Kristian Skrede Gleditsch
University of Essex & PRIO
Over several prior books, Turchin has argued that political instability should be understood through the integrative and disintegrative cycles of states and empires. They flourish and grow when income inequality is low and collective solidarity is high but see disintegration and political turmoil as wealth accumulates and income inequality increases. This book attempts to provide a non-technical overview of the theory, backed up by large original historical databases. This is not entirely successful – I would much prefer to see graphs over verbal descriptions. However, several novel contributions merit attention. Turchin engages more with mainstream work on civil war and instability, notably the work of Goldstone and Walter. He argues that the post-1945 period may be very unusual, with a growth in weak states in former colonies and ethnic conflict, and notes that many models appear to fit the present era less well. Although Turchin has long predicted more instability in the US given increasing inequality, he discusses in more detail how current events in the US align with the prediction. Turchin sees the US is a plutocracy where wealth commands political power, despite democracy and voting rights. Revolutionary dissent can be mobilized groups that have lost out (e.g., the 'deplorables') or frustrated aspirants to elite status (e.g., an excess of lawyers). Turmoil is not inevitable and could be held in check by reform, but Turchin sees clear danger signs. One might argue the American system has proven resilient, with wealthy elites doing well under Trump, despite all the bluster about change. In an interesting discussion, Tucker Carlson is singled out as a dangerous man, capable of amassing a more effective political force.