I know what you are thinking, what a generic title for a blog post on a history blog. However I believe it is important to take a look at this concept since the outcome of the U.S. election.
So many people were shocked by the win of President Elect Trump, but why is that?
The idea of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and yet some people do not believe in its existence.
Therefore I will take you on a journey of how ideas of historic recurrence developed:
In the Ancient world several philosophers and thinkers (such as Poseidonius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Zosimus) foresaw the demise of the Roman Empire due to the fate of their predecessors – Assyrians, Persians, and even the Macedonians.
What these philosophers saw was that all of previous great Empires went through a cycle of immense power, disunity, and then fall. I challenge you to find an Empire that did not do the same.
The fall of the Macedonian Empire is particularly interesting due to their most famous leader – Alexander the Great!
Niccolo Machiavelli, an early writer and thinker on politics, saw the repeating nature of Florentine politics. He believed in a fluctuation of vice and virtue within society. Virtue creates peace, which leads to idleness and vice. A cycle that keep repeating itself.
This theory is, obviously, very indicative of its time. An Italy divided into city states, constantly at war with each other and against encroaching Empires. There was an emphasis on the role of political virtue in society. Not unlike today when we hold politicians accountable for their actions.
For reference, watch the TV show The Borgias. Although its historical validity can be questioned, it gives a good idea of the fighting between city states.
Karl Marx even brought his thoughts to the table in 1852, agreeing with Hegel that all great moments in world history are repeated twice. Marx added, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” What is most interesting about was that he wrote this in the context of the recent coups d’etat of Napoleon’s nephew, Napoleon III in 1851.
This case alone shows the repetition of actions within a short time frame. Which brings to mind the famous quote from George Santayana that is often misattributed:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
If these repetitions happen within living memory, are we doomed either way?
With the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, it seems that we are doomed to repeat it. As a historian, the striking similarities between the rise of President-Elect Trump and Adolf Hitler are hard to ignore – something that I will not go into detail here because there are many accounts of this. All we can hope is that he will not continue that legacy.
The purpose of this blog post was to inform people about how the notion of history repeating itself has been around for thousands of years and that it is our job to be prepared for the next cycle in the best ways we can.
To end on a high note here is a little video treat about seeing into the future: