Does History Repeat Itself?

America is the most polarized it’s been since the Civil War. Inequality is the highest it’s been in a century. For the first time in decades, political violence spreads in our streets. Half the country thinks the president is illegitimate. Many citizens support a military takeover of government. Most young Americans are disillusioned with our economic system. Politicians regularly speak in apocalyptic warnings. Our literature, media, and popular imagination are filled with visions of societal collapse. It’s hard not to feel apprehensive about the future of American democracy.

Where should we turn to for guidance amid such uncertainty? Perhaps the most obvious place to look would be to the past, to the archives of history. After all, everything contemplated above – stratification, polarization, violence, demagoguery, military coups, and class warfare – has happened many times before. Countless historians have spent countless hours studying history. Surely, they’ve learned some practical lessons that we can apply to modern problems, right?

Wrong. Virtually all academic historians today say not to look to the past for solutions to today’s challenges. According to them, history is too complex and varied to offer practical lessons. This view not only defies common intuition, it also conflicts with the opinion of the great historians of previous periods and all major civilizations – from ancient Greece, to Rome, India, China, Islamic Civilization, and early modern Europe. No less bewildering is that this new approach spread within academic history departments without much scrutiny or debate.

At The Anacyclosis Institute, we believe that identifying historical patterns is not only possible, but critical. We believe the study of history has no higher purpose than to protect the future from the mistakes of the past. These beliefs are not radical. Our republic was founded on the premise that history follows predictable patterns. The Constitution was designed to safeguard against the most pernicious of those patterns. Thanks to the historical insight of our Founders, democracy has survived longer in the United States than anywhere else. But now more than ever, we must grasp why hundreds of earlier republics eventually died. Understanding the lifecycle of democracy may help us save our own. If we fail to preserve our democracy, what will come next?