Living as we do, in a society based intrinsically on expansion, Quigley’s observations on this point are worth a closer look. As has been outlined:

We have said that an instrument of expansion, like all instruments, becomes an institution and that as a result the rate of expansion begins to decline. This institutionalization of the organization of expansion, which usually takes the form of a decreasing rate of investment (rather than a decrease in either invention or in accumulation of surplus), leads to a crisis. This crisis, which we have called increasing “tension of evolution”, arises from the clash between the decreasing rate of expansion, on one hand, and the fact that people’s minds and the organization of society are arranged for expansion, on the other hand. […] We might also point out here that it usually gives rise to conflicts between the vested-interest groups that control the uninvested accumulations of surplus (because they control the surplus creating organization in the society and are sufficiently satisfied with the existing social organization to desire no change and the great mass of the population who are discontented at the dwindling prospects of expansion.

He follows with three possible outcomes to the crisis: 1) reform, internally changing the institution back into an effective instrument; 2) circumvention, the creation of a new instrument that leaves the former institution intact but largely ceremonial, and 3) reaction, when the privileged vested interest groups are able to prevent either reform or circumvention and, in consequence, the rate of expansion continues to decrease. If the outcome is neither reform of circumvention, the decline becomes chronic. He goes on to point out several examples one of which is western civilization:

The clearest example to be found in the evolution of our Western Civilization, where both circumvention and reform have occurred. As a result Western Civilization has had three periods of expansion, the first about 970-1270, the second about 1420-1650, and the third about 1725-1929. The instrument of expansion in the first was feudalism, which became institutionalized into chivalry. This was circumvented by a new instrument of expansion that we might call commercial capitalism (the nobility got to keep their nobility, but lost their power), which became the instrument of expansion of the third age of expansion in the history of Western Civilization. By 1930 this organization had become institutionalized into monopoly capitalism, and the society was for the third time, in a major era of crisis.

There are several interesting inferences to be drawn from this model, that may apply to our current situation. The first of which is as Quigley illustrates, Western Civilization has staved off three times the evolutionary trend of progressing from an “age of confusion” toward the three final stages of “universal empire”, “decay”, and “invasion” through either reform or circumvention of its institutions. Of which the age of confusion stage is illustrative of trying to find expansion through artificial means, while keeping its institutions intact and trends toward the universal empire stage through lack of other means of expansion. I think quite obviously, since 1930 we have been locked into a meandering age of confusion state, but whats particularly interesting is that over the last 40 years or so, there has been an expansion of sorts, in spite of other ahistorical conditions such as population saturation, global change, peak oil, and other external limitations on expansion. Continued expansion under these conditions can only mean that we have entered the stage of universal empire, or perhaps onward to the beginning stages of “decay”. Because, throughout the recent appearances of expansion there has not been neither reform or circumvention of institutional monopoly capitalism. What we have witnessed instead can only be (following this narrative) is a successful “reaction” to the need for change. The institution of monopoly capitalism has not been reformed or circumvented by another instrument, but has designed a modality that has expanded itself, probably through the effects of globalization ( a form of empire) and rote deregulation of finance. Or in other words, what has evolved is a kind of hyper global monopoly capitalism, that has precipitated in its wake, the current economic meltdown. And underlining this possibility, is the very evident and endemic response to the collapse, which is the unprecedented and profoundly reactionary taxpayer bailout of the financial institutions by the political institutions as – being “to big to fail”. To which one can only surmise, that we’ve doubled down – and rejected either reform or circumvention – in favor of reaction, to shore up the institutions that have only brought failure.

Kinda puts whats been going on in a new and rather terminal perspective, doesn’t it?


I reread the above this morning and because it is such an important point, I’d like to rephrase it in more plain language. The recent bailouts of America’s financial institutions is indicative of several significant developments, that when put into structural and historical perspective, indicate we are on course toward some very grave consequences. It would seem that the financial/economic institutions of this country have become so powerful that they have been able to co-opt the other networks, especially the political network, into the exclusive service of their own self/vested interests. What this means is that they have become so powerful that they can resist all attempts at either reform and/or prevent any attempts at circumventing their status – that would benefit the economic interests of the population – and have instead been able to turn their function of an “instrument of expansion” away from their original function of invention, savings, and investment, and use its instruments against the population itself. The striking thing about this development is not only that they have been able to resist change and reform with the full cooperation of the political network, but when the entire charade collapses in a heap, the government immediately, and without a shred of oversight or accounting, throws trillions of taxpayer dollars at them to re-inflate these institutionalized vested interests, turning its instrument of expansion into a parasitic extraction of wealth from the population itself. This can only be regarded as an affirmation that we have endorsed and are now locked into a zero-sum race toward the bottom. Characteristic and not unlike other catastrophic failures of civilization throughout history, when the only remaining alternatives of survival are reduced into schemata that is ultimately and unavoidably self destructive.


The revised formula would then be as such:

970 – 1270 The instrument of feudalism was institutionalized into chivalry.

1420 – 1650 The institution of chivalry was circumvented by commercial capitalism.

By 1930 The instrument of commercial capitalism became (degenerated into) institutional monopoly capitalism.

Since 1930 The institution of monopoly capitalism has resisted reform and circumvention and has degenerated into institutional predatory capitalism. Whereby the instrument of expansion can be characterized by global expansion, political collusion, military collusion, and eventually feeding directly upon the tax base itself.

One Response to “expansion”

  1. anna missed » Blog Archive » repost of carroll quigley’s evolution of civilizations - summary Says:

    […] Link #2 expansion […]

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