Refusing to learn from history

How do the experts expect to be able to learn anything from history when political correctness prevents them from looking at the causal factors.

The first way to look at past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations (which I have amended).

Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Virtually all past civilisations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the epicentre of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists.

What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilisation? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?

Collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage

I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of “normal accidents” suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and stage.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.

And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread.

Read the article and notice what factors just happens to be omitted: immigration, identity politics, and foreign leadership. Now consider this description of the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly brought down the Roman Empire.

The Crisis of the Third Century was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of barbarian invasions and migrations into Roman territory, civil wars, peasant rebellions, political instability with multiple usurpers competing for power, growing influence and Roman reliance on barbarian mercenaries, and commanders nominally working for Rome, but increasingly independent, plague, debasement of currency, and economic depression. The crisis began with the assassination of Emperor Severus Alexander by his own troops in 235, initiating a 50-year period during which there were at least 26 claimants to the title of emperor, mostly prominent Roman army generals, who assumed imperial power over all or part of the Empire. The same number of men became accepted by the Roman Senate as emperor during this period and so became legitimate emperors.

By 268, the empire had split into three competing states. Later, Aurelian reunited the empire; the crisis ended with the ascension and reforms of Diocletian in 284. The crisis resulted in such profound changes in the empire’s institutions, society, economic life and, eventually, religion, that it is increasingly seen by most historians as defining the transition between the historical periods of classical antiquity and late antiquity.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Both the UK and the USA are empires with foreign leadership that has no love for the native populations over which it rules, and unlike the Jurchen tribe which created the Manchu Dynasty that ruled over the Han for 268 years, those that currently rule the two Western empires actively seek to destroy their historical culture, religion, and native peoples.