Unusually Vulnerable to Political Violence

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Peter Turchins opens his Conversation piece on cliodynamics with this hook:

They say history always repeats itself — empires rise and fall, economies boom and bust — but is there a way to map and predict the dynamical processes of history? The new and highly controversial discipline cliodynamics is the most recent attempt to transform history into science.

When the French Assembly of Notables frustrated attempts by the royal government to fix the state fiscal crisis in 1788, because they did not want to pay taxes, these aristocrats did not intend to trigger the French Revolution, during which many of them ended up guillotined or exiled. Yet this is precisely what happened.

When the slave-owning elites of South Carolina declared their secession from the Federal Union in December 1860, they did not intend to trigger a bloody civil war that caused more than 600,000 deaths, killed one quarter of military-aged white Southerners, and resulted in the loss of most of their own wealth, when their slaves were freed. Yet this is precisely what happened.

Now, when the radical Tea Party Republicans refuse to negotiate with the Democrats to achieve a compromise, they probably don’t intend to push the United States into default, trigger a massive economic crisis, widespread urban riots, political assassinations and terrorism, and bloody clashes between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. Yet — well, this hasn’t happened but cliodynamics indicates that during the next decade the United States will be unusually vulnerable to an outbreak of serious political violence.


  1. Ben says:

    “…cliodynamics indicates that during the next decade the United States will be unusually vulnerable to an outbreak…”

    Interesting. Is there something else backing this up?

    Am (very) new to cliodynamics, and it would be great to see the “technology” that results in this prediction. (Supplementing the usual ‘history rhymes’ routine.)

    Reading recommendations welcomed.

  2. Chris says:

    Funny how it’s always the fault of the Tea Party when a crisis looms. The French nobles were wrong, the South was wrong, but the status quo leading us into economic disaster is right?

    Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

  3. The underlying theory is that the elite living off the state tend to multiply until it becomes unsustainable – the people who are supposed to defend the state find their pay is late, or paid with worthless money, or efforts to raise the necessary money provoke tax revolt.

    However, he puts a left wing spin on the familiar right wing theory. Supposedly the Tea Party are the plutocrats living off the state, and the people on welfare are the oppressed masses.

  4. etype says:

    This “cliodynamics” has at last revealed irrefutable proof that the Tea Party did knowingly and with malice aforethought cause both the French Revolution and the Civil War. What spleen! What gall! That and taking a innocuous name like “Tea Party” thinking that would fool anyone….

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