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The rise and fall of nations: an academic perspective

The rise and fall of nations: an academic perspective

Many nations and civilisations have been born from the dwindling fire within the ashes, struggling through the craziest storms; they ultimately reached the glorified apex of supreme authority and control. However, disillusioned by blind faith in treacherous power, nations fail and then rumble in the ashes they had risen from; many die in the darkness of history. As if, like a living cell, nations seem to have a life cycle embedded with seasonal transformations: spring of birth and identity, summers of development and growth, autumn of uncertainty and challenges, and winters of decline and decay. Many resilient would fight back to rise again, but for many others, the winters will be eternal.

Whereas there are no scientific models to describe how a nation rises and when it falls, there are various scholarly frameworks on factors that influence national trajectories and destinies. For instance, the Marxist Theory says these are the economic changes driving the national course. The Modernisation Theory says that the level of its modernisation, industrialisation, and technological advancement will dictate its rise and fall. A nation stagnated in traditional practices and outdated developmental formulae will get buried in the dust. Then there is the Dependency Theory, which concludes that part of the underdevelopment of developing countries is because of their political and economic dependencies on the developed world. The cost between national sovereignty and international subservience is sometimes too heavy to pay. Similarly, the Institutional Theory emphasises that solid governance structures and legal systems contribute to the stability and prosperity of nations. The Conflict Theory concludes that there will always be a conflict over limited resources, and class divisions and social inequalities contribute to the rise and fall of nations. In its endeavour to maintain its power and resources, the bloated elite class may even repress those with less power and fewer resources, resulting in an anarchical situation. Ibne-Khaldun, in his book “Muqaddimah”, has mentioned a cyclic pattern of rise and fall. According to him, a group with a conservative background but solid social cohesion, ‘Asabiyyah’, will rise to power and strength and establish their civilisation. However, over time, their strong identity and unity will erode due to complacency, rendering them weak and vulnerable to being overpowered by another group with stronger social cohesion….and the cycle continues. Ibne-Khaldun also believed that effective governance, just administration, social cohesion and sound economic policies contribute to the life of a civilisation. Another religious scholar, Maulana Maududi, giving a spiritual perspective on nations’ rise and fall, said, “It is impossible that a nation, by adopting the path which warrants decline according to the Divine Law, can rise to glory”.

The veracity of the above theories can be evaluated by studying the history of the great nations that endured for centuries. A few examples include the Romans, Persians, Babylonians, Ottomans and, lately, the British Empire. The rise of these nations to glory and grandeur may not be as captivating as their gloomy collapse from such heights. The defeat of the once all-powerful Roman Empire, not by any organised army but rather by the scattered tribes, has lessons for the modern-day world. Rome once controlled infinite territories in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and their rule lasted for many centuries. The reasons for their splendid success resided in multiple factors, such as a robust and disciplined army, institutionalised governance, economic prosperity through trade, agriculture and mining, innovations and inventions, infrastructure development, and all this under the rider clause of ‘Proud and Patriotic Roman’. But then, how did this godly nation decline and perish from the peak of its splendour? Like its rise, there are multiple reasons for its fall. The foremost reason was political instability, power struggles and leadership changes. The disbelief with which Caesar said ‘Et Tu Brute’ was one of many such tales of betrayal and conspiracies. Moreover, national unity, social coherence, and respect for central authority declined. The economy was ailing and was stained with high inflation and taxes, which, in turn, had weakened the army and other governing institutions. The eroding military prowess invited invasions from individual groups and Germanic tribes, leading to instability. Rome did not fall in days or months, but in all these declining years, Rome could not find its saviour. Steve Madison also commented on the fall of Rome in his book ‘The Quality Agenda: The Search for Excellence’ and said, “The Roman people started thinking of their personal salvation rather than their collective strength. Once the poison of individualism spread among the people, Rome’s fate was sealed—Once the cohesion of the people has gone, everything fails.”

The great Ottoman Empire, founded by Osman-I and raised to glory by the lionheart leaders like magnificent Suleiman, Mehmed-II and the die-hard Jannisari troops, had a life of about 600 years. This great nation also fell to administrative inefficiency, corruption, military imbalance with the West, economic decline, and nationalist movements seeking independence. The final nail in the coffin was the defeat in
WW-I, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.

The historical evidence and perpetual studies by scholars and philosophers find a delicate interplay between leadership, politics, economy, defence, justice, ethics, and national cohesion in the rise and fall of nations. History is not cruel to have put so many powerful nations on the gallows without assigning reason and giving them sufficient alerts. But nothing can erase the sealed destiny if the nations ignore these warnings and do not make the course corrections. And it is wrong to apportion blame on the leadership….nation fall because of its people….. 

AVM M Z Faisal (Retd) is the Director of Warfare and Aerospace at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. He may be reached at

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