Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People

Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People

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Shalom Salomon Wald
With a forward by Shimon Peres

A Project of The Jewish People Policy Institute

ISBN: 9781618112767 (hardcover) / 9781618113771 (paper)
Pages: 500 pp.
Publication Date: January 2014

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Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People is a thought experiment in which the author examines the work of 23 historians of the last 2,400 years, from Thucydides to Jared Diamond, who describe the rise and decline of nations and civilizations. None of these is a historian of Judaism. The key question of the book is whether the reasons that explain the rise, decline, and fall of other civilizations could apply to the Jews as well. The answer of the author is a qualified yes. From the work of these historians he extracts 12 “drivers,” or factors that explain rise and decline, from religion to natural catastrophes. Reviewing the Jewish history of more than 3,000 years against the background of these drivers opens fascinating new vistas for the general reader, and may be particularly useful to historians and politicians.

Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People – The Tel Aviv Review (October 17, 2014)

Shalom Salomon  Wald  is a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in Jerusalem, specializing in the history of Jewish civilization, Israeli S&T policy, and Jewish-Israeli links with China and India. Dr. Wald’s wide-ranging research interests include economics, sociology, history, and the history of religion and philosophy. His PhD thesis on the sociologist-historian Alfred Weber received the University of Basle’s prize as the best thesis in the social sciences in 1962. From 1964 to 2001, Dr. Wald served at the OECD Paris, the West’s biggest policy think-tank and advisory body, as an educational, science and technology expert, and as the co-founder and head of the OECD-DSTI Biotechnology Unit, authoring numerous OECD papers and publications (his last before retiring: Biotechnology and Healthy Aging). He joined the JPPI in 2002.

Rise and Decline of Civilizations could not come at a more appropriate time. . . . Within its well-constructed chapters Rise and Decline of Civilizations repeatedly stresses the idea that we can learn from history, carefully examines modern-day problems through theoretically-crafted historical frameworks, and progressively lays out numerous examples of how civilizations have successfully and unsuccessfully delayed their decline and death.
— Fred Reiss, Ed.D., in San Diego Jewish World
This sweeping examination of the history of civilizations as it applies to Jewish civilization is an impressive, long-overdue look at the way by which Jewish history should be examined in today’s fast-moving world. . . . Wald selects twenty-three Jewish and non-Jewish writers from Thucydides (ca. 460-400 BCE) to Arthur Herman (1956 - ) and skillfully encapsulates their philosophy of history. He demonstrates his broad familiarity with historical analysis and has produced a work which should be read by history buffs, teachers, and librarians.
— Morton Merowitz, Jewish Book Council
Dr. Wald puts at our disposal the benefit of the wisdom of the finest historians, beginning with Thucydides, concerning the reasons behind the rise and decline of civilizations. This notable endeavor enables us to delineate some ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for leaders that navigate between crises and guide their people to prosperous shores. These practical insights should be an integral part of every leadership compass, especially in the Jewish-Israeli narrative, where history is still very much in the making. . . . The readers of this book can look forward to an exciting journey through the chapters of history as penned by some of its greatest historians. Dr. Wald deserves our deepest appreciation for the excellent guidance he provides us in this learning experience and on this inspiring journey.
— Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, from the foreword

Table of Contents

Introduction. A Thought Experiment

Part I

Chapter 1: Civilization or Culture?
Chapter 2: At the Crossroads: The Trouble with “Rising,” “Thriving,”and “Declining”
Chapter 3: A Selection of Historians: Three Categories
Chapter 4: On Philosophy of History
Chapter 5: Obstacles to Foresight

Part II

Chapter 1: Thucydides, Greece, ca. 460-400 BCE
Chapter 2: Sima Qian, China, ca. 145-90 BCE
Chapter 3: Ibn Khaldun, Tunisia, 1332-1406 CE
Chapter 4: Edward Gibbon, UK, 1737-1794
Chapter 5: Jacob Burckhardt, Switzerland, 1818-1897
Chapter 6: Max Weber, Germany, 1864-1920
Chapter 7: Oswald Spengler, Germany, 1880-1936
Chapter 8: Johan Huizinga, Netherlands, 1872-1945
Chapter 9: Arnold Toynbee, UK, 1889-1975
Chapter 10: Pitirim Sorokin, USA, 1889-1968
Chapter 11: Fernand Braudel, France, 1902-1985
Chapter 12: Marshall G.S. Hodgson, USA, 1922-1968
Chapter 13: Bernard Lewis, USA, 1916—
Chapter 14: Jonathan I. Israel, USA, 1946—
Chapter 15: Paul Kennedy , USA, 1945—
Chapter 16: Jared Diamond, USA, 1937—
Chapter 17: Bryan Ward-Perkins, UK, 1952—
Chapter 18: Mancur Olson, USA, 1932-1998
Chapter 19: Peter Turchin, USA, 1957—
Chapter 20: Christopher Chase-Dunn, USA, 1944—and Thomas D. Hall, USA, 1946—
Chapter 21: Joseph A. Tainter, USA, 1949—
Chapter 22: Arthur Herman, USA, 1956— 

Part III

Chapter 1: “Challenge-and-Response”
Chapter 2: Windows of Opportunity
Chapter 3: Global Up- and Downturns
Chapter 4: Thriving Civilizations, or the Myth of a Golden Age
Chapter 5: Cultural Accomplishments of Thriving Civilizations
Chapter 6: Decline Has Multiple Causes
Chapter 7: Global Futures: “End of Civilization” or “Decline of the West”?

Part IV

Chapter 1: Religion: Identity Safeguards and their Downsides
Chapter 2: Extra-Rational Bonds: Tacit Consensus or Group Cohesion
Chapter 3: Education, Science and Technology: Drivers of the Future
Chapter 4: Language: A Factor in Rise and Decline
Chapter 5: Creative Leadership and Political Elites
Chapter 6: Numbers and Critical Mass
Chapter 7: Economic Foundations of Long-Lasting Civilizations
Chapter 8: War: A Double-Edged Sword
Chapter 9: Geopolitics and Civilizational Affi nities
Chapter 10: Internal Dissent
Chapter 11: “Fortune” or Chance Events
Chapter 12: Natural and Health Disasters

Part V

Chapter 1: Transforming a Small Country into a Great Power: The Dutch Republic
Chapter 2: Transforming Great-Power Decline into New Power Rise: Turkey
Outlook and Conclusions


Appendix A: A Framework for Policy-Makers
Appendix B: JPPI Brainstorming Participants

Selected Bibliography
Notes Index