Enzo Rossi makes one last contribution to our on-going discussion, and though I agree with his general conclusion, I want to add one observation to the second of his examples. Here is what he says:
“Do we know of any imperial regime that was successfully steered towards foreign policy changes through internal intellectual arguments? Maybe the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, and maybe the changed means of US foreign policy (e.g. abolition of the draft) after Vietnam are examples of this sort of thing. But it's easy to retrospectively overplay the role of arguments in both of those developments. Empires don't mend their wicked ways unless they have something to gain or lose.”
He is quite right that empires do not mend their wicked ways as a consequence of intellectual arguments. By and large, they mend their ways when they suffer a defeat or another empire on the rise successfully challenges them. The abolition of the draft is an interesting case study. The disaster of the Viet Nam War, fought by the United States principally with a conscript army, came close to destroying the American military. Drug use was rampant and Second Lieutenants were being fragged by their own men as often as by the Viet Cong. The senior brass quite rationally concluded that the institutions of the draft and a citizen army were operationally and politically unsustainable save in a time of total mobilization like that of the Second World War. So they ended the draft, raised the wages of enlisted men and women, and turned military service into an attractive career for working-class Americans [for example, offering enlistees a chance to choose the specialties in which they were to be trained.] The obligation to register for the draft continued, but young men were no longer subject to call-up. As The Big Brass correctly predicted, this change drained all the energy out of the anti-war movement, freeing up the Administration to use the military as a flexible instrument of imperial policy.
The draft during the Viet Nam War had one curious side effect. By law, men were eligible until twenty-six, or until thirty-five if they received student deferments, but the army really did not want to have to deal with draftees in their late twenties or middle thirties, so if you could get a series of student deferments until you were twenty-six, you were effectively undraftable. Well, a law degree or MBA would only get you to twenty-four or five, but a doctorate could be dragged out at least until your later twenties, and so suddenly lots of young men discovered a calling for the academic life. Since this was during the rapid expansion of public higher education, there were jobs to be had if you could finish the degree [and even, in the glory days, if you got as far as ABD.] I got my doctorate at twenty-three, in 1957, and had to serve, but I think virtually none of my contemporaries spent time in the military. The other unintended consequence of the draft was what we now refer to as grade inflation. You could only keep your student deferment if you were a full-time registered student, which meant at a minimum passing all your courses. None of us who were teaching then wanted to be responsible for sending a student to Viet Nam, no matter how poorly he was doing in philosophy 101, so we stopped giving failing grades. That pushed everyone else up the curve, so that D’s became C’s, C’s became B’s, and B’s became A’a. Like the reorganization of the college calendar, which was prompted by the fuel shock of the 70’s but persisted after gas prices came down, grades never returned to their pre-war levels.