Regular readers know that I’ve talked about collapse (as well as the implied regeneration that follows it) on here a lot. In nearly all cases, though, I’ve discussed it within a specifically American context – the collapse of the present American system and the potential for one or more post-American successor states arising in place of the present globohomo order. However, we should recognise that collapse is a general phenomenon that affects any and all large nations eventually. Just as America is not a special snowflake who is exempt from the laws of demographic-structural theory, so also is she not the only one subject to them.
Further in this vein, we should recognise that no major nation is isolated from its neighbours. No matter how self-sufficient, sooner or later everybody gets hooked up into trade networks. As trade networks expand, you develop world systems that display increased international interconnectedness and interdependency. From a demographic-structural perspective, the interconnectedness of these global systems acts to “synch up” the secular cycles of the nations involved as “information flows” increase. The upside to this is that when one part of the system prospers, everyone does. The downside, of course, is that when one part collapses, everyone does as well.
There are several historical examples of this kind of interconnected system synching up and then collapsing. Probably one of the most well-known examples would be the Bronze Age collapse which occurred in the Mediterranean world system roughly between 1225-1150 BC. Likely due to several shocks to the system working in tandem (drought, volcanic eruptions, migrations into the Balkans from the north, etc.), a series of invasions of the Sea Peoples spread out across the entire eastern end of the Mediterranean, toppling Mycenaean Greece and the Hittite Empire, and nearly did the same to Egypt. From there, the shocks moved outward throughout the rest of Anatolia and Syro-Palestine and eastward into Mesopotamia, disrupting the entire interconnected trade network. The system was apparently already primed to be toppled by these jolts, however, due to the top-heavy political structures (elite overproduction) and overspecialisation in these empires that contributed to their fragility in the face of system shocks. When the first one fell, the effects spread out like dominoes falling in a row.
There is evidence that this collapse extended beyond the Mediterranean basin and disrupted the civilisation existing in the Nordic Bronze Age around the Baltic Sea. Right around the same time that Bronze Age Mediterranean society was collapsing, serious changes to society in the Baltic basin were also taking place, primarily due to the disruption of trade routes that connected the two regions, with amber flowing south and metals and prestige goods returning north. During this period, the population in the area transitioned from a society organised primarily around scattered villages and farms into one that became more heavily militarised and centred around fortified towns, indicating that there was a change in the region’s elite organisation, or at least a strong modification of it (remember that collapse phases are characterised by struggles between competing elite groups). A large battle that dates to this era has been archaeologically uncovered in the Tollense Valley of northeastern Germany which is thought to have involved over 5000 combatants – a huge number for this area at this time, indicating more centralised state-like organisational capacities than were previously thought to have existed in the region. All in all, the evidence seems to suggest that this culture underwent some type of collapse phase at this time, likely in tandem with that occurring further south.
Other times and places have also seen such world system collapses take place. for instance, when the western Roman Empire was falling in the 3rd-5th centuries AD, the entire Mediterranean basis (again) underwent a systemwide socioeconomic collapse and decentralisation. More recently, the entire Eurasian trade system, from England to China, underwent a synchronised collapse phase in the early 17th century AD that saw revolutions, elite conflict, decentralisation, and social simplification take place across the length of the continent.
The great irony of interconnectedness is that too much of it actually works to reduce resilience within a system. Because an intensively globalised world system entails a lot of specialisation as different parts begin to focus on the production of different commodities needed within the network, this makes each part of the system more dependent upon the others. This works to reduce the resiliency of each of these individual parts, and the greater interconnectedness allows failure in one part to be communicated more widely and rapidly to other parts than might otherwise be the case in less interconnected systems.
So it is today. The post-WWII neoliberal global system is probably the most extensive, most specialised, most intensively networked world system that history has ever seen. It’s not surprising that the signs of the collapse phase we see in the USA are mirrored to some degree or another in virtually every major player around the world. The rest of the West, China, India, Brazil – all demonstrate the marks of secular collapse, increased intraelite competition, growing economic divide between the elites and the commons, social instability, and all the rest. Even China, which many observers seem to view as an unassailable robo-nation of inexorable stability is showing all the signs of a collapse phase. Decades of One Child policy are contributing to a coming demographic collapse in population, its overblown Zero Covid policies are widely seen as stemming from intraelite competition (and the desire to punish cities and regions who support the wrong guys), their banking and real estate markets display marked instabilities that will surely spill over into the social realm no matter how many peoples’ social credit scores it ruins.
I didn’t mention Russia above because it is something of a special case in that their cycle is a bit ahead of everyone else’s. Russia’s terminal collapse took place over roughly the decade from 1989 to the turn of the 21st century, and they are now in the depressionary “recovery” phase of their secular cycle. I’d suggest that their cycle was a bit out of synch with the rest of the world system’s because of the Soviet Union’s only partial connection to the global system that took place over several decades.
Now, just because a collapse phase comes doesn’t mean it necessarily has to result in “collapse” in the sense that the layman usually thinks of the term. But the problem is that the less resilience is “built into” a system, the more likely it is to have a “conventional” type of collapse eventually take place. At the present time, we have a number of serious geopolitical events that are taking place that are exposing the neoliberal world order’s lack of resilience. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was met by the West imposing sanctions, which then backfired and have resulted in heavily inflated fuel prices and the very real possibility that Europe won’t be able to heat itself through the winter. In many countries, banking and financial systems are under tremendous stress. As well, the imposition of “organic” farming in many nations is resulting in reduced food production (which will create added instability and pressure on governments) and higher levels of civil disorder as farmers and other producers revolt against official mismanagement, even to the point of overthrowing governments.
Of course, a lot of these problems do seem to be self-inflicted, and there’s a reason for that. While collapse phases will happen sooner or later, they can be exacerbated by bad policy. And left-wing progressives such as those who dominate the present neoliberal world order have a way of pursuing social and economic policies that reduce resilience and increase fragility within the system. Let’s be honest – none of these people that are referred to as “elites” actually care about the common people living in their various countries. They are fully committed to the principles of centralisation and intraelite competition, as they seek to loot whatever they can for themselves and their clients while using crises as cover for their own bad behaviour. The problem for the rest of us, though, is that this makes it more likely that one or more components in the system will fall apart and then communicate that collapse to the rest of the system, precipitating an accelerating system-wide crisis.
All of this is contributing to an acceleration of system-wide collapse, driven by the globohomo Regime (and by this, I don’t just mean the American Regime, but the entire transnational elite cabal), but which will also be helped along by anti-Regime efforts to find alternatives. For example, there is a lot of positive talk about the BRICS bloc switching away from the petrodollar as a reserve currency. While this certainly would be beneficial to them in the short term, they nevertheless would not be insulated from the ensuing financial collapse in the USA and Europe, even though they might think they would be. That’s because these nations are still essentially tied into the world system as it currently exists and are still subject to its fragilities. In a sense, if the USA goes down, it’s taking everyone else with it.
Is there anything that can be done about this? Well, at this point I’d like to introduce the concept of panarchy into the discussion. This idea was first proposed by the ecologist Crawford Holling as a way of understanding whole ecosystems and how their parts interact within the greater system. As you might guess, it’s not too surprising that much of this conceptual space can be applied to other realms outside of natural ecology, including discussions about sociopolitical systems since both are complex systems governed by many of the same overall rules.
Panarchy essentially says that within a large, complex system, you can have “subsystems” known as adaptive cycles which follow paths not too different from those proposed by Turchin’s demographic-structural theory – growth, decadence, collapse, rebirth. These cycles take place in different locations and/or at different structural levels but can communicate amongst themselves in ways that work to reinforce the stability of each cycle rather than undermining it. Instead of treating the system as one monolithic level, “responsibility” for different parts is farmed out and stresses can be spread out to lessen their impact on the overall system. As a result, these cycles build in resilience into the system as a whole. It is because of these types of mechanisms that ecological systems are as robust as they are and can recover from even extreme disasters such as massive wildfires or prolonged droughts.
Conceptually, this should sound pretty familiar to regular readers of this blog because it sounds a lot like the decentralisation and localism that I commonly discuss. Spreading out stresses, dividing responsibilities for system functions, introducing overlapping roles while yet maintaining regular exchange of “information” between levels? These are all ways that structurally decentralised systems can demonstrate enhanced anti-fragility and helps to explain why some polities totally fall apart into chaos during their collapse phases while others survive to enter into a new cycle.
Essentially, more localism and decentralisation of power can help to insulate regions from the worst aspects of collapse. Unfortunately, centralisation is the inevitable tendency of the Regime (indeed, pretty much any regime for that matter) because that is what further places power into the hands of those who already have power – which is not something most Regimes are willing to give up voluntarily. So for us in our present collapse phase – and by “us” I mean people all over the world – there is a race between the decentralising and centralising tendencies occurring as the phase plays out. The question is whether political decentralisation can occur quickly enough to encourage local resilience and to stave off the more “collapsy” aspects of collapse.
Sadly, the answer is “probably not,” given the way the Regime is desperately scrabbling to hold onto every shred of power that it can. This means that it cannot allow any political decentralisation of any kind to occur, no matter how badly that needs to happen. As a result of this enforced rigidity, any collapse that does come is going to be more violent and more envenomed than it needs to be. But once again, our job is to be prepared for any eventuality, knowing that the worldwide nature of the event is going to mean that there’s not really going to be any place to escape to, if one is so inclined to try. We’re gonna just have to ride it out and see what happens.