The sociology of civilisational collapse

I found this section by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore really arresting to read a couple of months into the Covid-19 crisis, from loc 216 -231 of their A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. Cascading failures brought feudalism to an end but there were long struggles as elites resisted demands for change but without having the capacity to return the system to its previous state:

Great historical transitions occur because “business as usual” no longer works. The powerful have a way of sticking to time-honored strategies even when the reality is radically changing. So it was with feudal Europe. The Black Death was not simply a demographic catastrophe. It also tilted the balance of forces in European society. Feudalism depended on a growing population, not only to produce food but also to reproduce lordly power. The aristocracy wanted a relatively high peasant population, to maintain its bargaining position: many peasants competing for land was better than many lords competing for peasants. But with the onset of the Black Death, webs of commerce and exchange didn’t just transmit disease—they became vectors of mass insurrection. Almost overnight, peasant revolts ceased being local affairs and became large-scale threats to the feudal order. After 1347 these uprisings were synchronized—they were system-wide responses to an epochal crisis, a fundamental breakdown in feudalism’s logic of power, production, and nature.

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