The Entropy Law and the collapse of the International Order.


Living systems – including social systems – require a certain level of order to be sustained. Entropy however, constantly increases. This is our challenge.

This is a somewhat theoretical article. In this article, I discuss entropy, and how the Entropy Law can be also used to better understand the dynamics of the System.

I will also discuss the Entropy Law – and its ‘applications’ – in a next publication, later this year. You can consider this article a preview.

Living systems are able to achieve a temporary and local decrease in entropy. The System – we all are integral parts of – qualifies as a living system. To maintain a living ‘condition’, the System must be able to maintain a steady state; a certain balance; balance requires order.

A living system is an open system. A living system must contain the constant tendency of increased entropy, ‘from within’ and from the environment of the System. To achieve this, free energy (low entropy) must be ‘sucked in’. The moment life-functions cannot be maintained (requiring free energy/low entropy input), a living system collapses/dies.

Living systems – including social systems – must maintain a moderate level of entropy: Not too much entropy (implying too much disorder), but also not insufficient entropy (implying insufficient order). In both these cases – extremes – the living system collapses/dies.

Two types of collapse/death can be distinguished: (1) collapse/death caused by too much or (2) insufficient entropy.

In case of too much entropy, there is total disorder, and the system lacks sufficient free energy and order. Disorder ‘rules’. The energy that is contained in the system is degraded energy (degraded from free into bound/latent energy).

In case of death caused by insufficient entropy, the system has become too ordered and has lost flexibility and adaptability. The system also contains too much free energy. This free energy cannot be used within the existing order. In case the system reaches ‘zero’ (minimal) entropy, the available free energy is maximal, and can only – must – be used to (fundamentally) change the order itself.

When international orders collapsed in 1618, 1792 and 1914 (triggering the first, second and third systemic wars, respectively the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), and the First World War (1914-1918)), the preceding orders in fact ‘died’ (reached ‘zero’ entropy), while the Gibbs free energy was maximal at that point.

In these three cases, the accumulated free energy could still be used to upgrade the order within the anarchistic environment: It was still possible – within an anarchistic environment – to design and implement an order that could (at least temporarily) lower the energy (tension) state of the System, and could (at least temporarily) regulate tensions, during the relative stability that was created (by implementing the upgraded order).

However, the ability of the System to achieve this – lower the energy (tension) state, and regulate tensions by means of an upgraded order within an anarchistic environment – was no longer possible when in 1939, the core of the System (Europe) produced infinite amounts of energy (tensions), and the life span of stable periods was reduced to ‘zero’ (to put it differently: in 1939, the system not only produced infinite amounts of free energy, but at the same time the systemic war frequency also had become infinite, implying a condition of continuous criticality and infinite energy releases; this would mean the destruction of the System’s components (states and humans)).

At that point, the anarchistic system (in Europe) had become obsolete, and could no longer support/ensure the survival (life) of its components (states and humans in Europe). It was the urge to survive of humans and states, that ensured a timely transition from an anarchistic system to a non-anarchistic system (there was in fact a delay, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991).

The collapse of the anarchistic core of the System (Europe, in 1939), was caused by insufficient entropy (death type 2): the System (Europe) – the order – had become too ossified, and could no longer adapt; but at the same time its free energy level was maximal. This combination – causing the death of the anarchistic core – gave birth to a non-anarchistic system (full integration) in Europe.

The question now is: How does this explanation – the fact that the collapse of an international order must be attributed to too much order (insufficient entropy) – match with the disorder that now precedes the (imminent) collapse of the current – United Nations – order?

The explanation is as follows:

The disorder and volatility we now experience in international relations and politics – the fragmentation of social structures (Brexit, Catalonia, NATO, UNESCO, etc.) – are symptoms of an ossified structure: The United Nations is not able to adjust its structure to effectively manage these tensions and issues. The world has changed, but the United Nations has not, and effective regulation is now no longer possible.

The United Nations – as well as the preceding international orders – are implemented to maintain the status quo (following a systemic war); the privileges the most powerful states (in case of the United Nations: The United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom) have assigned to themselves preclude any meaningful changes to the international order. International orders are created to maintain – and not to change – the status quo

The tensions – the free energy – which are now building up, cannot be used sensibly to regulate the order, but are instead continuously accumulating. These tensions cause damage to an increasingly fragile international order: the ‘superstructure’ (the United Nations order) is still in place, but undermined by an increasing number of cracks in its fabric: It is just a matter of time, before the superstructure also collapses.

At the moment of collapse, the accumulated free energy will be used during the systemic war that follows, to design and implement an upgraded order, that again allows for a lower tension state (at least temporarily) of the System, and effective regulation (at least temporarily) of tensions.

If we do not change this basic – emergent (uncontrolled) – dynamic of the System, a next war cycle (but with a shorter life span) will be unavoidable.

Physical laws cannot be defied, and their ignorance comes at a (high) price.