Peter Turchin is not like most historians.
For starters, he has an unusual background as an evolutionary biologist studying lemmings and mice. He says that analyzing the complexities of the natural world has allowed him to understand the most complex system of all: human society. He has pioneered a field of history that he calls cliodynamics that applies hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of historical data points to a mathematical model in order to understand the present and to predict future trends.
Using these tools, Peter and his team published an article in the journal Nature in 2010 making a bold prediction. They said that economic, social, and political instability in the United States would hit a “peak” in or around the year 2020. Many of Turchin’s critics said he was crazy to make such a speculation, that it’s too hard to predict how history will progress, that the study of history is more art than science. But then came 2020.
It turned out to be a massively turbulent year, one that would bring outbreaks of political violence that the U.S. hadn’t experienced in decades. It felt like complete chaos, between Covid lockdowns, mask and vaccine protests, BLM riots, and then, only six days into 2021, the storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
What did Peter see that everyone else missed?
Peter is the author of over 200 articles and eight books, and his fascinating new one is called End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration. It argues that societies operate cyclically, going through golden ages and end times. And he says that we’re currently looking at the telltale signs of an imminent revolution.
On today’s show, Peter talks to us about how he studies history, what American history can tell us about our current moment, why 2024 is going to be a year to watch, and what individuals can do to change the direction of history.