The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter.Everybody looks to the disintegration of the Roman empire as the textbook case. There is no need to go so far back.
Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.
Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end.
Look at the slow death of the British empire, once world-girdling. Or the Soviet empire which collapsed quite recently. Brexit may be the first sign of the EU's coming-apart, along with various local independence movements across the region.
Big, impressive governmental edifices look permanent but are anything but. We live in interesting times....