How do totalitarian states/empires usually fall?

How do totalitarian states/empires usually fall?

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How do totalitarian states/empires usually fall? Are there cases or plausible where these states fall without it necessarily being invaded or face a rebellion? When i say fall, i mean the move from totalitarian to at least"more"democracy. For example, in the case of north-Korea which option or options are viable to happen.

Totalitarian regimes generally end in two ways:

  1. By the sword: either a foreign invader or a domestic revolt or both forced an end to the regime.

  2. By the pen: the ruling regime peacefully transitions itself into something less totalitarian.

Examples of forced changes includes Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This doesn't always need to be a prolonged bloody conflict, though: the Soviet Union quickly crumbled after first the Baltic Republics and then the Russian SFSR effectively rebelled against central authority. Sometimes a coup removed the totalitarian leader and reintroducd democracy, such as in the United States of Brazil and its former colonial homeland, the Portuguese Second Republic.

However, peaceful transitions absolutely do happen as well. Francoist Spain rapidly became a democratic constitutional monarchy after his death when Franco's chosen successor turned out to be a secret liberal. The path for Myanmar was a lot more fraught with setbacks: after elections were held in 1992, the military junta couped its own leader to hang on to power. But concrete liberalisation eventually took place after 2011.

Not all totalitarian regimes become liberal democracies in this way, though. The aforementioned Portugese Second Republic was ended by a coup in 1974; however, the regime engaged in limited liberalisation long before its fall. Depending on how strictly you define totalitarianism, it could fit either category. Likewise, totalitarianism in Communist China is said to have ended with Mao Zedonh 1976. But while subsequent reforms under Deng Xiaoping have greatly loosened socioeconomic controls, China remains indisputably an authoritarian state.

Perhaps the better way to phrase this is that - after WW2, anyway - the most common way for totalitarian regimes to go is by succumbing to a combination of domestic discontent and external pressures. Those who saw the writing on the wall and proactively reformed the country could manage a peaceful transition; those reacting too slowly had the changes forced upon them.

Lastly, all of these are viable possibilities for North Korea, although none of them seem particularly likely currently.

When authoritarian regimes fall or 'transition' into something less authoritarian it is typically due to either external forces (invasion or threat of invasion) or economic stress.

There are of course many examples of regimes falling due to an actual invasion, but there is one example of an absolute monarchy (Kuwait) which became a constitutional monarchy in the face of a threatened invasion from Iraq, which refused to recognize Kuwait's independence from the United Kingdom in 1961. This was the height of the Cold War globally and the heyday of Nasserist revolutionary republicanism in the Arab region specifically. The ruling family came to the conclusion that a constitutional system would shore up its legitimacy both at home and abroad in the face of Iraqi claims. This lasted for over 20 years before the ruling family managed to dispense with the constitution and re-establish absolute rule in the mid-80s. The constitution was only restored in the early 1990s, due this time to an actual invasion and occupation by Iraq in 1990-91.

I mentioned Kuwait because it is an interesting case that is not well known. More often, however, authoritarian regimes fall or transition when the economic basis for their rule is gone or ceases to grow. Most authoritarian regimes today are 'rentier states'. They are able to finance themselves from easy foreign sources such as the sale of natural resources (e.g. Arab Gulf monarchies) or outright subsidization by another country (e.g. North Korea by China, Belarus by Russia and a number of Arab countries by their Gulf neighbors). China is a unique case in that its economic growth is based on actual production, but whether the regime can survive in its current form when that growth slows down will be interesting to see.

When will the American Empire collapse?

E very so often I come across an interesting piece on the cyclical nature of empires. How often they disappear. How frequently they show the same signs before falling. It’s all very fascinating. One naturally looks to the current political situation and finds parallels. You start to imagine that the American empire will collapse some day as well.

But there’s a problem, I often find myself w ondering…When? WHENwill the U.S. empire slip into the pages of history? In this article, I’m going to total up various estimates and theories on when the empire will collapse to come up with a “best guess” date.

List of Estimates and Empire Collapse Theories:

  • Sir John Glubb, The Fate of Empires — In this work, Glubb estimates that empires last about 250 years (10 generations). If we use 1776 for the start date of the United States empires, that would be 2026 as an estimated fall date.

  • J. D. Unwin, Sex and Culture— Here, Unwin estimates that it takes about 75 years — 3 generations — after unrestricted sexual access for a culture to collapse or be conquered. If we use 1970 as the start of “free love”, that puts us in 2045.
  • Currency Dominance — The dominate currency of the world goes through various transitions — on average the baton passed about every century for the last 600 years. This would spell trouble for the US Dollar in the next

  • Peter Turchin, Secular Cycles and Cliodynamics — puts the millennial generation as the upheaval generation, with major events taking place from 2010–2050.

  • Meadows, et. al, The Limits to Growth — puts the start of the collapse of techno-industrial society around 2030.
  • James Howard Kunstler— Puts “The Long Emergency” starting around the 2008 financial crisis and continuing for decades until society collapses back to are more sustainable way of life.
  • John Michael Greer — Similar to Kunstler, we’re probably collapsing right now and it will take decades, even centuries, before the modern system is totally replaced. (Consider that the Roman Empire took hundreds of years to collapse and even lived on as the Byzantine Empire for a awhile).

  • Gill, et. al,Topsoil and CivilizationHamaker, Weaver,The Survival of Civilization Lowdermilk, Walter C., Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years Mitchell, Elyne,Soil And Civilization — Soil depletion and water access problems often crop up as empires fall, disrupting food production and collapsing the economy. We most likely only have 60 years of topsoil left at current depletion rates. We are also heavily stressing underground water supplies (National Geographic). Depleting these resources would send food prices soaring. This puts collapse in the 2050s.
  • Richard Duncan, Olduvai Theory — this theory proposes that oil-based civilization will only last about 100 years due to the problems of exponential growth on a finite planet, among other issues, and is roughly in lime with Hubbard’s Peak Oil Theory. This puts economic collapse around 2030.
  • William Strauss, Neil Howe, Strauss — Howe Generational Theory — Puts the “Fourth Turning” of generations — the moment of crisis — in the 2020s with the millennial generation.

  • Dr. Joseph Tainter,Collapse of Complex Societies — All the ‘ingredients’ for a collapse of the empire are already in place. Cracks are already forming and collapse is baked into the cake. Could take decades though.
  • Dmitry Orlov, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects — Collapse of the United States is inevitable, for many of the same reasons the USSR collapsed — hard to tell exactly when but could happen with alarming speed, just like the soviet union.
  • Steve St. Angelo, SRSrocco Report — Due to diminishing returns on energy (EROEI), the US economy will experience a major downturn in the next 20 years.
  • Chris Hamilton, Econimica — Demographic issues in developed countries will cause a massive debt crisis and economic turmoil in the next few decades.
  • Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World — Energy, debt, and economic problems in developed countries are becoming a crisis. The system is already fragile enough for a major shock, which could begin at any time. put the crash of the stock market and global economy around 2040.

The American empire is in decline—and we’re not ready for what comes next

The condition of crisis has become so familiar in our politics, we forget what crisis really is and what it can do to us. Crippling polarization, climate catastrophe, military overreach, moral degeneracy—these and other threats to the American juggernaut are real. Are we ready for our crises to finally catch up to us?

This is a very un-American question, but it is a reasonable one. Every empire comes and goes, even fabulously wealthy ones with armies stationed all over the world, even ones whose language and pop culture has become a universal tongue, that hold such dominion and then demand of themselves even more greatness. Every period of alleged greatness is also a precursor to decline.

Recall the most shocking political lesson that Jesus taught his Jewish followers, who craved liberation from foreign rule: Rather than being a revolutionary leader, he died on a cross. Rather than bringing the troubled Roman Empire renewed glory, Christianity helped usher in its collapse.

What if our political culture were to ask not just how we will cling to some version of greatness but how this country will enter its eventual post-great future?

This lesson is the social version of that medieval reminder, memento mori—remember that you will die. And from such remembering comes ars moriendi, the art of dying. At a time of plague and brutal wars, when decline was the general condition, handbooks spread across Europe for how a person can make the best of death, through the example and guidance of Christ. They instructed not just patients but their families and loved ones. The art of dying is not just personal it is social.

Is there an art of dying for empires, too? What if our political culture were to ask not just how we will cling to some version of greatness or be even greater, but how this country will enter its eventual post-great future? Will we go down with guns blazing and nukes bursting, burning the planet to a crisp and locking ourselves in behind impenetrable walls? Or will America’s decline bring about a more peaceful and equitable world, where more people can have opportunity and voice regardless of where they are born?

This is an unspeakable subject for our politicians, whose profession requires bowing to the idolatry of our greatness. Their range of motion extends only from whether America is already great or should be great again. But we can read between the lines to notice who among them is and is not able to imagine a universe not eternally subject to American might. Do they have a theory of graceful decline?

The work of ars moriendi requires a humility and self-giving that American politics is not presently capable of—and never has been, I suspect.

So far, the Democratic presidential nominees have been asked little about their foreign policy visions. This should change since presidents have more power over war and peace than any domestic legislation. For his part, President Trump has danced a perplexing dance with decline—withdrawing troops from the most sensitive conflicts while escalating military spending and testing out several new conflict opportunities, like with Iran and China. He seems to enjoy living in a tinderbox, while President Obama and Hillary Clinton preferred more calculated forms of world domination through secret drone strikes and sweeping trade pacts.

Decline is not only pertinent abroad, however. We tolerate our crises of poverty and inequality on the assumption that with the next round of greatness there will be riches enough to drown them. A memento mori culture would have no such dream to suffer toward it would accept that the present abundance might be all we get and take on the hard questions of how to distribute that abundance more equitably. Rather than forestalling basic justice until greatness, what if we were to let ourselves experience more justice now?

I wonder what a politics would look like that could tolerate discussing the inevitability of decline. What would politicians say if we had a debate on what should follow the Pax Americana? What would their constituents expect them to say? Like the Iroquois Confederacy, what if our Constitution required that leaders plan for seven generations after our own?

The work of ars moriendi requires a humility and self-giving that American politics is not presently capable of—and never has been, I suspect. But that does not have to stop us from trying to practice the art of dying, in politics as well as in our lives. Can we help bring about a world that has grown out of the need for a superpower? Do we trust God to reign or only ourselves?

Nathan Schneider, a contributing writer for America, is a reporter and professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Your servant here has been told
To say it clear, to say it cold
It’s over it ain’t goin’ any further
Now the Wheels of Heaven stop
You feel the Devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future:

When they said repent, repent,

"Destroy another fetus now, we don't like children anyhow,".

No, we don't. We allow them to wallow in detention centers. We hand them over to strangers with no thought to their safety. We don't care of children have no access to healthcare. We don't care if they go to bed hungry. We don't care if poor mothers don't have access to pre-natal care. If we actually cared about kids, we'd make sure they were well taken care of, had healthcare, full bellies and not use the excuse that they're their parents' responsibility. If we don't care what happens to them after birth, why care if they're aborted?

Are we in the beginning of a civil war? It is interesting to look at the finger pointing as who is causing this potential war and how they misrepresent what the other side is doing. Remember the very insightful quote without origin,

People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

What happens when the police/military are no longer there?

Decline is a choice. Two decades into the unipolar world that came about with the fall of the Soviet Union, America is in the position of deciding whether to abdicate or retain its dominance. Decline—or continued ascendancy—is in our hands. Charles Krauthammer - 2009

Though we are polarized, I do not believe another civil war is coming. We are not polarized along geographical lines. We live in mixed environments . Politically mixed.And Red states people don't all align the same politically, and neither do blue states people. I know of no Republican who sees Democrats as real enemies that they want to go to war against or vice versa. For all the rhetoric and polarization, the pervasive issue now hinges on whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office.That is one person and one impeachment. I don't know what all my neighbor's views are politically. I do know they are not my enemies, whatever their political beliefs. A mixture of political beliefs pervade America, so how could there be a civil war? Who is really your enemy ? Who would you fight ?Your next door neighbor who today you greet amiably every morning, and partake of the buildings garden party with ever summer, because they are of another party?There are no boundaries, whether geographic or political.[IMO]

There are open discussions of this in a lot of places with an analysis of the prerequisites for a civil war. At present we meet several of these prerequisites. The first civil war was the revolutionary war where neighbor was against neighbor and father against son took place. So there is a precedent. I am not sure most people would be happy if Trump is removed without real reason. So far none exists.

The revolutionary war was clear cut for remaining or for seceding As was the civil war.What is a clear cut demarcation today?

Same issues. Who is in control of our nation? Adhere to the constitution or replace it with something else. Freedom vs subservience to an authoritarian government or foreign entity?

I personally have been maintaining for several years that the country is over, long before Trump was even a thought. The reason is that religion is dwindling and no one is willing to die for their country and as such will succumb easily to outside force. The only thing that is unknown is the end game. It is certainly not something I want for my children and then their children. I just do not see any way out.

"no one is willing to die for their country and as such will succumb easily to outside force" - So very true. Trump dodged fighting for our country many times, showing an unwillingness to risk anything for the country. How utterly disturbing it must be to you and any real Republican to now see the President simply inviting outside forces to pervert and subvert America and American democracy.

Trump is a temporary problem. 46 will go on an apology tour/victory lap and there will be no civil war. Ever look at MAGA rally demographics? There will be no civil war.

So far none exists?
Corrupt intention for personal gain.
Intentions so corrupt that will surely jeopardize relationships with allies and strengthen our enemies.
Not enough for you, apparently.

I appreciate your sentiments and wish more people thought that way. I would much rather discuss rose bushes with my neighbor than Trump's impeachment.

You should read some of the militias’ websites. They can’t wait for a “civil war” and start shooting Democrats and liberals. They believe they are defending the Constitution and that the military will join them. The Oath Keepers is composed of retired military and law enforcement. They support Trump. They claim they are the best group and they follow the law. Yet their comments are filled with talk of killing those who don’t agree with them. Crazies.

Talk is plentiful and cheap on the internet. Americans have it too good to go into a civil war. Though there is always be a steady supply of gullible people who of their own, or prompted by the FBI, may think they can start such a war, I doubt it is going to happen. What are we fighting over? The first amendment, the second? The Constitution can be interpreted to mean anything you want it to mean.And it can be amended. It's a frame ,and now its a meme, a cipher?And now we have added on a scapegoat for many of our problems those Russians[again], or is it the Chinese now? The gung ho Trump supporters are standing aside as the Dems are doing their impeachment thing.Before that, it was the Mueller thing. All they do is talk about how terrible it is, while the Dems do their thing. If this were some other country, the president's defenders would have occupied their capital building by now, or they'd be out in the streets protesting what would be called an attempted coup. Here, it's all talk no action! For all the polarization and hyped up fear of a coming civil war, it's business as usual politically in America. Americans are actually quite peaceful politically.As Norman Mailer once noted, other countries have periodic violent political upheavals,while Americans resort to committing individual violent crimes to vent frustrations and dissatisfaction. I don't see that as changing.

If by the decline of the US empire is meant that the US cannot control the resources of Latin america and the Middle East. If it means that supporting dictators for our interests will no longer be possible the people of the world outside the US are getting uppity, then that is a good thing.Our self serving narratives do not comprise all of reality. Things are happening in spite of us not because of us.And what is happening is at odds with our narratives of capitalism as the ideal system.And Democratic Socialism is a coming to the USA as well!

Then their mothers quit paying for their Internet

I suggest that we allow those southern and rural states which maintain their fervent beliefs in "making America great" again to secede from the Union and accomplish what they wanted to do over 150 years ago. Given the fact that they collect from the federal government more than they contribute, it should prove to be an exercise in reality therapy for them. Just a thought.

Check out what party is in charge of the states fastest approaching bankruptcy due to broad social policies, salary promises including retirement that cannot possibly be met with projected revenue, and flight of taxpayers faced with burden of funding the foregoing. Hint. they are not in the South or Rural areas.

I had a conversation with my daughter about the "Hunger Games" over a year ago. In the Hunger Games certain people from the rural areas are allowed to combat for survival because the city states have the power. I told her it would be just the opposite. Most of the food, water and electricity comes from rural areas and they would have the power, not the city states where liberal elites are now concentrated,

Thinking about America’s vulnerability in terms of secularism, individualism, consumerism, racism, etc, raises the question for me: Is there any Nation in the world where strength and vigor is seen primarily in terms of Christian values? Or given the de-facto pluralism of society, is there any Nation in the world where strength is seen primarily in humanistic values?

Unfortunately, no. "Strength" in America tends to be framed as avoidance or 'overcoming' emotions and humanity. Strength in America is typically framed in the intentional oppression of "the other," contrary to Christ's example and teachings. Compassion, basic humanity, supporting, embracing and welcoming "the other" is framed as weakness here.

Much of Europe is consciously built on human rights, in many ways derived from Christian values but independent of their church origin. In Irekand and Britian many schools are successfully teaching ethics and ethicl resopnsing (instead of religion) wheere working class middle schoolers can intelligenbtly, for instance, discuss Aristoy]ytle's virtues and and how to applyb them to concrete situations in their nlives. If the RC bishop[s had gad such ethical reasoning education they would have been far less likely to cover up the sexual crimes of their priests.

"At a time of plague and brutal wars, when decline was the general condition, handbooks spread across Europe for how a person can make the best of death, through the example and guidance of Christ."

I for one would rather live in a society whose focus is on overcoming plagues and avoiding brutal wars than in a society whose focus is on a graceful slide into oblivion.

America began its decline under the Earl Warren Supreme Court, i.e. separation of church and state. We have lost the Founding Fathers vision of a country where citizens practiced self-regulation due to a belief in morality, temperance, acknowledging divine laws and natural laws. Today Americans beat their chests about right to free speech, right to bear arms, right to “choose” and other self-centered “rights”. We brag about our rights and rarely practice acknowledging God in our midst or in our neighbors. Hillary’s “vast right wing” divide and conquer anthem was adopted by millions. Obama’s reference to Americans who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy” was also lauded by millions helping to create the monster of Trump

We are lost because we forgot about the Lord just like the Old Testament Jews. This was all expected.

So now the Republican slicing and dicing begins.
The Republican Party had the choice of many candidates in 2016. They chose Trump.
Blaming Clinton and Obama for the misery that Trump is only beginning to put this nation through seems worthy of an apology to me.
Our State Department has been gutted, our foreign policy compromised and our good name sullied.
These things did not occur under Obama. They would likewise not have occurred under a President Hillary Clinton.
Keep slicing and dicing.

frank troia:
Excellent response.

We do not need rocket science to tell us why the country is where she is today morally. So it is strange how most people are looking at the wrong places for explanation and are looking for "sophisticated" and "complex" explanation! We do not need rocket science to explain the decline the author of the essay reflects on.

During my family conversation at home, we (children, mom and myself) often tell ourselves that something must be amiss when anyone makes a simple, basic, obvious and comprehensible issue to be complex, to look as if it is a "rocket science" when it is not!

The decline of a nation starts from a moral decline. And a moral decline starts when some believe that there are no truths, that there are no facts. So, here is the issue-the first two casualties in moments of crisis, decline, trouble are TRUTH and FACT. The decline begins when these two are either completely defeated or are put under stress.

Wait a minute. Everyone should introspect and look within! There is big trouble and crisis in the land when some people believe and say the following (i) Believe what I say, do not believe what you see. In other words believe my own eyes and what my mouth says, tells you, and not your own eyes or what you see with your own eyes. And this is said in the "BIG" RALLIES and the crowd yell raucously, angrily and obediently "hail the King the 'chosen' one, we will believe your (king's) eyes, what you (the "king") tell us to believe, we will believe what you say, and not what our eyes see, not what our ears hear on the streets! (ii) Truth isn't truth, so there is no truth. (iii) there are "alternative facts", so there is no fact! Any empire with a "King" who sends his servants and minions out on the street to announce and declare that there are alternative facts and that truth isn't truth will decline until the empire is morally rescued by the people from the immoral grip of the un-Christian, irreligious and un-Godly 'King' and the augean stable is morally cleansed.

When a fish starts to decline, the decline starts from the head. Those who want to link this decline which the author of the essay reflects on with religion should note and reflect that the present crisis and decline which the author of the essay is reflecting on started as a moral one triggered on the day some people sacrificed the Christian faith on the altar of political and cultural expediency in electing the most un-christian, un-Godly, immoral, irreligious, untruthful, corrupt person as the head. And these christians claimed they voted and elected in the name of "christianity" this most un-Godly, un-christian, immoral, irreligious, extremely corrupt, lying fellow -who even when he (a man of easy and weak virtues) is supposedly married sleeps with prostitutes, women of easy and weak virtues! By their votes these christians (sections of the evangelicals, sections of the protestants, sections of the catholics) who voted for this fellow attempted to redefine Christianity, our lovely faith in a living, hopeful and merciful God and turned it into a mere culture right before our eyes, as if the Christian faith/Christianity is some kind of culture or a set of cultural and political practices. That was the day truth and fact became the first casualties. And the country has not recovered from this lie since then.

The country waits with deep breadth for the beginning of the moral cleansing, the cleansing of the augean stable, the stoppage of the decline, when Christian faith will no longer be sacrificed on the altar of political and cultural expediency, when there will be one truth and one fact, when truth and fact will be our guide and teachers and not the eyes of the self declared "King," the self declared "chosen" one! God Bless everyone. May God Bless the United States of America. May God bless the good people of the United States of America.

Sez Coosgrove, "What happens when the rough men are no longer there?"

Ah, yes, we need "rough men." Put Christianity on hold and let the rough men take care of business then we can be truly Christian again, right?

How dictators fall

Muammar Gaddafi speaking on Libyan state television last week: experts say that the use of violence by a regime under challenge triggers further escalation by protesters who are demanding change. Photograph: BBC

Muammar Gaddafi speaking on Libyan state television last week: experts say that the use of violence by a regime under challenge triggers further escalation by protesters who are demanding change. Photograph: BBC

László Tökés is not remembered much outside Romania these days. Now 58 and the bishop of Királyhágómellék, in March 1989 he was a parish priest in Timosoara facing eviction from his church apartment. His crime was to have preached against the policy of "systemisation" - the restructuring of his country's towns and villages ordered by the authoritarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Ethnically Hungarian, Tökés had a long history of criticising the regime and so when he refused to quit his home, it became a cause célèbre and drew the attention of Ceausescu's secret police, the notorious Securitate. By December 1989, it was not only his parishioners who were standing guard to protect his flat, linking hands around the property, but ethnic Romanians who swelled into a crowd that filled the surrounding streets.

What followed over the next few days is better known than Tökés 's personal tale: the mass protests in Timosoara which led, in quick order, to the fall of the once-mighty Ceausescu regime.

If this story of one man and his country sounds familiar, that is perhaps because it is. Not only because the Arab world is going through a series of popular convulsions which some commentators have compared to the events in Communist Europe in 1989, but also because of what his story tells us about the social dynamics of rebellion against authoritarian regimes.

A large part of the problem of understanding how modern rebellions come about is the reporting of them. Euphoric moments are condensed to slogans on one hand and on the other into vivid narratives of the crimes of the fallen regime. What falls through the cracks is the process by which the actions of an often small dissident circle are translated into a mass movement involving a sufficient cross-section of society to sweep away a tyrant.

If that clouds our understanding, so too does the tendency to limit our examination of rebellions to the facts of the revolutionary moment itself. Instead, what we should be doing is examining why populations ever accept dictatorships. In doing so, we may comprehend more about why they are then rejected, often so suddenly. Roger Petersen, author of Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe , is one of those who has studied the question: "How do ordinary people rebel against powerful and brutal regimes?" His answer is that most rebellions can be divided into three distinct mechanisms or phases.

The first, according to the Petersen road map of rebellion, is the most critical - the slow shift in the largest part of the population from what he calls regime "neutrality" to what he describes as a "widespread but unorganised and unarmed resistance".

The behaviour associated with this phase is one that typically involves "anti-regime graffiti, singing nationalist songs, handing out or accepting anti-regime literature and participating in spontaneous demonstrations".

It was precisely this that was in evidence in the case of the protests that centred on Laszlo Tökés 's apartment in 1989 where the gathering crowds at first sang hymns but then quickly moved to singing a banned nationalistic song, Deteapt-te, române! (Wake Up, Romania) This had also been sung by demonstrators two years before in the mass protests in the city of Brasov.

The second phase Petersen describes is that of locally organised and armed rebellion. And the third phase, he says, is maintaining that rebellion.

"It is about first actors," Petersen said last week. "There are people prepared to oppose the regime, but it is about those people you see who will drive within a few hundred metres of a demonstration to see if there are enough people for them to join in as well. It is about people making that strategic decision about joining in whose concern is: I can't be the only one."

In this, Petersen believes the use of social media has been helpful in the recent uprisings, precisely because it increased the number of those "first actors" on the street. "In eastern Europe there were three signs that people would look at - the participation of the students, the workers and the overall involvement of society" in deciding when to join in.

Crucial too in the slow build-up to rebellion, adds Petersen, is another key plank of social decision-making - the abandonment of a deal with the autocratic regime that sees people accept certain benefits such as employment and education in favour of different values like "dignity".

"I think in Hungary and Czechoslovakia for a long time there was a feeling among many that said 'Let's not talk about politics, let's talk bread. That is the deal that we'll accept'. But after a certain point it's not just bread any more, it's dignity. It's 'I don't have an autonomous life'. I don't know precisely when that stage comes up."

If there is a point of strong similarity between a number of the revolutions of 1989 and what is happening now in the Arab world, it is in the gradual abandonment of this "bread not politics" deal.

At Cairo University, Professor Ahmad Shalabi has dubbed this acquiescence to power in exchange for certain economic and social benefits the demuqratiyat al-khubz - the democracy of bread. He describes the political bargain between post-independence Arab leaders who have received deference from their people in exchange for subsidised services. It is a bargain that has collapsed confronted with the espousal by regimes of neo-liberal economic policies, widespread corruption and the same desire by young Arabs for more political autonomy.

Larbi Sadiki, who lectures on democratisation at Exeter University and has recently returned from observing Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, asks the key question. "When you look at who protested in Tunisia you have to ask why did the middle classes join with those from the misery belt of places like Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine? It is a psychological process. With rebellions, quantity makes quality.

"The key moment comes when people are asking themselves why they are not joining in. Knocking on their neighbours doors to say 'Let's go to Habib Bourguiba [the main avenue in Tunis and the focus of that country's protests].'

"This is the tipping point, when this part of society decides this is our fight too. That's what you saw after 9 January in Tunisia. After that point people were looking at what was happening and saying these kids who are getting killed are dying for us. Then everyone becomes personally concerned."

The case of L ászló Tökés also dramatises another feature of rebellions - the necessity to focus on a key identifiable victim in a population that is already primed with sufficient dissatisfaction for rebellion. In Tunisia that figure was Mohammed Bouzizi, the fruit seller from Sidi Bouzid who set himself on fire. In Egypt early focus was provided by the murder of Khaled Said,who was savagely beaten by the police in Alexandria last June and whose name became a rallying call for the activist networks who participated in the first big demonstration against the regime.

In the 1986 fall of Ferdinand Marcos it was the long-held suspicion of Filipinos that the dictator had helped cover up the assassination of Benigno Aquino at Manila airport in 1983 that acted as a lightning rod for opposition to his long rule, and transformed Aquino's wife, Corazon, into his leading challenger.

And the use of violence by the regime under challenge, argue both Petersen and Sadiki, acts as a further crucial trigger for escalation by protesters against the regime. It is not simply because the state use of violence - whether in Bahrain or Romania, Egypt or Libya - acts as reminder of its brutal nature at a time when it is more vulnerable than it realises. It is also because the use of state violence confronts those still part of the state with a moral and strategic question: whether to tolerate the use of force and hope the regime survives, or peel away and join the opposition.

"It is the other side of the story to that of those rebelling," says Petersen. "There are different considerations for those in the military, police or special forces, defined by their role. They are required to make a choice: whether they can switch sides and hope the people accept their new narrative in the new world after the regime, or stick by it to the end.

"Whether you defect to the opposition depends on these differential kinds of moral calculus. Ordinary soldiers, for instance, have their own calculus. And if they decide not to fire on protesters that sends a signal to the higher-ups in the military. Then pretty soon you might see the interest of the military changing."

Petersen, however, has one caveat. That this kind of negotiation in an organisation like the military does not necessarily hold true if there is the early and "crushing" use of violence.

Which leaves a final question: whether, by their very nature, autocratic regimes are not equipped with sufficient flexibility or institutional and individual self-awareness to survive by negotiating with people power at the moment of greatest threat, when it becomes obvious that it poses an existential challenge to the regime.

Part of the problem in the Middle East and elsewhere has been the very tactics used by regimes to protect themselves from internal challenges. In an influential study by James Quinlivan, an analyst with the non-profit research and development Rand corporation, this strategy is called "coup-proofing". Ironically, it is this kind of tactic that has often made these kinds of government more vulnerable to popular uprisings than others.

At its simplest, "coup-proofing" is the way in which regimes consolidate a small mafia-like inner core made up of cronies, family, tribal or ethnic interest while using incentives to encourage the security forces, both military and police, to protect the regime while monitoring each other.

The unintended consequence of this, however, is paranoid, inward-looking and detached regimes often isolated from the reality of what their people think, reinforced in their own view of their invulnerability and importance by a cadre of yes-men.

This, perhaps, explains why dictatorial regimes, regarded as stable and invulnerable by outside observers can collapse as quickly as they can, not least when a key element like the military - as happened in Egypt and Tunisia - removed its support. And it is not, as John Barry and Christopher Dickey remarked in a recent article in the Daily Beast website, a cheap business.

In the end, however, the success of a rebellion depends on the crossing of a fear barrier by enough people, not simply the small group of dedicated dissidents. A judgment that the risk is worth it and the rebellion might actually succeed.

"I was in a crowd in Vilnius in 1991 when 15 people were killed," recalls Petersen. "I remember people's response was not to back down but to head to parliament instead."

Albert Camus, asked "what is a rebel?", and answering his own question, said: "A man who says no." It is at this point, when fear is gone, that whole nations say no. And it is when tyrants fall.

The real tragedy behind the collapse of the American empire

America's defeat in Afghanistan is one in a string of catastrophic military blunders that herald the death of the American empire. With the exception of the first Gulf War, fought largely by mechanized units in the open desert that did not—wisely—attempt to occupy Iraq, the United States political and military leadership has stumbled from one military debacle to another. Korea. Vietnam. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. The trajectory of military fiascos mirrors the sad finales of the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Russian, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese and Soviet empires. While each of these empires decayed with their own peculiarities, they all exhibited patterns of dissolution that characterize the American experiment.

Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, lead the country into a cul-de-sac. Rulers and military leaders, driven by venal self-interest, are often buffoonish characters in a grand comic operetta. How else to think of Allen Dulles, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Donald Trump or the hapless Joe Biden? While their intellectual and moral vacuity is often darkly amusing, it is murderous and savage when directed towards their victims.

The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.

There is not a single case since 1941 when the coups, political assassinations, election fraud, black propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping, brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, U.S. sanctioned massacres, torture in global black sites, proxy wars or military interventions carried out by the United States resulted in the establishment of a democratic government. The two-decade-long wars in the Middle East, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, have only left in their wake one failed state after another. Yet, no one in the ruling class is held accountable.

War, when it is waged to serve utopian absurdities, such as implanting a client government in Baghdad that will flip the region, including Iran, into U.S. protectorates, or when, as in Afghanistan, there is no vision at all, descends into a quagmire. The massive allocation of money and resources to the U.S. military, which includes Biden's request for $715 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2022, a $11.3 billion, or 1.6 percent increase, over 2021, is not in the end about national defense. The bloated military budget is designed, as Seymour Melman explained in his book, "The Permanent War Economy," primarily to keep the American economy from collapsing. All we really make anymore are weapons. Once this is understood, perpetual war makes sense, at least for those who profit from it.

The idea that America is a defender of democracy, liberty and human rights would come as a huge surprise to those who saw their democratically elected governments subverted and overthrown by the United States in Panama (1941), Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Honduras (2009) and Egypt (2013). And this list does not include a host of other governments that, however despotic, as was the case in South Vietnam, Indonesia or Iraq, were viewed as inimical to American interests and destroyed, in each case making life for the inhabitants of these countries even more miserable.

I spent two decades on the outer reaches of empire as a foreign correspondent. The flowery rhetoric used to justify the subjugation of other nations so corporations can plunder natural resources and exploit cheap labor is solely for domestic consumption. The generals, intelligence operatives, diplomats, bankers and corporate executives that manage empire find this idealistic talk risible. They despise, with good reason, naïve liberals who call for "humanitarian intervention" and believe the ideals used to justify empire are real, that empire can be a force for good. These liberal interventionists, the useful idiots of imperialism, attempt to civilize a process that was created and designed to repress, intimidate, plunder and dominate.

The liberal interventionists, because they wrap themselves in high ideals, are responsible for numerous military and foreign policy debacles. The call by liberal interventionists such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Samantha Power to fund jihadists in Syria and depose Muammar Gaddafi in Libya rent these countries—as in Afghanistan and Iraq—into warring fiefdoms. The liberal interventionists are also the tip of the spear in the campaign to rachet up tensions with China and Russia.

Russia is blamed for interfering in the last two presidential elections on behalf of Donald Trump. Russia, whose economy is roughly the size of Italy's, is also attacked for destabilizing the Ukraine, supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria, funding France's National Front party and hacking into German computers. Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia—including limits on buying newly issued sovereign debt—in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and worked to thwart his candidacy.

At the same time, the liberal interventionists are orchestrating a new cold war with China, justifying this cold war because the Chinese government is carrying out genocide against its Uyghur minority, repressing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and stealing U.S. patents. As with Russia, sanctions have been imposed targeting the country's ruling elite. The U.S. is also carrying out provocative military maneuvers along the Russian border and in the South China Sea.

The core belief of imperialists, whether they come in the form of a Barack Obama or a George W. Bush, is racism and ethnic chauvinism, the notion that Americans are permitted, because of superior attributes, to impose their "values" on lesser races and peoples by force. This racism, carried out in the name of Western civilization and its corollary white supremacy, unites the rabid imperialists and liberal interventionists in the Republican and Democratic parties. It is the fatal disease of empire, captured in Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American" and Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient."

The crimes of empire always spawn counter-violence that is then used to justify harsher forms of imperial repression. For example, the United States routinely kidnapped Islamic jihadists fighting in the Balkans between 1995 and 1998. They were sent to Egypt—many were Egyptian—where they were savagely tortured and usually executed. In 1998, the International Islamic Front for Jihad said it would carry out a strike against the United States after jihadists were kidnapped and transferred to black sites from Albania. They made good on their threat igniting massive truck bombs at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 dead. Of course, the "extraordinary renditions" by the CIA did not end and neither did the attacks by jihadists.

Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called "micro-militarism." The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian empire. The Roman empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome's military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome's anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption. The British empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered.

"While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power," the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book "In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power": "Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way."

The worse it gets at home the more the empire needs to fabricate enemies within and without. This is the real reason for the increase in tensions with Russia and China. The poverty of half the nation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchic cabal, the wanton murder of unarmed civilians by militarized police, the rage at the ruling elites, expressed with nearly half the electorate voting for a con artist and demagogue and a mob of his supporters storming the capital, are the internal signs of disintegration. The inability of the for-profit national health services to cope with the pandemic, the passage of a Covid relief bill and the proposal of an infrastructure bill that would hand the bulk of some $5 trillion dollars to corporations while tossing crumbs—one-time checks of $1,400 to a citizenry in deep financial distress—will only fuel the decline.

The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate.

Because of the loss of unionized jobs, the real decline of wages, de-industrialization, chronic underemployment and unemployment, and punishing austerity programs, the country is plagued by a plethora of diseases of despair including opioid addictions, alcoholism, suicides, gambling, depression, morbid obesity and mass shootings —since March 16 the United States has had at least 45 mass shootings, including eight people killed in an Indiana FedEx facility on Friday, three dead and three injured in a shooting in Wisconsin on Sunday, and another three dead in a shooting in Austin on Sunday. These are the consequences of a deeply troubled society.

The façade of empire is able to mask the rot within its foundations, often for decades, until, as we saw with the Soviet Union, the empire appears to suddenly disintegrate. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will probably mark the final chapter of the American empire. In 2015, the dollar accounted for 90 percent of bilateral transactions between China and Russia, a percentage that has since fallen to about 50 percent. The use of sanctions as a weapon against China and Russia pushes these countries to replace the dollar with their own national currencies. Russia, as part of this move away from the dollar, has begun accumulating yuan reserves.

The loss of the dollar as the world's reserve currency will instantly raise the cost of imports. It will result in unemployment of Depression-era levels. It will force the empire to dramatically contract. It will, as the economy worsens, fuel a hyper-nationalism that will most likely be expressed through a Christianized fascism. The mechanisms, already in place, for total social control, militarized police, a suspension of civil liberties, wholesale government surveillance, enhanced "terrorism" laws that railroad people into the world's largest prison system and censorship overseen by the digital media monopolies will seamlessly cement into place a police state. Nations that descend into crises these severe seek to deflect the rage of a betrayed population on foreign scapegoats. China and Russia will be used to fill these roles.

The defeat in Afghanistan is a familiar and sad story, one all those blinded by imperial hubris endure. The tragedy, however, is not the collapse of the American empire, but that, lacking the ability to engage in self-critique and self-correction, as it dies it will lash out in a blind, inchoate fury at innocents at home and abroad.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. His most recent book is "America: The Farewell Tour" (2019).

When the Wall Came Down

P ictures speak louder than words: the destruction of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989, provides an exact date for the end of the Soviet Empire and its Communist ideology. One year earlier, I had visited Lech Walesa, the founder of Solidarity, who would become president of a liberated Poland in 1990. Walesa predicted the end of the USSR, attributing it to Mikhail Gorbachev’s relative pacificism. From the moment that Gorbachev refrained, in 1988, from giving the order to fire on the rebellious Latvians, and on the East Germans, who were fleeing their country through Hungary, the Soviet Empire’s fate was sealed, Walesa said. Still, as I recall, the obstreperous labor leader lived in fear of Russian military reaction.

It was the fall of the Berlin Wall that made collapse inevitable. Alerted to what was happening a few days in advance, I hurried to Berlin with the late philosopher André Glucksmann, an emblematic anti-Marxist figure (and occasional City Journal contributor), and a team from French television. What we saw in the days leading up to November 9 were East German citizens going back and forth over the wall. They were crossing it out of curiosity, quite surprised that the police had disappeared. Many went shopping in the West and then came back home to the East. This is when Glucksmann had the strange idea to deliver bananas to East Berlin. We observed that the Ossies, as they were called, were especially enthusiastic banana-buyers, since the fruit was nowhere to be found in the East. Glucksmann, who had some influence, called on Western humanitarian organizations to deliver bananas en masse. The next day, the East Germans discovered that it was easier to destroy the wall with picks than to climb it. And Glucksmann had no trouble distributing bananas, an unforgettable image: freedom was as simple as that, without any big words or lyrical flights, a lesson for high-flying philosophers.

The fall of the Berlin Wall thus taught us, if we had not already understood, that Communist ideology was a bluff concocted for Western intellectuals and other suckers. The Soviet Union was founded on Communism only in appearance. Since its forced birth in 1917, it was nothing more than a dictatorship based on fear. What Walesa understood applies to all totalitarian regimes, from Syria to Cuba and from China to North Korea. What is surprising is that it took the destruction of the wall to make this clear.

Shouldn’t we have understood the hollowness of the Soviet system from the moment the wall went up in 1961? If the Soviet Empire had been founded on an ideology, a belief, a hope for a better society, it would not have been necessary to build a wall, surrounded by barbed wire and explosive mines, to prevent East Germans from leaving. The wall had no other significance than to evoke and reinforce fear in the subjects of the empire and among Communist leaders themselves if they had once believed their Marxist vulgate, the wall proved, starting in 1961, that they no longer believed it. Neither did Stalin in the 1930s, since his essential contribution to the Soviet system (and later, by contagion, the Chinese and the Cuban experiments in inhumanity) was to institutionalize fear, with prison camps, phony trials, arbitrary arrests, and the denunciation of everyone by everyone.

I once asked Walesa, doubtless one of the best practical analysts of the Soviet system—he has the advantage of being an electrician, not a philosopher and note that the most famous of Chinese democrats, Wei Jinsheng, in exile in the United States, is also an electrician—if Poland, under Russian domination from 1939 to 1990, had ever numbered among its officially Communist leaders a single “believer” in Marxism. “Not a single one,” Walesa answered, and added: “if such a one had ever been found out in Solidarity, he would have been kicked out immediately.”

Communism has been an actual belief primarily in free countries. We are familiar with the quibbling of Marxist intellectuals in Europe and in America for them, the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban regimes are betrayals of the Marxist ideal. The Russians, you see, are too Russian, the Chinese too Chinese, and the Cubans too lackadaisical. Communism only works, it seems, where it is not applied.

Thirty years after the wall came down, some believe that the event has not lived up to its promise. Well—explain that to the Poles, the Baltic peoples, and the Ukrainians! Another quarrel also divides historians: did the wall fall, or was it destroyed—and if destroyed, by whom? By heroes seeking freedom, by brave people seeking bananas, by the preaching of Pope John Paul II, by the prescient 1987 speech of Ronald Reagan in Berlin—“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”? As often happens in history, major events grow out of multiple influences. But of all these factors, the most improbable was Gorbachev’s instructing his troops, “Don’t shoot.” He thought that he was reinventing socialism with a human face. The Soviet Empire was destroyed by the only one of its leaders who believed that real socialism could exist without fear—a fatal, fortunate error.

Guy Sorman, a City Journal contributing editor, is the author of many books, including Economics Does Not Lie: A Defense of the Free Market in a Time of Crisis. Translated by Alexis Cornel.


Benjamin Barber's (1969) assertion that the term has been a 𠆌onceptual harlot �longing to no one but at the service of all’, may be correct. Use of the term has often been heavily overladen with ideology, and often associated with sweeping evaluation rather than careful description and analysis. However, the main characteristics of totalitarian rule compared with previous forms of�solute’ or despotic rule, and in comparison with most modern forms of democratic government, are clear. They are outlined by Friedrich (1954) as follows:

  1. an ideology of totalism
  2. a single party committed to the ideology usually led by one person, who rules as a DICTATOR
  3. a fully developed secret police
  4. state monopolistic control of: (i) mass communications, (ii) all organizations, including all economic organizations, and all weapons, the means of violence.

Such a system thus possesses means of SURVEILLANCE and terror on a scale simply unavailable to premodern regimes (compare ABSOLUTISM, ORIENTAL DESPOTISM), the use of which it justifies on grounds of national interest, and in terms of general ideologies, including RACISM, NATIONALISM AND COMMUNISM. (As Tolstoy prophetically observed, ‘imagine Genghis Khan with a telephone’.) Because of these ideologies, and since totalitarianism is often based on SOCIAL MOVEMENTS which may enjoy wide support, it will rarely survive if based on force alone.

It is in the sharpness of the distinction often drawn between modern forms of totalitarianism and other modern forms of democratic government that the difficulties lie in use of the concept. One reason why too sharp a distinction is misplaced is that a totalizing tendency, including the use of general systems of surveillance, exists as a feature of all modern states. Furthermore, in totalitarian as well as non-totalitarian regimes, it is an ideology of democracy, in the sense of‘the rule of the many’, that acts as a justification for the requirement for involvement and support that exists in both types of regime. In non-totalitarian regimes, of course, such a totalizing tendency is offset by the institutionalized acceptance of political opposition. However, even this distinction can be taken too far, if the assumption is made that no forms of opposition exist or can ever be effective in totalitarian systems. The presence of opposition in some form must be seen as an inherent feature of all systems. Compare LIBERAL DEMOCRACY.

Historical Rise of Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism was regarded by some regimes as a way to restore economic stability to and regain control of their country. Infamous leaders that enacted totalitarianism over their countries include Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Stalin gained control of the Soviet Union in 1924 and forced millions of peasants to relinquish their land and work on large, government-run farms. In Italy, Mussolini founded the Fascist Party and installed himself as prime minister in 1922. Hitler gained control of the nationalistic, anti-communist and anti-Semitic Nazi Party in the 1920s and established, perhaps, the most notorious regime in modern history.

Is the ‘nation-state’ obsolete?

The daily news shows frenzied people from Central America walking through Mexico to the United States border. Their own countries cannot or do not want to keep them. Mexico will not welcome them. They claim the right to enter the United States without having to go through the normal immigration procedures. We also see boat-loads of people from Africa seeking to enter Italy, Greece, France, Hungary, or Spain inspired by the same &ldquoright&rdquo.

With so many people in the world seeking residence in places other than in their present domiciles, we ask ourselves: &ldquoHow does the world organize itself to take care of itself?&rdquo What are its ways of dealing with populations and their prosperity? The nation-state is the basic political unit into which everyone must fit.

The fact is that some seven-eighths of world population does live in relatively decent circumstances. In some ways, this latter achievement is more astonishing than the failures we see so often portrayed in the news. These failures are almost always portrayed as caused by those who have learned how to rule themselves rather than by the internal lack of reform of various homelands.

Immigration or refugees simply mean seeking residence in a nation-state not one&rsquos own. A nation-state&rsquos duty is to remain itself by caring for its own people and protecting its own frontiers. Who is responsible for caring for foreigners in need because of persecution or poverty? This is a question which must be answered with great circumspection. Great changes in population mix, as Aristotle himself saw, usually means a change in political structure within a country that has received, for whatever reason, large numbers of new people.

Australia, China, India, the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Brazil, Italy, Spain, and Germany can fairly be classified as relatively large nation-states that have succeeded in taking care of their own populations. The number of nation-states in the world is 195. The world&rsquos population is given as around eight billion. India and China, each with over a billion inhabitants, are the largest states by population Russia is the largest by area. Islamic states come to fifty with a combined population of 1.5 billion. The Vatican is listed as the smallest state. Small to medium sized states stretch across the world from Uruguay, to Poland, Tanzania, the Philippines, Greece, and Costa Rica. They compose the majority of states.

The world, in short, is divided into nation-states in which their concentrated police, military, and judicial powers are found and defined. The word &ldquonation&rdquo in nation-states refers to those whose claim to belong is present because of blood or tribal origins. &ldquoState&rdquo refers to the rational order in which these states organize themselves.

The nation-state is largely a European invention now universalized. It is distinguished from a tribe, a theocracy, an empire, or a monarchy. Most states now call themselves &ldquorepublics&rdquo or &ldquodemocracies&rdquo no matter what form they actually take. Beginning about the 16th Century, the nation-state gathered into itself control over all smaller political entities within a given boundary. It also assumed many of the transcendent functions of church or culture, especially the educational system. The nation-state had sovereignty. It was the final say in the civil affairs and controversies of its citizens. Generally, a constitutional and a totalitarian form of the nation-state can be distinguished. The constitutional nation-state recognized some defined limits of state power. The tyrannical form did not.

Each of these nation-states has a concept of itself, of its uniqueness spelled out in written or customary terms. Each has a formal organization by which it is ruled. Each will speak a particular language, sometimes several. Each has a history describing how it came to be. Generally speaking, we will see a correlation between how people live and the configuration of their state. The classical divisions of monarchy, aristocracy, polity-democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, and a mixture of these still provide a good way to distinguish the spirit that animates these differing regimes. The United Nations is not itself a nation-state, but a body that seeks to adjudicate the relationships of the nation-state to one another. Some want a genuine world government to which everyone belongs others see such a government as totalitarian in practice.

In the news in the past several years, we have seen streams of refugees-immigrants-invaders moving into Europe and the United States. These uprooted people claim the &ldquoright&rdquo to enter a better place. Their dire condition, it is claimed, overshadows all other considerations. To fail to accommodate them for whatever reason becomes a vice. Political unrest, economic crises, religious persecution, or military turmoil in one state causes the influx of refugees into neighboring or distant states.

These refugees and immigrants are a sign of what has been called &ldquothe failed states,&rdquo that is, states that have not succeeded creating a local life that would provide for the basic needs of its citizens. It does not follow that governments themselves are the best or primary instrument for providing these needs. In fact, the socialist notion that government is responsible for providing everything is often a major cause of the exodus of people from one state to another.

Some states encourage this emigration, while others seek to prevent it. Countries like India and China used to be counted here among the failed states, but they have, at least at the economic level, learned how to provide for the basic needs of the citizenry. China is an example of a country that has learned this lesson of development while retaining absolute control of its population. Other countries of South Asia have shown that this internal reform and discipline is possible without all of the trappings of the absolute state.

Today we hear advocates of so-called world citizenship denouncing nation-states. Everyone, it is maintained, has a &ldquoright&rdquo to a good and happy life. They are &ldquovictims&rdquo of successful states if they do not have it, no matter what they themselves hold or do. If someone does not have what he wants, someone else is responsible for his problem. Other people have the obligation of taking care of him. It does not matter if one&rsquos condition is caused by his own ideas about polity, religion, or economics and what it presupposes. The drama we see regularly on television shows various national states seeking to remain themselves before the flood of refugees and immigrants who naturally only go to places that are seen to be better than what is being left behind. All of this becomes grist for various ideological explanations about human well-being.

As we would expect, most of those who leave failed states do so either to escape persecution, to improve their living condition, to worship as they think fit, or to invade another country to bring it into the sphere of some religion or ideology. Islamic immigration into a non-Muslim country often seems to bear this undertone of cultural-religious conquest.

The question of the rise and fall of nations occurs in this background. Many philosophers from Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero have sought to develop ways to prevent or control radical political changes. The very notion of &ldquorevolution&rdquo means coming back to a beginning spot. Nations are thought to pass through a regular cycle of change in the course of their history.

We can learn from the ancient world.

An empire is a form of political organization with historical origins in ancient Persia, Rome, and Greece. The empires of Greece and Rome were usually acquired by force. The Roman Empire claimed to rule over both its own city and the world. Generally speaking, all well-governed political entities have some sense of the universal application of their own form of rule. The problem that empires faced was how to rule these newly conquered peoples or new invaders, all of whom had different ideas about how to live. The Romans tried to leave as much autonomy with the conquered people as possible, while claiming a universal brotherhood, law, and religion. Our notions of federations or confederacies, wherein the universal and particular were to be deftly balanced, arose out of this background. Modern institutions like the League of Nations or the United Nations were attempts to combine this local autonomy and diversity with a common good or rule wherein everyone belonged.

We see in Rome&rsquos dealings with ancient Israel the difficulty in balancing these notions of common humanity and local differences. We read in the Gospels that Jews shouted &ldquoWe have no king but Caesar.&rdquo Yet, Israel itself, with its claim to a divine founding, still conceives itself as something of a model of a country with universal influence but with a small state structure. Indeed, a very active view in modern Jewish thinking sees the abidingness of its divine founding. Israel is a model to show how the world should be organized.

The classical Greek city state brought up the question of the best size for a nation. States could be too large or too small. A colony was an effort to deal with a state that was becoming too large. A city-state would set up a replica of itself someplace else rather than double its size at home. Aristotle noted that a world government or empire was a dangerous thing because of its complexity. It would most likely become a tyranny because no human authority could justly manage its needs and conditions. Only a divine ruler-ship could do this. Thus, it was best to have numerous smaller political entities than one huge one that included everyone.

The Augustinian notion of the City of God arose from the realization that it is not possible that what this life offers is sufficient for man. This view was an extension of Plato&rsquos notion of the city in speech. There were things no political society could properly deal with. But not everything was political. The Church was not conceived to be itself a political society. It was established primarily to inform man of his final end and the means of achieving it. This revelation relieved the state of the claim that the state itself had all the power to make man happy. This City of God is the grounding of limited government&mdashthe government that limits itself to a temporal common good.

Today, the nation-state is what we have to work with.

When a nation-state fails, many are drawn into its consequences. The solution to these failings is not to force others to deal with these consequences and thereby themselves become failed states. The principal task of failed states is to reform themselves. There is some room to deal with extreme cases. Many countries are themselves built from the failure of other states.

The fact is that some regimes are better than others. No regime is perfect. The nation-state is a human artifact built on the ground of man&rsquos social nature. What we witness today when we see floods of immigrants, refugees, and invaders represents the general view of which states are better than others. The flow does not go from badly governed state to another badly governed state. It forces us to ask why one state is well-governed and another is not. If we cannot answer this question, we will only have badly governed regimes.

A nation-state has to decide who is eligible to become a member of its citizenry. It must enforce its own rules and estimates of the numbers of people it can or will support. We see in the West today the phenomenon of declining local populations as a result of birth control and abortion, together with the need of new labor. We also see efforts to destabilize nation-states by means of immigration. The nation-state can fail with the wrong political organization of its affairs.

The nation state and its integrity remain the best hope for both citizens and refugees and exiles. The major enemy of the nation-state today is the theory that the nation-state is obsolete, that everyone belongs to one state and that smaller states are immoral. In the light of experience, the opposite seems true. The common good of the world depends on the autonomy of many nation-states, themselves capable of ruling themselves.

Rev. James V. Schall SJ taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. He is the author of numerous books. This year he has published The Universe We Think In and On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

Al Fin

Sir John Glubb was a British author and lecturer, who was decorated for his service in the Royal Engineers in WWI, and was commander of the Jordan Arab Legion from 1939 to 1956. His famous and succinct essay, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival (PDF), looks at the lifespan of empires from their origins to their eventual decline.

Glubb estimates that most empires do not last longer than roughly 250 years, with many of them lasting much shorter periods of time. He describes many of the stages of empire, and many of the reasons why they break down and eventually disappear.

As seen in Glubb's image above, most of the world's great empires lasted no longer than 250 years. Glubb looks at the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire as two different empires, based upon their distinct forms of government.

One of the reasons for decline of empire described by Glubb is the influx of masses of people from outside cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, who are different from the core populations making up the founders and conquering peoples who brought about the original empire.

(a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

(b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.

(c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?

(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
The Age of Decadence.

An influx of foreigners
The Welfare State
A weakening of religion.

(f) Decadence is due to:
Too long a period of wealth and power
Love of money
The loss of a sense of duty.

(g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.

(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.

(i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country. _PDF Download of Sir John Glubb's Essay on Fate of Empires

Useful background reading:

Historians often disagree over details -- both large and small. That leaves it up to each of us to learn what we can, and to make up our own minds as to the lessons that we can apply from history to more modern times.

Note regarding comments: Glubb considered the "250 year" observation to be interesting, but not something to be made into a dogma. His main point was that empires evolve over time -- and generations of people -- so that the spirit and cohesiveness which brought about their creation tends to dissipate. The decay was observed to take place over roughly 10 generations, but could require much less time if a rival empire was ready to take over at an earlier time.

The study of civilisations is much more interesting than the study of empires, since a civilisation can jump from empire to empire, and evolve in many different population groups -- assuming their cognitive abilities are sufficient to support it, and their genetic / behavioural instincts are compatible with the underlying spirit of the civilisation.


While I find this interesting, it is a bit misleading if it breaks empires apart that came from the same people. If the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire were separate entities then the Romans went from decadence in one imperial system to pioneering in a new one, so that is not so bad. Likewise, the Persians had the Parthian Empire and Sassanid Empire to replace the original. It is vastly preferable I think to find a new empire replacing the former over the fate of those empires that go into societal breakdown (much of Italy after 476) or are conquered by hostile rather different outsiders.

I think there is some shoehorning there to make it fit.

The Roman Empire laste to about 430AD. The Byzantine Empire, which thought of itself as the continioty Romans lasted till 1455. On the other hand the Soviet Empire lasted 70, and Alexander's Empire barely 10. Putting 1700 as the start of Britain's Empire is fairly arbitrary - one could go for 1860s (Victoria made Empress of India and the carving up of Aftica starts), 1814 (Naploeon beaten). 1776 (end of the original empire), 1763 (Canada and India taken from France), 1689 (end of the Stuart monarchs and Parliamentary supremacy) 1640s(ECW), 1605 (arrival of the Stuarts and joining with Scotland) 149? (Bosworth field - Tudors take over, end of the wars ofthe roses) or several back to 1066.

I think we should treat states as having half lives and seek to find what makes some more stable than others.

As I recall - the 1000 year Reich only lasted 7 1/2.

Small places like Switzerland tend to have the most longevity. The U.S. federal government is actually one of the oldest on the planet and is the oldest large country government in existence. This suggests we are well into the latter part of our "half life".

The Thousand Year Reich lasted 12 years (1933-1945).

This seems to depend on some artificial definitions. In many cases the people of the empires involved would not realize the empire ended (in others they would, such as Britain from 1950 to 1970 when most colonies achieved independence).

The Roman and Byzantine empires were mentioned in a previous comment. The Ottoman empire lasted until about 1920 though some areas were Ottoman in name only. The Spanish empire lasted until the early 1800s when the Napoleonic wars allowed the colonies to break away.

250 years might be a typical number for empires but Mr. Glubb's argument fails due to his attempt to make this a universal number, picking what at times seem arbitrary dates for the start or end of an empire.

Glubb's analysis is tendentious. The date 180 AD for the end of the Roman Empire actually marks the beginning of internecine struggles for control of the Principate. Constantine put an end to that struggle and founded Constantinople as the capital in 326 AD. The year 430 AD does not mark the fall of the western half of the Empire so much as it marks the take over of control from the Romans by the Germans. The Germans kept all the existing economic and governing structures, and life went on as usual until the Moslems closed the Mediterranean around 700 AD. Thereafter, the West began its decline into the Dark Ages not to recover until the Middle Ages. The Roman government in Constantinople was continuous until the Turks finally overran it in 1453.

So, the actual duration of a Roman entity was about 2200 years. And the duration of the Roman Empire is about 1500 years.

If we apply Glubb's methods to the US, one has to conclude that the Republic died with the election of Lincoln, which some people actually believe to be the case.

It was either Franklin or Jefferson who pointed out that republics last only 200 years. They fall because the public begins to vote themselves benefits from the public funds. We're certainly into this advanced stage of decline of our republic.

If we apply Glubb's methods to the US, one has to conclude that the Republic died with the election of Lincoln, which some people actually believe to be the case.

Perhaps, but I mark the election and actions of FDR as the end point of our republic. FDR certainly neutered SCOTUS, thus removing one of the checks and balances constraining the growth of the federal government.

I have some complaints with Glubb's dates. He appears to have massaged the numbers in order to better fit his claim.

This is a little depressing because it suggests that the EU might last another 200 years.

otoh it is clearly already in the Age of Decadence.

Perhaps in the technological world we now inhabit, empires will only last fifty years? One can hope.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell


  1. Theyn

    It's the truth.

  2. Davi

    I beg your pardon that I intervene, I also want to express the opinion.

  3. Sobk

    It's the entertaining piece

  4. Bernardo

    the Relevant message :)

  5. Ohanko

    hee hee

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