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
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.
Also, did you see this article from our group:
We cite you there!
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!
Thanks, Steven! Also, End Times is more than a non-mathematical version of AoD, it represents 7 years of additional thinking, data, and analyses.
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?
Will this be available E-Book?
Yes, and an audio version.
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?
End Times is more than a non-mathematical version of AoD, it represents 7 years of additional thinking, data, and analyses.
Thanks for the article and citation! I’d love to help more with future articles.
“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.’
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.
If you follow this link:
You’ll see a number of options in addition to Amazon (under “Available from”)
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!
The problem is not with education, but with the use of education credentials to escape precarity.
I have bought your book on War and Peace and War again the other day as i was intrigued by the introduction that was taken from the Book Foundations by Asimov on psychohistory. I believe that the Academics, Historicist and Doctrinaire Thinkers of today completely fail to take in consideration other aspects of change beyond their approved ways of methodology, and therefore have been very fascinated by the Books of Neal Howe and William Strauss that go against the Mainstream of looking at History, a-matter of fact i read all of their Books at least twice during the Lockdowns, Generations (1991), The Forth Turning (1997) and i Pre-ordered The Forth Turning is Here (2023) just the other day. I am thinking to buy your latest Book and im wondering in what Book you emphasize the Father – Son Cycle ? I am myself a Protestant Christian and recognize a pattern of Generational Change in the Bible as well every 40 years – You had a War – Peace cycle with Israel ( a Biblical Generation = 40 years ) The Father – Son Cycle would apply i would think. In the Forth Turning they use a 20-20-20-20 Generation cycle to make up a Human Life Cycle of 80 years. History makes more sense from these dynamics of Generational Thinking and the events in Society that confuse many have somewhat of an explanation that maybe reflects the principle of:”what you are sowing you will reap”. (Galatians 6:7) i guess what goes for the Individual applys to Society at large and can not be avoided. Im 31 and still Green behind my Ears and have lots to learn but i really would like to understand the Father – Son Cycle and see if it would overlap with Biblical chronology of Generational changes in various accounts like the Book of Judges and later Years of David and Solomons reign and perhaps find a correlation between today and then. If you would find the time to reply i would greatly aprichiate it, Thanks for your work in this field!
I think what everybody wants to know is how long the spike will last and when will it peak 🙂 Or has it peaked already? I know billionaires keep hoarding, but doesn’t low unemployment lead to lower inequality in the rest of the population? As for elite overproduction, certificate of higher education might become completely irrelevant for elite status thanks to AI.
P.S. Just discovered your twitter. Lost two hours of productive working time…
The next potential break point is clearly Nov. 2024. I doubt we are over the peak, as all pressures for instability continue to increase.
Have to admit the title is off-putting. It seems to offer itself as a competitor to Hal Lindsey, Timonthy LaHaye and John Hagee.
As always, authors have little control over titles of their books…
That’s why I’ve pre-ordered anyway.
Congrats on the book.
I have inserted a long comment here which was actually meant for Social Power and in reply to John Strate. But since the discussion was closed and the subject remained relevant for the general theory also mentioned in the book, it also gave me the opportunity to explain more about my method and shed some light on questions involving human evolution. So I will repeat it here.
With a note the intro now has become slightly misplaced, but I assume you can read through this and will still get main picture explained further on.
Yes. Well I prefer to start from theory and then look for the artefacts. The method you describe is similar to that of an archaeologist digging in the dirt.
Frankly I am not sure whether this exercise is meant to create a general theory for
human (group) behaviour (the individual psychology is not mentioned), as a means to be able to predict or explain its evolution better in future, or even currently in politics/ or just as an (archeologic) exersize, to be able to define past human cultures in history. In what terms they could have organised themselves, or perhaps why cultures collapsed.
So the traits: coercion, economics etc, are mentioned also in the light of the outcome
religion could not fully explain how large communities of millions of people organised themselves in the past in terms of a moral compass. To maintain its order.
Which of course is linear thinking in relation to just one observed parameter. Because human culture (intelligent life) did not evolve itself within the singular perspective, how to keep its moral order.
Archaeology is just about finding statistics (things) explaining history. In stead of finding out the psychology, or by creating a tool for being able to interpret all human conditions (also the contempery) in its evolution. How and why it functions. Also in relation to its then reached levels. The world over time did not remain the same world.
Side note: commenting on the general perception evolution is about adaptation to changed circumstances. That is only half correct. Or even completely incorrect.
Evolution is like a learning process, which then also creates its own changed
circumstances. It revolves around itself. Adapts to itself.
That is to say, the human evolution is not exactly the same one as the biological or
animal evolution. Because that primarily adapted to its environment. Although it also created a food chain which had not been there before.
Human evolution leads to virtual body types, instead of tangible ones. Which are always adaptable to themselves. Leaving the old one behind. Because the structure of human consciousness which is parallel to that (just a space geometry) allows for it.
* By the way I have developed a good theory answering the question how expanding to a large group of millions, humans could have organised themselves so well.
This is due to the replacement theory.
To start with the conclusion: the whole actually remained just as simple (in a relative sense) as the micro scale of a family. Or even that of the body. In stead of reaching more complex levels. Although that happened just as well. Because the compartment theory allows for it. I will not go into this in detail now, but will stipulate it below so you will get the principle.
In stead of gathering random information, to maybe discover a (statistical) pattern. I start from first principles, in how they have revealed themselves in natural physics and in the patterns of human history.
It starts simple – and the natural law is: from the highest simplicity, the largest flexibility (complexity) becomes possible. While in the core it remains based on the same simplicity.
When a twofold (or string), mirrors itself from both sides in all positions, its possibilities (for survival) become endless.
But first let us make a list of what first principles exist. Which are universal.
Note: however they build on top of each other, starting with the most simple one. It also contains different perspectives, explaining relatively the same thing differently.
The first mission of evolution (but also in terms of the explained natural physics in the universe) remains survival (or otherwise endlessness). Also for the human species. How to mirror impossibilities with possibilities: to overcome them.
When we study the human characteristic (behavioural pattern and observation type), compared to animals. It reveals its spacetime geometry by definition represents an economic (time swap) principle.
* The world of animals can be defined as short bandwidth attention. Although the configurations of its bodies were ‘endless’. This was about the biological evolution of species, which were randomly able to find food in their environment. Or at least be able to recycle oxygen in their body.
Side note: its evolution was not like what Darwin assumed: being able to survive or not. But in what ways it would always survive – and how the bodies evolved into larger and more complex creatures. Although that might be put too simple: either the randomness of species allowed for drop outs, so survival should not be read as an absolute but trivial/ or what he meant was the question why certain old specimen did not exist anymore. Like the dinosaurs.
Although they did survive in birds and lizards. So also here survival was not the absolute differential as how it was presented. Evolution is more about a change in its condition. Then whether life (what life?) survives or not.
The caveat also is in the language. Because to survive can also mean to keep on existing (in Dutch and German there is a better word for it. Like “existon”)/ in stead of implying maybe not.
The economic principle in spacetime comes down to swapping each others time. But not in a linear fashion. The individual serves the group’s survival (existon)/ and the group serves the individual to existon. Like it would be impossible to find a partner if the whole remained a 1:1 equation.
There always are individual specialists within the human group, who can do things others in the group cannot.
So ultimately it saves the whole group time. Because the act of execution no longer belongs to their spend time sphere. Creating tools, preparing meals or overproducing needs like chopping wood for oneself and the group: means someone else would have needed a lot more time to do it, or could not do it at all/ and now the needs of the group are fulfilled.
So it can direct its attention elsewhere (this surfaces the subject of being indebted: the ruling financial system, questioning if the outcome is not inverted to the intention, but that’s another complicated subject).
One is closed/ and the other therefore opens up (ends) in undecided time.*
It is important to realise the sublimary at the same time consequence: is what one does, immediately impacts the group. Even when it does not consciously notice.
* This economic principle had a similar effect in relation to the agricultural revolution. But now in evolutionary terms, with an enormous overall impact for the human group. Because with the harvest finding (more) food had become immedtiately redundant for everyone. While for hunter gatherers it always consumed almost all their time.
The impact of finding new ‘tools’ (as new inventions), is different from doing something for the group individually, in terms of an economic time swap. This is the reversed one. With an upside down consequence. Consistent to string theory, Although not the conventional one:
This one can be tested.
While having an economic impact, it does not literally belong to the same pattern of an individual time swap serving the group in a niche/ but now has become an invisible virtual overlapping entity (creature) on its own. In Greek mythology it would be called a god. With an adventurous personal story fabrication behind it.
Collapsing (“beating”) the previous level.
So, to summarize. Humans have always used or where depended on ‘travel companions’ in their evolution. The string either means literally a split time companion, on both sides of the line traveling in the same time. Simply put, the right and the left hand. Or with tools. Or with domesticated animals. Or simply the male and female partnership.
But also by finding fire. Or the invention of the wheel. Meaning a virtual time traveling partner. Which is always and never there (a quantum state). Which (like in a sphere) then impacts the behaviour of the whole group, changing the cultural character.
This one comes virtually through the middle, ‘like a fountain’ – and than leads to a whole new cultural sphere. Collapsing the previous one. Which was below, or left behind. In
time behind and in the structure below.
One could ask oneself why evolution also creates this cultural duality, like as if it was an unintended waste by-product when it remained. But without it the observer would not understand his world was involved in evolution and how it works. When it is not informed nothing changes/ or some even prefer that state. Which provides a mental framework comparison to be made.
On a side note, but still relevant for the theory of transition from one state to the other. Apparently evolution theory, by jumping from hunter gatherers to the agricultural state. Has missed one very important culture in between, with a switch function.
The nomadic state. Also, as a reminder related to the travelling partner sharing the same time with. One could say tool making also has been overlooked, but let’s leave it out for now.
Nomadic meaning moving, accordingly the animals behaviour in search for food.
They (cattle) played a vital role in reaching the next level agricultural state. But it also created a new human culture in the Chinese Mongolian area on its own – and paradoxly also led to the first subjected human slave position in Mesopotamia. The other area cattle had become a primary companion (in full it consisted of cattle- and horse tribes, leading to the Huns).
Cattle (and horses later on) simply did not exist as such on other continents. Without following cattle the agricultural stage (in this specific outcome, described below) would never have been reached. In Mesopotamia (Samaria).
Because the cattle led humans which followed them, or ‘herded them’ to the newly emerged fields (of grain) by the riverside. Where the wind had collected all the dry seeds. Which happened because of the melting water after the last ice age. Orchestrating the timing of the invention of agriculture in human history. In Mesopotamia, the centre of the first agricultural revolution, between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Although in order to reach its famous higher state, this culture has probably also been influenced by the first invention of writing (on clay tablets) and the fact they were the first to use slaves. Which were the descendants from (lower) nomad cultures living in the same area.
When they were robbing agricultural city states which had become a lot richer – and they decided it was a better idea to stay there in peace and in return work for the now elites.
Adjacent to this duality concept (not meaning conflict perse, but influencing, or mutual dependency) is thinking and doing. This immediately refers to the hierarchy of the body, which has a head and two sets of limbs for doing. Also explaining where the replacement principle in evolution theory is based on. The same functions can be done by separate human groups as well. Such as an elite with slaves, of management and workers.
Or by tool usage, such as a machine, as an extension of the limbs which were unable to provide such power and precision. Or by the invention of writing supporting the memory, or by the invention of book printing supporting the depersonalized distribution of at the same time knowledge (or entertainment) now everywhere available.
So, the replacement theory does not mean the function in the human group has become more complex. It’s a replicate of the same returning principle.
In this way one can build a small group of hundreds into millions or billons. Because the pattern remains the same. Not the scale.
To conclude for now, the argument can be made human evolution involves an unwinding ladder. Like a step by step learning process. The conflicts are when and old culture refuses to change and when it does it collapses – while the next stage exists on.
Peter van den Engel