• evolutionary history;
  • agency;
  • power elites;
  • group projects;
  • fitness space;
  • braided stream


The first part of this evolutionary study of the persistence of the autocratic/oligarchic variety of personal rule in Russia provides a historical overview, followed by two theories explaining why it persisted, interrupted by brief “times of troubles,” for over 500 years. Edward Keenan, on the one hand, hypothesizes successful long-term adaptation to a demanding environment. Richard Hellie, on the other hand, develops a theory of service-class revolutions and a cyclical pattern based on the methods of Russian elites for overcoming relative backwardness. Neither theory takes a neo-Darwinian approach.

The second part examines neo-Darwinian evolutionary approaches. In the cosmic perspective of Big History, the human species in its relatively brief existence has had an accelerating impact on other species and the earth's environment. Biologists modeling complex systems come to a similar conclusion. Agent-driven history, as modeled by demographer Noël Bonneuil, raises questions about the adequacy of the historian's traditional single-trajectory narrative approach to “the time of human history” and also critiques the biases built into the mathematical models of many evolutionary thinkers. An evolutionary approach to human history does not restrict itself to organic replication, but takes into account populations of evolving human skills and also group projects that act as evolutionary forces as well as units of selection, and outlive generations of organic populations.

The third part applies this approach to the Russian tradition of state power by showing how group projects operate as evolutionary forces in a variety of modern power systems. The “parable of the tribes” avers that the aggressive agent in any given power system—ideological, economic, social, military, or political—dictates the dynamics of the system. The “braided stream” approach shows, however sketchily here, how agent-driven modern power systems interact, coevolve, and produce hybrid forms. The Russian tradition is highlighted in this evolutionary context.