Announcing My New Book: End Times

Peter Turchin

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End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration

To be published on June 13, 2023 by Penguin Random House


“History is not just one damn thing after another,” British historian Arnold Toynbee once quipped in response to a critic. For a long time, Toynbee’s opinion was in the minority. Historians and philosophers vehemently insisted that a science of history was impossible. I hope that End Times will convince you that this view is wrong. A science of history is not only possible, it is useful: it helps us anticipate how the collective choices we make in the present can bring us a better future.

Over the past quarter-century, my colleagues and I have built out a flourishing field, known as Cliodynamics (from Clio, the muse of history, and dynamics, the science of change). We discovered that there are important recurring patterns, which can be observed throughout the sweep of human history over the past 10,000 years. Remarkably, despite the myriad of differences, at base complex human societies, on some abstract level, are organized according to the same general principles.

From the beginning, my colleagues and I in this new field focused on cycles of political integration and disintegration. This is the area where our field’s findings are arguably the most robust—and arguably the most disturbing. It became clear to us through quantitative historical analysis that complex societies everywhere are affected by recurrent and, to a certain degree, predictable waves of political instability, brought about by the same basic set of forces, operating across the thousands of years of human history. It dawned on me some years ago that, assuming the pattern held, we were heading into the teeth of another storm. In 2010, the scientific journal Nature asked specialists from different fields to look ten years into the future, and I made this case in clear terms, positing that judging from the pattern of US history, we were due for another sharp instability spike by the early 2020s.

What, then, is the model on which this forecast was based? When a state, such as the United States, has stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, declining public trust, and exploding public debt, these seemingly disparate social indicators are actually related to each other dynamically. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability. In the United States, all of these factors started to turn in an ominous direction in the 1970s. The data pointed to the years around 2020 when the confluence of these trends was expected to trigger a spike in political instability.

Sadly, nothing about my model has been disproved in the intervening years. End Times is my best effort to explain this model in accessible, which is to say non-mathematical, terms. It builds on an enormous amount of important work in a variety of different fields; I make no claims for radical originality. What I will say is that we should all take heart from the fact that societies have arrived at this same crossroads before, and while sometimes (even most of the time) the road has led to great loss of life and societal breakdown, at other times it has led to a far happier resolution for most people involved.


The book is available for pre-order

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“at other times it has led to a far happier resolution for most people involved.”
I put the probability of that at around zero. Our-elites are all petty small minded tyrants who have completely insulated themselves from any consequences of their decisions; no matter how many lives they destroy in the process. Obama really blew it. He could have been FDR, but instead he intentionally decided to maximize the number of foreclosures on poor people to shore up the banks and let wall street keep handing out bonuses. https://prospect.org/economy/needless-default/

Our blinkered imbecilic press core was too partisan or too bought off to call him out on it. And now the Democrats are the party of “nothing will fundamentally change” to quote Biden, and the GOP is the party of ‘let’s make everything worse.’

Gene Anderson

I eagerly await this book!
Further work on Chinese dynasties convinces me that you are absolutely right–all those things build up and brought them down over and over again. I can add that there were always precipitating events for the final collapse–climate change (Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age…), weak leadership especially child emperors (especially two in a row–fatal every time), major invasion, and often also major rebellion. Without those, the factors you mention always led to crisis, but it was often resolved and the dynasty would reconstitute.
The US now faces weak leadership and climate change, as well as the whole suite of factors you mention.

Nadia Braun

Thank you so much for this book! I read it and bought copies for friends. Your work is more explanatory in terms of what is going on than reading Marx or other economists.

Steven Moffitt

I’m glad that you’ve reduced the mathematical burden of “Ages of Discord” and your earlier publications. I have recommended “Ages of Discord” to at least a hundred people, but most who tried to read it were not prepared for the mathematical sophistication, and I suspect, missed out on its straightforward, intuitive discoveries.

I will order it today!

Tim Richardson

Have you done any analysis of South Africa avoiding government collapse after apartheid or Spain avoiding a continuation of dictatorship after Franko‘s death in 1975?

Are these simply historical one offs?

joseph e ball

Will this be available E-Book?

David

if I already read ages of discord will this tell me anything new or interesting or is it just stripped down verbalist version of that prior work?

Gene Anderson

Thanks for the article and citation! I’d love to help more with future articles.

Liz Cademy

Do you have recommendations for places we can pre-order the book? I would prefer to avoid Amazon.com, though I will use them if that’s the only option.

Dwayne Myers

I look forward to reading your book. A disturbing implication, just from the description above, is that we may not be able to educate our society out of economic inequality. Surely less education is not the answer? Should we educate people only in technical topics while discouraging critical thinking about social and political topics? If we do this, only a select few will be able to run and understand your dynamic sociopolitical system models!

John Malcolm

I’m enjoying your book as much as such a scary piece might be termed enjoyable. But I may have found an error to fix in the next edition: near the top of page 261 you say “They still had to amass a third as many troops…” Did you mean “a third MORE troops”?

John Malcolm

I’ve found this an exciting and educational book, but did come across one debatable statement on page 212: Trump’s “tax legislation succeeded, making the tax code even more regressive.” This is a very complex issue (see https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/082415/whats-wrong-american-tax-system.asp) and in need of at least a scholarly reference.

John Malcolm

If you’d said “even less progressive” I could not argue.

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