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War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of…
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War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations (edição 2005)

por Peter Turchin

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217896,211 (4)11
Why do some nations, initially small and insignificant, go on to build mighty empires, while most nations fail to do so? And why do those successful empire-builders always eventually lose their empires? Peter Turchin, a leading thinker in the highly technical field of population dynamics, lucidly presents for the first time an approach to understanding the world's great powers throughout history--with powerful implications for nations today. Turchin shows how the edges of empires are the crucibles of new long-lived empires and how processes of decline inevitably follow on a 1000 year cycle. This sweeping work of social science culminates with a crisp declaration of the general principles of the science of history. A short final section considers Tolstoy and free will in a world of historical cycles, and includes an incisive look at the U.S. now.… (mais)
Título:War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations
Autores:Peter Turchin
Informação:Pi Press (2005), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 416 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca
Etiquetas:political science, strategy, policy, adaptation

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War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires por Peter Turchin

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Mostrando 1-5 de 8 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Yet another Big History book, this one really pulled out in front of the pack for me and I think it's the best one I've read so far.

First, there's no better way to make me smile than with a reference to psychohistory, from my favorite sci-fi series of all time - Turchin compares his goal of scientifying history to Asimov's famous literary conceit right there at the very beginning of the Introduction. Turchin is serious about it though, offering a semi-mathematical framework for historical analysis he calls cliodynamics, which borrows methodologically from statistical mechanics and nonlinear dynamics. In English, that means he models the rise and fall of empires using equations that treat people as groups, and also account for chaotic behavior as well. This means that there's some population genetics lurking in the background as well. There is not actually any math in this book, however; this was a prose exposition of the equations that are all in his earlier Historical Dynamics, which I haven't read. There's still plenty of rigor, though, as he subscribes fully to Paul Krugman's sentiment that "The equations and diagrams of formal economics are, more often than not, no more than the scaffolding used to help construct an intellectual edifice. Once that edifice has been built to a certain point, the scaffolding can be stripped away, leaving only plain English behind."

He starts out by asking how empires form, which he calls "imperiogenesis". The list of empires/countries/peoples discussed extensively include Russia, America, Germans, Arabs, England, France, Austria-Hungary, and of course the good old Roman Empire. He doesn't include exhaustive histories of each one, just enough to make his points and tie them back to the larger argument. I would have liked more detail on the non-European empires like Persia, China, the various Indian empires, or anything in the Western Hemisphere, but I think those would only bolster his thesis. He finds that empires typically arise on what he calls a "metaethnic frontier", in other words a boundary between two relatively different cultures (cf. the "us vs them" struggles in Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations). Thus the medieval Rus, ancestors of today's Russians, found themselves assimilating other nearby tribes in a desperate effort to fend off endless raids from the Mongols, and this gradual accretion of similar proto-Russian co-ethnics gradually built the kind of egalitarian, tightly-knit society that was capable of conquering the vast steppes of Siberia. In essence the Rus as a society unconsciously "learned" the social traits - trust, intra-group fairness, self-sacrifice for the group - that it took to be a successful empire, and other groups that didn't or couldn't develop those traits got swallowed up or annihilated. This is similar to how the Romans fought off the Gauls, Phoenicians, etc by gradually assimilating similar tribes like that Samnites and so on. He calls this level of collective solidarity "asabiya" after Ibn Khaldun's usage of the term in his Muqaddimah, his own attempt at a universal history, and ties it into Alexis de Tocqueville's and Robert Putnam's ideas of social capital.

Every good theory of how empires rise should also be able to explain how empires fall, and his asabiya concept seems to do a decent job of explaining "imperiopathosis" as well. Asabiya is the glue of peoples, both a measure of general social capital and trust, and the thing that makes your average dude (it's mostly guys) willing to die in some wasteland hundreds or thousands of miles away from home in order to promote the greater good. He backs this up by bringing in some game theoretic/group selectionist discussion of how societies need a critical mass of moralists and institutions to discourage free-riders and cheaters, which encourages solidarity. Something that Turchin finds over and over again in history is that incredibly successful civilizations, after having built their empires, seem to be inherently unstable and prone to decay through loss of asabiya. While this sounds as unscientific as élan vital, it can actually be quantified in some ways. Basically, in a mature empire that no longer feels compelled to expand, the number of elites starts to slowly increase, both due to lower chances of dying in wars and due to the higher reproductive rate that being rich in an agricultural society allows for. Slowly, they shift from being leaders in society to being rent-seekers, and eventually they take so much of the pie that people aren't willing to trust in the civic institutions previous generations built. Eventually, a more vigorous society on the border gets its act together (in the case of the Romans, the Germans; for the Byzantines, the Arabs), and displaces the decadence that might still be numerically and technologically superior, but can't muster the will to resist. "Paraphrasing Arnold Toynbee, great empires die not by murder, but by suicide."

So asabiya can be generated through struggles and trials that bind people to each other, and it can be lost through the lack of the same unifying pressures. The differing fates of north and south Italy are discussed towards the end of the book, why north Italy, while fairly rich, still has a social capital deficit compared to countries like France or Germany, while low-trust south Italy is an "asabiya black hole", as demonstrated by the presence of groups like the Mafia. This is reflected in the very interesting fact that Italy doesn't have large public companies like other first-world nations: "The largest Italian company, Fiat, is still family owned. The typical successful Italian company is a family-owned business with perhaps a hundred employees in Milan or Bologna. They occupy a variety of niches from fashion to high-precision machinery, and they are extremely successful at what they do. But they cannot break into certain international markets because they lack the advantage of size. And they cannot grow to a large size, because the Italians, even northern ones, can cooperate only in medium-sized groups. Is this why northern Italians historically could not get beyond medium-sized states?" Religion has an interesting place in Turchin's book; while religious disputes are not necessarily meaningful in and of themselves, they're another way that groups of people use to mark "us" from "them". After reading Diarmaid MacCullough's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, with its endless tales of violent disputes over completely arbitrary doctrinal issues like the filioque clause or if icons are kosher or whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers or three, this seems very true to me.

Turchin's ideas also interact pleasingly with a number of other Big History books I've read semi-recently. In no particular order/rhyme/reason:
- He's a little dismissive of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, & Steel, saying that while the geographical determinism line of argument can explain trans-hemispherical imperial triumphs, it doesn't do a good job in the vastly more common cases where neighboring tribes with similar resources attack each other, like the Rus vs the Tatars or the French vs the English. This is true - Diamond might be able to explain the ultimate outcome, but how would that explain, for example, the asabiya-induced paralysis and chaos of the Incans after Atahualpa was captured?
- He doesn't engage much with Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies, which is a shame, because I still think that Tainter's (admittedly somewhat simplistic) ideas about the decreasing marginal returns on civilizational complexity are un-ignorable. Tainter is more resource-deterministic than Turchin, who allows more for human initiative in the way that societies can "choose" to lose internal cohesion by becoming more inward-focused, but I would bet that there's still something to Tainter's idea that there's a certain optimal size for societies given the resources available to them.
- I think Acemoglu and Robinson should have cited this book in their Why Nations Fail, because there's a lot of overlap between A&R's ideas about extractive vs inclusive institutions and what Turchin has to say about how institutions can shift between the two poles due to external pressures or the lack of them. Republican Rome was much more inclusive for the average pleb during the parts of its history where it was under threat, lost inclusion for a long period during things like the Gracchi brothers' reform attempts, and then became more inclusive again after enough elites killed each other during the Julius Caesar drama to stabilize the empire. A&R don't have a good account for how dynamic movement along the inclusive/extractive scale can be, and Turchin's asabiya measure seems to include that.
- Brian Fagan's The Long Summer talked about how the migrations of primitive humans (and therefore possible tribal conflicts) were driven in part by climate shifts that alternately opened up new lands and closed off old ones. Turchin showed that climate shifts didn't have much to do with the medieval French-English wars specifically, but it would be neat to see more quantification, and if there's a climate shift threshold over which a tribe could ascend to a higher (or maybe lower) level of asabiya in its need to find new lands and resources. Given that, per Tainter, the Mayans might have succumbed to environmental changes, it's reasonable to think that climate might be an input into asabiya. Climate change in our own day might have significant effects on political stability as well.
- Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature talked a lot about changes in violence. I wonder if you could correlate intra-society violence to asabiya shifts. For example, the US right after WW2 was infamously homogenous and group-centered, with low levels of crime. This changed after the Sixties, and I don't think anyone would argue that there hasn't been a relative drop in the nebulous feeling that we're one big society of Americans. Is crime a good proxy for asabiya (e.g. the Northeast is rich and low-crime relative to the South, does that mean anything?), and does the recent relative drop in violent crime rates mean the US is getting stronger asabiya-wise?
- Relatedly, I've read a lot of good books on inequality recently, like Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence. The parallels between pre-Revolutionary France or ancient Rome to the modern US in terms of the power of the wealthy are numerous and disturbing, although of course only valid up to a point. Still, how would a conservative (or a liberal, for that matter) apply the implications of this book to our current economic condition? Is rising inequality destroying Americans' ability to cooperate with each other?

Overall this is a really interesting book, a definite Big History champion, and is also full of great factoids. I'll close with a fascinating quote from where he talks about how medieval societies like England tried to control elite overpopulation: "Lorcin found that in commoner families males outnumbered females by 13 percent. This pattern is just what we expect in a pre-industrial society where a substantial proportion of women died in childbirth. In noble families, however, the pattern was reversed—there were only 85 males per 100 females. In other words, there were 28 percent fewer noble males than we would expect if their mortality patterns were the same as commoners... The wills studied by Lorcin allowed her to calculate that during the second half of the fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth, the proportions of noble girls becoming nuns were 40 and 30 percent, respectively. Only in the second half of the fifteenth century did this proportion decline to 14 percent."

Okay, one more: "Destruction of the great fortunes continued under the Tudors, who had it in for their over-rich and over-mighty subjects. The first two Tudors, Henry VII and Henry VIII, employed judicial murder with great effect, systematically exterminating all potential claimants to the English throne, who also happened to be among the richest landowners. Elizabeth I crafted a gentler method—a kind of “progressive taxation” scheme. When one of her subjects became too wealthy, she invited herself to his castle along with her whole court. After some weeks of dining and wining the queen and hundreds of her followers, the unfortunate host was financially ruined for many years to come, and was too busy paying off his debts to contemplate rebellion." ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
This is a compelling read on world history, with some interesting views. Turchin develops his own theories on the rise and fall of empires, especially in the pre-modern period: empires always developed in places near a border with another group or a state that was perceived as fundamentally different and threatening, and their strength corresponded with their internal social cohesion.
This are not completely original views, as he concedes, but he intertwines them and elaborates on them in his own way. Finally, he also very much pleads for the use of theoretical models in the study of history, along his own 'Cliodynamic'-approach, that is founded on quantitative data. Very interesting, and very worthwile, but also tricky, if you ask me. See my more elaborate review on this book in my Sense-of-History-account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2492457974.
  bookomaniac | Dec 23, 2018 |
The primary argument of the book is that powerful states arise on frontiers between different cultures or civilisations because frontiers are environments with pressures that force and select for communities that cooperate strongly in self-defence and expansion. One chapter seeks to bolster this theory by reviewing group-selection theory from evolutionary biology. This group-selection argument fails: Turchin actually skips over without explaining how a pro-social mentality can out-compete an egoistic mentality within a group. Steven Pinker lays out in this article what is wrong with group-selectionism: https://www.edge.org/conversation/the-false-allure-of-group-selection. Even more relevant to this book, Pinker in that article attacks the idea that powerful societies are more cooperative, suggesting that they are usually in fact just more able to control and indoctrinate people into fighting on behalf of the ruling elite. Turchin may be right about frontiers producing powerful states, but he does not really delve as deeply as he might into the historical processes that promote state formation, relying on very general, mostly primary source histories. For this, readers will have to get stuck into the history of particular states.

His secondary theory, essentially a Malthusian model of the oscillation of economic prosperity and collapse, is very interesting especially in the way he shows the opposite trends among the lower and upper classes. Again, however, the evidence adduced for the political impact of these trends is very general and under-analysed. History is complex and more argument is needed to clearly link these trends with political events. Perhaps though these weaknesses are inherent to the project of detecting deep causal trends below the multitudinous personalities and events of history. ( )
  wa233 | Jul 11, 2017 |
Turchin is presenting the idea that a form of social cohesion (which he calls asabiya, after Arabic sources which discuss it) is the key factor in the rise and fall of empires, and discusses how asabiya is developed and lost in various cultures. Book starts with a fascinating look at the expansion of the Russian Empire into the Turkish lands of Central Asia, covers the American expansion into the West, the rise and fall of Rome, and many other pieces of history. ( )
  argyriou | Feb 25, 2010 |
War and Peace and War –The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations by Peter Turchin

This wonderful book receives four out of five stars.

It is wonderful in its breadth and depth of material covered, and clearly delivers on its promise of examining the causes behind the life cycles of imperial nations.

While doing so, it also takes the reader over vast swaths of history and in doing so reinvigorates the reader with renewed interest in times past for histories of different countries..

This is definitely a book worth reading for understanding the life and death cycles of empires and as well so as to gain an idea of the viewpoint of contemporary historians in the Cliometric / Cliodynamic schools of historiography.

The reason this book did not receive the fifth star is due to poor editing. The reader should not expect to read the book with the easy flow of prose of a David McCullough, Robert Caro, or Ron Chernow.

For starters, there are no numbered footnotes in the body of the book, or even a suggestion of tnotes until the end of the book. Once in the footnote section the notes are listed by chapter with a brief introductory quote and that is all. For a book so focused on history as this to be so loose in basic style or format requirements really is an imposition on the reader.

Secondly, there are numerous chapters that have very large amounts of detailed that are simply not that necessary to the actual thesis at hand. It would appear almost as if the portions are there for padding rather than enlightenment of the reader.

Thirdly, there is the writing itself, which can be more convoluted than necessary. This might be due to the scholarly inclinations of the author or due to his being Russian, but one does feel that the English language is still a struggle for the author.

Having said that, I believe that this book is absolutely fascinating and well worth the effort reading in order to extract what it has to say. Yes, it will take effort; most worthwhile things do take effort and the effort will be richly rewarded. It is definitely an excellent book not only for the material it presents but also for the other historians, etc. that it references and the listing it gives of other authors in this school of historiography.

Please note, since my finances are limited, I originally took this book out from the library rather purchase it. However, after book marking over 75% of the 356 pages of the, I realized I would have to go out and buy the book, which I have.

Members of the group:
History: On learning from and writing history
will find this book especially relevant. ( )
1 vote Urquhart | Apr 12, 2009 |
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Why do some nations, initially small and insignificant, go on to build mighty empires, while most nations fail to do so? And why do those successful empire-builders always eventually lose their empires? Peter Turchin, a leading thinker in the highly technical field of population dynamics, lucidly presents for the first time an approach to understanding the world's great powers throughout history--with powerful implications for nations today. Turchin shows how the edges of empires are the crucibles of new long-lived empires and how processes of decline inevitably follow on a 1000 year cycle. This sweeping work of social science culminates with a crisp declaration of the general principles of the science of history. A short final section considers Tolstoy and free will in a world of historical cycles, and includes an incisive look at the U.S. now.

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