Does History Repeat Itself?

“All facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were twice ;the first time’s a tragedy, the second time is farce.”

– Karl Marx

All our life we have heard sayings like ‘ History repeats itself’ or’ Learn from your past’ or something along the lines. 

But what does it actually mean? 

The concept of ‘Historic recurrence’ dates back to Greek Hellenistic thinker Polybius (c.a 200 – c.a 118 BCE), though during that time it was more concerned with cosmological rather than historic recurrence. The stars were deemed responsible for misfortune and failure. 

Eventually, as history expanded people started noticing similarities of the past- G .W Trompf describes this recurrence as ‘re-enacted’, ‘revived’ or ‘reciprocal’. He says as long as human nature does not change the same events can recur at any time. The same is also mentioned in Will Durant’s lessons of history “Society is founded not on ideals but on the nature of man, and the constitution of man rewrites the constitution of states” questioning whether a man’s constitution/instinct can dictate a change in the history we know or not. 

When put in this way, we can draw a number of situations where a tragedy could have been avoided, cause history is full of warnings, we just haven’t been good at heeding them. The past is full of people who have made mistakes, whose predecessors have also made the same mistakes. It’s like we never learn; so maybe it does come down to our basic extinct; and maybe we all are alike at the core, regardless of our knowledge and common sense.

Another theory on ‘historic recurrence’ is that recurrences occur due to ascertainable circumstances and chains of casualty – Nietzche. Which basically states that certain situations can only have certain results. In other words, the cyclical nature of history is a circumstantial phenomenon; similar problems being confronted at different times. 

But history does not repeat itself- at least not in totality, cause if it would then we all would be re-living past events again and again and would ultimately be stuck in a circle, re-living in an infinite time loop- like the ‘Russian Doll’. Imagine a life like that, reliving the same day over and over, no ageing, no death – no end. Seems like something straight out of movies, right? 

Never the less our lives do not move in circles, it’s a rather straight line with a beginning and an end. So maybe history is not really repeating or cyclical in nature. 

Now, how do we explain its recurrence?

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme – Mark Twain, is a thorough and well-put statement. Which states that there are just seemingly similar sounding situations that recur time and time again, but they are not the same. He also states “a favourite theory of mine is that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which probably has happened before or perhaps often”. Wars, Droughts, Famines, Recessions when taken in from afar rhyme; but when looked closely they do not repeat.

This interpretation seems the most formed and acceptable, it spares circumstantial disparities and makes us look at the picture as a whole rather than its parts. ‘cause when you look at it- the story playing out today is similar to those of previous eras. But the results and their consequences vary.

A pandemic, is a widely dramatized word. Countless books and movies have been made on the same, yet when it actually hit us we couldn’t comprehend it. The earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. (i.e Athens,430 B.C.) and since then we have seen, Black Death, the Great plague of London, The first cholera pandemic and so much more. By large it sounds the same but when we take a closer look, the coronavirus vaccine is the fastest developed vaccine in the world. Our predecessors did not have the technological advancements to produce or circulate the same. But then again in the past the disease wasn’t as spread out – since traveling was to a minimum and the population was scarce.

Both periods have their own hurdles to overcome. It is similar but not the same.

It is said that almost every 100 years there’s a global pandemic in history and despite all that, we know about such diseases we cannot break this cycle. 

It also makes us wonder if we will ever learn from our past or just waiting on another one? Are these tragedies circumstantial or caused by human error? 

Maybe we just have bad luck? Or maybe it is a loop?

Riya Saboo

I think too much, I don’t write enough.

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