Governmental Decline

Is the decline into “political senility” and collapse of a government sufficiently probable so that leaders should guard against it, so that citizens should fear it…perhaps more than they fear foreign enemies?

A dynasty goes through different stages and encounters new conditions. Through the conditions that are peculiar to a particular stage, the supporters of the dynasty acquire in that stage traits of character such as do not exist in any other stage. Traits of character are the natural result of the peculiar situations in which they are found….

The first stage is that of success….the ruler serves as model….He does not claim anything exclusively for himself…because…group feeling…gave superiority….

The second stage is the one in which the ruler gains complete control over his people, claims royal authority all for himself….The first members of the dynasty kept strangers away….[The ruler], on the other hand, keeps his relatives away….Thus, he undertakes a very difficult task.

The third stage is one of leisure….The ruler thus [with a powerful military and generous foreign aid] can impress friendly dynasties and frighten hostile ones….

The fourth stage is one of contentment….He adopts the tradition of his predecessors and follows closely in their footsteps….

The fifth stage is one of waste….[the ruler] acquires bad, low-class followers to whom he entrusts the most important matters….In this stage, the dynasty is seized by senility…[Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History, Tr. Franz Rosenthal (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 141-142.]

While the term “dynasty” is reserved for regimes led by the blood descendants of a single family line, and is thus anachronistic, the substitution of the “government of a state” may not be too broad a revision and thereby allow application of historical patterns to modern regimes. The shift from continuity via a bloodline to continuity via a nationalistic consensus is thus viewed as a political tactic that may impact the timing of the underlying dynamics of growth and decline without changing the fundamental nature of those dynamics. As a further refinement, replace “government of a state” by something like “factional ascendancy,” to allow analysis of the stages of growth of individual factions that achieve long-term control, e.g., the “New Deal coalition” that essentially held power in the U.S. from FDR until the Bush/Cheney Neo-cons. The perhaps inevitable decline of a state may be postponed by the emergence of a reform faction. In sum, we can apply the predictive “growth and decline” model of historical dynasties that has been famous at least since the days of the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun in the 1300s both to predict the survival of the modern state and to the survival of dominant factions. To put it most bluntly, should the leaders of a state or a dominant faction worry, as a person must, about the danger of senility?


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