People can never be fulfilled for long either in the public or in the private sphere. We try one, then the other, and frustration compels a change in course. Moreover, however effective a particular course may be in meeting one set of troubles, it generally falters and fails when new troubles arise. And many new troubles are inherently insoluble. As political eras, whether dominated by public purpose or by private interests, run their course, they infallibly generate the desire for something different. It always becomes after a while “time for a change.”
–The Cycles of American History
Before historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.—not to be confused with his father, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.—published The Cycles of American History in 1986, few people recognized that history had a point. Most instead believed that history was composed of unconnected events in the past that had little to no effect on the present.
At the time, historians defended their practice with two famous quotations: 1. Dionysius’s “History is philosophy teaching by example” and 2. Hegel’s “The owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk.” There were, however, several problems with these quotes. First, Dionysius (of Halicarnassus) lived before Jesus and was more a rhetorician than a historian.* Second, Hegel is really, really hard to understand.
*And what forms of history did he really have access to? What could he study? I assume he did all his research in the Library of Alexandria.