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View Full Version : Does "Evolution Trump Revolution" in Political Change - Irish Times Article



C. Flower
18-10-2010, 09:40 AM
There's an review in the Times today that discusses change of political structures over time.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7317/full/nature09461.html

The reviewer, Dick Ahlstrom, asks if the findings of a study into hunter-gatherer migratory society in the southern hemisphere can be applied to Ireland today. The headline writer decided that it could, and that revolution is out. ;)

He asks whether the study shows that a complex western society like Ireland's can collapse.

The societies looked at in the study apparently evolved slowly, in terms of political frameworks, but quickly unravelled under some circumstances.

The conclusion drawn is that political change happens mainly through evolution rather than revolution.

An alternative historical outlook sees "leaps" i.e. revolutions, as part
and parcel of the way political frameworks develop and change.

My own view is that this study, of a specific space and time, appears useful but that it shouldn't be applied uncritically to the overall history of human society.

Slow evolutionary changes in economy and society build up over time and periodically the old structures break down and social revolution enables new economic structures to be realised.

In this way, feudal society was replaced by modern democracy based on capitalist economies. At certain points in history, the old forms break up and have to be replaced by new, or else face social regression. Under adverse circumstances, social collapse can take place.

My question is whether revolution as well as evolution is, or is not, a "natural" part of social development ?


http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/images/tile/2010/1014/1224281057593_1.jpg


http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v467/n7317/full/nature09461.html


“This study highlights the benefits of applying the same kinds of techniques used to study complex systems in nature to investigate long-term human social and cultural evolution,” the authors write.

“Interestingly, these results indicate that political evolution, like biological evolution, tends to proceed through small steps rather than through major jumps in ‘design space’,” they say.


http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sciencetoday/2010/1014/1224281057593.html


POLITICAL structures evolve in much the same way as biological species, according to new research. And just as species can decline and vanish without warning, unstable political groupings can also degrade and disappear.

Where this leaves Ireland and its precarious political and financial situation is unclear, but the researchers also found that unstable political systems can regress in jumps rather than the slow step-by-step changes seen when a political structure becomes more complex.

The similarities between animal evolution and political evolution are revealed in research published this morning in the journal Nature. The international research team from Japan, the UK and New Zealand showed how it could build “family trees” for emerging political structures to map out their evolutionary development.
...
“This study highlights the benefits of applying the same kinds of techniques used to study complex systems in nature to investigate long-term human social and cultural evolution,” the authors write.

“Interestingly, these results indicate that political evolution, like biological evolution, tends to proceed through small steps rather than through major jumps in ‘design space’,” they say.

They also found, however, that retrograde steps do not have to progress on this “sequential” basis and can come apart more quickly than they are assembled over time.

“This could occur if small, peripheral groups break away from the control of a centralised state or complex chiefdom, or found new societies with fewer levels of political organisation, or it could occur as part of a rapid, more widespread societal collapse and the breakdown of political institutions leaving smaller, less politically complex groups in some regions,” the authors, led by Thomas Currie of the University of Tokyo and colleagues, write.

...All human societies were originally politically simple until the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. As populations increased, societal complexity increased, evolving from small bands of family groups on to larger kinship-based groups or tribes. Typically these had only informal leadership, but this changed as tribes evolved into chiefdoms, with political leadership centralised in a hereditary office. Then chiefdoms coalesced to form states, with increasing complexity as seen in our modern societies, the authors write.

The researchers were able to track these changes by looking at the people who originated in Taiwan about 5,200 years ago and later spread out eastwards across the Pacific to populate its many island chains and also westward to southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean to reach Madagascar.

Rise and fall of political complexity in island South-East Asia and the Pacific

Thomas E. Currie, Simon J. Greenhill, Russell D. Gray, Toshikazu Hasegawa & Ruth Mace

Captain Con O'Sullivan
18-10-2010, 09:46 AM
I believe this very thing was discussed by Roman political philosophers some of whom came up with the theory that styles of government were a progression through a loop- tyranny, democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, democracy, oligarchy .... and so on.

Which would imply to me that all forms of government go through an evolutionary period towards succeeding 'ages'. History would seem to back this theory up in many cases.