In his landmark international bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steeland Collapse, Jared Diamond transformed our understanding of what makes civilizations rise and fall. Now in the third book in this monumental trilogy, he reveals how successful nations recover from crisis. Diamond shows us how seven countries have survived defining upheavals in the recent past - from the forced opening up of Japan and the Soviet invasion of Finland to the Pinochet regime in Chile - through selective change, a process of painful self-appraisal and adaptation more commonly associated with personal trauma. Looking ahead to the future, he investigates whether the United States, and the world, are squandering their natural advantages and are on a devastating path towards catastrophe. Is this fate inevitable? Or can we still learn from the lessons of the past? Exhibiting the awe-inspiring grasp of history, geography, economics and anthropology that marks all Diamond's work, Upheaval reveals how both nations and individuals can become more resilient. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal yet.
Albert Einstein spent the last half of his life trying to fit the universe into one elegant formula. He did not succeed. Jared Diamond is trying to do the same with national political crises in Upheaval. He has developed a list of 12 factors that show up in times of crisis at the nation level. The degree to which the nation deals with those factors (if at all) determines how successful it will likely be in dealing with it.
The book exists at three levels: the individual, the nation and the world. The factors relating to their crises can be quite similar. The bulk of the book is on seven countries Diamond has had relationships with, having lived and/or worked in them. They are Indonesia, Japan, Germany, USA, Australia, Chile and Finland. They’re all different, and they all handled their crises differently. Some are still in crisis.
A crisis is a serious challenge that cannot be solved by existing methods of coping, Diamond says. The examples include foreign invasion, internal revolution, evolving past previous bad policy, externalizing problems, and denial of problems.
As for the US, Diamond sees it entering a crisis of identity and survival, riven by self-centered Americans who only care about themselves and today – right up to the top. Perspective, reflection and especially co-operation and compromise are absent from this crisis.
These are Diamond’s 12 factors for national crises:
1. National consensus that one’s nation is in crisis
2. Acceptance of national responsibility to do something
3. Building fence, to delineate the national problems needing to be solved
4. Getting material and financial help from other nations
5. Using other nations as models of how to solve the problems
6. National identity
7. Honest national self-appraisal
8. Historical experience of previous national crises
9. Dealing with national failure
10. Situation-specific national flexibility
11. National core values
12. Freedom from geopolitical constraints
The Chinese word weiji means crisis. It component characters are wei for danger and ji for opportunity. As in many clouds have silver linings. The example he gives first is Finland’s stunningly rapid industrialization when faced with $300M in war reparations after negotiating peace with the invading Soviet Union. Finland only had four million people at the time.
Things get dicier at the global level. Looking forward to potential crises like nuclear winter and climate change, Diamond’s model shows the nations of the world, and in particular the USA, are not set, ready or equipped to make the efforts the model stipulates to come out the other side of the crisis decently.
The structure of the book is standardized: a lot of history, some insight from personal relationships, and how the historical crisis fits the parameters Diamond set out. Mostly, it’s a lot of international history; interesting, and probably new to most readers. By far the best chapter is the epilogue, where he tackles the real issues: do national leaders make a difference in crises, and do nations need a crisis to act, or can they anticipate. The answers are sometimes to all the questions.
Diamond has created an interesting matrix for future study, but its application to the real world remains a question mark. It was a good exercise, but of indeterminate value.
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair reading and review.
The author uses personal crises and the way in which individuals manage them and seeks to see whether a similar process may play out with nations. He explores, in depth, nations which underwent crisis and which he has some level of personal experience - Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany and Australia. He then considers the present challenges for Japan, the United States, and the world in general; he concludes with his conclusions, questions, and how it looks for the future.
The biggest challenge of the work is the cosmopolitan nature of the author and how he takes for granted most of the premises of cosmopolitanism. Such is not to say that he is wrong or anything of that sort; it just means that the work is unlikely to persuade a lot of people. Those who will agree will already share the general predisposition of the author; those who tend to be more nationalist or have skepticism about cosmopolitanism will not have their worldview sufficiently challenged by the portrayal of the author.
A fascinating deep dive into the modern history of the countries discussed, and an interesting way forward to consider when it comes to nations and crises.