Is History Linear Or Cyclical?
The answer you choose to this question defines your worldview in a way that, perhaps, you previously never considered.
If you believe history is linear, you join Karl Marx, Christian armageddonists and Shia Muslims. Marx believed that after feudalism comes capitalism and after capitalism comes communism -- in that order! Because the technology of capitalism is required to sustain communism, it is not possible to skip a step in the progress. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx observed that "the development of class antagonism keeps even pace with the development of industry, the economic situation, as they find it, does not as yet offer to them the material conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat." No country on earth, regardless of its label, has ever been truly communist according to Marx's view of human development. If he is correct and history is linear, there is still time.
The Christian armageddonists see all conflict as setting the stage for the end of the days. Notwithstanding the popular concept of the Battle of Armageddon, the Bible makes no specific prediction for a war fought at Armageddon between two human armies precisely at Christ’s return. The Bible does say, however, that the armies of the East and West will be drawn to the infamous valley by lying demons. Lying demons you say? After the battle, life will be peachy and peace will reign.
Shia Muslims share with Christians a similar concept of a messiah. In Shia belief, there were 12 imams (rulers of the community) who came after the Prophet Mohamed. The 12th, however, was a child and there were grave fears of his assassination. Whether he was killed or died in hiding, the Shia believe that the 12th imam "disappeared", is still with us today, and will reappear as the mahdi (messiah) to usher in peace and prosperity in the world. I heard an interview the other day wherein the speaker said that the bombing of the al-askariya mosque in Iraq is supposed to trigger the return of the mahdi because that is the place he was last seen alive.
The common thread among the linear historians is the notion of fate - that there is a pre-ordained conclusion to the movie and everything happening in the world is propelling us toward that end.
Cyclical historians, in contrast, offer the "same shit, different pile" view of history. It's happened before and it is going to happen again. With respect to the cyclic nature of historical trends, philosophers maintain that every community is exposed to two opposite dangers -- ossification and dissolution -- as follows:
Civilizations start with a rigid belief system based on a dogma. If the dogma is relaxed, civilization may reach a point of balance between discipline and freedom, often its period of brilliant genius. This stage typically dissolves into anarchy. The anarchy leads to tyranny, justified by a new dogma.
If this framework is correct, where is America on the spectrum?
This question of the nature of history is relevant to current political discourse. It appears that the linear Nostredamus' of the world are framing the discussion, while the cyclical historians are shut out. The response to the Danish cartoons, many Americans believe, is evidence that Islam is evil, backwards, blah, blah. It is undisputable that Islam needs a reformation, but Christianity has been there before.
One with knowledge of history can envision the Muslim and Jewish leaders of Islamic Spain who ushered in an age of enlightenment looking down their noses at the backwards Christians. Words that begin with "al" are of Arabic origin, including algebra and alchemy. Muslims translated the works of Aristotle and Socrates and other Greek philosophers from the original languages to Arabic then to European tongues. This era was the golden rebirth of Judaic culture and the Hebrew language. All this while Christians were dying of starvation and slaughtering each other.
Does everyone get their turn at the crazy wheel or are the current times part of a grand plan with a pre-set conclusion?