by Bill O’Grady | PDF
(N.B. Due to the Labor Day holiday, the next report will be published on September 13.)
Although we maintain an official reading list with capsule reviews, occasionally we come across a book that we think is important enough to review as a report. George Friedman’s newest book, The Storm Before the Calm: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond, is just such a book. Friedman is a well-known geopolitical scholar who has written numerous books. He founded Stratfor in 1996 and went on to found Geopolitical Futures in 2015.
Historical analysis tends to break down into one of two schools. The first is the “Great Man Theory,” which suggests that history is dominated by towering historical figures who shape the world. The second is the “Great Wave Theory,” which postulates that history is driven by broad economic, social, political, and other trends, and that people and leaders are shaped by these trends. Those in the first school believe that people shape the trends. The second school holds that this idea is nonsense, and what we refer to as “great men” are really like great surfers—they are figures who understand the world they are in and “ride the wave” to glory. Like all hard categories, neither is perfect. In reading history, it’s rather clear that there have been some remarkable people. At the same time, they are often the right person in the right place at the right time, meaning that we are all, to some extent, shaped by our circumstances.
The school an analyst aligns with is important. Although history is studied for its own sake, we often study history to predict the future. A “great man” theorist is watching the principal actors to see how they will shape the world. Analysts in this school pay close attention to personalities, whereas analysts from the “great wave” school pay less attention to personalities and focus more on the conditions by which these people come to power. Great man theorists have great concern about who takes power, while great wave theorists are much more concerned about the situations in which those in power find themselves. In other words, there are fundamental differences in how analysts from either school predict the future based on history.
Friedman is a wave theorist. He doesn’t believe that individuals can reverse trends that are in place and that leaders are dependent on the circumstances in which they take power. When Friedman looks at the future world through the viewpoint of history, he is examining trends to see if they are enduring or about to change.
 Friedman, George. (2021). The Storm Before the Calm: America’s Discord, the Coming Crisis of the 2020s, and the Triumph Beyond. New York, NY: Anchor Books.