Do You Dream of Having a Business Empire?

Riad Kherdeen
5 min readDec 29, 2020
Joseph Keppler, The Bosses of the Senate, 1889, lithograph. Public domain

One of the aspirations of many entrepreneurs and business people is to grow their companies so big that they become empires. Whether it be a hamburger empire (McDonald’s), a shoe empire (Nike), an operating system empire (Microsoft), a media empire (Disney), etc., the people running these empires — emperors — are unfortunately not embarrassed at all about their imperial ambitions.

Perhaps it is due to a lack of familiarity with history, perhaps it is the capitalist ideological conditioning they have undergone, perhaps it is the thirst for power, or perhaps it is just a sense of entitlement, but regardless of the reason(s) why business people dream of building a so-called empire, it should go without saying that empire always has a dark side.

No, I do not mean this simply as a Star Wars reference, although George Lucas certainly did depict the Empire in a rather negative light. Rather, I wish here to put pressure on how the empire is often spoken about in popular culture and business. Empire is typically cast in a positive light, especially when it comes to historical empires like the Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire or the Inca Empire or the Mughal Empire, or the British Empire.

People have regarded the size and power of these empires with awe and admiration. History books, documentaries, and movies abound with how great these empires were (Britain still calls itself Great Britain today!). But part of building an empire, known as imperialism, entails the use of force and conquest to expand the empire. And the success of an empire is largely predicated on the exploitation and oppression of its imperial subjects.

This dark side of empire is colonialism, and ever since the literary scholar and theorist Edward Said wrote his groundbreaking study Orientalism in 1978, a growing body of scholarship by literary and area studies scholars, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, and philosophers, among others, has shed light on the horrors and violence of empire. Glorifying empire covers up the atrocities committed against indigenous peoples and their lands and environments.

These actions did not just come in the form of brutal physical violence, but also in the form of epistemological and ontological violence, the legacy of which is still…

Riad Kherdeen

PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley. Your source for original, critical, thought-provoking content about art, history, culture, and politics.