Is human history cyclical?
Cyclicity as the basis of the universe
The idea that everything in the world repeats itself arose long before the appearance of historical science in its modern form. Even the ancient Egyptians formed the concept of the cyclical nature of everything. Then these ideas were "picked up" by the inhabitants of Ancient Greece, and in the 19th century they were developed by such philosophers as Arthur Schopenhauer and Thomas Brown. The calendars of the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas and many other peoples of the world also tell us about cyclicality.
The thesis of eternal repetition is well revealed in Hinduism. Here there is such a thing as samsara - the cycle of birth and death in the worlds limited by karma. The universe, according to the beliefs of the ancient Hindus, exists only during the "day of Brahma" - the god of creation. One such day is estimated at approximately 4,320,000 years (according to another version, 311040000000000 years). With the onset of the "night of Brahma" it disappears and then reappears when a new day comes.
Religion is generally prone to such "repetitions." According to the Bible, humanity has already experienced one end of the world (the Flood), and in the future something similar will happen again, now in the form of the so-called Doomsday.
Civilization: birth and death
The history of mankind is difficult to imagine linear and consistent. At one time or another, various civilizations were at the peak of development, deciding the fate of the world and moving humanity forward. For example, the aggressive policy of Alexander the Great led to the spread of a highly developed Hellenistic culture in many regions of the world. If you look at the New Time, you can recall the Civil Code of Napoleon, which formed the basis of the legal documents of many states and buried archaic feudal orders.
The flourishing of a powerful civilization often became the starting point of a new historical period, and vice versa: its death could mark the onset of the "dark" ages. We could see something similar in the example of the Roman Empire, the collapse of which in 476 AD. considered the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe.
By virtue of the above, the issue of the cyclical nature of history is at first appropriate to consider using the example of individual civilizations. The conclusions that each of them has several stages of its development was defended by such famous researchers as Arnold Toynbee. An original approach was proposed by the Russian scientist Valentin Alexandrovich Moshkov. He saw the history of countries and peoples as a continuous series of cycles that lasted 400 years. Moreover, each of them, in turn, is divided into two equal 200-year cycles, which signify decline and rise.
And although the views of these scientists are often criticized, many researchers still distinguish four stages in the history of each civilization: origin, development, flowering and extinction. The origin is due to the formation of a kind of unifying social philosophy. The next stage - development, is associated with the emergence of a holistic social order and the presence in society of certain basic values that have ceased to be the lot of a handful of marginalized people. The flourishing of civilization, in addition to quality growth in all spheres, can be marked by the creation of an empire and an aggressive foreign policy. However, no matter how strong the state is, it will still collapse. At the stage of extinction, social, economic and political contradictions sharply sharpen. It is becoming more and more difficult to maintain a high level of education and science. At this stage, the empire becomes very vulnerable - both to external enemies and to internal enemies (which, for example, may include previously enslaved peoples).
Pros and cons
According to the proponents of the cyclical approach, each of the civilizations goes through all four stages before disappearing into oblivion.Usually there are several dozen such cultures. Arnold Toynbee singled out 21 civilizations in history, including the Orthodox culture of the period of the Eastern Roman Empire and the "new" Orthodox civilization of Russia.
By the way, this classification was very warmly received by the Slavophiles, who wanted to prove the "fundamental difference" between Western and Russian culture. To us, such differences seem ephemeral, because Russia has developed under the enormous influence of the West. However, these conclusions do not at all mean that every Russian feels like a part of Western culture. Rather, as recent events show, everything is exactly the opposite. This example illustrates well how blurred the boundaries of two civilizations can be.
And this is just one of the possible difficulties of the civilizational approach. Others are also caused by the unique circumstances that a particular culture, this or that civilization encounters. For example, the decline of the Minoan state in the 1400s BC. NS. was caused by a natural disaster - a violent volcanic eruption. Consequently, we do not know how its fate would have developed if it had not been for this cataclysm, and we cannot unequivocally judge the cycles of its development.
At the same time, the largest empires could hardly fall victim to one natural cataclysm or be captured by the enemy. There are such precedents in history, but they are rather an exception to the rule. Let's give an example: the official date of the collapse of the Roman Empire is considered September 4, 476 AD, when the leader of the barbarian detachment Odoacer overthrew the last emperor Romulus Augustus from the throne and himself became king of Italy. However, neither the overthrow of the emperor, nor the plundering of Rome by the barbarians would have been possible without a protracted socio-economic and political crisis. In recent years, the territory of the state has shrunk to the size of modern Italy. The situation with the army was very difficult. If the image of a disciplined legionnaire in shining armor can still be correlated with the flourishing of the empire, then by the time of its decline it was no longer relevant. Then, barbaric mercenaries stood guard over Rome, whose values were very different from the Roman ones, and the level of discipline and equipment often left much to be desired.
Each empire faced similar difficulties towards the end of its cycle. By this time, the ideas that once dominated in society were finally losing their weight, and the economy did not meet the needs of the growing population. The very existence of the state was no longer considered a value, and none of its inhabitants wanted to fight, let alone die for it.
Something similar happened in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. The once great power sank into oblivion not at all because of the intrigues of external enemies: such a monster as the USSR, in principle, could not be defeated by force. Its collapse occurred due to the deepest internal crisis - both ideological and economic.
Thus, different civilizations, regardless of the time of their appearance and the duration of their existence, actually passed through several cycles. Among them are birth, development, flowering and death. China stands out as it has experienced ups and downs many times in its history. He reached the highest level of development, and then drowned in the blood of internecine wars. United China still exists today, and the first centralized state on its territory was created by Qin Shi Huang Ti more than 2 thousand years ago. However, many other empires fell, and they were no longer destined to be reborn from the ashes.
Where is humanity going
But what will happen to the entire human civilization as a whole? Will it endure eternally the heyday and decline, birth and death of cultures? Perhaps, but this will only be part of the truth. It is difficult to imagine, for example, a return to the legal and administrative system that operated in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.And it is unlikely that in the 21st century we will witness wars similar to those that were fought in the last century. In the latter case, two factors play a role: firstly, technologies have reached a level of development in which a war between two powerful powers threatens to destroy all life on the planet (and this is a deterrent). Secondly, civilized countries have learned to resolve issues among themselves peacefully, without bloodshed.
It is also important to note here the existence of values common to the states of the post-industrial world, which have emerged as a result of the socio-cultural evolution of recent centuries. These include basic values such as human rights and respect for free speech. They are carried not only by Europeans and Americans, but also by many peoples, including hundreds of millions of representatives of the middle class in East and Southeast Asia. It is not known whether liberal democracy of the Western type will become the end point of the evolution of human civilization or it will perish along with the political influence of the West. Long-term forecasting is generally a thankless thing.
Summarize. The recurrence of history thesis has a right to exist, but it should not be taken too literally. None of the events in world history is repeated "one to one." And even more so after many centuries, during which many structural changes have taken place in the world. We need to be careful about statements like “we've been through this before”. In many cases, they are used as propaganda tools.