Skip to main content

Constitutional Cycles

Image result for cycles of history

For a long time, I thought of US politics in terms of a 30 year cycle.  I thought of this as the "short cycle" of two, for I also had and still have a long cycle theory. 

But the short cycle was specifically keyed to Presidential election, so it manifested itself in 32 or 28 year intervals (since 30 is not divisible by four). 

Pursuant to the short cycle theory I compared President Obama's election in 2008 to the election of other relatively obscure figures who carried on the impetus of a reform movement past its prime. A haberdasher in 1948 was elected as the 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 farmer became President as a final upsurge of New Frontier/Great Society liberalism. Four years later he was mugged by an Ayatollah on the way to defeat by Ronald Reagan. 

Thirty-two years from 1976 brings us to 2008. So that cyclical theory led me to the expectation that Barack Obama would be a one termer, defeated by a conservative Republican in 2012. It didn't happen. So maybe in my efforts to understand events THIS year I should forget that and fall back on the theory concerning longer cycles.

According to this, there are three great periods of constitutional equilibrium in US history, punctuated by periods of turmoil. Here's a quick cheat sheet (ignoring for the moment the fact that the colonial pre-history of the US analogously breaks down into two imperial periods, separated by a time of great tumult in the 1680s set off by the Glorious Revolution in the motherland.)

1775 - 1787          TUMULT
1787 - 1860          First Republic (73 years)
1861 - 1865          TUMULT
1866 - 1929          Second Republic (63 years)
1930 - 1937          TUMULT 
1938 - 2008          Third Republic (70 years).

On this hypothesis, we have lived through a period of tumult, and this Presidential election will presumably lay the groundwork for a distinctive Fourth Republic. 

If a Democratic candidate is elected President, whether it be a he or a she, then one can see the outlines of the Fourth Republic and its differences from the Third. In either case, we will think of this period as the tricky transition of the US into a Western European style social democracy. The Supreme Court decisions upholding Obamacare and marriage equality have a long life ahead of them as important precedents -- the next couple of SCOTUS appointments will be Justices inclined with the majority there. As important, the decisions creating a religious exemption for the insurance mandate and deregulating campaign finance will have a rather brief life ahead of them, and the decisions reversing them will be  the key fourth-republic-defining precedents. 

I don't see any possibility of a Republican victory in this election. Of course, I'm often wrong but that by itself doesn't establish the contrary proposition. 

There is a third possibility: an independent candidate's victory. What will that mean? Either more tumult or a very different Fourth Republic. Tomorrow I'll say a few words about how this might come about.  


Popular posts from this blog

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…