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The Theory of Historical Recurrence Essay

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Updated: Oct 19th, 2020


Historians have noticed that some events that occur in different periods have many similarities. Therefore, they have suggested that some historical events have a tendency to repeat. Other researchers developed this idea into the theory of historic recurrence. There is a viewpoint that if history recurs, it is possible to focus on accentuated tendencies and specific historical lessons in order to accept them and avoid repeating mistakes.

Although critics state that all parallels in historical events are occasional, the tendency to focus on history lessons should develop because states overcome similar stages in their progress, people are inclined to learn from the past, and common causes usually lead to similar consequences in a historical context.

States overcome similar stages in their development

In their process of development, nations need to overcome certain stages, which are usually similar. As a result, while comparing the development of nations during different periods, it is possible to discover certain similarities or recurrences. To support this idea, in their work, Gerring, Thacker, and Alfaro focus on analyzing the relationship between people’s historical development and the growth of regimes in Iraq and Nicaragua (4).

According to the researchers, “where power is personalized, as it is in many authoritarian settings, the development of legal-bureaucratic authority is virtually impossible” (Gerring, Thacker, and Alfaro 4). Thus, in those states where authoritarian regimes are observed, the social and economic development is challenged because of the impact of dictatorship. In those states where the focus is on democracy, an opposite pattern of social progress can dominate. From this point, the answer to the question of historical similarities can be found in comparing the nations’ development.

People are inclined to learn from the past

In addition, it is important to concentrate on the idea that events and experiences of the past can influence the development of an entire nation. The reason for this is that authorities are often inclined to find answers to the problems arising in current events in the nation’s pastor in patterns found in world history. Mendoza-Botelho refers to the example of Bolivia that chose to follow the democratic course after analyzing historical lessons and accepting the fact that, in this country, “social movements have played an important role in the recent political history,” and the public opinion needs to be addressed (34).

Thus, authorities often refer to the lessons of the past when it is necessary to make decisions regarding changes in the political course or conflict resolution. As a result, historic recurrences can become associated with lessons regarding conflicts, revolutions, and wars as the general evidence of these repetitions.

Common causes usually lead to similar consequences in the historical context

History recurs because it is a problematic task for people to develop without focusing on their roots and experiences. Even if individuals reject returning to precedents because of their interpretation of history, they tend to accept this experience and refer to it. In their work, Gerring, Thacker, and Alfaro develop this idea, stating that regimes also “do not begin again, de novo, with each calendar year” (2).

People repeat and develop regimes while referring to the knowledge about the past that they have. Discussing historical roots of relations between Muslims and Christians in African countries, Beyers notes that “lessons from the past in South Africa provide insight into how social interaction can be structured,” and what path can become “a favorable one” (6). From this point, the answer to the current social or political problems can be found in history. Thus, historic recurrences are associated with people’s perceptions of their past and present.

History cannot repeat itself as a cycle

In order to understand the role of historic recurrences, it is also important to pay attention to the fact that such events as revolutions, conflicts, and wars result from certain general causes, and they are often perceived as similar. Triggers can be different, but the consequences of the prolonged impact of this or that cause can be predicted. While discussing the problem of revolutions, Carter, Michael, and Glenn note that “post-revolutionary states enjoy a significant advantage in war-making capabilities and are more likely to achieve positive interstate war outcomes” (440).

It is possible to assume that revolutions as causes can lead to the further development of wars, and consequences for nations involved in the process can be similar. In his work, Harley develops this idea, stating that there are many examples of events that influenced the “greater course of great things,” and “the rashness of the Saxon troops at the Battle of Hastings; the weather dispersing the Spanish Armada; the spread of the Black Death; the finely balanced situation of the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962” are among them (346). According to the researcher, there are scenarios that determine causes and consequences. Therefore, the global community can learn from patterns where some triggers can lead to significant historical changes.

Still, opponents of the idea of historic recurrence state that history cannot be discussed as repeating itself because it is almost impossible to prove its cyclic nature. Aguiar-Conraria, Magalhaes, and Soares also note that there is a question of whether wars and other historical events can “occur cyclically” (512). However, the researchers intentionally selected wars and elections in the United States in order to test the theory about parallels in history (Aguiar-Conraria, Magalhaes, and Soares 500).

It is important to state that they proved the “existence of regular cycles in presidential and congressional election returns in the United States” (508). Thus, Americans are inclined to elect presidents while following certain cyclical patterns. The researchers also proved the existence of the 60-year cycle, including wars, which ran “from the early 1700s to mid-1800s,” and “a shorter and also significant cycle, with a period around 30 years” in the twentieth century (Aguiar-Conraria, Magalhaes, and Soares 513). From this perspective, the dynamic nature of recurring events allows for speaking about the repeated history. In this context, these repeated cycles can be used as lessons to analyze and predict the future development of the historic course.


The discussion of historic recurrences as sources of lessons for the future demonstrates that it is important not to ignore the fact that history can recur in many forms. Thus, history repeats itself and provides lessons that allow for avoiding mistakes in choosing political or social courses. The reason is that many states follow the same stages of development, depending on the adopted regimes and selected authorities.

In addition, the people’s choice to learn from the past is also associated with the idea that historical events can repeat because decisions made by authorities can be similar under certain conditions, and common outcomes can be predicted. In this context, leaders address historical lessons while focusing on conclusions from this or that event. Therefore, this point is directly associated with the statement that certain causes can lead to similar consequences when people adopt decisions from the past, and history recurs.

Works Cited

Aguiar-Conraria, Luis, Magalhaes Pedro, and Soares Maria Joana. “Cycles in Politics: Wavelet Analysis of Political Time Series.” American Journal of Political Science 56.2 (2012): 500-518. JSTOR. Web.

Beyers, Jaco. “Beyond Denial and Exclusion: The History of Relations between Christians and Muslims in the Cape Colony during the 17th-18th Centuries with Lessons for a Post-Colonial Theology of Religions.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 72.1 (2016): 1-10. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Carter, Jeff, Bernhard Michael, and Palmer Glenn. “Social Revolution, the State, and War: How Revolutions Affect War-Making Capacity and Interstate War Outcomes.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 56.3 (2012): 439-466. JSTOR. Web.

Gerring, John, Strom Thacker, and Rodrigo Alfaro. “Democracy and Human Development.” The Journal of Politics 74.1 (2012): 1-17. JSTOR. Web.

Harley, Trevor. “History Lessons: What Can We Learn About History?” Rethinking History 18.3 (2014): 345-364. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Mendoza-Botelho, Martin. “Revisiting Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly: Lessons on the Quality of Democracy.” Asian Journal of Latin American Studies 29.1 (2016): 19-55. Academic Search Complete. Web.

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