Wheels within Wheels

Sometimes in the course of human affairs, things change only temporarily; they vary but then return to the mean; they recur and repeat; they advance but then hit a ceiling and drop back; in short some things fluctuate.

I would like to give some of these fluctuations appropriate names:

  • Malthusian cycles – already a well-known name for what happens when population hits carrying capacity
  • Supra-Malthusian cycles – would happen if fertility, having fallen in the “demographic transition,” rises again.
  • Thucydidean cycles – the rise and fall of the great powers, now visible again as China rises
  • Sima Qianian cycles – familial-nepotistic dynasties rise then fall (could also be called Hamiltonian cycles after the man who theorized nepotism, or Galtonian cycles, who coined regression to the mean)
  • Weberian cycles – the oscillation between charismatic leaders versus routine institutions
  • Polybian cycles – the wheel turns between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy
  • Ibn Khaldunian cycles – group cohesion (asabiya) fluctuates: sometimes high cooperation, sometimes low
  • Hobbesian cycles – states succeed and then states fail
  • Spenglerian or Toynbeean cycles – civilizations accomplish things, then they don’t
  • Marxian cycles – there are periods of more equality and periods of more inequality

And no doubt more, but that’s enough for now.

[The idea of “wheels within wheels” comes from Peter Turchin in his excellent book War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires Plume, 2006)]


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