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My Book All Societies Die Is Out

Cohn Book2.jpg

Cornell University Press has just published my most recent book: All Societies Die – How To Keep Hope Alive.


The original title was All Societies Die.


Cornell wanted the happy upbeat element in the title, so we added the hope part.


The book does have a happy ending.


But most of the book is about figuring out how societies die.


Once the causes of death become clear, the mechanisms for the cure and for the extension of life also become clear.


I am sixty-six years old.


As I get older, I think about my own mortality – my own death.


I am a sociologist.


What one observes in one’s own life is frequently reflected in the society as a whole.


As I watched myself aging, and observed the first signs of decay …


I began to wonder if societies age and decay in the same way that people age and decay.


When I looked at the data – it was clear the answer was yes.


The death of societies, civilizations and empires were all over the historical record.


No society has lasted longer than 1000 years. Most last for far less than that.


By historical standards, the Euro-American world system – the world system in which we live - the system of nations based in Western Europe that extended to the United States and to the rest of the world – is about 650 years old. It dates from the late Middle Ages and the flowering of late medieval economic and cultural growth that preceded the Renaissance.


If no known society or world system /has lasted longer than 1000 years, and we are 650 years old, that means that the contemporary Euro-American system is middle-aged – approaching late middle age. Since not all societies go the full 1000 years, the Euro-American system might even be approaching old age.


We normally think of societal death in terms of ecological catastrophe. With nuclear weapons, there could be a nuclear catastrophe. Some conservatives like to think of societal death as stemming from moral decay and a collapse of traditional values.


Most societies do not die of any of those three causes. Of those three, ecological collapse is the most common. There are many known examples of societies that destroyed the ecosystem that they were dependent upon. The most common form of this is deforestation. Angkor Wat and Greenland died this way. Deforestation not only wipes out the supply of wood which may be critical as a source of fuel. It also has devastating effects on water flow and the viability of irrigation and grazing.


But most societies die in an environment where the ecosystem is doing okay.


They die of something else.


Something they were not paying attention to.


All Societies Die is about how destructive forces become unleashed.


The How To Keep Hope Alive part is how to protect what we have right now –


Those things we have right now that are essential for our collective well-being.

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