The Four Horsemen of the Future

The Four Horsemen of the Future
People walk through a market in Bangalore, India, on Nov. 15, 2022. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)
Gregory Copley

Four horsemen appear through the mountaintop mist at the dawn of a new era. They are the field marshals. They represent four strategic factors that now coalesce to dominate the global architecture.

They are the Four Horsemen of the Future.

In the valley below, their generals deal eternally with the transitory skirmishes of history.

They are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Famine, War, Conquest, and Death.

They answer to the field marshals.

The Four Horsemen of the Future represent longer-term trends that have always been interrelated but have now reached a conjunction. They are Population, Urbanization, Mass Movements, and Economics. Each has components, such as technology and learning, that cross-impact the lines of each Horseman’s domain.

The Four Horsemen of the Future determine the battlefield actions of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is unsurprising that societies see only the Apocalypse, whose horsemen consume their immediate lives. They have little time for speculations of the future, unaware that the Horsemen of the Future also represent the past, which had already determined the apocalypses they fear.

It is significant that the Four Horsemen of the Future dominate spheres under the control of humans rather than nature because it has been the evolutionary behavior of humans in coping with nature that has led them to their present success and hubris.


The Horseman of Population drives the other three. Global and national population levels have always fluctuated but now are at a watershed, preparing to fall precipitously after the past 75 years of unprecedented growth. All core national populations in major states, except the Indian sub-continent and Africa, are already declining, their numbers sustained only by inward immigration.

The imminent passing of the baby boom generation will see a precipitous further decline in the populations of the major industrial states, and the populations of India and Africa are expected to peak within two decades and then begin their own decline.

This has already led to widespread strategic ramifications, particularly as unconstrained illegal and legal migration has changed the character—and therefore the social cohesion and productivity—of target and origin states. Economic and infrastructure models, trade dependencies, and much more have to account for an imminent decline in market sizes.

Given the absence of viable population strategies (based on the reality of a more porous world), we can expect a high degree of social and political instability. Throughout all of this, historical continuity is lost, and education—the process that brings about evolutionary tool-building—loses its links with the past.


Urbanization in the 20th century reached a tipping point, and in the 21st century, it has begun to peak and possibly break. Not only had urbanization included 57 percent of the world’s population by 2023, but also, Africa was the only region where it was less than 50 percent. It was 75 percent in Europe and 83 percent in North America.

What is most significant in this is that urbanization is the greatest factor determining future population growth (it reduces reproduction rates, ultimately leading to population collapse) and affects the social logic of urban dwellers as they move from rural settings. This means that in times of economic upheaval, the cities are more dependent on the productivity of the significantly reduced rural agricultural societies.

Among other things, compared with the defeat of the Hellenic city-states by the more rurally based Philip of Macedon at the Battle of Chaeronea in August 338 B.C., a post-industrial, post-agricultural society has yet to be seen, and yet modern urban societies insist that it can exist.

Mass Movements

Triggering mass movements, one of the key drivers of interstate and intra-state conflict, is, in modern times, heavily driven by urban-generated ideologies, notwithstanding the reality that some (Islam, Christianity, and so forth) were rural in origin.

These “triggering mass movements,” generally globalist or universalist in nature, threaten national and tribal/clan identities and the concept of state and individual sovereignty. They trigger reactive nationalist mass movements, evident in the schisms underway around the world, polarizing and paralyzing governments and societies.

What is significant is the extent to which urban-related education systems have compelled adherence to ideological positions, curtailed historical knowledge, and revised what “learning” is supposed to mean.


Economics drives industrialization and the advancement of tool-building and vice-versa. It assists in creating technological superiority in societies and military capabilities. However, the cycle of economic-industrial-scientific growth of the past 200-plus years has now been broken by the implosion of social populations and through the exhaustion of outmoded governance systems.

This is already evident in the reduction of market size, the decline in the appearance of new disruptive technologies, and the reality that currencies have once again become fragile. Economic growth is now a chimera and is largely a vision of currency inflation.

All Four Horsemen of the Future have guided the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse throughout history. Today, the great human population trends are ready to be transformed. What strategy guides us through a long “down cycle”?

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Gregory Copley is president of the Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association and editor-in-chief of the online journal Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. Born in Australia, Copley is a Member of the Order of Australia, entrepreneur, writer, government adviser, and defense publication editor. His latest book is “The New Total War of the 21st Century and the Trigger of the Fear Pandemic.”
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