he spins to cover up what he is doing. His real purpose is no different from those of any Mongol, Greek, or Roman—to feel important, to rule the world and boss other people around, to puff out his chest and pin medals on it, to have power over people and feel superior toward them. The logic of it is inescapable: He feels superior because he rules them. And why does he rule them? Because he is superior!
Since the days of Alexander, empire builders have developed elaborate and heroically absurd proofs for why they are superior. They have before them the evidence of their achievements; they have their neighbors under their heel and not the other way around. Fooled by the randomness of historical events, they look for a reason that explains their superiority and justifies their own rule.
– Bonner & Wiggin