Social cycle theories are among the earliest social theories in sociology. Unlike the theory of social evolutionism, which views the evolution of society and human history as progressing in some new, unique direction(s), sociological cycle theory argues that events and stages of society and history generally repeat themselves in cycles. Such a theory does not necessarily imply that there cannot be any social progress. In the early theory of Sima Qian and the more recent theories of long-term ("secular") political-demographic cycles as well as in the Varnic theory of P.R. Sarkar an explicit accounting is made of social progress.
The more limited cyclical view of history defined as repeating cycles of events was put forward in the academic world in the 19th century in historiosophy (a branch of historiography) and is a concept that falls under the category of sociology. However, Polybius, Ibn Khaldun (see Asabiyyah), and Giambattista Vico can be seen as precursors of this analysis. The Saeculum was identified in Roman times. In recent times, P. R. Sarkar in his Social Cycle Theory has used this idea to elaborate his interpretation of history.
Among the prominent historiosophers, Russian philosopher Nikolai Danilewski (1822-1885) is important. In Rossiia i Evropa (1869) he differentiated between various smaller civilizations (Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Greek, Roman, German, and Slav, among others). He wrote that each civilization has a life cycle, and by the end of the 19th century the Roman-German civilization was in decline, while the Slav civilization was approaching its Golden Age. A similar theory was put forward by Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) who in his Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918) also argued that the Western civilization had entered its final phase of development and its decline was inevitable.
The first social cycle theory in sociology was created by Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) in his Trattato di Sociologia Generale (1916). He centered his theory on the concept of an elite social class, which he divided into cunning 'foxes' and violent 'lions'. In his view of society, the power constantly passes from the 'foxes' to the 'lions' and vice versa.
Sociological cycle theory was also developed by Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968) in his Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937, 1943). He classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be ideational (reality is spiritual), sensate (reality is material), or idealistic (a synthesis of the two). He interpreted the contemporary West as a sensate civilization dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.
Alexandre Deulofeu (1903-1978) developed a mathematical model of social cycles that he claimed fit historical facts. He argued that civilizations and empires go through cycles in his book Mathematics of History (in Catalan, published in 1951). He claims that each civilization passes through a minimum of three 1700-year cycles. As part of civilizations, empires have an average lifespan of 550 years. He also stated that by knowing the nature of these cycles, it could be possible to modify the cycles in such a way that change could be peaceful instead of leading to war. Deulofeu believed he had found the origin of Romanesque art, during the 9th century, in an area between Empordà and Roussillon, which he argued was the cradle of the second cycle of western European civilization.
One of the most important recent findings in the study of the long-term dynamic social processes was the discovery of the political-demographic cycles as a basic feature of the dynamics of complex agrarian systems.
The presence of political-demographic cycles in the pre-modern history of Europe and China, and in chiefdom level societies worldwide has been known for quite a long time, and already in the 1980s more or less developed mathematical models of demographic cycles started to be produced (first of all for Chinese "dynastic cycles") (Usher 1989). At the moment we have a considerable number of such models (Chu and Lee 1994; Nefedov 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004; S. Malkov, Kovalev, and A. Malkov 2000; S. Malkov and A. Malkov 2000; Malkov and Sergeev 2002, 2004a, 2004b; Malkov et al. 2002; Malkov 2002, 2003, 2004; Turchin 2003, 2005a; Korotayev et al. 2006).
George Modelski, who presented his ideas in the book, Long Cycles in World Politics (1987), is the chief architect of long cycle theory. In a nutshell, long cycle theory describes the connection between war cycles, economic supremacy, and the political aspects of world leadership.
Long cycles, or long waves, offer interesting perspectives on global politics by permitting "the careful exploration of the ways in which world wars have recurred, and lead states such as Britain and the United States have succeeded each other in an orderly manner." Not to be confused with Simon Kuznets' idea of long-cycles, or long-swings, long cycles of global politics are patterns of past world politics.
The long cycle, according to Dr. Dan Cox, is a period of time lasting approximately 70 to 100 years. At the end of that period, "the title of most powerful nation in the world switches hands.". Modelski divides the long cycle into four phases. When periods of global war, which could last as much as one-fourth of the total long cycle, are factored in, the cycle can last from 87 to 122 years.
Many traditional theories of international relations, including the other approaches to hegemony, believe that the baseline nature of the international system is anarchy. Modelski's long cycle theory, however, states that war and other destabilizing events are a natural product of the long cycle and larger global system cycle. They are part of the living processes of the global polity and social order. Wars are "systemic decisions" that "punctuate the movement of the system at regular intervals." Because "world politics is not a random process of hit or miss, win or lose, depending on the luck of the draw or the brute strength of the contestants," anarchy simply doesn't play a role. After all, long cycles have provided, for the last five centuries, a means for the successive selection and operation of numerous world leaders.
Modeslki used to believe that long cycles were a product of the modern period. He suggests that the five long cycles, which have taken place since about 1500, are each a part of a larger global system cycle, or the modern world system.
Under the terms of long cycle theory, five hegemonic long cycles have taken place, each strongly correlating to economic Kondratieff Waves (or K-Waves). The first hegemon would have been Portugal during the 16th century, then the Netherlands during the 17th century. Next, Great Britain served twice, first during the 18th century, then during the 19th century. The United States has been serving as hegemon since the end of World War II.
In 1988, Joshua S Goldstein advanced the concept of the political midlife crisis in his book on "long cycle theory", Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age,[page needed] which offers four examples of the process:
Recently the most important contributions to the development of the mathematical models of long-term ("secular") sociodemographic cycles have been made by Sergey Nefedov, Peter Turchin, Andrey Korotayev, and Sergey Malkov. What is important is that on the basis of their models Nefedov, Turchin and Malkov have managed to demonstrate that sociodemographic cycles were a basic feature of complex agrarian systems (and not a specifically Chinese or European phenomenon).
The basic logic of these models is as follows:
It has become possible to model these dynamics mathematically in a rather effective way. Note that the modern theories of political-demographic cycles do not deny the presence of trend dynamics and attempt at the study of the interaction between cyclical and trend components of historical dynamics.
The Strauss-Howe generational theory, also known as the Fourth Turning theory or simply the Fourth Turning, which was created by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history. According to the theory, historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era (called a turning) in which a new social, political, and economic climate exists. Turnings tend to last around 20-22 years. They are part of a larger cyclical "saeculum" (a long human life, which usually spans between 80 and 90 years, although some saecula have lasted longer). The theory states that after every saeculum, a crisis recurs in American history, which is followed by a recovery (high). During this recovery, institutions and communitarian values are strong. Ultimately, succeeding generational archetypes attack and weaken institutions in the name of autonomy and individualism, which ultimately creates a tumultuous political environment that ripens conditions for another crisis.
The Cyclical theory (United States history) is a theory of US history developed by Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.. It states that US history alternates between two kinds of phases:
Each kind of phase generates the other. Liberal phases generate conservative phases from activism burnout, and conservative phases generate liberal phases from accumulation of unsolved problems.
Frank Klingberg has proposed a cyclic theory of US foreign policy. It states that the US alternates between extroverted phases, phases involving military adventures, challenging other nations, and annexing territory, and introverted phases, phases with the absence of these activities.
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