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Jared Diamond — How Do Great Societies Collapse?

In his book Collapse, economist Jared Diamond lists five factors that can lead to social decay including: a failure to understand and prevent cases of environmental damage; climate change; depredations by hostile neighbours; inability of friendly neighbors to continue to trade; and finally, how the society itself deals with the problems raised by the first four. A common failing involved in the last item is the dislocation between the short-term interests of elites and the longer-term interests of the societies the elites dominate.

The earth is strewn with the ruins of powerful civilizations that decayed –Egypt, Persia, the Mayan empires, Rome, Byzantium, and the Mughal, Ottoman, and Chinese Kingdoms. Not all died for same reasons. Rome, for example, never faced a depletion of natural resources or environmental catastrophe. But they all, at a certain point, were taken over by a bankrupt and corrupt elite. This elite, squandering resources and pillaging the state, was no longer able to muster internal allegiance and cohesiveness. The leaders, in the final period of decay, increasingly had to rely on armed mercenaries because citizens would no longer serve in the military. They descended into orgies of self-indulgence, surrendered their civic and excitement, and spectacle of the areans, became politically apathetic, and collapsed.

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