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Lessons Learned From the Fall and Rise of World Civilization

Many lessons we can take from world history. In the case of civilization, for example, we see many nations that have had advanced civilizations and extensive empires, but then slowly or suddenly collapse. On the other hand, many countries that were previously in the dark, can then rise and have a great civilization.

To refresh our memories while reflecting on what lessons we can learn from the events of the rise and fall of world civilization, let us briefly review the major events in the world, such as:

  • European Reinassance.
  • The decline of Islamic Civilization.
  • The Era of Colonialism.
  • The Japanese Meiji Restoration.
  • The Collapse of the Soviet Union
  • The United States Economic Setbacks and
  • Chinese Awakening.

Ok, lets we start with European Reinassance.


European Reinassance

Europe in the Middle Ages had experienced an era called the Dark Middle Age when the religious rulers and dogmas were so binding and supported people’s freedom of thought.

We may often read the famous case, a scientist Galileo Galilei, who was tried and put under house arrest only for arguing that the Earth surrounds the sun (supporting Copernicus’s theory). This is because his argument contradicted the rulers and religious leaders of that time who held to the theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy, who claimed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun around the Earth.

Around the 15th century, driven by the struggle of thought to rediscover the glory of ancient Greek and Roman scientific knowledge, the Reformation of the Church, the influence of Islamic civilization after the crusades, and other factors, Europe entered an era called Reinassance (enlightenment – rebirth). In this era, science developed rapidly and appeared great figures that we know today, such as Kepler, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Gutenberg, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others.

The mastery of science and technology by Europeans during the Reinassance period also triggered the desire for conquest of other nations, especially with the mastery of gunpowder and firearm technology. Processing of natural resources with new technology, more efficient agriculture, and abundant wealth from the colonies made the European nation more prosperous. With basic needs fulfilled, they have the time and energy to develop science and technology further.


The Decline of Islamic Civilization

Islamic civilization has tasted glory for more than 700 years (from the 8th century to the 14th Century) The golden era of Islam (The Golden Ages of Islam) was mainly held during the Abbasid Caliphate began in the 8th century AD. The attention of this dynasty that was so great towards the welfare of the people and its success encouraged the development of science, technology, economics, trade, politics, territory, and Islamic civilization had made the Abbasid Dynasty one of the world’s superpowers in the 8th century AD

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At this time the spirit of studying and developing science is very high, the work of scientists of the Ancient Greek, Roman and Persian period was translated in large scale, founded Baitul Hikmah as a translation center as well as Baghdad’s college and library. Schools and universities were developed.

Islamic Civilization in this era gave birth to many great scientists, among others:

  • Ibn Sina, and Al Razi. (in the field of medicine).
  • Jabbir Ibn Hayyan.  (in the field of Chemistry).
  • Muhammad Ibn Musa Al Khawarizmi. (a mathematician who created the science of Al Jabbar).
  • Al-Fazari and Al Farghani. (in the field of astronomy).
  • Al Ghazali and Ibn Rusyd. (in the field of philosophy).
  • Al Mas’udi in the field of history and geography

The sciences they developed influenced the achievements of European scientists during the Reinassance. (Wikipedia Indonesia)

Unfortunately, the spirit of exploring this knowledge did not continue. There was an ideology that curbs free thought and prohibited ijtihad so that it loosened the spirit of learning.

The divisions among the Muslims, the Crusades and the Mongol invasion of Baghdad gradually made the Islamic Civilization began to decline, reaching its peak with the collapse of the last Islamic caliphate, the Ottoman Turks, in 1922.

Regarding the cause of the setback of Islamic Civilization, Ahmad Fatoni, Lecturer of the University of Muhammadiyah Malang when making a review of the book “Islamic Civilization, Causes of Regression and the Need for Reform” by Dr. M. Umer Chapra, stated “Among these factors is moral degeneration, the loss of dynamism in Islam in the shackles of dogmatism, scientific weakness and scientific traditions, rebellions and divisions, as well as wars which undermine the power of Muslims and threaten lives and property while weakening economic power ” (, 2010)


Era of Colonialism

Along with the increasing interest in science and economic growth in the period of the renaissance in Europe, there was also an interest in exploring the world. Then, there were pioneering figures in world exploration, such as Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan.

The motivation to explore the world by Europeans is known as “The Three G,” which are Gold (Wealth), Glory, and Gospel (spread of Religion).

I am often stunned when confronted with the historical facts about conquest, how the nations which first achieved the advance of civilization, easily conquered and controlled other nations with larger territories and bigger populations.

How about Spain, for example, In 1519, only 553 soldiers led by Hernando Cortez could conquer Mexico with a population of 5 million people! and Fransico Pizarro, who in 1532 only brought 177 people and 62 horses, could conquer Peru, which was ruled by the Inca Kingdom that had 14,000 Soldiers! (Michael H Hart, “The 100 Most Influential People in History”)

The revolution of science and technology during the European Reinassance in the 16th century also encouraged the Industrial Revolution in England in the late 18th century, especially after the invention of the steam engine (by James Watt), the development of internal combustion engines and power plants.

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This Industrial Revolution produced a variety of impacts, mass production of goods increasingly encouraged the spirit of imperialism to expand the colony to find sources of raw materials and market the results of the industry.

England, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, is increasingly becoming the king of the invaders. A country whose size is only 130,395 Km2 (approximately only as big as Java!) Has the most colonies in the world. At least 63 countries have been colonized by the UK, where 54 of them are still incorporated. in the Commonwealth of Nations with the Queen of England as its chairman. (Wikipedia Indonesia)

And what is most worthy of our reflection is how the Netherlands, a country no wider than the Province of East Java, could have colonized Indonesia 45 times wider for 350 years!


Japanese Meiji Restoration

Before 1853, Japan was a very closed nation and was governed in a very feudalistic way. The push for Japanese modernization began with the presence of the American navy under Admiral Perry. Admiral Perry asked the Japanese gate to be opened and asked to negotiate with the aim that Japan opens up to foreigners, trade, and allow foreign ships to dock in Japanese ports.

From then on, the Japanese people opened their eyes that there were significant forces outside of them. The Bushido spirit of the samurai with his swords was challenged to be able to resist the power of America and white people. From then on, they thought to be at least as strong as strangers.

The Meiji Restoration occurred in 1866 to 1869, three years which included the end of the Edo Period and the beginning of the Meiji Period. Meiji Restoration, also known as Meiji Ishin, Revolution, or Renewal, is a series of events that led to changes in Japan’s political and social structure. This restoration was a direct result of the opening of Japan to the arrival of ships from the Western world led by US navy officer Matthew Perry.

The Meiji Restoration was a massive attempt by the Meiji emperor to create a new Japan, namely the transformation of an isolated and poor country into a modern state.

In the period of the Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin) in 1868 and the decades that followed, the Japanese had proven themselves to the world as a nation with advanced scientific and technological competencies that could be compared with America and other developed countries.

The most important thing from this restoration is the restoration in the field of education that changing the education system from traditional to modern (when it was started by adopting the German system). Compulsory education programs, sending Japanese students to study abroad (to France and Germany), and increasing the education sector budget drastically.

Since the Meiji Restoration was hoisted, the Japanese government continued to carry out its policies by actively translating and publishing various books, including science, literature, and philosophy. Many young people are sent abroad to study in accordance with their respective fields. The aim is clear, namely seeking knowledge and instilling confidence that Japan will be equal to the advance of the Western world.

An important doctrine that inspired the Meiji restoration and became a Japanese way of life about the importance of education was first formulated by Fukuzawa Yukichi, the father of Japanese education who lived in the Meiji era. According to Fukuzawa, in his book titled Gakumon no Susume (Japan: between Feudalism and Modernization), the position of humans in a country must be determined by

its educational status, not by values ​​carried from birth as an inheritance.

For the thought and extraordinary efforts of Fukuzawa in restoring Japanese education, the Japanese government in the 20th century has given the highest honor by displaying a picture of Fukuzawa in the highest value of the Japanese currency, ten thousand yen. (Mandaazzahra Weblog, 2008)

Despite losing in the Second World War, Japan was able to rise immediately, and now the country is one of the most significant economic powers in the world.


The collapse of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union or USSR (Russian Soviet Sosialias Union) was formed after the Bolshevik Revolution, which brought down the Tsar Nicholas II Monarchy in 1917.

The Soviet Union, with its Socialist-Communist system, developed into one of the competitor countries of the United States Super Power, especially in the era of the cold war (after the Second World War until the 1990s).

The Socialist-Communist system in the Soviet Union apparently could not bring prosperity to the people.

Placement of the Soviet Union’s large military power in the international war arena, such as Afghanistan and Eastern European countries, requires enormous funds, while their industries (that are more reliant on heavy industry to support the military) cannot be relied upon to enhance economic growth.

Old factories and weak development of new technology make it difficult for the Soviet Union industry to compete with western countries.

These factors have been exacerbated by a corrupt authoritarian and bureaucratic political system that has added to people’s dissatisfaction and heightened domestic conflict.

Michail Gorbachev (the soviet union leader in 1990-era), is trying to improve the situation with the programs of the reform of Glasnost (Political Openness) and Perestroika (Economic Restructuring) ), but this only fosters the separatist movement and accelerates the fall of the superpower.

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Eventually, the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, and split into Russia and fourteen other small states, marking the end of the Cold War era.

Interestingly, the Superpower country which had become a counterweight to the United States collapsed was more caused by the destruction of its economy, not by direct attacks by its enemy enemies.

The Decline of The American Economy

The United States (US), the only Super Power country left at this time, began to falter due to the country’s economic decline.

The case of subprime mortgages (housing loans to less creditworthy consumers), followed by the collapse of major Wallstreet players, such as Lehman Brothers, Washinton Mutual, (the two largest investment banks in the US), Fannie Mae Financial Firm, Freddie Mac, and Insurance Companies the largest in the world, AIG (American International Group Inc.) shows the start of the fragility of American economic fundamentals.

American manufactured products are unable to compete with cheap Chinese products. This has resulted in swelling unemployment in the US. The flood of goods from China triggered a US trade deficit with China, which has touched a new record of 28 billion US dollars last October 2010 (Jakarta Newspaper 2010).

The US is now the most debt-ridden country in the world!. In 2010 the total debt of Uncle Sam’s country reached US $ 12 trillion or 82.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to Indonesia’s debt to GDP ratio of only 27% (Tempo Interactive, 2010)

Worse, America is trying to save its economy by continuing to print Dollars (Quantitative Easing-QE). At this time, the American Fed has reached QE-2 and might continue with QE 3 and so on. This policy can trigger market distrust of the US Dollar.

If China, as the country that holds the biggest debt securities in the US $, no longer trusts the US Dollar and stops buying American bonds, and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), as one of the largest US $ users, decides to stop using the dollar in its oil trade, the Dollar America will collapse soon. This scenario is possible; even The National Inflation Association (NIA) made a fictional film called “The Day Dollar Died” (Muhaimin Iqbal, 2010).

The weakening of the economy certainly has an impact on two other vital sectors, which are the military budget and science development budget. The Obama administration even canceled NASA’s plan to send (return) Astronauts to the moon and would privatize the construction of the United States Aviation and Space Agency spacecraft. (Republika Online, February 2, 2010)

Although in terms of military strength, the US still  the strongest in the world, several other powerful countries like China began to dare to say “No” to the wishes of Uncle Sam’s country. One example is in the case of the Chinese Yuan currency. China dares to ignore US requests to reevaluate the value of its currency, which the US considers the main cause of the magnitude of its trade deficit with the bamboo curtain country.


The Rise of China

China before 1978 was a country with communist dogmas that were firmly attached to every aspect of state life. When important figures of the dogmatic group began to die, finally, the Chinese reforms emerged. (Learning from China, Kaede Rukawa Blogspot, 2010)

In 1978 Deng Xiaoping started the China Modernization program, which was based on four things: Agriculture, Industry, Science-Technology and Military, this program was designed to make China a world power in the early 21st century.

Next, Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji began to bring China to adopt a market economic system. This system was used by capitalist countries, which contradicted the dogma of communism it espoused.

The combination of communism’s political system and the market economic system turned out to be quite successful in bringing China to become a world economic giant. Unlike the Soviet Union, which failed with the Glasnost (Political Openness) and Perestroika (Economic Restructuring) reform program, China chose to adopt only the capitalist economic system and maintain the communist political system, with one party and authoritarian government. But this has a positive impact on political stability so that the energy of the Chinese nation can be focused on economic development.

China is also known to be very serious in eradicating the corruption of its bureaucratic apparatus. When he was appointed Prime Minister in 1998, Zhu Rongji stated: “Give me one hundred coffins, ninety-nine for corruptors and one for me, if I do the same thing!”

And this is not just a statement of rhetoric, according to Amnesty International from 2001 to 2005 alone, China has executed 4000 people for corruption. It seems that Zhu Rongji understood the Chinese saying, “Kill a chicken to frighten a thousand monkeys.”

(Asro Kamal Rokan, Republika Online)

The progress of the Chinese economy at this time is truly extraordinary. Its foreign exchange reserves reached 2.5 trillion US dollars, which is the largest in the world today. (Kompas October 15, 2010)

Chinese products flood the world market. China is able to produce goods very cheaply by utilizing the largest population in the world (more than 1.3 billion people)

Along with the strong economy, China began to spread to other sectors. In 2008 alone, China’s military budget reached 84.9 billion US dollars, making China the second-largest country in the world in terms of the military budget. (No. 1 remains the United States with approximately 607 billion dollars. (Kompas, June 9, 2009). China’s military development certainly makes the world nervous, especially Japan and the US.

In the field of mastery of science and technology, China is advancing, among others, with projects outside its space. China is the third country in the world, after Russia and the US, which successfully launched humans into space.

After first launching a human-crewed mission with Shenzhou 5 in 2003, in September 2009, using the Shenzhou 7 module, three Chinese astronauts – Jing Haipeng, Zhai Zhigang, and Liu Boming – succeeded in doing spacewalk (walking in space). (Kompas September 28, 2008).

Then, in October 2010, China successfully launched the Long March 3C rocket that brought the explorer Chang’e 2 closer to the moon. This mission is China’s preparation for landing on the moon. (Kompas, October 2, 2010)

With China’s extraordinary progress, especially in the fields of economy, military power, science, and technology, it is only a matter of time for China to surpass the United States and become the next Super Power country.


From the events of the fall and rise of the world civilization as described above, we can conclude that to become a nation with advanced, respected and robust civilization; a nation must have at least three main advantages, which are:

  • Mastery of Science and Technology.
  • Having a Strong Economy, and
  • Having a Tough Military.

These three things must be balanced because, without one of the three, it will become lame. Japan, for example, in the mastery of science and technology, no doubt, as well as the country’s economy, which is classified as the most powerful in the world, but the “sunrise country” since losing the second world war, has not (allowed) to have a military. For defense, Japan forced to take shelter under the US armpit. Even in the case of border conflicts with China, a country that was part of its territory during the Second World War when it had been colonized, Japan could not be sufficiently assertive.

The collapse of the Soviet Union is the best example of what if a country only excels in the military, but ignores the economy.

While the Arab countries, in terms of the economy, are very strong because an abundance of petroleum supports it. Still, this extraordinary wealth makes them complacent, lazy to develop science and technology, and afraid to strengthen the military, so they forced to serve the US and have a low bargaining position in dealing with Israel.

North Korea can be an example of a country that only focuses on military strength, with more than one million active troops plus around five million reserve troops, the fourth highest in the world (after China, the United States, and India). Plus, its nuclear weapons claims make this country quite calculated.

Indeed, to conflict with the country, South Korea, for example, will think twice, but the military power has no meaning amid the suffering of its starving and oppressed people.

At present, China can be said to be a new superpower candidate because of its economic strength, its focus is on building military power, and its enthusiasm for mastering science and technology. On a smaller scale, Iran also began to be worthy of consideration because of the country’s spirit of independence in the mastery of science, its strong economy, its military strength and its courage to say “no” to the western world, for example in the polemic over the ownership of nuclear technology lately.

On the economic side, economic colonization and duping by more developed civilizations to the more “underdeveloped” countries continue. To become a developed country, it is not enough to have natural resources. In fact, most of the natural resources in developing countries are abundant, exploited, and more utilized for the benefit of developed countries rather than to increase the welfare of these “underdeveloped” countries.

Countries in the African Continent are an ironic example, how abundant natural resources on the black continent were dredged out by the western countries through its multi-national company. (now, followed by China). While the people of these countries continue to suffer in poverty and underdevelopment, are governed by corrupt and authoritarian regimes, and endured by an endless civil war. This condition seems to have been deliberately maintained by western countries so that their exploitation interests are not disturbed.

On the defense side, to become a respected nation, a strong military is absolutely needed. A formidable army is not always used for war. The most important thing is to raise the bargaining position of one country and avoid the dictation of another country. There is no effective diplomacy without a strong bargaining position.

This post is also available in: Indonesian

Lahir di Palembang pada bulan November 1981, saya menyelesaikan S1 di Jurusan Teknik Kimia Universitas Sriwijaya, dan S2 Master of Business Administration (MBA) di Sekolah Bisnis Management Institut Teknologi Bandung (SBM-ITB). Bekerja di salah satu BUMN dan tinggal di daerah Jakarta Selatan.


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