In One Question: Clyodinamics.

por jonasscherer

A russian thinker aiming to perceive patterns in history along with others. Anatoly Karlin’s view of Clyodinamics.

Question made via e-mail on april 17th, 2013


Jonas Scherer: Could you explain what do you understand by “CLYODINAMICS“?

Anatoly: Cliodynamics is the modeling of historical processes. Over time, it has been noticed that many ecological processes – for instance, predator-prey relations – can also apply to human societies, as when population stresses lead to wars, state collapse, and brigandage. This leads to depopulation as the brigands and big men kill off each other, before peace is reestablished and the population starts to grow again. Such a pattern is typical of many pre-industrial civilizations and can explain the “dynastic cycles” we see from France to China.

Another process is technological growth. Technological growth depends on literate populations, which in turn require thriving civilizations for their own sustenance. It also improves the carrying capacity of the land, which enables bigger populations and a bigger pool of potential inventors. In this sense, technological, population, and economic growth were self-reinforcing on the broad historical scale. Of course, before the industrial takeoff, population tended to reproduce more rapidly than the carrying capacity – this is the essence of the Malthusian dilemma – which produced cycles of stagnation, fragility (because of low per capita surpluses), and collapse (when system shocks destroyed said surpluses).

It is widely considered that technological / carrying capacity growth has now decidedly overtaken the requirements of the population, at least in most places. (Though some groups, such as very pessimistic “peak oilers,” “global warmists,” and proponents of the Limits to Growth view of industrialism consider this to be but a temporary illusion).

I should stress that cliodynamics is NOT about predicting the future, as it quite explicitly concerns itself only with the past – its namesake, Clio / Kleio, is the muse of history, after all. That said, there is no reason why the models and methods of cliodynamics cannot be applied to future projections. Although there should be plenty of caveats, foremost of which is that today’s world is no longer a Malthusian one, with dynamics that are quite distinct to what happened before 1800.

For further reading, I suggest (1) my expository article on cliodynamics at my blog; (2) Peter Turchin’s popular book War and Peace and War that popularized it to a wider audience, as well as his more academic book (co-authored with Sergey Nefedov) Secular Cycles which is legally available free (warning: big PDF); (3) If you are interested in the historical precursors, Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah (available in English translation), which analyzes the conflict between “town” and “desert” in terms of their dynamic levels of asabiyah, or social cohesion. It is a work that was fantastically well ahead of its time in its historical and sociological insights, and would surely qualify as one of the crowning achievements of political economy were it better known.