One of the many theories of historical progress is that which holds that historical events return with regularity. The Cyclic Theory, best known by the often-repeated claim that “history repeats itself,” rests upon the premise that if a historian finds the truth in the past, he/she can then predict near-future events. Henry Adams’ “pendulum theory,” Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.’s “spiral” model and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s “self-generation” theory are well-established views of this idea.
Will Slatyer begins his three-chapter study of Cyclic history with an interesting survey of recurrent patterns found in nature, religion, the weather, and economics. His careful, clear summary of theorists who argue in favor of cycles in economic theory, especially the Marxist theory of economic determinism, as found in Das Kapital (1867) and that expounded by Joseph Schumpeter in his book Business Cycles (1939), is particularly well done. Then Slatyer moves on to broader history. Here, he offers a much weaker analysis.
Slatyer announces that “cultural change has occurred in identifiable cycles of hundreds of year’s duration which are still relevant today.” But the author offers virtually no serious support for this thesis (Adams and Schlesinger are ignored). Instead, his final two chapters offer a rather traditional short history of the world, using factual information from Wikipedia (as noted in the author’s introduction). This methodology brings Slatyer’s facts into serious scrutiny. Moreover, it simply delivers an eclectic, non-chronological presentation of those empires that Slatyer feels are important. This survey ends abruptly, with no conclusion (or notes or bibliography), so readers aren’t privy to the author’s views on his own evidence.
Slatyer is to be commended for his first chapter, which well summarizes Marx and Schumpeter for general readers. His pedantic chapters on cyclical theory as applied to world history must be read with much more care; indeed, readers interested in such theory are directed to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s standard work, The Cycles of American History (1989).
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