Monday, March 27, 2017

“Foundation: The Fall Of The American Galactic Empire”

“Foundation: The Fall Of The American Galactic Empire”
by James Quinn

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.” – Isaac Asimov, "Foundation"

“Any fool can tell a crisis when it arrives. The real service to the state is to detect it in embryo.” – Isaac Asimov, "Foundation"

I read Isaac Asimov’s renowned award winning science fiction trilogy four decades ago as a teenager. I read them because I liked science fiction novels, not because I was trying to understand the correlation to the fall of the Roman Empire. The books that came to be called the "Foundation Trilogy" (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) were not written as novels; they’re the collected Foundation stories Asimov wrote between 1941 and 1950. He wrote these stories during the final stages of our last Fourth Turning Crisis and the beginning stages of the next High. This was the same time frame in which Tolkien wrote the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" and Orwell wrote "1984". This was not a coincidence.

The tone of foreboding, danger, dread, and impending doom, along with unending warfare, propels all of these novels because they were all written during the bloodiest and most perilous portion of the last Fourth Turning. As the linear thinking establishment continues to be blindsided by the continued deterioration of the economic, political, social, and cultural conditions in the world, we have entered the most treacherous phase of our present Fourth Turning.

That ominous mood engulfing the world is not a new dynamic, but a cyclical event arriving every 80 or so years. Eight decades ago the world was on the verge of a world war which would kill 65 million people. Eight decades prior to 1937 the country was on the verge of a Civil War which would kill almost 5% of the male population. Eight decades prior to 1857 the American Revolution had just begun and would last six more bloody years. None of this is a coincidence. The generational configuration repeats itself every eighty years, driving the mood change which leads to revolutionary change and the destruction of the existing social order.

Isaac Asimov certainly didn’t foresee his Foundation stories representing the decline of an American Empire that didn’t yet exist. The work that inspired Asimov was Edward Gibbon’s multi-volume series, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," published between 1776 and 1789. Gibbon saw Rome’s fall not as a consequence of specific, dramatic events, but as the result of the gradual decline of civic virtue, monetary debasement and rise of Christianity, which made the Romans less vested in worldly affairs.

Gibbon’s tome reflects the same generational theory espoused by Strauss and Howe in "The Fourth Turning." Gibbon’s conclusion was human nature never changes, and mankind’s penchant for division, amplified by environmental and cultural differences, is what governs the cyclical nature of history. Gibbon constructs a narrative spanning centuries as events unfold and emperors’ successes and failures occur within the context of a relentless decline of empire. The specific events and behaviors of individual emperors were inconsequential within the larger framework and pattern of historical decline. History plods relentlessly onward, driven by the law of large numbers."
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