Historiography Debate - Cycles, Arcs, Sawtooths...?

It isn’t that it never changes, it certainly does. However, history tends to move in cycles and, by my reckoning, the US looks more like Afghanistan as the Taliban rose to power, crushing progressive thinking and thought under a religiously theocracy that so many think could never happen here… but we are seeing it happen, bit by bit, every day. One day, I fear, the band will snap and the US will make our Puritan forebearers look quaint by comparison. I honestly fear that I’ll see it in my lifetime.

Sure, after that happens, things can always begin to improve. But it can take generations to make any visible headway from such a dark starting place.

Progress was made, and I think too many of us got complacent that those gains were unassailable - and we were wrong. Even so, victories continue to be made to try to claw back some of those wins… and so there is hope. But that is simply trying to regain what we so recently had, it isn’t progress. What progress we are making in other areas is being immediately attacked and undermined before it can get set into stone.

These are troubling times we live in. Yes, you are right, we should never give up hope… there is always hope, if enough people have a will to make something happen. Sadly, that also holds true for the other side… who have had enough will to rig the judicial system in the US and go after fundamental rights in this country.

Nazis? Right now we are back to fighting for the right to exist for those who would be targeted by Nazis. We have politicians (such as DeSantis) who won’t even denounce Nazis when they march in support of his efforts…and that was BEFORE he got re-elected. To many of the people in power care more about staying in office than doing anything about Nazis… because Nazis are getting them elected. Our system has become fundamentally broken because the system is so Gerrymandered that a strong enough voice to cast such people out cannot be raised in their districts. Knowing they are safe, they don’t care.

Fundamental changes are needed at both a local and national level. Knowing this, state governments are passing laws to undermine the power of local governments. The enemy is consolidating more and more power. The monolith is being built, not a brick at a time, but a wall at a time.

The world can change. But right now, those changes aren’t looking great…

But keep up the fight. This battered veteran of the protests will still lend whatever aid he can, as long as he can. I’m just not fit for the battle lines anymore. Bones don’t heal as fast as they used to.


Dude, explaining history to a historian is not usually gonna end well. @Mindysan33 is an actual expert in this area.


Admittedly, I was unaware… but it doesn’t really change my stance. Watching history play out over and over is something that we all get tired of, and we are watching it play out again. It has nothing to do with “giving up and let the fascists win.” Indeed, saying that to me is about the same as being unaware of the history creds of an expert in history…

In both cases, no sleight or attack is intended (at least on my end), but an exchange of ideas. So, if you need to break out your popcorn, you may be disappointed.

1 Like

That’s not what is happening here-Mindy was assuming the poster was defeated and willing to let the fascists win. The poster just explained why they felt discouraged, but were not giving up the fight.
A realistic perspective is necessary to combat evil-neither denying its existence or giving it too much weight. We can’t fight that which we don’t see as needing to be changed. There was a lot of momentum towards a better society from the 60s through the 80s and then the tide began to shift, and we lost the political will to keep that movement. What has energized voters over the last few years is seeing just how much of that change can be quickly reversed. When people thought the improvements permanent they didn’t see a need to keep fighting. Now they do. However, for those of us old enough to have been in this for decades it does get tiring.


Yeah… no. It doesn’t - that’s pretty much how TPTB want you to think about history but it’s a bullshit way of thinking about the past. Maybe you know better than I do, but I’m gonna guess my 10 years in grad school gives me at least SOME working knowledge of how events in the world unfold… But I’m guessing making wild guesses here, nothing at all based on my years of reading and writing historical scholarship…


I would think the more apt analogy would be Germany or Italy.


The Schlesingers had even more experience in the field of history than yourself and, merely because you disagree with their theory of cyclical history, does not make it wrong or “bullshit”. It merely means that you support a different train of thought.

Conversely, it also doesn’t make them right either. That is the problem with fallacious appeals to authority like your own. They require one expert to outweigh the opinions of all others. Do I know better than you? Hard to say, I certainly don’t have ten years of graduate studies dealing with history, I just read the opinions of people that do. Perhaps I need to be even better read on the subject, it is always good to broaden one’s views after all.

However, I don’t know you from anywhere, and I do know that Schlesinger Sr was a Harvard professor who’s cyclical history model accurately describes what we are continuing to see in the US today as things continue to swing back and forth from liberal to conservative. You call it a bullshit way to think about the past however, it certainly looks pretty accurate - at least when it was taught to me.

Granted, it has been a LONG time since I’ve been in a college classroom, and prevailing opinions may have changed - but one person yelling at me that it is bullshit is less than convincing that the entire model has been completely abandoned.

1 Like

If I may, I do not believe that this model is useful, simply because the words “liberal” and “conservative” do not mean the same thing now as they did fifty or even twenty years ago. Progress is gained and lost, but it is not simply swinging back and forth because the swing itself is moving and rotating.

I also believe that electoral swings can be better explained by the inevitable buildup of dissatisfaction with the current ruling party than any underlying changes in the political ideology of the populace.

I only have a BA in history, but I can tell you that theories of history come and go, and never yet has there been one that was predictive.


Schlesinger’s theory comes pretty close in its explanation of prior US history and social swings. As it continues to visibly play out both here, and abroad, I don’t know as it has ever been truly rejected and is still an active theory in the field. That said, it isn’t specifically predictive, telling us exact events which will unfold, it merely discusses the social swings in US history and theorizes the social factors that play a role in them.

Of course, that is what the whole thing is, a theory. We have no established laws in history other than its immutability (although physics may someday change that…)

There is certainly more to the theory than just, history swings back and forth. Schlesinger goes into the hows and whys of it. In trying to find a link that might better explain it than my (admittedly) old remembrances, I found a paper citing it as one of the “Five Philosophies of History”, so it certainly doesn’t seem to have been discarded.

Now, while what is currently accepted as “liberal” and “conservative” today certainly differs from what it once meant, that does nothing to change the cycle itself. I found something that makes Schlesinger’s liberalism/conservatism break down clearer…

Liberal: Wrongs of the many; increase democracy; public purpose, human rights
Conservative: Rights of the few; contain democracy; private interest; property rights

Now, admittedly, with the gift of hindsight, one can create a cyclical theory of almost anything. One must merely look at the past and try to find a pattern that fits whichever mold you wish to create. Additionally, the lengths of Schlesinger’s cycles are not X number of years - so it is not truly predictive. But, you can see the factors at play as they unfold.

Again, it is one theory of many in the field of history.

Although the primary cyclical theory (there are others and sub-theories) isn’t really about electoral swings so much as societal ones, this too is covered within Schlesinger’s theory. It really is worth checking out. Both he and his son are (at least to me) fascinating. Here is a link to get you started, if you are so inclined.

My point wasn’t that the theory has been discarded. Merely that we can discuss and debate theories of history all day, but none of them will tell us anything about what the future holds in store. If there are indeed cycles, they only become apparent in retrospect, and so I believe that this model is not very useful (at least for the purposes of this conversation).

I do think that you will find that attitudes toward interracial marriage, homosexuality, drinking alcohol on Sundays, marijuana and so forth have shifted in a very real way since Schlesinger was teaching at Harvard (or alive for that matter), and I think that, if those attitudes were to change, it would be something much more cataclysmic than what could be described as cyclical. Perhaps the occasional cataclysm is part of the cycle, but again, that is all in hindsight.


I apologize, I did not mean to imply that you were saying that. It was merely my looking at it to be certain that the theory was still accepted in many circles (otherwise, someone calling it “bullshit” would at least be accurate).

Now, I think I have two points to clear up before just leaving this conversation, as it really isn’t getting anywhere and I don’t want to continue to spam this thread with me simply explaining where I’m coming from. This is through no fault of anyone, but the longer I need to try to clarify things, the more off topic we really go.

First, this all stemmed from my statement

“It isn’t that it never changes, it certainly does. However, history tends to move in cycles and, by my reckoning, the US looks more like Afghanistan as the Taliban rose to power, crushing progressive thinking and thought under a religiously theocracy that so many think could never happen here… but we are seeing it happen, bit by bit, every day. One day, I fear, the band will snap and the US will make our Puritan forebearers look quaint by comparison. I honestly fear that I’ll see it in my lifetime.”

There was no intent to begin an in-depth discussion of the varied theories of history. It was only after I was told that this line of thinking was bullshit, supported by a fallacious argument, that I delved more deeply into historical theories.

Secondly, I should know better than to rise to the bait. One lesson we should all remember on the internet is to not feed the trollies…and I did. That’s on me.

So, I’m going to cease engaging in this conversation, not in “victory” or “defeat”, but to instead stop pulling it further and further off-topic and let things resume their normal flow in discussing an incel being jailed for life. I think that might be something we can all get behind.


Sometimes, in-depth discussions of the varied theories of history just kind of happen. :wink:

No, but really, I beseech you not to look at any theory of history and try to apply it to the future. The situation in the US may look like Afghanistan in decades past, but the outcome (or the position on the cycle, if you will) is unknown and unknowable to us. At least right now.


“Past Performance is Not a Guarantee of Future Results”, as the Wall Street folks always say.


Just for clarity’s sake, let us remember that Donald Trump has an Ivy League degree.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 30 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.