30 December 2011
Cycles of American Politics
I've written of these theories before. Here is one example. What I think of as the "short cycle" theory postulates cycles that are roughly 30 years long -- so either 32 or 28 years, since 30 itself is not divisible by 4. Obama's election in 2008 can be compared to the election of other relatively obscure figures who carried on the impetus of a reform movement past its prime. A haberdasher in 1948 elected as a last hurrah for the New Deal. Four years later he bowed out, letting Adlai Stevenson take the fall for Eisenhower's victory. Twenty-eight years after 1948 brings us to 1976, when a peanut farner was elected as a final upsurge of New Frontier/Great Society sentiment. Four years later he was mugged by a Kennedy on the way to a re-nomination that proved worthless.
But there is also a "long cycle" theory. According to this, there have been three great periods of constitutional equilibria in US history, separated by chaotic periods of tumult. (There were also two distinct imperial periods in American colonial history, separated by a period of tumult in the 1680s.)
It certainly appears as if the Third Republic ran aground in 2007-08 in much the same way that the Second Republic ran aground in 1929. If that is so, then we are in the midst of a period of turmoil or chaos, and when the dust settles we shall find ourselves with a new equilibrium, a Fourth Republic. If this cyclical theory is right, then Obama is a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt, and 2012 is not 1952 or 1980 all over again. It is 1936.
I enjoy the contemplation of both theories, and I have carried them both around in my head. Now I find that they are in stark conflict, and that one of them seems about to receive its falsification. My only regret is that I have but two theories to give for my country.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.