The Fate of Empires: Sir John Glubb 1976


I recently came across this old but quite interesting book “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival” by Sir John Glubb.

The book was originally published in 1976, and is no longer in print. Old copies are difficult to find, but PDF versions of the book are available online.

The book is only 26 pages. However, it packs quite a lot of thought-provoking information into such a small space. Sir John Glubb also proposes several controversial theories concerning the life cycle and demise of empires.

Sir Glubb undertook a historical study of the lifecycle of empires covering a span of 3,000 years of recorded human history, from Assyria and Persia through the British Empire. He observes that all empires survive as empires for around 250 years, corresponding to 10 human generations.

The book acknowledges that most empires do not have well-defined start and/or end dates. However, there is a reasonable degree of expert consensus on when a nation achieves the status of being an empire, and when such an empire fails or falls, reverting to a nation or falling under the control of a new empire.

Sir Glubb further observed that all empires pass through six stages of existence.

The Age of Pioneers (Outburst): The rapid development of a nation, often of insignificant status, to conquer rivals and become an empire. Pioneers are typically motivated by either greed or admiration of the existing empire.

The Age of Conquests: This includes commercial expansion and dominance as well as military power and dominance.

The Age of Commerce: The “glory and honor” of the Age of Conquest gradually is replaced by the desire to earn money and profit.

The Age of Affluence: As wealth pours into the empire, the commercial classes grow immensely wealthy. Art, luxury, and architecture flourishes during this period. The empire shifts from the militaristic quest for glory, to the defense of its wealth, luxury, and privilege. Conquest becomes viewed as an immoral, uncivilized act, and pacifism achieves moral superiority.

The Age of Intellect: Wealthy patrons endow colleges and universities, giving rise to the pursuit of knowledge. Interestingly, the author provides ample evidence for this period of intellectual development across 3,000 years of history.

The Age of Decadence: The final period of empires, characterized by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, and frivolity. The empire experiences a significant influx of foreigners, and transitions to a welfare state. Religious institutions are substantially weakened. Eventually, the empire spirals into selfishness and the loss of a sense of duty. Empires ultimately fail due to a diverse range of mostly external causes and forces, the result of the internal decay of the empire destroying its ability to resist such external forces.

Sir Glubb packed this book with many direct references to many empires both ancient and contemporary. He patiently assists the reader in relating the rise and fall of historical empires to our modern empires, including Britain (1700 to 1950) and the USA (1776 to ???).

I highly recommend this book for individuals with an interest for history. I also recommend this book for managers and leaders. I believe that some of these historical lessons attributed to empires can provide insight into the rise and fall of commercial empires and entities.

Frank T.



Japan and the Shackles of the Past: T. Murphy 2014

Japan T Murphy 2014I had the privilege of hearing Taggart Murphy speak a few weeks ago at our Rotary Club of Bangkok South luncheon meeting. Murphy is an engaging and genuinely interesting speaker, and I was very interested to hear his thoughts on Japanese politics, economics, and culture. His presentation inspired me to purchase his recent book “Japan and the Shackles of the Past”, which was published in December 2014 by Oxford University Press.

Murphy is a Professor of International Political Economy at the MBA Program in International Business at the Tokyo campus of the University of Tsukuba. He is also a former Investment Banker, and was a Non-Resident Senior Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Japan and the Shackles of the Past” is very well researched and presented, and is organized into two parts. Part One is titled “The Forging of the Shackles” and presents a very thorough political, economic, and cultural history of Japan. Murphy diligently educates the reader in the historical and cultural foundations upon which Japanese society has been constructed.

Part Two is titled “The Shackles Trap Today’s Japan”, and is organized into chapters focused on “Economy and Finance”, “Business”, “Social and Cultural Change”, “Politics”, and “Japan and the World.”

Murphy has very thoroughly researched and presented both the rich historical background and the complex, opaque, and frequently contradictory nature of modern day Japanese culture and politics.

The final chapter of the book “Japan and the World” primarily deals with Japan’s current events and geopolitical challenges and strategy starting in mid 2010. With out a doubt, this is by far the most interesting and thought provoking chapter in the book. Murphy skillfully analyzes, interprets, and anticipates Japan’s current events and strategy by frequently referencing the foundational material presented in the previous 10 chapters.

It is clear in the final chapter that Murphy has shifted his author’s perspective from cultural and economic historian to geopolitical and economic analyst and strategist. He objectively explains current events, and then presents his subjective analysis of these events based on his extensive knowledge of Japanese history and culture.

Murphy does not evaluate Japan in a vacuum; he is always careful to diligently explain the broad geopolitical and economic external forces which are confronting and challenging Japan. He observes that “China is the greatest power in the region; it always has been and always will be.” He notes that though China has had periods of internal weakness, the latest and longest such period having began with the Opium Wars, “there is simply no plausible way in which China’s re-emergence as the preeminent power in Asia can be derailed.”

Of the USA, Murphy notes that “the United States does not fundamentally care about Japan. That does not mean to say that many Americans do not have some sort of personal tie with the country and thus regard it with affection.” He further explains that “American elites rarely see Japan as anything other than a military asset, as a tool to realize a dream … that the United States can somehow achieve … a world where it faces no potential threat, no potential challenge — ‘full spectrum dominance’ to use the language of America’s deluded military planners.” He describes this dream as a “tragic and foolhardy illusion.” Murphy discusses President Eisenhower’s warning of the emergence of a military – industrial complex “that would destroy American democracy unless brought to heel.” He anticipates that “the American Empire is doomed to failure because it is structurally and institutionally ignorant of the wider world. Only a demolition of the national security state can remedy this ignorance.”

Murphy explains that “China wants the United States out of Asia far more badly than the United States wants to stay in the region; Beijing has embarked on a long and high-stakes game to see it happen. The stakes may be equally high for Tokyo, but they are not for most Americans, and when that becomes clear, the US – Japan ‘alliance’ will crumble, leaving Japan alone and friendless.”

Murphy discusses Japan’s need to rejoin Asia. He notes that “Japan’s original sin lies in its attempts to separate itself from Asia. The sin is understandable but the repercussions have been horrendous.” Looking to the future, Murphy observes that it “seems safe to predict the coming close of the 500 – year ascendancy of the West and the return of the fulcrum of human history to East Asia. Japan has potentially a central role to play in this, but only as an Asian country accepted by its neighbors as such.”

I highly recommend reading Taggart Murphy’s “Japan and the Shackles of the Past”. It is a great compliment to my other two recent recommendations, “Asian Godfathers” and “How Asia Works”, both by Joe Studwell.

Frank T.

Asian Godfathers: Joe Studwell 2007

Asian Godfathers

Regardless whether you were born and raised in SE Asia, are an expat in an SE Asian country, or are an immigrant to SE Asia, if you seek a better understanding of SE Asian politics, business, and history, you need to read Joe Studwell’s landmark book “Asian Godfathers”.

I personally consider “Asian Godfathers” to be more than just an interesting historical study on the rise of the region’s leading tycoons. This book serves as an important reference document to understand the power, influence, goals, and in some cases “dark secrets” of the most influential people in SE Asia.

Studwell does a very good job of introducing the concept of the Godfather, the historical context which gave rise to influential persons and families, and a summary of how to establish oneself as a Godfather. Joe brings context to the Asian Godfather by discussing the rise and fall of American Godfathers; most of whom were substantially curtailed and controlled by Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bureau of Corporations” Federal Reserve Act, along with the Glass-Steagall Bill (which was effectively repealed in 1999 by President Clinton).

Though SE Asian governments continue to evolve in both form and governance, and many have taken steps in recent years to minimize the influence of non-democratic powerful influences, Godfathers and their influential families continue to wield significant power in their domestic political and economic systems.

The final section of the book “Cast of Characters” contains a brief summary of each of the Asian Godfathers and/or the influential families which derive their power and influence today from an influential Godfather ancestor.

“Asian Godfathers” is a fascinating book, enjoyable to read, and very informative and enlightening. Though it was published in 2007, it remains very relevant today, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to better understand SE Asian power and politics.

Frank T.