Monday 18 January 2021
2021 has started with a lot of self-reflection. What happened at the US Capitol? What were the forces that led to such a moment? Was it Big Tech? The Right Wing Media? Trump and his supporters in Government?
One historian thinks there is an explanation for it all. Peter Turchin, a Russian-born biologist famous for applying maths and the science of big data to the study of insects and beetles, has spent the last two decades attempting to apply that same math and big data to the study of human history. What has resulted is a grand theory of civilizational decline, focused on society’s elites.
Turchin suggests that a key factor in the decline of civilizations through history is elite overproduction. Where the number of elites a society produces is too large for the number of positions available, societies start to fragment. There are only so many positions in Congress, or on the Supreme Court, or even so many places at Harvard each year. Turchin argues that the elites that miss out on these positions become counter-elites (ala Trump, Bannon etc.) and become key drivers of societal discord.
While this grand theory of history isn’t broadly accepted by historians, 2020 was a year where many of Turchin’s theories played out. If his theory holds, the next decade may be even worse for America.