theories of civilizations Re: [ANE-2] Re:Tainter on China
- What makes any of the works below any better than Toynbee (or, for that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by the time his last volume was published?
Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
----- Original Message ----
From: Mitch Allen <leftcoastpress@...>
Sent: Thursday, June 7, 2007 12:19:20 PM
Subject: [ANE-2] Re:Tainter on China
Like any broad theory about society, Tainter's theories fit some places
better than others. And while we can quibble about the specifics for
each society he uses as examples, the fact that someone like him tried
to create a general model of the decline of complex societies is truly
admirable, particularly since he is fully engaged in the global
historical and archaeological evidence to the extent that anyone can.
His point that societal expansion always(?) leads to diminishing
returns of energy over time and space is an important concept that
helps explain the geographical, political, and economic limits of
empire in the ancient world, though not always equally applicable in
each specific instance.
Creating solutions to overcome this ceiling allowed for greater
expansion beyond previous societies, a point that has been made about
the Neo-Assyrian empire by several scholars, including myself.
I use his book for my ancient complex societies class. I also throw
Wittfogel, Marx, Childe, Carneiro, Wallerstein, and Adams at them.
While there has never been a fully satisfying model of the rise and
fall of complex societies, these attempts are something we should
admire and attempt to refine. Critiquing them are important, since the
data is always stretched a bit to fit the theory, but coming up with a
better theory is not particularly easy or it would be done more often.
Tainter's theory has withstood almost 20 years of critique and, as you
see, is still well cited.
Most recently, I was involved in publishing the work of sociologist
Sing Chew, whose 3 volumes from AltaMira on long-term ecological
degradation caused by complex societies and environmental regeneration
during "dark ages" is a similarly broad attempt to show the mechanisms
of societal development and degeneration. Jared Diamond borrowed
extensively from these ideas in Collapse, which brings our arcane field
of study to a much wider audience.
- --- In ANEfirstname.lastname@example.org, "Peter T. Daniels" <grammatim@...> wrote:
>that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by
> What makes any of the works below any better than Toynbee (or, for
the time his last volume was published?
>May I suggest Paul Colinvaux's Fates of Nations, a Biological Theory
> Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980)
He is an ecologist. His "What Big Fierce Animals are Rare" is also an
excellent small volume on ecological law.
I have not read Spengler but found Colinvaux's prose far more
economical than Toynbee and his discussion of the importation of an
external proletariat as for example in the displacement of the Roman
free farmer and Roman agricultural centralization in the latifundium
far more understandable than Toynbee's similar examples.
--- In ANEemail@example.com, "richfaussette" <RFaussette@...> wrote:
May I suggest Paul Colinvaux's Fates of Nations, a Biological Theory
of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) He is an ecologist.
His "What Big Fierce Animals are Rare" is also an excellent small
volume on ecological law.
I'm sorry. In my post I mistitled Colinvaux's small volume. It should
read "WHY Big Fierce Animals are Rare."