Originally published in 1978, The Fate of Empires should be required reading for every American. In fact, I think it should be a requirement for graduating high school.
Its author, Sir John Glubb, points out that the only thing we learn from history is that men never learn from history. And he explains why, in part, by saying that the history we learn is often propaganda. We’re often taught the periods of prosperity, and forego the periods of failure and disgrace. That, he implies, leads us to not learn the lessons we should, and it’s why we will commit the same mistakes again.
If there’s one lesson, in particular, that we should all learn about history, then it’s about the fate of empires. There have been many empires, and while Glubb points out that empires don’t begin or end on a certain date, they all share one thing in common. From the Assyrian empire which lasted roughly 247 years, to the Roman republic of 233 years, to the Ottoman Empire which lasted 250 years, or the British empire which also lasted 250 years; the lesson learned here is that empires have expiration dates. The average lifespan of empires is about 250 years, from birth to collapse.
He points out that the Assyrians fought with bows and spears, and the British fought with ships and artillery, but the lifespan of both empires was about the same.
This “remarkable similarity” expands through the course of human history, or the history of empires, as it were. This year the American Empire turns 242. We are younger than the average by almost a decade. And while Glubb points out that the average lifespan of empires is just that — an average — in the end, all empires collapse. I think the evidence deserves some due diligence in our thinking about the future.