If we are to learn how to develop a healthy society, we must transform history into an analytical, predictive science, argues Peter Turchin. He has identified intriguing patterns across vastly different times and places.
What caused the collapse of the Roman Empire? More than 200 explanations have been proposed1, but there is no consensus about which explanations are plausible and which should be rejected. This situation is as risible as if, in physics, phlogiston theory and thermodynamics coexisted on equal terms.
This state of affairs is holding us back. We invest in medical science to preserve the health of our bodies, and in environmental science to maintain the health of ecosystems. Yet our understanding of what makes societies healthy is in the pre-scientific stage.
Sociology that focuses on the past few years or decades is important. In addition, we need a historical social science, because processes that operate over long timescales can affect the health of societies. It is time for history to become an analytical, and even a predictive, science.