Peter TurchinComplexity Science Hub Vienna, and University of Connecticut
Social and political turbulence in the United States and a number of European countries has been rising in recent years. My research, which combines analysis of historical data with the tools of complexity science, has identified the deep structural forces that work to undermine societal stability and resilience to internal and external shocks. Here I look beneath the surface of day-to-day contentious politics and social unrest, and focus on the negative social and economic trends that explain our current “Age of Discord.”
The History of the Near Future
What history tells us about our Age of Discord
Forecast: growing political instability to the 2020s
Three major themes
• What are the deep structural forces that drive
social instability and political violence?
– United States from the 1970s to the present
• All complex human societies experience
periodic waves of political instability
– a historical database of past societies falling into
crisis – and emerging from it
• Work in progress and future research
– massively expanding the historical database of
– building country-specific models connecting macro-
Structural Forces Driving Social Instability and
When the supply of labor exceeds its demand, the price of labor decreases,
depressing the living standards for the majority of population, thus leading to
popular immiseration and growing mass-mobilization potential, but creating
favorable economic conditions for the elites.
Favorable economic conjuncture for the elites results in increasing numbers of elites
and elite aspirants, as well as runaway growth of elite consumption levels. Elite
overproduction results when elite numbers and appetites exceed the ability of the
society to sustain them, leading to spiraling intraelite competition and conflict.
A fiscal crisis reduces the state’s control of the coercive apparatus (police and army).
The state’s legitimacy crisis undermines the willingness of the elites and the
population to defend state institutions against the assault by radical groups.
Whereas the first three mechanisms are internal, societal stability is also affected by
external factors: geopolitical (e.g., foreign support for the opposition), geo-economic
(shifting prices of international commodities), and geo-cultural (a successful
revolution in a culturally similar country).