Exploration of Historical Transitions with Simple Analogies and Empirical Event Rates
Journal of Big History, III(2); 1 - 16.
Various qualitative models have been suggested for major historical social and technological transitions. Many of these transitions still have puzzling aspects such as the early transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturally-based society which required dramatically increased effort.
Another puzzle is the emergence of the scientific and industrial revolution in Europe despite many previous similar discoveries in other regions. Explorations of simple models with aggregate, dynamic, and nonlinear processes might lead to insights of the unique aspects of each transition.
Topics include the transitions between hunter-gatherers, agricultural societies, early civilizations, market development, capitalism, industrialization, and sustainable societies with factors of land-pressures, economies of scale, suppressed growth, and chain reactions.
Many types of models could be applied to these transitions. First, basic characteristics, such as width and midpoint of the transitions, are determined by analyzing historical events contributing to the transition. However, this does give much insight into the dynamics or parameters of the transition. For more understanding, each of six transitions is explored with a simple phenomenological model. These simplified models do not attempt to quantitatively address the details of the actual historical mechanisms Instead analogies to more natural systems are invoked to gain insights.
Physicist David LePoire of Argonne National Laboratory (Illinois, USA) quoting my book Le Secret de l'Occident (1997-edition) in
(David J. LePoire: "Long-term Population, Productivity, and Energy Use Trends in the Sequence of Leading Capitalist Nations", Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77(8):1303-1310, xx Oct 2010.
Safety copy of internet version:
Long-term Population, Productivity, and Energy Use Trends in the Sequence of Leading Capitalist Nations
David J. LePoire, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne IL, 60439, firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many theories on why sustainable science, technology, and commerce emerged first in Western Europe rather than elsewhere. A general theory is that the geography of Europe facilitated the development of and diverse and independent states and resultant competition among them. Over the past 500 years, the sequence of leading states began with Portugal and the Netherlands on the edge of continental Western Europe, then moved to the British Isles, and finally moved across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States. The transitions of leadership from one state to another occurred about every 100 years. This sequence suggests that leadership moves from smaller states to larger states (although not to the largest existing state at the time), perhaps because larger states have the flexibility to develop more complex organizational processes and adapt new technology.
To explore this theory further, this paper analyzes state population data at the beginning and end of each leadership period. The data reveal an accelerating initial population sequence. Further understanding is gained from comparing the populations of the preceding and succeeding states at the time of each transition: The succeeding state’s population is usually about two times larger than that of the preceding state.
It is also seen that over time, the new organizational processes and technologies developed by the leading state are diffused and adapted by other states. Evidence of the effects of this diffusion should be seen in the dynamics of relative productivity and energy use (since the relative advantage of new ideas and technology can be maintained for a short period of about 100 years). This paper investigates these trends in population, trade, and resources to provide insight on possible future transitions.
There are many theories on why sustainable science, technology, and commerce emerged first in Western Europe. Stravrianos (1976, page 91) suggested factors related to internal weaknesses and fractiousness, which allowed innovations in trade, commerce, and finance to flourish instead of being curtailed by a conservative but unified centralized empire, such as that found in China at the time.
“The central fact of modern world history is that capitalism emerged first in Western Europe, which explains that region’s rise from obscurity to global hegemony. Western Europe’s pioneering role is taken for granted today. Yet how surprising that role actually was, given the fact that Western Europe had been the most backward area in all of Eurasia during the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ following the Fall of Rome. Only now can we see how that retardation later made it possible for Europe to take the lead in social and technological innovation.... The Fall of Rome was not a unique event in the annals of world history. Similar ‘falls’ had occurred repeatedly across the globe. What made the case of Western Europe unique was that a new imperial ‘rise’ did not follow the ‘fall.’... In Europe, however, repeated attempts at an imperial restoration failed, partly from certain internal weaknesses specific to the area, and partly from the chaos and destruction caused by a ceaseless succession of nomadic invasions.... The repeated demolition of embryonic succession empires in the West cleared the ground for something new to take root. A new Western civilization gradually took shape in which several potentially competing institutions … replaced the monolithic imperial structure that had been so inhospitable to technological progress.”
The organization of this study includes a brief summary of both the geographic factors in Europe and the sequence of leading states. Leadership is identified on the basis of economic, political, and military innovations and power. It is not the intent of this paper to further develop theories about these factors but instead to investigate aggregate characteristics (i.e., population, productivity, and energy use) that might influence leadership transitions and the diffusion of innovations. The sequence of leading states suggests that there are periodic transitions of leadership from smaller to larger states (although not to the largest existing state at the time), perhaps partly because the larger states’ resources, economies of scale, and flexibility helps them to develop more complex organizational processes and adapt new technologies and energy sources. These trends in population, trade, and resources are investigated to gain insight into possible future transitions (e.g., states that are potential candidates for future transitions, along with the relative rate of diffusion of the innovations).
As Stavrianos (1976) points out in the quote, there was a lengthy process of slow development in Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Ideas and innovations from one area were introduced to other areas through trade, crusades, invasions, and plagues. In Western Europe, these ideas and innovations were further developed and integrated to form labor-saving devices (Bernstein 2004). The loss of Constantinople in 1453 motivated countries such as Portugal to explore and find alternative routes to the profitable Eastern spice routes. The Dutch, having inherited much of the capital and banking activity after the decline of Antwerp and Italy during the 80 Years War, were able to develop financial tools to support capital investments in ships for profitable sea and river trade, especially trade in two bulk goods: timber and herring (Bunker and Ciccantell 2005). The Dutch also wrested control of some of the Portuguese Eastern colonies. This combination of innovations (in shipping, commerce, and capital) led to almost a century of leadership by the Netherlands during its Golden Age (about 1585–1685) (Schama 1987).
Some factors such as religion (Stark 2005), language, and specific technological inventions have been indentified as potential contributors to the emergence of the modern era in Europe (Mokyr 2002). The factor of geography, however, offers a high-level explanation that is not associated with any bias or value judgment. A recent hypothesis (Diamond 2005) suggests that in Europe, especially in locations where the terrain includes mountains, peninsulas, islands, or water bodies, the geographic factor has been an important contributor to the division of power, leading to the relative independence of the decisions made by states. This situation is unlike what occurred in (Ming) China, which was able to halt the exploration mission of Cheng He in 1433 because there was no option for him to find alternative support. Further analysis that supports the geographic factor concerns the characterization of coastlines by a fractal dimension (Cosandey 1997). The fractal dimension indicates how the coastline length changes when measured with different length rulers. For a smooth coastline, the fractal dimension would be around one; however, for a coastline with many peninsulas, islands, and bays, the fractal dimension would be larger but not quite two dimensional. Western Europe has a larger fractal dimension from its indented coastline than does the Indian Subcontinent, China, or either of the Americas.
Kennedy (1987) suggested that there was a sequence of countries with great power in the West that started with the Dutch and was followed by England and the United States. These countries’ leadership roles were based on organizational and technological innovations that advanced capitalist societies. To explore systemic transitions on a quantitative scale, the relative naval power in the Western European states was studied in Modelski (1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1996). They found periodic cycles of sea dominance that moved from Portugal, to Holland, to England, and then to the United States. This sequence of naval power transitions indicates the transitions were associated with the protection of major trade that fueled each successive country’s economic development. This European leadership is a part of a wider economic trend that had begun in Sung China by the year 1000 AD (Modelski and Thompson 1996). The move to Europe began when first Genoa and then Venice led with their development of banking and insurance. Portugal’s subsequent role with regard to innovations in commerce, trade, and political organization is described in Devezas and Modelski (2006). However, the analysis presented here focuses on sustained capital formation as detailed in Bunker and Ciccantell (2005), which requires the basis of trade to be the more mundane bulk goods (e.g., herring and wood) rather than the mostly luxury goods of the Portuguese.
There has been much discussion about future transitions of power and leadership (Zakaria 2008). Various nations and alliances, such as China and the European Union, continue to evolve. Some have argued that the era of nation-state dominance is ending, as posited in Van Creveld’s (1996) “The Fate of the State”: “The State, which during the three and a half centuries since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) has been the most important and the most characteristic of all modern institutions, appears to be declining or dying. In many places, existing states are either combining into larger communities or falling apart; in many places, organizations that are not states are challenging them by means fair or foul.
Ausubel, J.H., 2004, “Will the Rest of the World Live Like America?” Technology in Society 26(2/3):343–360. Available at http://phe.rockefeller.edu/PDF_FILES/LiveLikeAmerica.pdf.
Bernstein, W.J., 2004, The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World Was Created, McGraw-Hill.
Bunker, S.G., and P.S. Ciccantell, 2005, Globalization and the Race for Resources, John Hopkins University Press.
Cosandey, D., 1997, Le Secret de l'Occident, Arléa, Paris. Also see a summary in English, The Rich States System Theory. Available at http://www.riseofthewest.net/dc/dc105summ.htm.
Created: 10 May 2020 Completed: 24 May 2020