Arnold Toynbee's 12-volume study of the genesis, growth and breakdown of dozens of civilizations is back in vogue with the demise of Marxism and the robust acclaim given to market-based solutions in political economies across the world. He had much to say concerning the origin of war and the intractable nature of religious based autocracies that reign throughout Asia, the Near East and Africa.
Perhaps the single most timely insight that dominates twelve massive volumes is violently on display by Iranian proxies that cover the Middle East. Toynbee reveals the significance of studying the fall of the Roman Empire along the North-East frontier up to the Danube River that is today known as Western Europe. According to Toynbee, whenever a formidable sophisticated civilization maintains a limes (a series of military outposts to engage, contain and thwart an enemy), the more sophisticated culture heats up and disturbs the weaker, whereby ultimately the stronger culture is overwhelmed and collapses in its engagement with an intractable foe.
How do we recognize the beginnings of such an outcome?
We must first understand and discover the trends of social impact that a superior culture has on the weaker one. The more intractable, less sophisticated, nomadic non-specialized culture, in its contact with a sedentary, specialized civilization begins the violent process of acceleration and disruption. These are the twin movements of trends that portent a future demise.
Specifically, the non-specialized, intractable culture will divine violent methods to conceal its own limited resources as it engages the stronger civilization. For Toynbee, acceleration (speed) translates a physical problem (of space, distance, technology) into a moral one (read terrorism). How/Why does this occur?
We must acknowledge that war is brought about by inequality of rates of growth. The attendant response to such a mortal challenge is militarism. Militarism is itself the main route of technological education and acceleration for lagging cultures in the grip of mortal challenge. As forces (political, social, economic) impel traffic mount, physical problems are transformed into psychological advantage. Being congregated into forced response is an act of acceleration. These are the conditions that intensify communal, tribal, ethnic conflicts. This is the explanation for the violent tribalism on display throughout the Near East and North Africa.
Without clarity of purpose in its political resolve, the stronger, more sophisticated civilization will collapse. The imperative for a strong, knowledgeable, intractable Executive is already becoming evident as we survey the responses of allies and alliances with the Obama administration.