By Keith Preston
Some historians make the credible argument that major historical cycles tend to turn every seventy years or so. For an example of this kind of analysis, see this piece that was written by Steven Yates after the events of September 11, 2001. What this particular model of historical interpretation argues is that every seven decades an older political, economic, cultural, or social paradigm will yield to a new paradigm.
Applied to American history, this method of interpretation might go something like this:
The first 70-year paradigm begins in the 1790s with the establishment of the United States as a nation, and the ratification of the original U.S. Constitution. The Constitution formalized the founding generation’s overthrow of the old European order in the colonies, and the establishment of an oligarchical, plutocratic, slavocratic system of their own that was modeled to a great degree on the Roman Republic.
This system endured until the Civil War in the 1860s which was the culmination of the ongoing conflict between Southern agrarianism and Northern industrialism. The system that emerged following the Civil War was a more formally consolidated state-capitalist system which created the context for the Gilded Age that followed. This second 70-year paradigm lasted until the collapse of classical capitalism with the Great Depression at the onset of the 1930s.
The third 70-year paradigm began with the American version of the managerial revolution that swept the industrialized world during the 1930s, and found its expression in the form of the consolidation of government, business, and labor into the social compact of the New Deal.
It can reasonably be argued that this paradigm lasted until the beginning of the 21st century. The 9-11 terrorist attacks, the war on terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic crisis of 2008, and the election of Barack Obama the same year largely represent the emergence of a new paradigm. This paradigm involves the extension and formalization of the American Empire under the War on Terrorism and the Bush Doctrine, the consolidation of the police state under the Patriot Act and the NDAA, and the consolidation of the contemporary plutocracy following the economic crisis and subsequent “bailouts.” Further, the Obama election represented a shift in the ruling coalition from the older Nixon-Reagan-Bush-Bush coalition (itself an outgrowth of the New Deal coalition as will be explained below) to a coalition that has its roots in the McGovern campaign of 1972 that finally achieved victory due to demographic, cultural, and generational change.
It is also observable that within the context of American politics a major partisan shift will happen roughly in the middle of each 70-year paradigm. These partisan shifts occur when a new political force arises to issue its initial challenge to the dominant paradigm. For example, the middle of the first 70-year paradigm saw the emergence of the Jacksonian Democrats. The middle of the second 70-year paradigm saw the election of William McKinley and the extension of American imperialism outside the North American continent. The middle of the third 70-year paradigm saw the rise of the radical left, the crisis of the Vietnam War, the collapse of the Democratic Party, and the hijacking of the New Deal coalition by Richard M. Nixon. The New Deal coalition had been put together in the 1930s as an alliance of Northern white ethnics (Italians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Jews, etc) and blue collar workers, and Southern white Anglo-Saxons. This coalition was not so much disrupted in the late 1960s as much as it was pushed to the right by the rise of the New Left even as neo-liberalism began its counter-offensive in the economic realm. The Republicans were able to take over the leadership of the older New Deal coalition, and it was this coalition that continued to insure Republican dominance up through the era of George W. Bush. This coalition was finally defeated in 2008 because it had been overrun numerically due to a wide variety of changes in society and across generational lines.
If past historical paradigms and partisan cycles are any indication, then the present paradigm that began in the early 21st century should last until roughly the 2070s. However, it is also likely that a new political force will emerge in the 2040s that provides a thoroughgoing challenge to the present paradigm and pushes the present day ruling coalition to the right due to an insurgency from the left. The event that will most likely trigger the rise of a challenging force will be the demographic change that is expected to occur in the 2040s which likely have the effect of creating a new political alignment. What will these forces be?
One will be ethno-nationalism of the kind that rejects the mainstream ideological superstructure of democratic multiculturalism as manifestation of American exceptionalism. Instead, these will be ethno-nationalist tendencies that could not care less about “Americanism” per se, but are motivated by their own ethnic identitarian interests. For example, Hispanics favoring the reconquest of the Southwest, African-Americans adopting a specifically ethno-identarian ideology, and whites advancing a separatist and/or identitarian outlook of their own.
Another force will be a myriad of ant-state movements that are concerned with the excesses of “big brother” or “big government.” Also, as class divisions widen and poverty grows, ant-capitalist and anti-plutocratic movements will begin to grow as well. Opposition will also grow from the ranks of traditional outgroups that continue to be unrecognized by the system, splits within traditional outgroups that are recognized, and former ingroups turned outgroups due to the wider changes that will have taken place in society as a whole. I have previously discussed this in much more detail here.
This 70 year/30 year model of historical interpretation does not require one to hold to some kind of metaphysical let alone bizarre mystical or numerological view of history or interpretive methodology. Seventy years is approximately the lifespan of an average person, and thirty to forty year cycles represent the changing of generations in terms of institutional power. Historical paradigms and partisan cycles change as generations come and go.
A similar cyclical analysis could be applied to international relations as well. For example, World War II represented the transition from second generation warfare to third generation warfare, and the decline of the state that began in the 1970s created a challenge to the dominant paradigm that helped to usher in the present era of fourth generation warfare.
Indeed, the 70 year/30 year cyclical model could also be applied to the history of the anarchist movement. It could be reasonably argued that the first 70 year paradigm begins with the publication of William Godwin’s work in the 1790s. The first 30 year crisis begins with the Scottish Insurrection of 1820 and the subsequent wave of rebellions that transpired in Europe during subsequent decades, These created the political atmosphere in which the works of Stirner and Proudhon were issued, along with Marx’s counter-polemics against these two.
The second 70 year paradigm in anarchist history begins with Bakunin’s assuming a leadership role in the International Workingmen’s Association in the 1860s, The 30 year crisis during this paradigm was the propaganda by the deed period and the wave of assassinations and bombings carried out by anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th century. This paradigm ended in the 1930s with the defeat of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, and their repression worldwide by the combined forces of capitalism, communism, and fascism.
The third 70 year paradigm begins with the period of inactivity and regrouping that developed following the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and this paradigm’s 30 year crisis was obviously represented by the emergence of the New Left and the upheavals of the 1960s. The third paradigm closed with the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s, and the beginning of the fourth paradigm has occurred as a result of the rather significant growth of anarchist movements in the early twenty-first century, largely as a response to the global economy, the war on terrorism, the economic crisis of 2008, the cyber economy, fourth generation warfare, the growth of the surveillance state, and other intertwined trends. At some point during the period between the 2030s and 2050s there will be a major historical unfolding that helps to define the present paradigm in the movement’s history, and a new paradigm should begin around the time of the 2070s. It would appear that the anarchist movement worldwide is now face with three primary tasks: developing and cultivating its own ranks, attacking the ruling coalition and dominant paradigm primarily though not exclusively by means of a leftward flank, and assuming preeminence within the context of rising fourth generation warfare.