Ages of Discord

A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History

Publication Date:
October 2, 2016
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The real wage of a US worker today is less than it was 40 years ago—but there are four times as many multimillionaires. As inequality grows, the politics become more poisonous.

Every year, more and more Americans go on shooting sprees, killing strangers and passers-by—and now, increasingly, representatives of the state. Troubling trends of this kind are endlessly discussed by public intellectuals and social scientists. But mostly, they talk about only a small slice of the overall problem.

After all, how on earth can yet another murderous rampage have anything to do with polarization in Congress? And is there really a connection between too many multimillionaires and government gridlock? Historical analysis shows that long spells of equitable prosperity and internal peace are succeeded by protracted periods of inequity, increasing misery, and political instability.

These crisis periods—“Ages of Discord”—have recurred in societies throughout history. Modern Americans may be disconcerted to learn that the US right now has much in common with the Antebellum 1850s and, more surprisingly, with ancien régime France on the eve of the French Revolution. Can it really be true that there is nothing new about our troubled time, and that similar ages arise periodically for similar underlying reasons? Ages of Discord marshals Structural-Demograpic Theory and detailed historical data to show that this is, indeed, the case.

The book takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through American history, from the Era of Good Feelings of the 1820s to our first Age of Discord, which culminated in the American Civil War, to post-WW2 prosperity and, finally, to our present, second Age of Discord.


Peter Turchin’s Ages of Discord provides a crucial decoder ring for Trump-era social strife-Paul Rosenberg, Salon

In this penetrating analysis, Peter Turchin fuses a wealth of empirical data with an original theoretical framework to demonstrate a disturbing pattern: that throughout American history, periods of lowered inequality and strengthened political and societal cohesion have alternated with those darkened by growing gaps between the haves and the have-nots and a violent fraying of the social fabric. –Walter Scheidel (Stanford University), author of The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century.

My own ideas about the effect of inequality on social instability align with the work of social scientist Peter Turchin. He and his collaborators use mathematical models to study the rise and fall of societies–an analysis that postulates a new American civil war arriving as soon as 2021 (and in a highly-armed nation already suffering from an epidemic of gun violence, he doesn’t mean “civil war” metaphorically). For the first time in history, polls show that most Democrats and Republicans identify Americans from the opposing party as the biggest threat to our country. So yes–if you have a deep sense that something is very wrong with our nation, you are almost certainly correct. –Nick Hanauer (entrepreneur and venture capitalist), Politico

In one of the most troubling books I read last year, Ages of Discord, the historian Peter Turchin argues that the rise of mass shootings is just one indicator of a coming era of civil strife comparable to the decade before the civil war of 1861-65.-Niall Ferguson (senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford), The Times

Peter Turchin takes a wholly different approach, relying not on economic or political theory or values per se, but on an ecological model of dynamic system fluctuations. Unfortunately, for many traditional historians,this approach will be unfathomable. That is a shame, because Turchin’s approach is demonstrably superior. –Jack Goldstone (George Mason University), author of Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World and Why Europe?

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