Fragment from article of

W. Eckhardt "A Dialectical Evolutionary Theory of Civilizations, Empires, and Wars"

("Civilizations and world systems: studying world-historical change", Alta Mira Press, 1995, p. 90 - 93)


Some Theories about Regional Rises and Falls

Although civilizations, empires, and wars increased significantly and exponentially at the global level, there were rises and falls at the regional levels, which is why the regional factor coefficients in Table 3.5 were lower than the global ones.

Spengler (1926-28) attributed these rises and falls to something like a biological process of birth, development, maturity, and decay This process of growth and decay seemed to be pretty much determined by the nature of the process itself. There was not much in this theory to prevent the decline of the West, which Spengler predicted.

Toynbee (1972) was less deterministic, emphasizing the adequacy of responses to challenges as the determining factor of rises and falls. Adequate or appropriate responses contributed to rising, while inadequate or inappropriate responses contributed to falling. The emphasis was on moral, religious, or spiritual challenges more than physical or environmental ones, but he also emphasized that civilizational rising and falling depended very much upon the rising and falling of the economy: "The inability of a pre-scientific agricultural economy to bear this economic load [of providing more and more civilian and military services] is evidently one of the causes of the unwished-for collapses by which so many universal states have been over-taken so many times in succession" (Toynbee and Caplan [1934-61] 1972, p.63). Just who or what challenged civilizations was not entirely clear, nor just how civilizations responded. But the concept allowed for some free play in the rise and fall of civilizations, and it challenges us to find out what it means operationally if we can, so that it can be studied more scientifically.

More recently, the economic factor has been emphasized by Kennedy (1987) to account for the rise and fall of the great powers in modern history Armed force is what makes or breaks a great power, according to this theory, and armed forces cost money. Great powers need money in order to become great in the first place, and more money in order to stay great in the second place. But there seems to be a strong tendency for great powers to outspend their greatness. Military expenditures overreach their economic base, exhausting themselves in the process, and losing the next war to an upcoming power that has not yet bankrupted its economy with its military expenditures: "The historical record suggests that there is a very clear connection in the long run between an individual Great Power's economic rise and fall and its growth and decline as an important military power (or world empire)" (p. xxii). The author has emphasized the long run because he is talking about a process that takes time as well as money, but his study of the last 500 years convinced him that "there is a very strong correlation between the eventual outcome of the major coalition wars for European or global mastery, and the amount of productive resources mobilized by each side ...victory has repeatedly gone to the side with the more flourishing productive base... the power position of the leading nations has closely paralleled their relative economic position over the past five centuries" (pp. xxiii-xxiv).

In short, wars cost money. To be sure, they also make money, and therein lies the gamble: Can you make more than it costs to make it? If so, war can be a profitable business, forgetting about the casualties for the moment. At least, somebody can make some money (i.e., surplus wealth) from it. But, if it costs more than it makes, then bankruptcy follows, and down goes the empire. The trick seems to be to make war pay by making somebody else pay for it, and to forget about the casualties on both sides, including civilians as well as soldiers.

Summary and Conclusions

The dialectical evolutionary theory proposed relations between civilizations, empires, and wars, such that these three were supposed to interact in such away as to promote one another's growth up to a point where surplus wealth was diminished until it turned into a deficit. At this point, civilizations, empires, and wars could no longer be afforded, so they were lost instead of gained. This loss, however, was somebody else's gain. The loss took the form either of direct conquest by others with more surplus wealth, or of decentralization which made the smaller units prey to future conquest. Consequently, the way up and the way down were virtually the same way of I' conquest, either directly and immediately, as in the case of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire, or indirectly and sequentially, as in the case of the many times that Chinese empires were fragmented into feudal states which were later centralized by another conqueror. In either event, civilizations, empires, and wars tended to go and grow together; wars served as both midwives and undertakers in the rise and fall of civilizations in the course of human history.

This dialectical process of evolution (and devolution) presumably began among primitive peoples, although there is little or no trace of it until the beginning of civilization some 5,000 years ago. Even at this time the evidence was rather sparse for battles and wars, which did not clearly emerge until about 1500 BC, and which did not amount to much until about 500 BC. However, something like this process may be responsible for some of the movement from the primitive bands to the larger tribes of the gatherers and hunters to the villages of the farmers and herders who emerged some 10,000 years ago.

The same process was presumably responsible for the movement from the agricultural villages to the civilized cities which emerged some 5,000 years ago. The process was hardly noticeable for several million years. Neither anthropological nor archaeological evidence suggested much growth in population or territory among the gatherers and hunters, and not much more among the farmers and the herders. Even the first 2,500 years of civilization showed no dramatic increases in population, or territory, or in signs of civilization, such as statesmanship, philosophy, religion, literature, fine arts, scholarship, science, music, business, and so forth.

The great leap forward in all of these areas occurred about 600 BC, when the Medes and the Persians developed civilization, empire, and war into arts based on a hierarchical delegation of power such as the world had not known before. The next great leap came with the Muslims in the 7th century AD, another with the Mongols in the 13th century, and finally with the Europeans in the 16th century. The Europeans reached their apex in the 19th and 20th centuries, but they may well be running out of steam and other signs of surplus wealth today. However, they had their ups and downs before, so that even if they may be on their way down now this hardly precludes another rise in the future unless, of course, they happen to blow up the whole world on their way down.

While the whole world tended to spiral upward, as a general rule during the last 5,000 years (judging by Kroeber's geniuses, Taagepera's imperial sizes, and Dupuy and Dupuy's battles) regional areas had their ups and downs, their rises and their falls. Consequentl)', the general pattern suggested by the analyses in this paper was that of an evolutionary trend in one direction at the global level, which Was composed of somewhat cyclical processes at regional levels. At both the global and regional levels, civilizations, empires, and wars were significantly related to one another, tending to rise and fall together. How to explain this basic finding?

It was only after we became civilized, that is, dependent upon land, labor, capital, and trade for making a living, that anything like imperialism and militarism started to make any sense at all. And then they became necessary in order to gain, maintain, and increase the surplus wealth without which there could be no civilization.

At the regional levels, the rises were associated with the establishment of centralized controls by a strong leader whose income exceeded his expenditures in the process. When his or his followers' expenditures exceeded their incomes, then came the falls, which were characterized by decentralization, feudalization, or foreign conquest. In all cases, the way up not only increased the quantity of civilization, empire, and war, but also changed the social structure to one of greater inequality, indicated by slavery, caste, class, social stratification, and so forth. This inequality characterized the relations between civilizations as well as within them. It would, of course, be most desirable to develop more precise measures of these inequalities in the process of further research. So far, the evidence on this score is largely qualitative, which needs to be strengthened by making it more quantitative.

The terms "rise" and "fall", "up" and "down," and so forth follow conventional usage. However, so far as they may connote value judgments of "better" and "worse," they may well be questioned. More civilization and more empire meant more war. More civilization would seem to be better, at least for those who get it or who get more of it. More empire may be better for the imperial civilizations, but not for their colonies. More war would definitely seem to be worse other things being equal, but those who win the wars might not agree wit this. A crucial question for further research might be: Do the pleasures of civilization justify the horrors of war? A more pressing question might be: Can we have civilization without war?

Unless we have an instinct of exploitation (which I doubt very much), that is, a desire to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, it would seem that we have no need for war. Human nature is pretty much determined by human beings and human choices. The dialectical evolutionary theory would suggest that we gradually developed ourselves into a pattern of domination and exploitation which virtually made war inevitable. So far as this is true, it means that we can change the structure of the civilization that we have created by changing our choices, which means changing our values, which hardly means changing human nature, whatever that may be.

What values need to be changed in order to have a civilization without domination and exploitation, and therefore without war? One clue would seem to lie in the basic difference between primitive and civilized societies. Primitive societies seem to be more free and equal in their human relations than the civilized societies that we have created so far (Eckhardt 1975, 1982). If we created more free and equal human relations, we might be able to create a civilization without war. But we have much more to learn before we can achieve that happy ending.

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