The Doomsday Model

Russian scholar Peter Turchin has developed a model of societal collapse that's already yielded startingly accurate predictions. Acquainting yourself with his work is probably a good idea because, if he maintains his track record, we probably won't be enjoying the next 5-10 years very much.

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

Current events certainly lend credence to Turchin's prognostications. With the plague of sponsored insurrections, our elites have loosed a demon that's not easily returned to its bottle.

The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions.  

 Most successful revolts throughout history weren't peasant uprisings. Instead, they broke out when internal strife among the old elite, or rivalries with an upstart new elite, overflowed into the genpop. The ringleaders of the Reign of terror were lawyers and minor nobles, not farmers.

Turchin looks into a distant, science-fiction future for peers. In War and Peace and War (2006), his most accessible book, he likens himself to Hari Seldon, the “maverick mathematician” of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, who can foretell the rise and fall of empires. In those 10,000 years’ worth of data, Turchin believes he has found iron laws that dictate the fates of human societies.

The fate of our own society, he says, is not going to be pretty, at least in the near term. “It’s too late,” he told me as we passed Mirror Lake, which UConn’s website describes as a favorite place for students to “read, relax, or ride on the wooden swing.” The problems are deep and structural—not the type that the tedious process of demo­cratic change can fix in time to forestall mayhem. Turchin likens America to a huge ship headed directly for an iceberg: “If you have a discussion among the crew about which way to turn, you will not turn in time, and you hit the iceberg directly.” The past 10 years or so have been discussion. That sickening crunch you now hear—steel twisting, rivets popping—­­is the sound of the ship hitting the iceberg.

Spend some time on social media these days, and you'll see people on both sides of the political divide wishing for a new Caesar. But we passed the point when a Caesar could have done any good last decade. Even Trump came too late to right the ship.

Liberal democracy is built for deliberation and compromise, not drastic, swift, and decisive action. That's in the best of times. Now we get to hear our rulers dither over Death Cult esoterica and tax codes while the West burns.

“We are almost guaranteed” five hellish years, Turchin predicts, and likely a decade or more. The problem, he says, is that there are too many people like me. “You are ruling class,” he said, with no more rancor than if he had informed me that I had brown hair, or a slightly newer iPhone than his. Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily “elite overproduction”—­the tendency of a society’s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill. One way for a ruling class to grow is biologically—think of Saudi Arabia, where princes and princesses are born faster than royal roles can be created for them. In the United States, elites over­produce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: More and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Don’t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who don’t have power eventually turn on the ones who do.

That's the real story behind Donald Trump. He's not a member of the elite. He's an outsider tapped by a dissenting faction of the elite in a bid to overturn the existing order. Hence why the ruling faction among both parties fought tooth and nail to expel him.

Elite overproduction creates counter-elites, and counter-elites look for allies among the commoners. If commoners’ living standards slip—not relative to the elites, but relative to what they had before—they accept the overtures of the counter-elites and start oiling the axles of their tumbrels. Commoners’ lives grow worse, and the few who try to pull themselves onto the elite lifeboat are pushed back into the water by those already aboard. The final trigger of impending collapse, Turchin says, tends to be state insolvency. At some point rising in­security becomes expensive. The elites have to pacify unhappy citizens with handouts and freebies—and when these run out, they have to police dissent and oppress people. Eventually the state exhausts all short-term solutions, and what was heretofore a coherent civilization disintegrates.

Turchin’s prognostications would be easier to dismiss as barstool theorizing if the disintegration were not happening now, roughly as the Seer of Storrs foretold 10 years ago. If the next 10 years are as seismic as he says they will be, his insights will have to be accounted for by historians and social scientists—assuming, of course, that there are still universities left to employ such people.

The collapse is coming. We're not voting our way out of it. What each of us can and should do is draw close to Jesus Christ and grow in holiness.

Because there's nothing they can do to touch you if you're holy.

It's worth noting that my military thriller series Combat Frame XSeed has proven rather accurate at predicting the course of the collapse. For a look at the possible post-future, read the first book in an all-new XSeed arc now!

Combat Frame XSeed: S - Brian Niemeier


  1. Mr Turchin's estimate is that the trouble times start now. Vox thinks the wheels fall off around '33. Based on what I'm observing, I don't think either of them is particularly incorrect. The Republic is over: 2018 was the last election in the sense that it was believable. 2020 was so fraud ridden that even if they don't pull off the steal, no one will ever trust elections again and nor should they.

    Marius and Sulla are next. If we're lucky, we will end the turmoil with an Augustus in a few decades. If not... Well, I'm just old enough to write the definitive eye-witness account of the creation and history of the Dominion of Pacifica. Time to invest in that typewriter.

  2. It's popular to draw analogies between America and Rome, but unlike them, we stayed a democracy while also becoming an empire.

    A better analogue is ancient Athens. By that analogy, we just had our Solon in Trump. Next comes the elites undoing his reforms and wreaking chaos. That means we're waiting for a Peisistratos, not an Augustus.

    1. Right, but the pattern remains the same: an outsider/reformer followed by chaos as the elites try to undo it followed by a tyrant that settles things down with bloodshed and finally a real stabilizer. In the case of Athens, the reforms stuck. In the case of Rome, the decrepit republic was put mercifully to death but the spirit remained through Augustus's reforms. Either which way, the chaos and bloodshed are next.

  3. I've said for years that the damage was too severe to undo, and that one of four things would happen:

    1) The U.S. balkanizes, with geographically small urban enclaves and large swaths of rural land becoming sovereign nations (most unlikely scenario).
    2) Actual civil war, not like the one in the 1860s, which was actually a war of independence. The divides don't line up geographically to have anything so clean.
    3) The normies elect a strongman who promises to crush the left wing mob (heck, at this point, a man with the campaign slogan "Let's Give Them Something to Cry About" would get my vote), resulting in a right wing dictatorship.
    4) Robotics and automation, controlled by Big Tech, turn the country into a totalitarian, left wing technocracy where elections are just for show and UBI keeps people anesthetized and warehoused where they can't cause problems.

    After 2020, I am more convinced of this. 2008 was the last peaceful transfer of power in the United States.

    1. 2016 will go down in the books as the last presidential election.

      I concur with your scenarios. They're trying for 4, and they may get it working for a while. But the foundation of sand they're building it on, including their false theory of mind, misplaced trust in post-scarcity, and childlike faith in machine learning, will make it all crumble when the freebies run out.

    2. I'm curious what happens after 4 fails. Does 2 happen? I'd actually like 1 to happen.

    3. If four is successfully implemented, then collapses, the resulting civil war will make 1790s France look like a drum circle, and the only way the technocrats come out of it alive is by going all ED-209 on the entire populace.

      The crap that could be written about the dystopias Silicon Valkey has in store for us would give people nightmares. As I've mentioned on this blog before, I expect to see, within about 20 years, an AI version of pre-crime, but since big tech treats the code monkeys with the same contempt as everyone else, nobody will have a clue how said AI works.

  4. "The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse"

    Gen Y is used to it, at this point. The only thing surprising is that the Boomers are not getting out of this unscathed like many thought they would. They'll be begging for the homes they dumped their parents in.

    "Eventually, Turchin hopes, our understanding of historical dynamics will mature to the point that no government will make policy without reflecting on whether it is hurtling toward a mathematically pre­ordained disaster. He says he could imagine an Asimovian agency that keeps tabs on leading indicators and advises accordingly. It would be like the Federal Reserve, but instead of monitoring inflation and controlling monetary supply, it would be tasked with averting total civilizational collapse."

    You really, really don't want this to happen. Only a humanist could believe something this naive. Humans turn everything into a weapon, especially knowledge. This would be an utter disaster for everyone apart from the elite class.

    The solution is to eject humanism into the sun where it belongs. Until then, nothing will ever get better.

    1. The Boomers: When living forever means living to sleep in the bed you've made.

    2. Humans are very tricky livestock to manage. Once people figured out this was being used to manage them, they would commence cultural evolution towards an immunity.
      But the main problem is, we have known enough for over a thousand years to be able to manage these situations. Constrain the growth of the elite, stay out of national debt, eschew major population stressors; fixed.

    3. Humans are very tricky livestock to manage. Once people figured out this was being used to manage them, they would commence cultural evolution towards an immunity.

      Why do you think they're trying to wipe out the group most noted for A) its intelligence and B) its independent streak?

      If the people being dominated don't know or don't care, they'll never fight back.

  5. I am skeptical of the idea that totalitarian governments are more capable of pro-adaptive change than democratic, republican, etc., ones. Has the question ever been properly tested or demonstrated?

    1. Yes. See the case of Solon. The Athenians temporarily suspended democracy to make him dictator. His reforms solved the problems--until he voluntarily left office and the old elite plunged Athens into an even worse state than before by repeating the same mistakes.

      That set the stage for Peisistratos, a tyrant who finally brought the old elite to heel.