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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cliodynamics is a transdisciplinary area of research integrating historical macrosociology, cultural and social evolution, economic history/cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access journal that publishes original articles advancing the state of theoretical knowledge in this transdisciplinary area. In the broadest sense, this theoretical knowledge includes general principles that explain the functioning, dynamics, and evolution of historical societies and specific models, usually formulated as mathematical equations or computer algorithms. Cliodynamics also has empirical content that deals with discovering general historical patterns, determining empirical adequacy of key assumptions made by models, and testing theoretical predictions with data from actual historical societies. A mature, or ‘developed theory’ thus integrates models with data; the main goal of Cliodynamics is to facilitate progress towards such theory in history and cultural evolution.

This journal is available for sharing and reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International License which means that all content is freely available without charge to users and their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author.

Cliodynamics is a member of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and Scopus


Processes Too Complicated to Explain

Our government's interventions in foreign societies are plagued by unintended consequences, whether we are aiming for strategic advantage, conflict resolution, or economic development. Such consequences range from the trivial to the catastrophic; they can be significant enough to defeat the original purposes of the intervention. Since we cannot usually see them coming, our ability to cope with them is limited largely to damage control.

The problem is global. The noise level caused by cross-cultural confusion is rising rapidly almost everywhere, as technology and crowding force formerly isolated cultures into increasingly close proximity. It may be time to establish a new category of scientific inquiry specifically for this problem. This newly identified discipline could provide a focus for current efforts by anthropologists, historians, behavioral psychologists, evolutionists, and others, including diplomats and aid  bureaucracies (both public and private), to cooperate in constructing a conceptual framework that would help us understand how cultures respond when they impinge on each other, and help us foresee the consequences.

The Evolution of War

War and governance have co-evolved across the last 15,000 years, but much remains unclear about the process because historical narratives have not been integrated well into social-scientific analyses. Under the conditions of circumscription/caging that emerged in a few places after the ice age, war became productive, in the sense of producing larger, safer, richer societies. However, the larger states produced by war changed the environment around them, and for more than 1,000 years war turned counterproductive in the places that it had previously been productive, breaking up large states. After about 1400 CE a new phase of productive war began. This too began turning counterproductive in the 20th century CE. The most important question for the 21st century is whether productive war is currently mutating into a new form.

Tribal Social Instincts and the Cultural Evolution of Institutions to Solve Collective Action Problems

Human social life is uniquely complex and diverse. Much of that complexity and diversity arises from culturally transmitted ideas, values and skills that underpin the operation of social norms and institutions that structure our social life. Considerable theoretical and empirical work has been devoted to the role of cultural evolutionary processes in the evolution of social norms and institutions. The most persistent controversy has been over the role of cultural group selection and gene-culture coevolution in early human populations during Pleistocene. We argue that cultural group selection and related cultural evolutionary processes had an important role in shaping the innate components of our social psychology. By the Upper Paleolithic humans seem to have lived in societies structured by institutions, as do modern populations living in small-scale societies. The most ambitious attempts to test these ideas have been the use of experimental games in field settings to document human similarities and differences on theoretically interesting dimensions. These studies have documented a huge range of behavior across populations, although no societies so far examined follow the expectations of selfish rationality. These data are at least consistent with operation of cultural group selection and gene-culture coevolution operating in the deep tribal past and with the contemporary importance of cultural evolution in the evolution of institutions and institutional diversity.

Prosociality, Federalism, and Cultural Evolution

Constitutions are more than their text; a constitution is also a set of conventions, or expectations that constituents have about one another's behavior.  That is, constitutions have a culture. The coherence between the constitutional law and constitutional culture determine a constitution's success.  Constitutional culture and constitutional law co-evolve; by understanding the influence of multiple institutions, one may make predictions about the likelihood of the emergence of a prosocial constitutional culture.  There are reasons to believe that federalism might encourage the development of a prosocial constitutional culture, but the effect is far from certain.This essay concludes with questions to consider in while assessing Afghanistan's prospects for constitutional success.

Centralization/Decentralization in the Dynamics of Afghan History

The analysis of political organization in Afghanistan is clouded by a number of myths (unconquerable, ungovernabale and graveyard of empires) that are contradicted by the facts.  Historically Afghanistan was peacefully governed by a wide variety of conquerors and native dynasties, but all used combinations of direct and indirect rule to create stable polities. They also relied on theories of political legitimacy that vested authority in ruling elites that, once established, returned to power after periods of disruption to bring order to the country.  This pattern of successful governance has been overlooked in rebuilding Afghanistan today to the detrement of political stability.

The Taliban's Adaptation 2002-11: a Case of Evolution?

The Taliban faced overwhelmingly negative odds in 2002 when they launched their insurgency against the new government installed by American intervention in 2001. They adapted to the challenge in a number of ways. The article argues that some of this efforts to adapt can be described as evolution, although not all of them.

State and Socio-Political Crises in the Process of Modernization

The issue of the state and statehood is a principal one in social studies, whatever its aspect we consider. In this respect it is worth pointing out the growing interest to the problems of nation-building and state-building. So the state-building is regarded as a key objective, particularly in ‘fragile states’. At the same time we should agree with Peter Turchin, that ‘nation-builders today do not have such a theoretical framework’, while conceptual weakness of the nation-building theory can be diminished with the help of evolutionary science. The present article attempts to advance a bit in this regard.

Failed States and Nation-Building: A Cultural Evolutionary Perspective

This concluding article of the Special Issue on Failed States and Nation-Building argues that the science of social and cultural evolution can make valuable contributions to our collective capacity for peace- and state-building. It also reviews other papers in the Special Issue, and discusses how the different themes raised by the authors are tied together within the unifying theoretical framework of cultural evolution.