Astrology and the 'death of democracy'
What great conjunctions tell us about the future of the state
Fear over the health of democracy pervades the air today. In the United States, people across the political spectrum fret that the American democratic experiment is over. Recently the UK’s Financial Times published an op-ed entitled “Why America’s next presidential election could be its last”, noting the seemingly unbridgeable schism currently afflicting the country’s politics. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a mainstream news publication to publish an article with such a pessimistic title, whether in the US itself or beyond. Now, it’s par for the course.
But the US isn’t the only place where such concerns exist. And fears of democratic decline are matched by disappointment that democratic transitions seem increasingly unlikely in places like China, which the West once assumed would inevitably cast off the yoke of the Chinese Communist Party and embrace liberal democracy. Instead, China is becoming increasingly assertive in claiming that its own system of one-party rule is superior to the democracies of the declining West.
Can we use astrology to glean the fate of democracy? I believe we can. And in my reading, astrology and history suggest the age of democracy may have come to an end. But what will come in its place? Read on.
Age of Earth, Age of Air
The 20-year Jupiter-Saturn cycle is where we should look if we want to understand something of the changing nature of the state. These are the “great conjunctions” that Islamicate astrologers of the medieval era used to predict the coming of new dynasties, prophets and calamities. I’ve provided an introduction to this subject in my article The Age of Air: What it is and why it matters and in this video:
I won’t repeat all the background here. The key point is that due to the geometry of the zodiac and the solar system, these conjunctions tend to take place in signs of the same element—the triplicities—for periods of roughly 200 years before moving to the next element in zodiacal order. Thus, history can be seen as an endlessly repeating 800-year cycle: 200 years of fire, 200 years of earth, 200 years of air and 200 years of water. Repeat. (The reality is slightly more complex than this due to retrograde motion, but this is the basic idea. You can find a handy list of great conjunctions going back to 2092 BCE here.)
My own research into these periods—which has mostly focused on European history thus far—has convinced me that profound changes come to the nature of the state and society as we move through these elemental ages.
We recently left an Age of Earth, which began in 1802 and ended in 2020. Ages of Earth are characterised by a focus on the material, the growth of trade networks and hierarchical structures, and an emphasis on substance metaphysics, the idea that reality is composed of “matter” rather than “spirit”. And so it was that the last Age of Earth saw interconnected developments like the industrial revolution, the rise of capitalism, and European colonialism. At the same time, it was also a triumphant period for democracy. More people live in democratic states today than ever before in history.
But the times are a-changin’. The first Jupiter-Saturn conjunction of the Age of Air took place in Libra in 1980. After that came one final earth conjunction in Taurus in 2000, making 1980-2020 a transitional period. That transition ended in December 2020 with an air conjunction in Aquarius. We will now see an unbroken chain of air conjunctions until 2159. What does this mean for the fate of democracy?
Insights from triplicity rulerships
If we think about the traditional planetary rulerships within the four triplicities, something interesting starts to emerge. Let’s start with the fire triplicity. Mars rules Aries, the Sun rules Leo and Jupiter rules Sagittarius. The Sun is exalted in Aries. We also have the Dorothean triplicity rulerships, which assign three planets to each element as a kind of “team” overseeing its business. The three rulers of the fire triplicity are the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn. (We’ll ignore the other essential dignities, such as the bounds and decans, since they cover only portions of signs.)
What clearly emerges here is the strength in the fire triplicity of the Sun, which far outstrips that of all the other planets. Jupiter is also strong. The Moon, Mercury and Venus have no rulerships at these levels of dignity at all.
If we look to history—I’ll focus on European history here to keep things simple—what we see repeatedly during Ages of Fire is the emergence of solar figures as rulers: singular monarchs and emperors around whom all the power of the state hinges. The first two centuries or so of the last Age of Fire (1603-1842) was the era historians refer to as the Age of Absolutism, the time of rulers like France’s Louis XIV (yes, he was literally known as the “Sun King” and chose the Sun as his personal emblem), Russia’s Peter and Catherine the Great, and Prussia’s Frederick the Great. These were rulers that centralised all power in themselves, “enlightened despots” who modernised their states—but brooked no dissent. So far, so solar.
If we turn to the Age of Fire that preceded that one (769-1047), we meet Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”), who became King of the Franks in 768 and subsequently united Europe in one empire after centuries of post-Roman fragmentation. In the Age of Fire before that one (26BCE - 253), we meet Augustus, the first Roman emperor, who reigned from 27BCE and is generally seen as the “greatest” of the emperors. He was soon followed by the likes of Nero and Caligula, absolute rulers who have gone down in history for their perverse despotism. Head back even further to the previous Age of Fire (821-582 BCE) and we reach the era of the Greek tyrants and Roman kings, before the advent of Athenian democracy or the Roman republic.
Note that the Sun takes its exaltation in the fire triplicity. Exaltations signify a planet that is raised up as a kind of “lord of the manor” in a sign, and given the utmost respect. The exaltations found in each triplicity seem to have something to say about the values that emerge during the elemental ages: what is seen as a supreme good? As we’ve seen, in Ages of Fire, we see rule by solar figures, justified through notions like the divine right of kings.
Before we consider the earth and air triplicities, let’s briefly examine the water triplicity. Ages of Water tend to coincide with the appearance of prophets and religious revivals. They see great flowerings in the arts. In the last one (1365-1663), we saw the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. Sikhism was also born in India during this period. In the Age of Water before that (571-868), Mohammed, believed to have been born in Arabia around the year 570, founded Islam. In the water period before that one (225BCE-74CE), we have the coming of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jupiter, the planet classically associated with faith, is particularly strong in the water triplicity, with its domicile in Pisces, its exaltation in Cancer, as well as triplicity rulership. What says “prophet” more plainly than Jupiter exalted? Venus, too, takes its exaltation in Pisces, and water periods seem to coincide with artistic flourishing. It was during the Renaissance that William Shakespeare did so much to develop notions of romantic love that still hold sway in our world today: Venus exalted.
Now let’s use this kind of analysis to think about democracy.
Democracy in Ages of Earth
In the earth triplicity we find Venus ruling Taurus, Mercury ruling Virgo and Saturn ruling Capricorn. The earth triplicity is unusual in that all the earth signs have exaltations. The Moon is exalted in Taurus, Mercury is exalted in Virgo and Mars is exalted in Capricorn. The Dorothean triplicity rulers of earth are Venus, the Moon and Mars.
Note that Jupiter has no earth rulerships at all in the dignities we’re focusing on. And wasn’t the last Age of Earth, particularly the 20th century, a remarkably godless period, in Europe at least, when huge numbers of people professed atheism and practised no faith at all?
Here’s where this gets relevant to democracy. The Moon is strong in earth, and takes its exaltation in Taurus. The Moon, in mundane astrology, is held to represent the people or the “general public”. Democracy is a system of government that exalts the people over its rulers. Our politicians are elected to represent us, not rule over us, at least in theory.
If we head back to the Age of Earth of the first millennium BCE, from 642BCE to 344BCE, we find something interesting. Athenian democracy developed during this period, from around the early 6th century BCE. During the same era, across the Mediterranean in today’s Italy, the citizens of Rome overthrew their kings and instituted a republic in 509BCE, forging what is seen as another early example of representative democracy. In 494BCE, Rome even created the office of tribune of the plebs, whose holder was specifically tasked with representing the interests of the plebeian class, the ordinary people of Rome.
We see, then, that democratic gains in an Age of Earth are nothing new. And the strength of the Moon in the earth triplicity seems to tell us something of why this happens: the people are exalted. We see other expressions of this in Age of Earth movements like Communism, which purported to constitute rule by “the people”.
What of the other planets exalted in Earth: Mercury and Mars? Consider Mercury’s association with trade and markets, and think of the raising up of the health of “the economy” to a supreme good in the Age of Earth. Think also of Mercury’s association with the young, and the cult of youth that arose during the 20th century.
And what of Mars? Think of the cut-throat competition that goes to the heart of capitalism: greed is good. We might also think of the ideology of the Nazis, which caused such genocidal tragedy during the Second World War, perhaps the defining conflict of the Age of Earth. Nazism stood for conflict and “struggle” between races: Mars exalted.
Let’s also note that both planets that were traditionally associated with women—Venus and the Moon—are strong in the earth triplicity. The Age of Earth saw huge gains in terms of the rights of women across the globe.
Democracy in Ages of Air
Now let’s turn to Ages of Air. In the air triplicity we find Mercury ruling Gemini, Venus ruling Libra and Saturn ruling Aquarius. Saturn is exalted in Libra. The Dorothean triplicity rulers of air are Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter.
Mercury and Saturn are particularly strong in air. But the Moon is completely lacking in higher rulerships in the air triplicity. Based on the analysis put forward here, we can take that as a negative indicator for the prospects of democracy going forward, at least as we currently understand it.
All elemental ages begin with a transitional period. The four decades of 1980-2020 comprised the transitional period of this current Age of Air, when the first air conjunction in Libra in 1980 was followed by one final earth conjunction in Taurus in 2000. Democracy looked healthy in this period. Indeed it made huge gains, as the states of the former Soviet Union transitioned towards democratic systems following its collapse in 1991.
But that transition is over, and we are now inhaling “pure” air. And democracy doesn’t feel quite so healthy right now. The mood of democratic triumphalism of the 1990s is long gone. In the United States, the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 came less than a month after the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Aquarius of December 21, 2020, which initiated the “pure” phase of the Age of Air. That could be taken as an omen.
We saw how exaltations seem to show the values of the age, those things that are held up as a “supreme good” by societies. The only planet taking its exaltation in air is Saturn, exalted in Libra. What might that mean? Some relevant significations of Saturn are science, structure, the old, solitude and death. We may see any or all of these things exalted during the coming epoch.
Indeed, we’ve already seen some of this come to pass. Think of the revival of traditional astrology that began in the 1980s and 1990s. Think of the exaltation of science so common today, legible in that well-worn phrase “trust the science”. Think of the exaltation of death we see in movements like Al Qaida and ISIS, summarised in the words of suicide bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan in his video message recorded before the 2005 London tube bombings: “We love death as you love life”. Think of the alienation of these times: never before so connected, never before so alone.
The future of the state
We’ve seen changes to the nature of the state through each of the past elemental ages in the current 800-year cycle, which began with an Age of Fire in 1603. In 1648, following decades of bloody religious wars during the water-fire transition of 1603-1663, European rulers signed the Treaty of Westphalia, in which they agreed to respect the sovereignty of each others’ states. Today, Westphalian sovereignty is seen as a cornerstone of international relations. At the end of that Age of Fire came the great revolutions of the late 18th century, most notably the American and French revolutions of 1776 and 1789. Then followed the Age of Earth (1803-2020) and the rise of the modern, technocratic nation state.
It seems reasonable to suspect, then, that our Age of Air will also give rise to new forms of state. Let’s note that the forms of state that develop from here won’t necessarily be less egalitarian than 20th century democracies were. Elemental earth is hierarchical. Its essential nature is to hold form. Air, on the other hand, is non-hierarchical. It moves towards undifferentiated equilibrium and is naturally chaotic.
As readers will likely know, I think Balaji Srinivasan’s ideas about the Network State are strikingly aligned with the prevailing winds of the Age of Air. This would be a state of people distributed across the globe but linked to each other through cryptographically secure networks. The citizens of such states could be united by their beliefs, rather than the happenstance of their places of birth: from earth to air.
Such states could start small but eventually crowdsource territory across the world, becoming something Balaji refers to as a “network archipelago”. Eventually, they could receive diplomatic recognition and become true “states” with full sovereignty. Such states would, of course, comprise territory in both the real and virtual worlds.
Balaji argues that network states would be more democratic than our current democracies, even if they didn’t function through an electoral process we might recognise. Anyone who wished to leave one would always be free to do so, potentially ensuring that a much higher proportion of the population was aligned with the state’s goals and program. Contrast that with modern democracies, in which half the population inevitably feels like they’re being ruled by their political adversaries.
I don’t agree with all of Balaji’s ideas, but I think what he proposes has the ring of astrological consonance. As I said earlier, Mercury and Saturn are particularly strong in air. What is a network but a structure (Saturn) that connects (Mercury)?
A lesson from the past: The Hanseatic League
If you have trouble imagining new forms of state are even possible, history can serve as a guide. The last Age of Air (1186-1425) saw the rise of the Hanseatic League, a decentralised confederation of merchant guilds that grew to control a huge swathe of northern Europe. Before we go, it’s worth quoting this Wikipedia description of the League:
The League originated from various loose associations of German traders and towns formed to advance mutual commercial interests, such as protection against piracy and banditry. These arrangements gradually coalesced into the Hanseatic League, whose traders enjoyed duty-free treatment, protection, and diplomatic privileges in affiliated communities and their trade routes. Hanseatic Cities gradually developed a common legal system governing their merchants and goods, even operating their own armies for mutual defense and aid. Reduced barriers to trade resulted in mutual prosperity, which fostered economic interdependence, kinship ties between merchant families, and deeper political integration; these factors solidified the League into a cohesive political organization by the end of the 13th century.
Try to imagine something like this—but in the age of Bitcoin, the web and the metaverse—and you might just be getting closer to the future of the state. We might also need to pour in a large dose of ideology—something Balaji argues is essential to create lasting network states. What also seems clear is that there will need to be a process of dissolution, and widespread chaos, before the impetus exists to build structures of this kind. The transition will not be easy. Lest we forget: Saturn is the star of Nemesis.
When will these changes come? We have two centuries of the Age of Air ahead of us. But Pluto’s imminent transit through Aquarius, beginning March 2023, likely signifies the real beginnings of this process. The next two decades will be a wild ride.
Want to get a better idea of how these turbulent coming years look for you? I use modern and traditional astrological techniques to give my clients insight about their past, present and future. My books are currently open.