What Causes Civilization to Collapse?


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared Diamond

Penguin Books (2005)

Book Review

This book was very different from what I expected. I anticipated an account of the environmental mismanagement that caused the collapse of prehistoric civilizations such as Easter Island. Collapse is actually a detailed historical analysis of a wide spectrum of both failed and successful societies. In addition to Easter Island, Diamond also covers the vanished Anazazi civilization in New Mexico, the Mayan civilization, the Viking settlements of Iceland (which persists to the present day), Greenland and Vineland (present day Newfoundland and New Brunswick), pre-1853 Japan, the New Guinea highlands and modern day Rwanda and Australia (the modern society he describes at highest risk for collapse).

Diamond’s thesis is that the ability of any society to meet the survival needs of its members depends on certain basic preconditions. He maintains historical forest management is the most critical – deforestation features in every historical collapse he mentions. Forests are not only essential to provide fuel for cooking, heating and refining metal, but loss of forest cover leads to soil erosion and destruction of topsoil, as well as decreased rainfall and fresh water shortages.

In some societies Diamond analyzes, collapse was the direct result of environmental mismanagement. In others, the odds of survival were extremely low to begin with, due to low rainfall, a cold or windy latitude or poor soils. In many cases, a political factor such as war, lack of external supports (eg trade), overpopulation and/or a greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.

The section I found most interesting concerns the New Guinea highlanders, who (prior to the arrival of Europeans) maintained an environmentally sustainable civilization via bottom up direct democracy for over 46,000 years.

12 thoughts on “What Causes Civilization to Collapse?

  1. Pingback: What Causes Civilization to Collapse? | VikingLifeBlog

  2. “greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.”

    Well, considering that alone, shouldn’t the U.S. have collapsed by now? Add to that the fact of fracking and other serious and detrimental shit that’s being done to the environment and the U.S. should have already been wiped off the map. And I keep hearing that Yellowstone is about to act up and another serious earthquake is expected in the western regions. I wish!


  3. The US is well on its way to collapse – at least according to historian Alfred McCoy. He documents this very meticulously in his new book In the Shadows of the American century, which I reviewed a few days ago.

    He predicts the US collapse occurring between 2030-2040 (2030 is only 12 years from now). The reason for the 10 year leeway is that it could happen slow (with the US getting poorer and poorer and Americans paying more and more for imported goods they no longer manufacture) or fast – if the US dollar collapses.

    He says there is no way the US can catch up with China at this point – economically or militarily. In large part, this relates to how badly the US has allowed public schools to deteriorate.

    He also feels this is why things are so bad in the US right now (the growing poverty and political repression). In fact, Trump’s election is a prominent symptom that the decline has already started.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The sad truth is the US has printed trillions, stole trillions from other countries, manipulated markets for trillions, runs a global bankruptcy for profit ponzi scheme for trillions; ALL for the secret deep state activities; and, leaving the American people and the world out to dry;

    Best we prep; in peace


    • Diamond’s book is very prescient, isn’t it? He predicted Australia would be the first to collapse, but now I think it will be the US. Already US allies are switching sides and going with the other side (Russia and China). It’s like rats leaving a ship.

      Liked by 1 person

        • You’re absolutely right, Rosaliene. Collapse has already arrived for America’s working poor. Both Australia and New Zealand are strongly allied with China economically – they’re the largest buyer of our exports. Australia’s current government is rather backward politically though – they’re still allied with the US politically and economically. I suspect this may relate to long time CIA interference in their government. In 1972, they initiated a coup against an Australian prime minister they viewed as too progressive and removed him: https://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2017/05/01/the-1972-us-coup-against-australia/


      • Stu, the US Corp parasite has to be propped up by other countries; if, it fails, they fail; a brilliant strategy; the developing nations will fold first; the parasite nations will only fall when there is no more “develping” hosts;

        As long as we are prepped and ready to run for the hills; and, in the meantime educate the people; and, turn the tide; in peace


  5. Pingback: The History of the 20th Century: BBC Propaganda at Its Best | The Most Revolutionary Act

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