Why civilizations rise and fall?

  1. Yes, yes I did my homework - I googled this and got many results but none seem to answer my query.

    I am not a historian so bear with me.
    I had a picture in my mind that civilizations seem to appear after we discovered agriculture and thereafter each civilization advanced and continued to transform till today.
    But it seems that civilizations do appear but get destroyed after sometime. They do not continue forever.
    I am confused as we do not see this today right? In modern history all the empires/countries are stable, right?

    Why is this behavior?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    What makes you think that everything in the modern day is stable? The British Empire ended less than a century ago, the USSR fell apart just a few decades ago. There are nations around now that didn't exist in our grandparents time and vice versa.

    To give a present day example Scotland will vote in the next few years on whether or not to secede from the UK effectively ending the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and creating a new set of societies.
     
  4. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    Just look at eastern Europe and all of the new countries that have emerged in the last 50 years. Czechoslovakia was a country until 1993. Look at Africa. Half of the countries didn't exist with their current names when I was in school.
     
  5. Greg Bernhardt

    Staff: Admin

  6. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Re-reading this I just wanted to reply to this last point, rarely do civilisations get destroyed in the literal sense. Generally it is a progress of change, even when significant much remains the same. The French Revolution didn't destroy France but it did radically change the nation politically and culturally. Similarly if a nation/empire splits into smaller nations its not a de novo creation of cultures out of the ashes of old. Institutions, physical and cultural, still remain and of course the people will still be there.

    Of course there are examples of cultures being decimated, usually over time. The Carthaginian empire after the Punic wars or any number of native people's genocided/displaced by European colonialism for example.
     
  7. jim hardy

    jim hardy 5,011
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    Another book , to complement Greg's:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-March-Folly-From-Vietnam/dp/0345308239

    She likens behavior of too-large organizations to a "lemming instinct" .
     
  8. Well, every civilisation is different, culturally, from each other so it is hard to find a general system of how a civilisation develops. I did a course on Ancient Greece at university and my final essay was on how the Greek system of government, the polis, developed. To sum up 5000 words in a sentence, I argued that the egalitarian nature of farming was an important factor in the development of Greek system of rule. One of my sources was Victor Davis Hanson - specifically his book called 'the Other Greeks', a fascinating read which I would suggest that you have a look at.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2013
  9. SteamKing

    SteamKing 9,405
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    Your assertion: " In modern history all the empires/countries are stable, right?"

    In the twentieth century alone, the German empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Russian empire all fell as a consequence of engaging in World War I. The Japanese empire was dissolved after World War II, and the Soviet Union dissolved as a result of the Cold War.
     
  10. I think that that modern day democracies are pretty stable. I mean, you do get protests and economic crisis, but certainly not what you would associate with the breakup of the USSR or the demise of empires.

    Politicwatcher.
     
  11. Reading all of your answers I have a doubt regarding "fall of empires". When books say that some civilization lasted so-and-so years what do they mean exactly?
    Do they mean that that civilization was conquered after that many years, or did they migrate to other place or it divided into two-or-more empires or what?
     
  12. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    Probably something different each time.
     
  13. SteamKing

    SteamKing 9,405
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    It depends. When the Roman Empire fell, it did so in distinct phases. The Roman Empire was originally centered on the Italian peninsula, grew to include most of western Europe, parts of eastern Europe, Greece, Asia minor, and the shores of the Med. It split in two, with the western empire ruled from Rome and the eastern portion from Byzantium. The western empire fell first in the 5th century A.D., but the eastern did not fall until 1453, almost a thousand years later. The latter fall certainly caused large numbers of Byzantines to migrate west, which was one of the reasons for the start of the Renaissance in Europe, as these migrants brought with them a large amount of literature from the ancient world which had been lost or forgotten in the west. In both cases, the capital cities, Rome and Byzantium, were sacked with a great loss of life.

    In more recent times, the years after World War II saw great displacements of populations from eastern Europe to the west. Prussia, which at one time controlled the southern Baltic coast, ceased to exist, and most Germans living there were driven west by the Russians. The borders of Poland were also shifted west from their original location of 1918-1939 to their present locations. As a result, much of the territory in the western part of present day Poland once belonged to Germany (principally Prussia and Silesia), and when the Poles moved in, the former German inhabitants were expelled.

    There is no one answer to your question. At various times, all of the things you mentioned (conquest, migration, division, etc.) have happened. History can often tell us what happened and when it happened, but the reasons why a certain empire or polity fell are more elusive.
     
  14. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    Modern democracies have not been in existence very long to give us a good amount of precedents to work with. Sure a lot of western democracies now were western democracies a century or so ago but they were radically different, the UK had only recently given the vote to non-land owning men. A radical notion at the time.

    Democracies are different in that they have an inbuilt mechanism for peaceful regime change and so won't necessarily go through as dramatic change as historical examples, rather they can change slowly over time. This is still change though. Two more things worth taking into account are that democratic nations can still end in that they split into other nations (Scotland potentially leaving the UK for example, ending the UK) and that there may be failure modes of democracy yet to be realised.
     
  15. Borek

    Staff: Mentor

    turning into dictatorship.
     
  16. jim hardy

    jim hardy 5,011
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    They can choke on their own bureaucracy.
    Parkinson warned of this in his books "Parkinson's Law" and "The Law of Delay". He predicted that by about 2050 100% of the population would work for the government with nobody left to produce anything.

    My opinion: What should have been in the constitution is a "sunset clause" whereby all laws expire after, say, two generations(~forty years?).

    What that would achieve:
    1. Lawmakers would be occupied maintaining, renewing and fine tuning existing inventory of laws instead of heaping half baked and useless new ones onto the heap.
    2. Lawmakers would be knowledgeable as to what laws exist already and might encourage their enforcement.
     
  17. "civilization" is a vague concept. It could at one extreme mean military control, or civil organisation; or it might be construed around the ideas of civilized values that are generally upheld. To my mind, civilization should include the strong helping the weak, and the absence of corruption. So not much hope there then.
     
  18. SteamKing

    SteamKing 9,405
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    Jim Hardy wrote:

    "My opinion: What should have been in the constitution is a "sunset clause" whereby all laws expire after, say, two generations(~forty years?)."

    Good Lord! You could never get anything done ever again. Talk about re-inventing the wheel. Guaranteed employment for politicians and lawyers, though. Everybody else would be screwed.
     
  19. To expand on this, when empires have expanded (Roman, Turks, etc.) across continents (and some stayed) or citizens from older nations (Greeks for instance) migrate across oceans - isn't the expanding (older) civilization actually assimilated into the new - rather than failing?
     
  20. SteamKing

    SteamKing 9,405
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    Not necessarily. The Romans had a somewhat mixed record. The Romans had a great respect for the Greeks and their civilization; when Rome took control of Greece, it did so in a relatively benevolent fashion. On the other hand, when Rome finally defeated Carthage, there was a completely different attitude on the part of the Romans. After the Third Punic War, and fearing that the Carthaginians might rise up again, the Romans razed the city completely and killed or enslaved the population. Later, a city of the same name was founded by Rome, but it was inhabited by Roman colonists living in north Africa.

    The eastern Roman empire was unusual because its population was largely Greek by descent; Greeks had colonized Asia Minor and were well established there by the time Rome took power. The western empire remained Latin speaking, while the eastern empire was Greek speaking.
     
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