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    Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War. The Rise and Fall of Empires

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    Johnathan R. Razorback
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    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
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    Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War. The Rise and Fall of Empires

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Ven 18 Nov - 22:32

    "Why did some -initially small and insignificant- nations go on to build mighty empires, whereas other nations failed to do so ? And why do the successful empire builders invariably, given enough time, lose their empires ? Can we understand how imperial powers rise and why they fall ?
    An empire is a large, multiethnic territorial state with a complex power structure
    ." (p.3)

    "A large stable empire, internally at peace, is a rarity in history. Looked at from this point of view, the most fundamental question requiring an explanation is not why empires decline and collapse, but how they menage to get going in the first place. How are empires possible ?" (p.4)

    "Different groups have different degrees of cooperation among their members, and therefore different degrees of cohesiveness and solidarity. Following the fourtheenth-century Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun, i call this property of groups asabiya. Asabiya refers to the capacoty of a social group for concerted collective action. Asabiya is a dynamic quantity ; it can increase or decrease with time." (p.6)

    "Each empire has its core an imperial nation. [...] The ability of an empire to expand territory and to defend itself against external and internal enemies is determined largely by the characteristics of its imperial nation, especially its asabiya." (p.6)

    "To match the power of the old empire, a frontier group with high asabiya -an incipient imperial nation- needs to expand by incorporating other groups. On a metaethnic frontier, integration of ethnically similar groups on the same side of the fault line is made easier by the presence of a very different "other" -the metaethnic community on the other side. The huge cultural gap across the frontier dwarfs the relatively minor differences between ethnic groups on the same side. Empirical evidence shows that large aggresive empires do not arise in areas where political boundaries separate culturally similar peoples.
    My main argument, therefore, is that people oriinating on fault-line frontiers become characterized by cooperation and a high capacity for collective action, which in turn enables them to build large and powerful territorial states. [...]
    Two key adaptations enabled the evolution of ultrasociability. The first one was the moralist strategy: cooperate when enough members in the groups are also cooperating and punish those who dot no cooperate. A band that had enough moralists to tip its collective behavior to the cooperative equilibrium outcompeted, or even exterminated, bands that failed to cooperate. The second adaptation, the human ability to use symbolic markers to define cooperating groups, allowed evolution of sociality to break through the limits to face-to-face interaction
    ." (p.6-7)

    "Historians generally agree that the ability of the Mongols to crush all their opponents was not due to any technical advantage in weaponry, nor to their numbers. (They often fought against and destroyed numerically superior enemies). [...]
    The Mongol army was a well-oiled social mechanism, capable of discipline and internal cohesion to the degree unknown in Europe since the Roman times. The Mongol armies deployed, advanced, and maneuvered in eerie silence. There were not even shouts of command because movements of the blocks of cavalry were governed by the flag signals from the standard bearers. At the right moment, the whole army suddenly charged, yelling and shrieking like demons. Such tactics were extremely unnerving to their adversaries
    ." (p.23)

    "The characterization of the Mongols that stresses their ability to cooperate will probably sound strange to many readers. Cooperation is a "nice" word, and the Mongols of Chinggis Khan were most definitely not nice people. They slaughtered literally millions of men, women, and children, and enslaved millions of survivors. They turned dozens of wealthy and beautiful cities into ruins and piled pyramids of hundreds of thousands of skulls as grisly monuments to their achievements. They practiced cruel executions and unspeakable tortures on those unlucky to fall into their hands. And wasn't the empire of Chinggis Khan a typical "oriental despotism" ? So how it is possible to speak about the spirit of cooperation in such a society ?
    This is a very important question because, as discussed in subsequent chapters, cooperation, or more generally the capacity for collective action, is a key factor in the rise of empires. It must be noted immediately that the concept of oriental despotism, if it means the absolute power of one individual over the whole society, is a sociological nonsense. A single person, no matter how physically impressive, cannot rule against the wishes of all of his subjects. As soon as he falls asleeps, one of the people he has oppressed will end his tyranny by sticking a knife in him. In real life, tyrants could rule only because they had the support of a certain group of people -the palace guard, the aristocracy, perhaps the top bureaucrats. Only groups can oppress other groups and whole societies, and to do that the "oppressor" group must be internally cohesive. In other words, oppression can only be accomplished from th basis of cooperation, paradoxical as it sounds
    ." (p.24-25)

    "In the thirteenth century, Russia, fragmented into a multitude of bickering principalities, had no chance against the Mongol steamroller. In the sixteenth century, it was the turn of the Russian monolith to roll over the sqabbling Tatar khanates. Why did the Tatars lose their social cohesion ? How did the Russians acquire it ?" (p.28)

    "Muscovy is what historians call Russia during the period after the independance from the Golden Horde, but before the reign of Peter the Great, which started the Imperial period." (p.33)
    -Peter Turchin, War and Peace and War. The Rise and Fall of Empires, Plume, USA, 2007, 405 pages.



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