Inexorable Cycle of History?

Posted by – May 4, 2007


“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” —
Ecclesiastes 1:9-14

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Are the events shaping the U.S. just a part of an inexorable repeating cycle of history?

In the 1920s the wealth inequality grew to the point where only a select few were comfortable, and then with the drought and widespread agricultural failures (and a myriad of very debatable factors), the American economy collapsed, and there was a certain natural resetting of wealth, and then the boom years following WWII created the modern middle class.

Now since the 1990s we’re experiencing a mini-Gilded Age. The Golden 300,000 control our politics lock, stock and barrel. Robber barons seem to be back, and according to all the studies wealth inequality is worse than at any time since the 1920s, and resentment of the rich and demand for change is higher than at any time since then as well (check out this new Gallup poll).

Inequality is very bad; the prophets rail against it. Inequality caused a mob of hungry French women to storm Versailles and put two Royal bodyguards’ heads on pikes. Inequality caused the bloody railroad strikes of 1877, when state troops broke the strike with bayonets and Gatling guns.

My question is: is the consolidation of wealth until the poor can no longer afford to buy products from the tycoons (though I know it’s more complex), then economic collapse results, then we restart the cycle–is this just the unstoppable track history is on?

Given this cycle of a major economic depression every 100 yeahs or so, should we expect a collapse around the 2020s? Because of the staggering level of personal debt in this country, combined with our insane trade deficits, it doesn’t exactly take Nostradamus to predict that we’re one more straw on the camel’s back (drought, terrorism, global downturn) away from falling off the economic cliff into a major collapse.

Can we ever stop this cycle?

Other things are also so similar and seem stuck on the 100 year cycle as well. The polarization, the razor-thin (possibly stolen) elections, the money dominating politics, the imperialism defining the dawn of the 20th century is eerily similar to Bush’s that defined the beginning of the 21st.

Back then they waved the bloody shirt and shouted “Remember the Maine!” to justify the Spanish-American War (which was also expansionist and directly or indirectly to benefit corporate America).
Now politicians wave the bloody shirt and yell “Remember 9/11!” and “you haven’t learned the lessons of 9/11!” to justify our current wars.

It’s so similar. We racked up just under 3,300 KIA in the Spanish-American War too. And President McKinley may’ve been motivated by religious fervor as well. And Karl Rove cited McKinley as a model to follow.

Is this just an unstoppable cycle? Can we ever jump the tracks?

Nick

A Philadelphia Press political cartoon “Ten Thousand Miles From Tip to Tip” meaning the extension of U.S. domination (symbolized by a bald eagle) from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. The cartoon contrasts this with a map of the smaller United States of 100 years earlier in 1798.

  • Eliyahu

    It’s kinda like that old saying:
    “Those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Americans don’t really learn from history, and most find it boring.

    It could be that, unlike other places, like Europe, the USA doesn’t have much of a history.