Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya,… Are we witnessing the collapse of Asiatic Despotism in the Old Ottoman Empire?

Recent events in the Middle-East remind me of some insights from Carroll Quigley’s ‘Tragedy & Hope: A History of the World in our Time’. Here, I explore current events in the context of very long-term changes in civilizations.


As was described by Carrol Quigley, civilizations typically follow a certain path from their inceptions to their deaths. I quote his lucid description:


… each civilization is born in some inexplicable fashion and, after a slow start, enters a period of vigorous expansion, increasing its size and power, both internally and at the expense of its neighbors, until gradually a crisis of organization appears. When the crisis has passed and the civilization has been reorganized, it seems somewhat different. Its vigor and morale have weakened. It becomes stabilized and eventually stagnant. After a golden age of peace and prosperity, internal crises again arise. At this period there appears, for the first time, a moral and physical weakness which raises, also for the first time, questions about the civilization’s ability to defend itself against external enemies. Racked by internal struggles of a social and constitutional character, weakened by loss of faith in its older ideologies and by the challenge of newer ideas incompatible with its past nature, the civilization grows steadily weaker until it is submerged by outside enemies and eventually disappears.


The Old Ottoman Empire (as shown on the map below) was clearly submerged by outside enemies long ago (WWI), but the ideologies of the civilization have lingered on. The question is; are we seeing the throw-over of ideologies that marks the true disappearance of the Old Ottoman Empire?



Click to enlarge. Source:


In recent months, the citizens of the Old Ottoman Empire have said that ‘enough is enough’, and with this, they might eject the ideologies of Asiatic Despotism. I quote Carroll Quigley’s description of this structure of society:


It goes back to the archaic Bronze Age empires, which first appeared in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and northern China before 1000 BC. Basically such an Asiatic despotism is a two class society in which a lower class, consisting of at least nine-tenths of the population, supports an upper, ruling class consisting of several interlocking groups. These ruling groups are a governing bureaucracy of scribes and priests associated with army leader, landlords and moneylenders. Such an upper class accumulated great quantities of wealth as taxes, rents, interest on loans, fees for services, or simply as financial extortions. The social consequences were either progressive or reactionary, depending on whether this accumulated wealth in the possession of the ruling class was invested in more productive utilization or was simply hoarded and wasted.


This rings many bells, but the one that rings the loudest is that Mubarak was able to accumulate one of the world’s largest fortunes in adherence to the above structure of society. Only time will tell if the underlying prejudices involved in this structure will be shunned or embraced once more. Should this structure of society be extinguished for good, it would mark the birth of a new civilization. That civilization would be rooted in the rejection of ideologies that can be traced backed to the Bronze Age.



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Posted Mar 8, 2011
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