Ch. 9. Introduction to the Modern Transformation

    We are finally arriving at the primary purpose for writing this book, the modern transformation. Many scholars already have the concept of a “modern revolution” that is amorphous and without structure. It is generally believed that each country has, or is, developing modern society in its own highly variable way. This concept is actually quite false. It is true that no two modern transformations are identical, but they are all doing the same job, the change from traditional to fully-modern society. They all follow a similar pattern and structure. When a country begins the modern transformation, it enters modern society. After completing the long and difficult modern transformation, it becomes a democratic-market nation state.  1

Changes That Will Have to Be Accomplished

    The purpose of having the modern transformation in my taxonomic chart is so that all developing countries can be placed in this separate category. All of these societies are undergoing the same process of transition from tribal and aristocratic patterns to fully-modern democratic-market nation states, and they are all doing it in pretty much the same way. 2

    The modern transformation requires more than just a complete restructuring of economic and political institutions. Family relationships, religious institutions, military organization, and much more would also have to change. All countries started this transition when they were still ninety percent traditional. They remain in the modern transformation until they are about ninety-five percent modern. 3

    One of the most amazing things is how slowly all of this happens. When looking back at the modern transformation with the hindsight of history, it is possible to see it as a coherent but lengthy process with a beginning, middle, and end. The people who actually lived through it had much less understanding about what was happening to them. They could only witness a small part of the modern transformation in their lifetime, which was not enough to know what it was all about. Half of the world is still in the middle stage of the transition to modern society today, and they do not understand the process either. 4

Change to a Cash Economy

    Pretty much everywhere, the first part of the modern transformation was the change from an aristocrat-peasant command economy, or a subsistence economy, to a more market oriented food distribution system. As the cash economy began to increase, the peasants were selling more of their production into a larger and more complex market system. Increasing numbers of consumers required a cash income in order to purchase their daily food. People needed jobs. This led to the continuation of the agricultural revolution, a capitalist market economy, an industrial revolution, and the development of modern nation states. 5

    Western Europe began the change to a cash economy in medieval times, but it proceeded so slowly that it took four centuries to arrive at a takeoff point, about 1500. Eastern Europe and the rest of the world did not get started until after the French Revolution (1800). Some remote tribal areas did not begin to make the change to a cash economy for food distribution until after World War II. 6

Political Change

    As markets became the dominant form of exchange, the power of the traditional warrior aristocrats, which was based on their control of the command economy, began to erode. At the same time, government was becoming more important. It had to grow larger in order to establish the legal and physical infrastructure required by the developing market economy. A new form of government was going to be needed. After a long evolutionary and revolutionary process, this would eventually result in nation states and modern democracy. 7


    It was the early priests who organized the first aristocrat-peasant command economy over six thousand years ago. The “divine order of the universe” was a prominent and essential part of all traditional social patterns. The modern transformation would result in major changes to the “divine order” and the religious institutions of society. 8


    Traditional society featured the traditional family. This usually included a tight knit extended family. The nuclear family was an integral part of the larger extended clan. The second half of the modern transformation would bring major changes. The extended family would become less important as individuals moved to the cities in search of work. The result would be an entirely different lifestyle, with much greater independence for nuclear families and individuals. 9

    The role of women within the family structure also begins to change. As with everything else in the modern transformation, these changes begin slowly and then accelerate at different rates and times in different countries. In the last two generations, families in the Western world have changed almost beyond recognition. Fertility has declined and marriage has become a very different and much-looser institution. In the 21st century, it is becoming clear that these changes are also happening in the developing world. 10


    The traditional form of military organization has also undergone major changes. The aristocrats stopped doing the fighting at the beginning of the modern transformation but retained their command authority through the first half of the transition process. The actual fighting was taken over by the common citizens. Evolutionary changes in weapons, tactics, and the art of soldiering would become important in determining the progress of the modern transformation. 11

The Rate of Change

    The process of change from traditional to modern society is gigantic. It requires many stages before completion. For each stage, change often does not become final until the old generation, which grew up using the old ways, is replaced by a new generation, who grow up using the new ideas. When you analyze the entire modern transformation from beginning to end, it seems to be happening in slow motion. That is because this change has been taking place in historical time, which is much slower than human time. 12

    When western Europe began the modern transformation five hundred years ago, the pace was glacial. The speed has increased each century since then. Today, countries like China, India, and Brazil are changing very rapidly, but these countries have already been engaged in the modern transformation for well over a century. The sheer size of this transition to fully-modern society will require at least two more generations even for these speedsters to complete the process. 13

    Americans have a difficult time understanding why it should take so long for other countries to complete the change to modern society. That is because England was already more than a century into the modern transformation when the first settlers left to start the American colonies. These were some of the most modern people of their time. They were adventurous commoners—individuals and small families. They left most of their traditional baggage behind when they bordered ships for the new world. The early American settlements developed without aristocrats or traditional family elders. The immigrants to the New World quickly developed a new way of life that was more modern than traditional. 14

    In the rest of the world, it was not that easy. They were immersed in traditional society. They had traditional aristocratic or tribal rulers, economies, religions, and families. They could not just sail away, leave it all behind, and start fresh somewhere else. They were forced to continue to use the traditional institutions, while they slowly began to make incremental changes. They had no idea what was happening and no vision of the future to guide them. For most countries, the modern transformation had to be a slow step-by-step incremental process. 15

Measuring the Progress of Change

    At the beginning of the modern transformations, the country is still ninety percent traditional. It looks very similar to the tribal or aristocrat-peasant society that it recently was. The difference is that the market economy has taken over more of the food distribution function. Commerce is increasing in general and political institutions are beginning to change in response. The society has become ten percent modern and has begun the modern transformation. 16

    The only thing that is stable and continuous during the modern revolution is change. At first the society is ninety percent traditional and ten percent modern. Then it is eighty percent traditional and twenty percent modern, then seventy percent to thirty percent, etc. etc. At ninety percent modern and ten percent traditional, it is still in the transition phase. When a country is well past ninety percent modern, has completed all of the violent parts of the revolutionary process, and has a fully-developed economy and democracy, it graduates to democratic-market (first-world) status. 17

    It is not possible to accurately calculate the percentage that a society is traditional or modern; at least I was unable to do so. There are just too many variables. Instead, we have to settle for approximations. 18

    I look for percentage numbers that would be low in traditional societies and high in fully-modern nation states. For example: What percent of the total population purchases most of their food through a market system? What percent of the population has a meaningful voice in government? What percent has access to a good education? At the start of the modern transformation, these are usually fairly low numbers, often around five to ten percent. The approximate values increase throughout the modern transformation and will be in the ninety-five percent range when they graduate to democratic-market society. It is sometimes possible to take an average for this kind of data and use it to follow a country's progress through the modern transformation 19

The End of the Modern Transformation

    What happened in western Europe was that peasant farmers had become market farmers. The aristocrat-peasant relationship was no longer the dominant factor in food production and distribution. The market economy was taking control. It would require an entirely new pattern of society. There would have to be some form of bureaucratic government that was capable of overseeing and regulating a market economy. In countries like England and France, the royal governments slowly began moving in this direction, but they could accomplish just so much. 20

    In order to achieve its full potential, the market economy would eventually have to be managed for the benefit of everyone. This is the reason for the development of the modern nation state. The ordinary common citizens, the producers and consumers, would have to be enabled and empowered to regulate and control the government and the economy themselves. This would require revolution. "Rule by the strongest" would have to be replaced with real democracy, "rule by the people." 21

    Some readers may disagree with the idea that the modern transformation will ever be over. It is certainly true that human societies will always change and evolve. However, when a modern nation state has achieved real democracy and a fully functioning capitalist economy, it becomes democratic-market society. The change from traditional to fully-modern society has been completed. Changes that continue will be further evolution within the democratic-market category of societies. At some time in the future there may be enough accumulated variations to say that another new and different primary kind of society has emerged. 22

Writing About the Modern Transformation

    In the earlier description of social change in Mesopotamia where the first cities evolved, the details were left out. This is mostly because we do not know the details. With the small amount of random data that has been dug up by archaeologists, it is difficult enough just to piece together the simplest possible general description of the origin of complex civilization more than six thousand years ago. 23

    The modern transformation is different. It has happened within the last five hundred years. We have excellent historical documentation for nearly all of it. Now the problem is data overload. 24

    Providing a full description of the modern transformation in just one country would require a thousand pages. There are about two hundred nation states in the modern world. A full description of the modern revolution in all of them will be available some day, but it will require thousands of historians working for many generations to write it. I am going to try my best to give you some idea of the scale and complexity of the world-wide modern transformation, but the subject is much too large for any one person to provide a complete analysis. 25

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