Book image of Carroll Quigley 1979 The Evolution of Civilizations an Introduction to Historical Analysis

Carrol Quigley and the Conflict Within Western Civilization

Economic instability is growing within the West, and the reason for this instability might be part of a greater scenario than many are unwilling to acknowledge - or are even aware. In fact, a general observation justifies the claim that the entire socioeconomic and political-economic foundation of contemporary Western civilization is in crisis. Or, as Carrol Quigley might say, Western Civilization is in a ‘stage of conflict’.

 In his book, 'Evolution of Civilization: An Introduction to Historical Analysis', Carrol Quigley defined 7 Stages through which civilizations progress as a means of either expansion or contraction. Notably, Quigley emphasized throughout his work that these 7 stages are non-linear, meaning civilizations do not progress through all seven stages as if the process were a straight line. Instead, Quigley described the process in a more organic context.

Moreover, Quigley explained that some civilizations might not even make it through all 7 stages. For instance, in the case of the Western civilization, Quigley identified many periods of Expansion. Nevertheless, according to Quigley, the 7 stages of a civilization are:

1.    Mixture
2.    Gestation
3.    Expansion
4.    Age of Conflict
5.    Universal Empire
6.    Decay
7.    Invasion

For the purpose of this article’s discussion on contemporary Western civilization, what's important is Quigley's definition of Stage 4: the 'Age of Conflict’. According to Quigley:

"The Age of Conflict (Stage 4) is a period of imperialist wars and of irrationality supported for reasons that are usually different in the different social classes. The masses of the people (who have no vested interest in the existing institution of expansion) engage in imperialist wars because it seems the only way to overcome the slowing down of expansion. Unable to get ahead by other means (such as economic means), they seek to get ahead by political action, above all by taking wealth from their political neighbours. At the same time they turn to irrationality to compensate for the growing insecurity of life, for the chronic economic depression, for the growing bitterness and dangers of class struggles, for the growing social disruption and insecurity from imperialist wars. This is generally a period of gambling, use of narcotics or intoxicants, obsession with sex (frequently as perversion), increasing crime, growing obsession with death and with the Hereafter" (pp. 151-152).


According to Quigley, writing in the middle of the twentieth century, Western civilization was in a period of crisis as it was progressing through a stage of conflict, and the primary justification of this crisis was the result of poor economic management, in part by the governments of Western nation-states. Quigley's explanation of this conflict comes in the final chapter of the book where he discusses that Western civilization did not entirely recover from the Depression of the 1930s. In comparison with the era of the depressed Western economy of the 1930s, Quigley describes the characteristics of ‘normal’ economic order in the following context:

"The control of money supply, which had been one of the chief attributes of the banking group before 1929, became an attribute of the government after 1945, and the government exercised its control under pressure from the shifting alliances and alignments of the great economic power blocs that surrounded it. These blocs came to include: (1) finance, (2) heavy industry, (3) light industry, (4) commercial and service groups (such as real estate), (5) civil servants, (6) the armed services, (7) labor, (8) farmers, (9) transportation, and others” (Quigley 1979 pp. 412-413).


Quigley then explains that the relationship between these economic ‘power blocs’ must be mutual, since the consequence of ‘shifting’ power alliances will lead to instability within the entire economic order. In Quigley’s own words:

“If any one or several of these blocs became too obviously exploitative of the others, the others form an alignment to pressurize the government in another direction. The chief consequence of such alignments and pressures has been to increase government spending and thus to increase inflation. In general all these pressures have sought to achieve some redistribution of economic resources among the three chief claimants of these resources; these three are consumption, capital accumulation, and government services (including defence)” (Quigley 1979 pp. 412-413).


Quigley notes that government redistribution of wealth became a major component of sustaining socio-economic harmony. He also took note of the realization that the economic power blocs work for their own interests and self-preservation, and at times form ‘allegiances’ with one another to prevent certain blocs from obtaining too much power over the others. Notably, the means through which the power blocs ‘control’ the flow of economic activity is through either: ‘consumption’; ‘capital accumulation’; or ‘government spending’, which is otherwise known as ‘redistribution’. Interestingly, Quigley cautions against manipulation of any one of the means of economic flow.

“In the financial capitalist system before 1929, the great danger had been the great diversion of resources toward capital accumulation to the jeopardy of the two others. In the new pluralist system that has arisen, the great danger in many countries has been toward increasing consumption to the jeopardy of capital accumulation and public service. This danger has frequently appeared as a tendency toward inflation that would destroy capital accumulation by destroying saving" (Quigley 1979 pp. 412-413).


It is worth taking note of the fact that the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression occurred around the year 2008 when numerous transnational banks and corporations required government bailouts as a result of unchecked financial consumption. In other words, the banking sector, Quigley’s financial bloc, began to crumble as a result of over a decade of issuing unstable loans in order to consume more capital. The 2008 Recession was the result of poor management within the financial (banking) sectors located primarily in the financial hubs of Western civilization: the financial institutions, motivated by their own greed, set in motion an imbalance within the entire system of Western civilization’s pluralist economic order.

Quigley's description of an 'Age of Conflict' might seem questionable for some, since 'imperialist wars' and an 'increased obsession with death and the Hereafter' might not seem a realistic description of life in twenty-first century Western Civilization. However, within the first few years of this twenty-first century, the West showed signs of 'imperialist tendencies' as it collectively worked to invade two sovereign countries: Afghanistan and Iraq. While Western troops did not invade Libya, Western military forces bombarded Gadafi's regime, and a fair portion of Libya's infrastructure thereby indirectly leading to the collapse of the Libyan state. Furthermore, the West is heavily involved in fighting conflicts throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as a means of spreading 'human rights' - or in other words, spreading Western social, political, and economic order.

All of this is in addition to the West’s military interventions in Asia, South America, and the fringes of Europe, which have taken place throughout the twentieth-century.

Quigley's description of an Age of Conflict confronting Western Civilization in this era is even more significant when one notices our contemporary obsession with wealth inequality, commonly referred as relationship between the 99% and the 1%. Furthermore, the abuse of narcotic use is evident from the growing phenomenon of drug addiction, which is no longer limited to illicit drugs since there is a growing trend towards addiction to legal or 'sanctioned' prescription drugs.

Are drug and sex addiction evidence that Westerners are numbing themselves as a means of coping with their dire socioeconomic reality? Are the increased rates of mental illness within Western societies an indication that Westerners are incapable of coping with the crisis affecting their civilization? And finally, are addiction and mental illness a cause, or a consequence, of the crisis affecting Western civilization?

Although Quigley also mentions that characteristic of this era is an obsession with death and the Hereafter, this does not necessarily mean an obsession with religion - this can also mean a growing movement away from previous religious authorities. While group adherence to organized Christian faith (religion) might be declining in the West, there appears to be a growing obsession with ‘filling the religious void’ via 'new age spirituality'.

Additionally, public health systems are restructuring their services to cope with populations which are growing older, and as these populations grow old they’re becoming ill at astonishing rates. Cancer statistics in Western societies are just one of the many figures which speak to the 'health crisis' in the West. In other words, healthcare systems are frequently becoming 'age care' systems, keeping citizens alive to the point where it is too expensive to continue support.

In fact, due to the 'health strain' on government expenditures, a growing number of jurisdictions within Western civilization are moving to support 'right to die' legislation. It has become too expensive to keep citizens alive once they are no longer able to contribute to economic growth.

Quigley concludes his examination of Western civilization in the middle of the twentieth century by arguing that, "At the present time it is too early to judge if the present crisis of Western civilization will resolve itself into a new, fourth Age of Expansion, or will continue through an Age of Conflict to a universal empire and ultimately to decay and invasion" (Quigley 1979 p. 413).

According to the above discussion, and considering the discussion is rather broad in scope and limited in detail, it is still nonetheless reasonable to claim that contemporary Western civilization is ‘living’ through what Quigley defined as a stage of ‘conflict’. While the exact details of this conflict are debatable, what is most concerning is that the current pattern of behavior within Western civilization is leading up to a climax which will ultimately be resolved by irrational decision-making.

The primary justification for arguing that the West will end its period of ‘conflict’ by irrational decision-making is that Western citizens and Western governments exist within an economic system of rampant financial consumption motivated by uncontrolled borrowing. The consequence is of course leading to unsustainable socioeconomic inequality. Unfortunately, this inequality is not entirely visible due to the system of ‘quick loans’ created by the financial institution. The problem here is that contemporary Western civilization is a civilization in debt, and a civilization in debt is bound to panic at some point. The ultimate problem for the rest of humanity is that the Western civilization just happens to control the most powerful military tools ever created in human history, and the extent to which these tools will be exploited to steer the course of Western Civilization - at the expense of other civilizations - remains to be seen.