Forces of Reaction and Changes of Scale in the World System of States
The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintigration in the Post-Cold War World
Over 200 years ago, Edward Gibbon noted that the problem in studying the Roman Empire is not that it collapsed but that, with all the problems it faced, it lasted so long. It is significant but curious that Gibbon is rarely remembered for this observation. This oversight reveals important things about how we think of complex political systems. It is a truism of anthropology that in the socialization process, a child is taught to regard a cultural order as a natural order. To those who are born, socialized and live their lives in a state organization – a group that includes all of Gibbon’s readers – complex political organization seems normal and inevitable. The possibility that any state would not go on and on, perpetuating itself indefinitely, is to most people inconceivable. Thus Gibbon’s great insight, that the Roman Empire was not intrinsically a sustainable institution, has been overlooked for generations.
Tainter, J. A. Forces of Reaction and Changes of Scale in the World System of States. In The State, Identity and Violence: Political Disintegration in the Post-Cold War World, edited by R. Brian Ferguson, pp. 68-82. Routledge, London.