The Fate of Empires
The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival is a
The read time is about thirty minutes.
essay written by
John Bagot Glubb,
better known as Glubb
Commander of the Arab Legion,
1897. Pasha observes and formulates a set of patterns that empires experience until their eventual collapse. Pasha’s framework consists of six stages that are characteristic of superpowers and follows the idea of cyclical paradigms in the historical record. Pasha
Possibly derived from the obscure ancient refrain: “even to the tenth generation” — an expression meaning a long time.
that on average empires last
250 years or
- The Age of Pioneers (The Outburst)
- The Age of Conquests
- The Age of Commerce
- The Age of Affluence (The High Noon)
- The Age of Intellect
- The Age of Decadence (Midnight)
Pasha’s formulation of collapse is inherently controversial, but he understands this keenly. Those living in or around a “collapsing” empire could never truly observe it, at least not Indirect observation: second order logic and lateral thinking. — after all no citizen easily perceives or admits that the empire is failing or has failed. The human spirit is adaptive, and embraces many harsh and diverse conditions with exceptional ease. It is not a “gradually, then suddenly” — but a perpetuity of gradual decline. A collapse is realized centuries later by future hopefuls far removed, or in Pasha’s grim case, barbarians. Pasha’s sense of collapse implies a steady and progressive softening and weakening of an empire, nation, or power.
Empires do not usually begin or end on a certain date. There is normally a gradual period of expansion and then a period of decline. Human affairs are subject to many chances, and it is not to be expected that they could be calculated with mathematical accuracy.
Pasha Quoting the German Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. that “the only thing we learn from history, is that men never learn from history”. His central proposition on collapse stems from the questionable way empires pass down history. Pasha considered an accurate generational transfer of history a crucial guard against collapse. Powers that retained fairly The word “objective” has become a loaded word, but in this context it refers to information that shies away from favoring any side — a narration of events. histories would win out in the long run as a matter of historical record in Pasha’s view.
Our people are represented as patriotic heroes, their enemies as grasping imperialists, or subversive rebels. In other words, our national histories are propaganda, not well-balanced investigations.
Further, in the wider historical sense, Pasha argues that for world history to be useful — it must be an accurate and collective history of the human race.
Any useful lessons to be derived must be learned by the study of the whole flow of human development, not by the selection of short periods here and there in one country or another.
The age of pioneers is marked by a sense of freedom and boldness characteristic of new encounters with the unknown. Pioneers are not limited to conventions or traditions. The leaders of the pioneers are creative, set the stage, and are free to improvise unique solutions and compromises. The old virtues — diligence, courage, honour, and loyalty rule the day.
Uninhibited by textbooks or book learning, action is their solution to every problem.
The age of conquest is a period of military action and land acquisition. Pasha marks this period by the simmering desire for commerce and wealth by the public. The military may be proud and honourable, but conquest is driven mainly by a merchant class who usher in the age of commerce.
During the military period, glory and honour were the principal objects of ambition. To the merchant, such ideas are but empty words, which add nothing to the bank balance.
Pasha marks the age of commerce by the ease at which goods are transported. In this period, trade is simplified and the ease of doing business maximized. The empire controls all trade routes, resulting in little to no interdependence in the domains of commerce and travel.
The means of transport were slower, but, when a great empire was in control, commerce was freed from the innumerable shackles imposed upon it today by passports, import permits, customs, boycotts and political interference.
According to Pasha’s analysis, the age of affluence is identified by a subtle distinction in the value and utility of education. In an empire’s high noon, knowledge is viewed only as a path to riches, with its practical and virtuous foundations taking an indefinite back seat. Pasha intuits that as with the Arab decline, there is a gradual loss of knowledge that would have bolstered the empire’s institutions.
The Arab moralist, Ghazali (1058-1111), complains in these very same words of the lowering of objectives in the declining Arab world of his time. Students, he says, no longer attend college to acquire learning and virtue, but to obtain those qualifications which will enable them to grow rich.
The age of intellect is marked by the common idea that education will solve all the problems in the world. It is this idea that underscores what Pasha terms “the inadequacy of intellect”. Pasha’s banal observation is that problem solving and cohesion among people depend simply on the principles that encourage self–sacrifice, loyalty, courage, and trust. Intellect is a product of these old virtues, and not the primary ingredient.
In a wider national sphere, the survival of the nation depends basically on the loyalty and self–sacrifice of the citizens. The impression that the situation can be saved by mental cleverness, without unselfishness or human self–dedication, can only lead to collapse.
The age of decadence is signaled by increased pessimism and cynicism among citizens as the empire marches towards midnight. Civil dissensions predominantly in matters of politics become more tribal and pronounced. The pervasive pessimism and cynicism is assuaged through various means and frivolity becomes the order of the day. Pasha writes “Frivolity is the frequent companion of pessimism. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. In
10th century Baghdad, contemporary historians lamented the decadence of the
See: The Arab Decline, The Fate of Empires, Page 15
which was signified by who the citizens considered their heroes.
The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor.
Pasha’s framework of collapsing empires may not apply in today’s global era, but it’s still a good introduction to peculiar patterns in history. The world today is a mighty complex machine held together by the Bretton Woods System and MAD doctrine (Mutually Assured Destruction).
The present writer is exploring the facts, not trying to prove anything.
Pasha does not try to prove anything when it comes to the rise and fall of empires, but for the sake of conclusion, let’s take his
10th generation proposal, and apply it to the greatest power in the world today: The United States of America. If superpowers inevitably break down around the
10th generation, then in Pasha’s framework The United States would be superseded by another great power by the year
2026 at the very least.