Let’s restate the gobbeldygook below into a set of simple statements (this is really three posts in one, and the top here is the third placed at the start). There is no inherent reason for modern world Civilization to decline into a Dark Age in the sense of Toynbee and Spengler and their confused theories. But there is a resemblance of the modern transition to the Hellenic transition and see that it was shortlived from Archaic Greece to a classical period which seem to stall around 400 BCe, by which time the world’s first great democracy is destroyed by oligarchic and imperialist war. The Occident ‘declines’ very slowly from this point, becomes a form of Roman barbarism, and then collapses ca 500 AD or so, with the canonical instance of a Dark Age. We see the same problem with democracy in our modern case, in the same schedule. But this is not a law of history. Note that China and India don’t follow this pattern as such.
We can recover. Note that our model distinguishes systems and free agents. We are in principle able to take over world civiliation and redirect it at will, But that is almost always the ’empire’ trap all over again. But as we see we can be subject to events in the onset of chaos, so free agency is real but in a hurricane somewhat relative!
By this analogy of the eonic model then we could easily confuse concepts. On the ancient analogy our present resembles the period ca. 400 BCE and a ‘Dark Age’ is still a thousand years away, 3000 AD! We hiave no sure grounds for such a comparison, but it seems to make some sense, as long as we remember the eonic model in only semideterministic. There are possible other forms of explanation: I don’t know how to apply ‘entropy’ to civiliztions, but there might be other such factors we don’t understand. We cited the decline of the Roman Empire but to this day its full scope and dynamic has never been given. We have to do better this time.
The obvious point then is that something else is involved: no mystery: industrial excess and climate change. This factor is unprecedented and external and will produce unexpected results. A premature Dark Age is possible if industrial processes destroy a planet, but the result isn’t quite a Toynbean Dark Age so much as a total discombobulation.
There is something uncanny in the modern transition: Democracy, the Industrial Revolution, and capitalism emerge in tandem at the climax of the modern transition and then are immediately followed by a rescue vehicle: the rise of socialism and challengers to capitalism and the exploitation of labor, next to abolition and protofeminism at exactly the same points.
Clearly in retrospect we should have had a socialist revolution near the start before industrial revolution and capitalism turned into a menace. In any case. We need to try to correct the disaster as soon as possible because the result will be worse than a Dark Age.
We cited this book yesterday and the commentary is reproduced below. I have a slight quibble here as the author cites Toynbee, a completely marginal passing reference but the issue of ‘dark ages’ is tricky. The first issue is the idea of the ‘civilization’: the eonic model looks at macro time-slices of civilization(s) as transitions. Civilizations are too diffuse to be organized dynamic entities. In our case the modern transition occurs in a very strange pattern (discussed in Decoding World History) in a subset of ‘Europe’ and this rapidly diffuses via globalization to the world Civilization (singular, capitalized) we are starting to see now. ‘World Civiliation’ is simply a general depiction and term and isn’t a Toynbean style civilization. Note that there is no European civilization nor is the modern transition a European or Eurocentric phenomenon but a local transformation in the global action of the eonic effect.
The modern transition is a third visible phase of sequence starting to be visible in the era of Sumer/Egypt, and followed by the sudden parallel effect of the Axial Age:Greek, Israelite, Zoroastrian, Indic, and Chinese. The classic phase has multiple transitions in parallel where the modern transition is uni-focussed, for the obvious reason that where in ancient times a parallel effect was still possible, in a ‘smaller’ planetary sphere a uni-focus is needed to prevent collisions.
To reiterate, we don’t consider Toynbee’s ‘unit of analysis’, the ‘civilization, but a sequence of transitions that hopscotch on the planetary surface with focal zones that are visible for the last five thousand years, and we suspect that the Neolithic less well documented shows its own set of transitions.
Whatever the case, the issue of ‘decline’ from Toynbee, and especially Spengler is thus up in the air. There is no inherent dynamic of decline in the ‘civilization’ because the civilisation as such and instead the dynamic of transitions proceeds in a fixed sequence, this resolving the hopeless confusion of cyclical theories. Cycles of civilization are the wrong concept and the lore of cycles of history is confusion. But we can consider a cyclical theory in a new sense: progressive cyclicity instead of recurrent absolute cycles. The macro transitions thus show progressive cyclicity, the rise of the modern being the most recent case. Can this kind of system decline? There is no inherent reason why they should do so. Progressive cyclicity is simply a series that remorphs successive stages in an evolving whole. (A good example is a school with 12 grades: each grade shows progressive cyclicity from the previous year. The whole idea is to reach a goal, and decline as such is contrary to the idea, or so in principle, we should expect) So in principle there need be no inherent decline factor. However, we might see external decline factors.
There is one more concept we need: in the eonic model whose trickiness can be confusing we see the action of a system and the action of the agents inside it. Like a car and a driver we have system action, the car, and the free agency of the driver. This kind of tandem system is completely omitted from science, biology, and historical theory, but it is essential to explanation, and kind unfortunately completely nonlinear. Free agency inside a larger system can thus lead to unexpected results.
So we come to one of the most remarkable empirical data sets in world history, the ‘decline’ of occidental antiquity. This is often the ‘decline and fall of the Roman Empire’ meme which has its own confusions. Note that we are not talking about Rome as a civilization but the larger meta-civilization of the Occident, including Greece, Israel, Persia, Rome, etc…
We have a complete example therefore of a system that seems to go into decline. Note that we start ca. 900/600 BCE with the remarkable Greek (Roman), Israelite (Zoroastrian), transitions, the parallel Indic and Chinese being mostly isolated from the Occident.
We see a strange multiple phenomenon: the explosion of Greek innovation in the early period of proximate antiquity, then the sudden waning of innovation, the falling away of hellenic dominance but having left behind an immense heritage, as the Roman context (with its own mostly unrecorded early history that produces a remarkable republic).
The term decline can thus have many meanings. We see ca. 400 BCE a ‘decline’ in the vigor of Hellenic civilization but a more or less continuous field of social advances. But slowly but surely the Roman Republic (we can posit the ‘decline’ of the republic into oligarchic empire) enters an imperialistic endgame of conquest and domination. By the time of the Roman Empire (with is remarkable drama of the republicans versus the Caesars, etc, we are thus in a paradox: the end phase of occidental antiquity has declined into empire but this becomes the base level for a whole classic phase of social organization. Further a remarkable parallel phenomenon of the Israelite transitions suddenly spawns a religion of Christianity and this enters at the exact point of the Roman ‘decline’ as empire. The Christian phenomenon is mysterious but it is in principle at least a kind of rescue vehicle for what will soon be the really real ‘decline and fall’ phase of the Roman Empire starting in the later centuries AD, followed by an actual collapse of Civilization in a Dark Ages and this terminal phase, while transforming into whatever the Christian factor can manage as a collapse vehicle.
We thus have a complete example of the decline into a Dark Ages in occidental antiquity Let us not the decline is almost impossible to analyze. Neither Toynbee nor Spengler really got it right. The issue is not Rome and its empire but a larger distance from the source of creative innovation in the early Greek and Israelite (and Persian, Indic, Chinese, etc). A dark age enters about halfway through a 2400 year interval as the occidnet goes into collapse. Note that India and China didn’t really have a analogous phenomenon.
The accident is unique and one factor is probably the endemic and overwhelming factor of slavery which enters the accident and completely corrupts the whole civilization. It took millennia for the post-Roman world to somehow slip away from slavery. It could advance any further until it did so. Note that slavery is itself a kind of decline: it enters into higher civilization like a disease and slowly cancerates the whole accident…
Note a few things: there is no law of decline. There may be some factor of entropy we don’t understand but in principle free agents can always restore their starting point.
This is a bit long-winded: let’s jump back to the start of this post and summarize the basic point again….
I have cited this book already and don’t as such endorse it and tend to be skeptical of Toynbean terminologies and dark ages, this book is nonetheless devastatingly clear that we are in deep deep trouble, it being too late to do much about our crisis as the world system undergoes collapse into a kind of neo-feudal chaos. Right or not the book create a useful simulation so to speak of how a civilization can reinvent feudalism in a period of industrial collapse.
The author reserves little but contempt for Green fantasies, and the feel good activism of journals Common Dreams or Alternet (vital and important magazines nonetheless).
I cannot say I agree here but I cannot propose clear objections to such a negative prediction of catastrophe.
The author is probably right but my take is that we can via revolutionary means create a life-boat socialism, with a spectrum of possibilities: a socialist system such as our DMNC, a modified DMNC with steady-state no growth, a last resort system altogether postindustrial in distributed communes.
I would think this author would reject the first two options. But we can see how limited is, as discussed today, the suggestion that the US nationalize the oil industrial complex. We are going to lose the whole foundation of industrial civilization. I don’t agree with myself on that, but I can’t suggest any way out at this point.
As the author notes we have frittered away the time we should have used to embark on postcapitalism. It may be too late. And we are on our own, it would seem: the politicians are sick jokes at this point.