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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling framework for pre-capitalist historical dynamics, November 12, 2005
This review is from: War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations (Hardcover)
Alex Alaniz's otherwise excellent review fails to mention Turchin's core concept of 'asabiya' (Chapter 4). First developed by the fourteenth century thinker, Ibn Khaldun, asabiya broadly connotes social solidarity. Similar, more narrowly-based concepts include social capital (Robert Putnam) and the idea of military fighting spirit as a force multiplier.

Turchin puts asabiya at the heart of his historical dynamics, from asabiya's forging in initially fractious tribal groupings, chronically stressed at the edge of existing empires, through to the empire-building power of egalitarian high-asabiya groups, through to the decline of empire as class-stratification erodes social bonds in the empire's decadent period.

Turchin traces an 'asabiya gradient' in the United States, from high in the north to low in the south, which he associates with the corrosive legacy of slavery. Steven Pinker's 'Blank Slate' made similar remarks about the lower social solidarity in the US South, although Pinker saw this as resulting from the Southern 'honour culture' which, as he saw it, had resulted from the pastoral, rather than farming background of the earliest colonists. Pastoralists have to treat others as potential enemies since their mobile assets (e.g. cattle) are so easy to steal - a reason for low asabiya.

It would be interesting to know whether Turchin's more technical books have developed mathematical models/simulations of inter-society dynamics in which asabiya is a key parameter.

Although Turchin's many examples and models have been drawn from pre-capitalist agrarian societies, the fundamental concepts seem eminently applicable to contemporary events (Turchin chances a few asides, but not a systematic framework). I would guess that what we're seeing here are the opening movements of an exciting, insightful and controversial research programme to come.
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