Mittwoch, 9. November 2016

A predictable Phenomenon: the next President of the United States of America

by Detlef Gronenborn

New elected president
(Foto: Michael Vadon [CC BY SA 4.0]
via Wikimedia Commons)
The world is in shock, at least considerable parts of it. Donald Trump, the outsider, the maniac, has actually won the presidential race in the most powerful nation of the globe.
Disbelieve in most parts of Europe, and many other regions world-wide. How could that happen? How could a fact-free campaign, built on emotions and outright lies become so successful?

From a long-term perspective the entire process is actually not all that surprising, was – in fact – foreseeable. If voters in the US would have voted slightly different, with a Democratic candidate winning, that very situation we are facing now would have appeared anyway in a nearer future.
The basis is the fear of change, of loss of influence, of loss of political and economic power by those portions of societies which have hitherto build up the current system, maintained it and profited from it. Often, and particularly in the US, this is equated with race, but this is only a North American phenomenon. Trump – and related phenomena – has more generally to do with the loss of power and influence. Those sub-groups within societies who have held power and thus lived stable lives in a comfort zone may have to give up their positions if their responses to the course of history were too inflexible. And humans typically have great fear of giving up their comfort zone, they then strive to resort back to security and stability.
The phenomenon is clearly not restricted to the US, in Europe it became obvious with the Brexit vote, and long before lingered around with the success of nationalistic and/or right wing movements in France, The Netherlands, Hungary, Austria and lastly also Germany. Particularly striking cases outside of Europe are Turkey and Russia. All these movements profit from the same phenomenon, fear of loss of influence and economic power, and a general fear of what the global future might bring in light of increasing regional conflicts, of global change.


Yet these processes are really not so surprising, are actually an inherent part of the human experience, at least from the beginning of farming some 9000 years ago. Possibly they were in operation before, but for these periods we lack dense data.
With the beginning of farming societies underwent literally the first economic and societal boom phases, detectable in massive population increases. However, some few hundred years after the onset of these boom phases, societies declined, collapsed, often with social unrest and violence associated. It is precisely during these phases that we observe a phenomenon known ever since the times of Classical Antiquity. Already Polybius (Hist. VI, II, 4-7) had remarked, that the first monarch emerged after an environmental collapse and during the subsequent population increase, when “[…] the man who excels in bodily strength and in courage will lead and rule over the rest.”

Recent investigation into European data show, that this process may be verified at least for Europe. Apparently during the decline/collapse phase of the early farmers did a political type appear, which is known to political anthropology as the “Great Men”. Originally observed and defined in Melanesia this type might represent a general phenomenon in any human society under internal and external stress, when groups organized themselves more rigidly. These phases are accompanied by an increase in violence and warfare, mostly internal, hence widespread social unrest. A little later in European prehistory do we see the first massive single burials, indicating the emergence of a true elite.

From then on were these first cycles that we can observe archaeologically only repeated thereafter with chiefdoms, states and empires emerging flourishing and collapsing. The basic mechanisms remained the same – to this very, very day.

The return of the “Great Men”

So what we experience today is a very common form of human behavior, in the long-term perspective. Social entities organize themselves more rigidly, diversity decreases, and at least parts of societies turn to those promising easy and quick solutions – Polybuis’ early monarchs, or the “Great Men” of political anthropology. Donald Trump is but one figure in a long line, only the impacts have increased as today, the fate of the entire globe is in danger if decisions are taken in a wrong direction and too fast.
Very uncertain now are endeavors towards minimizing the effects of climate change, of policies towards universities, generally of policies towards cultural heritage.


Godelier, M., 1986. The making of great men: Male domination and power among the New Guinea Baruya. Cambridge studies in social anthropology 56. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.

Gronenborn, D., Strien, H.-C., Dietrich, S., Sirocko, F., 2014. ‘Adaptive cycles’ and climate fluctuations: A case study from Linear Pottery Culture in western Central Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 51, 73–83. -

Gronenborn, D., 2016. Some thoughts on political differentiation in early to Young Neolithic societies in western central Europe. In: Meller, H., Hahn, H.-P., Jung, R., Risch, R. (Eds.), Arm und Reich - Zur Ressourcenverteilung in prähistorischen Gesellschaften: 8. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag vom 22. bis 24. Oktober 2015 in Halle … des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle), 1 ed. Landesamt f. Denkmalpflege u. Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, pp. 61–76.

Shennan, S., Downey, S.S., Timpson, A., Edinborough, K., Colledge, S., Kerig, T., Manning, K., Thomas, M.G., 2013. Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe. Nat Comms 4. -  doi:10.1038/ncomms3486  (Open Access)

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