They say history always repeats itself – empires rise and fall, economies boom and bust – but is there a way to map and predict the dynamical processes of history? The new and highly controversial discipline cliodynamics is the most recent attempt to transform history into science.
When the French Assembly of Notables frustrated attempts by the royal government to fix the state fiscal crisis in 1788, because they did not want to pay taxes, these aristocrats did not intend to trigger the French Revolution, during which many of them ended up guillotined or exiled. Yet this is precisely what happened.
When the slave-owning elites of South Carolina declared their secession from the Federal Union in December 1860, they did not intend to trigger a bloody civil war that caused more than 600,000 deaths, killed one quarter of military-aged white Southerners, and resulted in the loss of most of their own wealth, when their slaves were freed. Yet this is precisely what happened.
Read more at The Conversation.
Note from the author:
Cliodynamics is a transdisciplinary area of research that combines insights from historical macrosociology, economic history/cliometrics, and social evolution. One of the central questions in this discipline is, what are the social forces that hold together large-scale human societies? And why do such societies sometimes disintegrate? Basically, how can we understand the conditions that favor social cooperation, and conditions that result in its unraveling? Such questions can be productively addressed within the framework of social and cultural evolution (more specifically, cultural multilevel selection).