World Leadership Civilizations

a way of understanding history

by A.V. Sloan, graduate of Princeton and Stanford Universities


The table in Appendix A lists 24 civilizations that have been highly influential in world history. They cover all periods, from ancient Mesopotamia to the United States today. Since each of these 24 leadership cultures were admired and often copied by their neighbors, we can understand a great deal about any period in history by studying these dominant civilizations. Masterpieces in art and important developments in technology are often associated with the times of these 24 leading cultures - often considered their golden age. An accompanying Appendix B lists influential leaders and major contributions of these leading civilizations.

This leadership approach to history was developed in 1986-87, partly as an attempt to explain the relative decline in economic power the United States was then facing. Sloan's1987 paper on the subject was reviewed by James Sheehan, chairman of Stanford's history department. Appendix A was revised based on professor Sheehan's comments (such as a reduction in the years of Vienna's world leadership). The paper did not anticipate the US 1990's resurgence with the Internet revolution, and today it seems overly pessimistic.

However, many of the points made in the 1987 paper remain valid today:

1. The civilizations on Appendix A represent mankind's highest overall achievement during each period. One way to view the list is to realize that these cities often attracted the people who could pay for the best medical care available at the time. It is surprising how many of the civilizations (as the Hindu/Gupta, which invented our decimal numbers) are relatively unknown to many in the West.

2. There has been a trend in history from more to fewer years that a leadership civilization remains at the top (only 68 years average since the Renaissance, for example).

3. Most of the transitions from one leadership center to another are between neighboring and often competing civilizations. New centers often benefit from Toynbee's "Challenge-and-response" situations.

4. Drawn by the large amounts of cash generally flowing into world leadership centers, many energetic outsiders often move to these areas. Attracted are some of the best minds, adventurers, artists, and vigorous young people of all types looking for better opportunities. Many, like Beethoven, are listed in Appendix B.

5. A strong military is often associated with a leadership center. First, such civilizations often use military power to expand their territories. Secondly, military activities encourage the development of technology and organizational methods, which help win battles and lead to effective government. Military defeats often signal the shift to a new World Leadership Center See Appendix C for events associated with the growth and decline of each Center.

6. A World Leadership Center that is no longer expanding finds fewer internal opportunities for investment that can provide good returns. Foreign investments often bring higher returns, but they generally help the receiving country more that the lender, because the productive work takes place outside the investing country. In this way, a receiving country can develop into a new leadership center.

Appendix D lists twelve important civilizations that do not quite make it into the list of the top influential cultures of the time. For a simplified chart of the top fifteen civilizations, see Appendix E. Understanding these fifteen world leadership centers can give a good overall grasp of world history.

Religion in history defines the major ethicical mileposts in world history and the connections/ purposes of all religions. A page on Istanbul: Crossroads of Civilization outlines one area that has twice been a World Leadership Center. From earliest times to the present it has played a significant role in world history. Visiting Roman ruins in Turkey, Sloan realized that people's living styles throughout history did not change much until the Industrial Revolution.

Other Thoughts. A page on Bali shows how places are affected by changing world cultural leaders. The Netherlands in the 1600's is used as an example of cultural leaders like Rembrandt, and of a nation's impact on places as far away as Bali. Finally, the US Civil War analyzes whether that war was avoidable and if it hurt the US becoming a world leader.

Go to list of World Leadership Centers: 24 centers or simplified 15

Information on: Sloan, the author

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