Cliodynamics treats history as science in order to understand why and how social systems change. Its practitioners develop theories that explain dynamic processes such as the rise and fall of empires, population booms and busts, and the spread and disappearance of religions. These theories are then translated into mathematical models, the predictions from which are tested against data. Building and analysing massive databases of historical and archaeological information is therefore one of the most important goals of cliodynamics.
Cliodynamics was a topic new to almost everyone present and to illustrate how it has developed Crawford introduced us to the contributions made by various practitioners.
The first exponent was Nikolai Kondratiev [1892 -1938] who analysed 50 year cycles of capitalism from the Great Depression to the pre covid Chinese boom, but it was Peter Turchin (born 1957) who invented the name cliodynamics and became its first professor in the USA. His work studied the 50 (or so) year cycles in the USA of social unrest and predicted the George Floyd riots of 2020. Third up was George Modelski (1926 – 2014) whose key approach was to pick out 100 year cycles in global leadership over the last 550 years. Thus, in order, Portugal, Holland, UK, and finally the USA were highlighted. These global players were sea powers, that were more democratic and inventive, whilst any challengers tended to have short coastlines and be conservative ‘stick in the muds’.
Next we were treated to a short film called Changing World Order by Ray Dolio which picked out the repeated sequence of a new world order, peace and prosperity, times of boom, uneven wealth distribution, internal conflict, new rising powers and the likelihood of a further war with the winners banding together.
Graham Allison’s Thucycdides Trap suggested that the lessons of history would predict a USA and China war but when?
Taking us further back Crawford introduced us to the work of Iba Khaldon (1332 -1406) looking at how dynasties are cyclical and last about 3 generations, each over 120 years, though Crawford preferred a 75 year span.
Christopher Booker’s work took his concept of cycles based on fantasy, dream stage, frustrations, nightmare and explosion and applied them to the events involved in the French Revolution and beyond from 1792 to 1870 and the German path from the 1860s to WW2. Coming up to date he sees the USA and its allies in decline and the west collapsing in the 2040’s with dictatorial challengers like Russia, China, Iran and Turkey prospering.
As Barbara Tuchman said “Pursuit of power almost never turns out well”
Crawford concluded by exploring how a focus on characteristics like education, adaptability, global leadership, participation and morality suggested by James McGregor Burns might “free ourselves from becoming pawns and slaves of history”.
Definitely both an enlightening and a challenging talk.
Some group activities and meetings are held at Ty Price, St Thomas Community Hall, St Thomas’s Square. There is no off street parking here. The approach on foot is a gentle slope to double entrance doors. The ground floor of the building is fully accessible and there is a disabled toilet. The stairs to the first floor are wide and well-lit with a handrail on both sides, but there is no lift. There is a hearing induction system on the ground floor.