Nation falling under the sway of primitive but hardier folk?
#1
In a recent article, veteran Israeli public intellectual Uri Avnery offers this historical insight:

Quote:The takeover of a civilized country by hardier border fighters is by no means extraordinary. On the contrary, it is a frequent historical phenomenon. The historian Arnold Toynbee provided a long list.

Germany was for a long time dominated by the Ostmark (“Eastern marches”), which became Austria. The culturally advanced German heartland fell under the sway of the more primitive but hardier Prussians, whose homeland was not a part of Germany at all. The Russian Empire was formed by Moscow, originally a primitive town on the fringes.

The rule seems to be that when the people of a civilized country become spoiled by culture and riches, a hardier, less pampered, and more primitive race on the fringes takes over, as Greece was taken over by the Romans, and Rome by the barbarians.

That many of those setting the agenda of public discourse in India are 'primitive' (enthusiasm for capital punishment) and 'hardier' (able to pull off hunger-strikes) is obvious. Is the growing power of quasi-religious demagogues from the countryside in Indian politics while pampered beneficiaries of of liberalization look on, also an instance of the same phenomenon?
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#2
(04-Jun-2011, 10:40 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: That many of those setting the agenda of public discourse in India are 'primitive' (enthusiasm for capital punishment) and 'hardier' (able to pull off hunger-strikes) is obvious. Is the growing power of quasi-religious demagogues from the countryside in Indian politics while pampered beneficiaries of of liberalization look on, also an instance of the same phenomenon?

It sounds too anecdotal to me. I'm not dismissing it at all, and I think that such a model is quite plausible, and can even propose a few mechanisms by which such a phenomenon could take place, but without proper verification (for example, introduce indices to quantify the groups and test for significance using randomly drawn test samples in a blinded experiment) its too easy for us to fall victims of confirmation bias and cherry picking.

Even the examples he provides are not very convincing. The Romans and the Huns are more accurately characterized as outside forces to the Greeks and Rome, even if the line is not very clear.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#3
(04-Jun-2011, 11:21 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: It sounds too anecdotal to me. I'm not dismissing it at all, and I think that such a model is quite plausible, and can even propose a few mechanisms by which such a phenomenon could take place, but without proper verification (for example, introduce indices to quantify the groups and test for significance using randomly drawn test samples in a blinded experiment) its too easy for us to fall victims of confirmation bias and cherry picking.

I agree that the grounds don't seem to be adequate for formalizing Uri Avnery's observations into any general principle with predictive value. Perhaps such a problem can be profitably studied in the context of Peter Senge's system archetypes.

Leaving aside 'predictive value' of such observations, even a stray historical instance can serve as a cautionary tale. For instance, while reading the chapter Smacking the Temple in Jennifer Hecht's fabulous 'Doubt', the vulnerability of any cosmopolitan experiment as performed by the 'Hellenized Jews' at the hands of more sectarian and insular forces like the Maccabees, seemed an obvious parallel to the threats faced by the fairly recent Indian experiment in pluralistic, secular democracy. Historical instances like Avnery's may not pass scholastic muster, but they do serve to make the much-needed point that our democracy needs its defenders and this means that liberals shirk 'serving time at the front' only at their own peril.

Edit (24/06/2014): Replaced inactive links.
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#4
Economist Paul Krugman puts on the historian hat in this New York Times op-ed on the recent fortunes of some now decadent and once upstart tech giants.
The Decline of E-Empires

While speaking of how the next round almost always belongs to players that are less established but more rough-and-ready, Krugman quotes the work of Ibn Khaldun, 'a 14th-century Islamic philosopher who basically invented what we would now call the social sciences'. Quoting from the op-ed,

Quote:Desert tribesmen, he argued, always have more courage and social cohesion than settled, civilized folk, so every once in a while they will sweep in and conquer lands whose rulers have become corrupt and complacent. They create a new dynasty — and, over time, become corrupt and complacent themselves, ready to be overrun by a new set of barbarians.

Avnery's insight above it seems has had a longer history. Krugman in an earlier post likens Ibn Khaldun to a real-life Hari Seldon and provides a pdf link to the historian's unassumingly named magnum opus Muqaddimah (Prolegomena).
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