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Predicting the future
Some Patterns in World History and How they can be Used to Predict the Future

Civilizations belong to a living culture and have characteristics of living organisms. They rise and fall in the cycles of life. World historians have identified certain societies that have gone through the complete cycle. Rome's civilization, once powerful, has now become extinct. So have civilizations of the Babylonian, Mayan, Sinic, Indic, Syriac, and other societies.

Civilization, in a broad sense, transcends the life cycles of individual societies, passing its culture along to peoples in many parts of the earth. But they, too, have come one after another to comprise successive historical epochs. Four civilizations have already come and developed to a mature state. Another has recently appeared on the cultural horizon; it remains in embryonic form. That makes five civilizations altogether, which are:

Civilization I: This is the earliest form of civilized society beginning in the 4th millennium B.C. with the rise of Mesopotamian and Egyptian city-states and culminating in the four great empires - Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han Chinese - of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries A.D. Its age was characterized by by conflict between nomadic and agricultural societies and by wars and political empire-building. The technology of writing (originally, in ideographic form) supported its culture.

Civilization II: This is what civilized societies became after the philosophical and spiritual awakening of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. which was, in turn, related to the invention of alphabetic writing. Although this civilization was begun in a period dominated by political empires, it came into its own after the Huns and other nomads destroyed these empires between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D. The dominant institution in society became religion. The three world religions - Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - and other religious or philosophical systems such as Hinduism, Judaism, and Confucianism dominated human culture in the first 1,500 years of the Christian era.

Civilization III: This is the civilization of European secular culture which began with the Italian Renaissance of the 14th and 15th centuries A.D. and continued through the first two decades of the 20th century A.D. Humanist literature and art as well as empirical science mounted a challenge to philosophically based religions. This civilization was predominantly commercial although secular education also played an important role. Society became organized in European-style nation states. The technology of printing supported its culture.

Civilization IV: This is the culture of news and entertainment that we have come to know in the late 20th century. Advertising drives commerce, and the media in which advertising takes place (especially television) become powerful institutions within society. Various electronic technologies such as the telephone, sound recordings, cinema, radio, and television support this culture which emphasizes the sensuous aspect of human personality.

Civilization V: All we know about this culture is that it is computer-based. Computers, which support two-way communication between man and machine, are quite unlike the technologies of mass communications. However, computer-based systems and applications are developing so rapidly that it is hard to predict what will come next.

Four of these five civilizations have seen the light of day. The fifth - the computer-based civilization - is like an infant opening its eyes for the first time. Because world history now contains a fairly complete record of the first four civilizations, it is possible to identify certain historical patterns that apply to civilizations as they develop from one stage of life to another, based upon examination of these civilizations. Once the general pattern is established, it then becomes possible to apply this to the civilization that is just now beginning to develop, giving us a glimpse into the future.

Some of the patterns that appear from an examination of the first four civilizations include the following:

(1) When a new technology with radically different and improved capabilities of communication is first introduced into society, it will profoundly change the culture and, indeed, mark the beginning of a new civilization. Qualities inherent in the technology help to shape this new culture.

(2) New civilizations produce new institutions of power as functions once handled informally become organized, detach as separate power centers, and assert political and cultural dominance.

(3) Each civilization develops its own dominant beliefs and values, its own models of attractive personality, and its own "religion" in a broad sense.

(4) Civilizations follow a life cycle in which their period of "youth" is marked by vigorous growth and cultural creativity, their period of "adulthood" is marked by the formation of empires, and their period of "decline" is marked by institutional coercion and violence involving those empires.

(5) Themes or values that prevailed at the beginning of an historical epoch often give way to their opposite as the epoch comes to an end.

(6) The arrival of a new civilization also affects institutions that were dominant two epochs earlier. Such institutions undergo a democratizing process.

 

Now, to apply these patterns to the fifth civilization, we can ask these questions:

(1) Assuming that computer technology heralds a new civilization, what qualities in this technology will shape the new civilization?

(2) What new institution(s) may become dominant in the society?

(3) What will be this society's type of "religion", including its dominant beliefs and models of attractive personality?

(6) Since commercial and educational institutions became organized during the third epoch as separate centers of power, one anticipates that they will be the focus of change two epochs later - as the fifth epoch of history begins. What changes might be anticipated in these two areas as computer technology is applied? How might "democratization" take place in education and in commerce?

Questions related to the fourth and fifth patterns are difficult to frame since only in retrospect do we know the prevalent forms of a civilization.

(1) When a new technology with radically different and improved capabilities of communication is first introduced into society, it will profoundly change the culture and, indeed, mark the beginning of a new civilization. Qualities inherent in the technology help to shape this new culture.

Civilization I: Writing was invented in Mesopotamia around 3100 B.C.; in India, around 2500 B.C.; in China and Crete, around 2000 B.C., etc. The dates of this invention roughly coincides with the appearance of city-states and warfare between these states, leading later to kingdoms and empires. Ideographic writing was too difficult to produce a literate population but was mastered by professional scribes. Written records were necessary to support government and religious bureaucracies.

Civilization II: Alphabetic writing was first developed in the mid 2nd millennium B.C. in Palestine and Syria. However, it did not really take hold until around 1000 to 600 B.C. This type of writing let a broader and more active segment of the population acquire literacy. Inquiring minds began to explore the concept of words. Religious scriptures began to appear. These events supported the practice of philosophy and the development of the world religions.

Civilization III: Printing came to western Europe in the mid 15th century A.D. This cultural technology helped the dissemination of knowledge and supported a system of universal education. Printed newspapers contained commercial advertising which became the principal way that businesses communicated with customers. Printed books were a primary resource in schools.

Civilization IV: Various devices of electronic communication were invented in late 19th and early 20th centuries. These media created an ongoing spectacle of public events in real time. They attracted commercial advertising, replacing newspapers as businesses' primary tool for selling products. Individual performers became widely known in society.

Civilization V: Computer networks became popular in the 1990s. They permit two-way communication between individuals on the Internet. Customers for products can communicate directly with producers. Search engines hone communications to the user's particular needs.

(2) New civilizations produce new institutions of power as functions once handled informally become organized, detach as separate power centers, and assert political and cultural dominance.

Civilization I: Government detaches from the temple. Royal courts are established. Warring kingdoms create political empires. Culmination in the Roman, Parthian, Kushan, and Han Chinese empires of 2nd century A.D.

Civilization II: Philosophers offer to reform governments. Religious prophets challenge imperial power. The institution of world religion arises alongside secular power to govern society in a dualistic arrangement.

Civilization III: The Crusades spur Mediterranean commerce. Moneylenders finance wars between kings, Popes, and Holy Roman emperors. The wealthy merchants of north Italian cities were patrons of the arts and educated their children in humanist studies. From these beginnings commercial empires grew. Universities sprouted across Europe and America.

Civilization IV: The entertainment industry appeared as one, among many, in commercial society. When radio and television became the dominant entertainment media, entertainment became a key to selling commercial products.

Civilization V: The Internet was a complex of connected computers pioneered by the Defense department and several universities. Suddenly new commercial opportunities were found.

(3) Each civilization develops its own dominant beliefs and values, its own models of attractive personality, and its own "religion" in a broad sense.

Civilization I: This was the epoch of civic religion, when cities had protector gods and emperors were deified. The dominant personality was the conquering king - Pharaoh, Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great.

Civilization II: World religion, as religion, is well understood. This epoch found its attractive models of personality in philosophers and religious prophets. The great kings and emperors were persons versed in philosophy such as Marcus Aurelius, Asoka, or Alexander the Great.

Civilization III: While the world religions continued in force, a new secular culture of literature, art, and music became a carrier of spiritual value. The dominant personality was the creative artist or writer. Political leaders who wrote good prose took on the attributes of greatness. Frederick the Great mastered French prose writing. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were known for their prose eloquence. Winston Churchill was another accomplished writer.

Civilization IV: The world of films, music recording, radio, and television constitute a cultural "heaven" in which performing artists are bright stars. Entertainers-turned-politician, such as Ronald Reagan and Jesse Ventura, are in synch with this age.

Civilization V: We do not know what will be the "religion" of this epoch, or whether a geek-like personality will be politically successful.

(4) Civilizations follow a life cycle in which their period of "youth" is marked by vigorous growth and cultural creativity, their period of "adulthood" is marked by the formation of empires, and their period of "decline" is marked by institutional coercion and violence involving those empires.

Civilization I: The youth of this civilization occurred in a time so distant that little is known of it. The adult phase is marked by the formation of large political empires: Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Parthian, Sasanian, Mauryan, Gupta, Han, and successive Chinese empires. Around the time of Christ, the Mideastern world was tired of the fighting. People yearned for peace.

Civilization II: The youth is marked by the lives of great philosophers and religious prophets whose lives are chronicled in classics of literature such as Plato's Dialogues or in religious scriptures. These classics tend to have been written at the juncture of spoken and written culture - when writing was still a novelty. Greeks were recently literate in Socrates' time. Jesus' life was told orally before the Gospels were written. Same with Buddha. Harb popularized writing in Mecca. The adult phase is marked by the institution of world religion - its ecclesiastical structure, its monasteries, its relation to secular power. In the phase of decline, the different religions fight each other: Christians fight Moslems in the Crusades and in Spain, Moslems fight Hindus in India. This is also the age of witch-burning and persecution of "heretics".

Civilization III: The youth is the period of the Italian Renaissance, the age of world discovery, the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, and other heroic times. This culture, recently exposed to printing, produced William Shakespeare, Cervantes, and others. Weary of theological disputes, European intellectuals turned to the study of nature. The adult phase saw the development of large commercial systems, of universities, and the nation state. In its phase of decline, Europe self-destructed in imperial rivalries and two world wars. Ideologies had turned hateful and destructive.

Civilization IV: Humanity turned to lighthearted pursuits following the two world wars. Popular entertainment became a larger part of public life. Empire in this epoch consisted of such things as the Hollywood studios and radio and television networks. Now there are signs of public disenchantment with big-time entertainment: the sex and violence of Hollywood movies and television, the destructive vision of rap music, a generation of young people who do not know how to read.

Civilization V: The Internet is an exciting place these days. Its proprietors have become fabulously wealthy as stock prices climb. Teenage hackers disrupt corporate websites. Internet use is growing by leaps and bounds. Beyond that, we do not know.

(5) Themes or values that prevailed at the beginning of an historical epoch often give way to their opposite as the epoch comes to an end.

Civilization I:

(a) This epoch is about the enlargement and consolidation of political power through military force. Its theme is one of the strong subduing the weak, of victory through bloodshed, of earthly grandeur and power. At the end of the epoch, contrary ideas came to the fore. Philosophers proclaimed that goodness is superior to wealth or power. Jesus taught that the last shall be first, and the first last and that the meek will inherit the earth. Succeeding the military conqueror was the "prince of peace". Originally applied to Solomon who followed the warlike David, this title was later applied to Jesus as Messiah. Also, two Roman emperors were princes of peace: Augustus pulled back to a more defensible border at the Danube river after the disastrous defeat at Teutoburg forest in 9 A.D. Likewise, Hadrian set the empire's boundaries at the Euphrates river after Trajan's unsuccessful attempts to reconquer land from the Parthians.

Civilization II:

(a) The early Christians were pacifists. Jesus offered no resistance to his captors. Christians at first refused to serve in Rome's imperial armies. But as Christianity became accepted within the Roman empire, Christians joined the army. Frankish kings gave the church territories in Italy which needed to be defended by force. Pope Urban II launched a new era in religious warfare when, in 1095 A.D., he gave his blessing to a Christian crusade to recapture the Holy Land from the Moslems. Religious warfare between Moslems and Hindus and even between Christians and Buddhists (in Japan) characterized the closing phase of this epoch. The ideal of peace had given way to that of war.

(b) Influenced by Plato's philosophy, early Christianity valued "things unseen" above those which could be seen. The body was evil; mind was good. Poverty was also a virtue. As the church gained worldly stature, it became wealthy. Churches were adorned with beautiful art. Massive cathedrals were built in 13th century France. Renaissance art joined forces with Christianity in the costly project to rebuild St. Peter's church - quite a thing to be seen.

Civilization III:

(a) Renaissance art is characterized by solid, round shapes that suggest palpable objects. Beauty lies in the perfected form of objects. By contrast, at the end of the third epoch the culture had become highly fragmented. Impressionist art did not attempt to depict form or shape but instead created the photographic impression of a scene from scattered dabs of paint. The disjointed forms of Picasso, atonal music of Stravinsky, Dada, objects trouve, etc., along with newly invented crossword puzzles, constituted a culture that was without cohesion or even coherence. This culture was without beauty in a traditional sense. Carl Jung compared it with the lacerated thought patterns of schizophrenic patients. A slogan at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis sums up the new ideal: "Bits & pieces put together to present the semblance of a whole." There can be no integrated whole.

(b) The European nation-state was in the ascendancy in late Renaissance times. One thinks of the trio of strong monarchs during the early 16th century: Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, and Charles V of Germany, Austria, and Spain. In addition, Suleiman the Magnificent ruled the Ottoman empire and Akbar the Great ruled India. At the end of this epoch, the institution of the national monarchy was dealt a death blow as Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia were removed from their thrones and replaced by democratic or socialist regimes. The Ottoman empire in Turkey was replaced by a democratic state.

(c) The third epoch of world history is characterized by the pursuit of wealth. European adventurers invaded the Americas in search of gold, enslaving Indians and Africans. Commercial colonies were formed in North America. Industrialization created new wealth. There was a reaction to this wealth in its waning days as labor unions were formed to oppose the owners of wealth. The antislavery movement reasserted human rights above the right to own people. Money was put in its place.

(d) The third epoch began with Europeans asserting control over peoples in other parts of the world. First, they overthrew the Aztec and Inca empires and colonized sparsely populated areas of North America. Later, Britain imposed colonial rule upon India. The European powers won trade concessions in China and carved up equatorial Africa as colonies. The 20th century, on the other hand, was a time when the European powers relinquished their colonies in Asia and Africa. Gandhi struggled for Indian independence. Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh brought independent rule to their nations under the auspices of communism.

Civilization IV:

(a) The entertainment culture began as fun - an unserious and safe activity suitable for children. This culture ends as big business seeking to protect its intellectual property and media conglomerates exploiting children by appealing to their violent instincts. The entertainment media have trivialized political discussions and, to pay for television commercials, forced politicians to seek money from special interests. This destructive side of the entertainment media overshadows its regenerative side.

(b) In the early 19th century, white Americans ridiculed blacks by supporting entertainment routines such as the "Jim Crow" ditty and blackface minstrel shows. In the mid 20th century, black entertainers gained respect as black athletes competed successfully with whites in professional sports and singers such as Elvis Presley appropriated black musical styles. By the late 20th century, political correctness ruled. Dramas portraying conflict between black and white Americans have usually put blacks in a positive role and reserved the villainous roles for whites.

(6) The arrival of a new civilization also affects institutions that were dominant two epochs earlier. Such institutions undergo a democratizing process.

Prehistory and Civilization II: In a preliterate culture, hereditary priesthoods preside over ritual-based religions through memorized formulae. In time, these priesthoods can develop a self-interest at variance with the interest of the larger community. Civilization II brought a reform of religion. Creeds and ideals became more important than ritual. Also, the priests of the new religions were selected from a broader segment of the population. The priestly positions were not hereditary but were, instead, based on meritorious or bureaucratic appointment. Buddha forcefully challenged the position of the Brahmin priests. He said: "No Brahman is such by birth; a Brahman is such by his deeds." The Buddhist monasteries admitted both men and women, persons of low as well as high birth. Likewise, Christianity allowed persons of low birth to rise in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, Jewish priests had come from the tribe of Levi.

Civilization I and Civilization III: Imperial government was the dominant institution of Civilization I. In the third epoch of history, government underwent a democratizing process as commercial interests asserted their power in society. Democratic political revolutions occurred in England in the 17th century, in America and France in the late 18th century, and in Russia and China in the 20th century. Democracy replaced the hereditary basis of government leadership with a process of selection based on elections or bureaucratic promotions. Top government positions became open to persons of low birth. Abraham Lincoln was a symbol of that.

Civilization II and Civilization IV: The dominant institution of Civilization II was that of world religion: the church. How is organized religion democratized in the entertainment age? Some previously closed religious hierarchies have opened themselves to the ordination of women. Religion was a base of support for the black Civil Rights movement in the United States. Televangelist Billy Graham desegregated his rallies. American entertainment has provided opportunities for blacks and women.

Civilization III and Civilization V: The newly emergent, dominant institutions of Civilization III were commercial and educational institutions. Although we do not know what the fifth epoch of world history will bring, we can speculate upon the impact of computers. With respect to commerce, we know that business activity is strongly influenced by E-commerce. There is, indeed, a democratizing effect because the Internet lets merchants succeed without much capital investment. Anyone with a good idea and sound execution can succeed in selling products. Internet-related companies have created instant millionaires. With respect to education, the computer can create courses that will allow students to have high-quality, individualized instruction at a low cost. Therefore, all people, regardless of financial capacity, can afford to have a topnotch education - go to the best colleges, so to speak. That being the case, the fact that a person has attended one college rather than another should confer no social advantage. Computerized education will have a democratizing effect.

Perils of Prediction

The science of prediction has a spotty past. Abundant tales show the folly of attempting to foresee how one or another invention might fare in daily life. "Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax," said the eminent British scientist, William Thomson. In 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, took a dim view of television's future. "People will soon get tired to staring at a plywood box every night," he predicted. President Rutherford B. Hayes said of Bell's telephone: "That's an amazing invention but who would ever want to use one of them?" Concurring with that sentiment, a Western Union memo commented: "This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications."

Others took an overly optimistic view of technologies that were emerging in their day. A vacuum cleaner manufacturer predicted in 1955: "Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably become a reality within 10 years." A writer for the Brooklyn Eagle predicted in 1900 that "mail will be delivered to homes in pneumatic tubes." Futuristic scenarios conceived in the 1950s saw masses of people commuting to work in helicopters. On the other hand, there were many important inventions that no one foresaw: microwave ovens, Velcro, TV dinners, laser surgery, air bags, the Internet.

Knowing the future can be valuable if a person is able to position himself or invest his money to take advantage of an emerging trend. Stock-market advisers make a living from keeping abreast of the latest product developments in their area. Thousands of investors anxiously await each month's issue of the Gilder Technology Report. Its web site is jammed when the report is first posted on the Internet. Stock prices quickly shoot up when Gilder makes favorable comments about a technology or a company with products utilizing it. Gilder's own following virtually ensures that. But, of course, the first investors with this information reap the biggest rewards; investment news is soon discounted.

In the mid 19th century, a group of intellectuals clustered around Ralph Waldo Emerson were inspired by the thought that American culture would soon equal or surpass European culture. No one embraced this idea more enthusiastically than Walt Whitman, the poet, who wrote in Democratic Vistas: "I, now, for one, promulge, announcing a native expression-spirit .. for these States ... different from others, more expansive, more rich and free, to be evidenced by original authors and poets to come, by American personalities ... and by native superber tableaux and growths of language, songs, operas, orations, lectures, architecture - and by a sublime and serious Religious Democracy sternly taking command ... and from its own interior and vital principles, reconstructing, democratizing society." What actually came, when American culture triumphed a century later, was popular culture - films rather than operas, rock lyrics rather than poems, vaudeville, cartoons, sitcoms, and other unserious works. Few professed to be creating expressions of democratic culture. Except in the Soviet Union, that kind of thinking was out of date. Whitman could not have anticipated the impact of new communication technologies upon cultural expression.

The most sweeping kinds of prediction have been associated with religion. From time to time religious prophets have appeared to announce that the world would shortly end. William Miller brought thousands of his followers to the hill tops of Massachusetts and New York state to await that event, expected to occur within a year after March 21, 1843. When this period of time had lapsed and all seemed normal, Miller rescheduled the apocalyptic date for October 22, 1844. Its failure to occur was dubbed "the great disappointment". The Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, early Christians, Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate cult, and others have had similar expectations; yet, to date, the world as we have known it through history remains largely intact. It is therefore conceded that attempts to predict ends of the world or any larger course of events will and should be met with considerable skepticism.

In 30 B.C., right after Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium to become undisputed ruler of the Roman empire, an historian might have made several predictions. First, recognizing that a series of warlords (sometimes in partnership) had ruled Roman society for more than a half century, he might have foreseen that the relatively inexperienced Octavian, Julius Caesar's nephew, would eventually lose out to someone else in a power struggle. He might have foreseen that the raging tensions between rich and poor would tear Roman society apart or, perhaps, be resolved in the Senate. None of these things happened. Octavian had unexpected political and administrative skills which allowed him to consolidate power in himself and found Rome's first imperial dynasty. Dynasties of this type lasted in the West until the 5th century A.D. and, in the East, until the 15th century A.D.

The same historian, looking at Rome's position in the world, might have made several other predictions. Recalling that the Persians had conquered the Medes and Babylonians, and that Alexander the Great of Macedon had conquered Persia, and that Rome had conquered the remnants of the Seleucid, Ptolemaic, and Macedonian Greek empires, he might pessimistically have expected that some new political empire would conquer Rome's, perhaps the fierce Parthians to the east. Or, taking a more optimistic view, he might have expected that Rome would conquer the Parthian empire. Neither happened. Rome continued to withstand the Parthians despite centuries of warfare. The Parthians, succeeded by the Sasanid Persians, likewise staved off defeat at the hands of the Romans. Recalling Julius Caesar's successful prosecution of the Gallic wars, this historian might also have expected the Roman empire to expand into barbarian territories to the north and east. This possibility was only partially fulfilled. The Romans did conquer much of Britain and Rumania; however, their attempt to expand eastward into Germany was frustrated when Germanic tribes led by Hermann decimated three Roman legions in a battle fought in 9 A.D. Octavian, now Augustus Caesar, subsequently fixed his empire's eastern boundary at the Danube river.

Rome's ultimate fate was completely off this historian's radar screen. Despite Hermann's victory, it would have been most unlikely that Germanic or other nomadic tribes could overrun the western Roman empire, sack Rome, and establish petty kingdoms throughout western Europe while Roman government would last in the eastern provinces for another thousand years. Even less likely would have been that a religious prophet from Galilee, condemned by action of a Roman proconsul in Judaea and executed for blasphemy sixty years later, would come to be worshiped as "Son of God"; and that his cult, after centuries of persecution, would first claim a sizable share of Rome's population and then become Rome's state religion; and that the new religion of Christianity would provide the cultural matrix for post-Roman society, converting Rome's nomadic conquerors, and then spread into lands throughout the earth. World religion as a successor to political empire would have been most inconceivable.

Fifteen hundred years later, the possibility of religious empire was plainly seen. Militant Christians who had expelled the Moors from the Iberian peninsula were eager to win new souls for Christ. Alexander VI had issued a papal bull in 1493 dividing the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Spain and Portugal on condition that they convert the people of those lands to Christianity. A plausible scenario, given Europe's destined expansion of influence, was that the Roman church would eventually rule the entire world. It did not happen. Although Jesuit priests supported by the Spanish and Portuguese colonial governments converted the native peoples of Latin America to the Roman Catholic religion, similar efforts in the Far East failed when the Chinese and Japanese governments expelled Christian missionaries in the 17th century. Europe itself became religiously divided during the period of the Protestant Reformation. Despite the Pope's declaration, the French, Dutch, and English colonized North America; they seemed more interested in obtaining commercial advantages than in spreading the Christian religion. The times were turning away from religious ambition and instead embracing such things as commerce, science and technology, literature and music.

So it would seem that would-be predictors of the larger trends would consistently have been frustrated had they foreseen world history as a logical progression from things in the past. New institutions and new sets of concerns arise to replace those known in the past; and it seems that the future will gravitate more towards what has never been than what was. Of what use, then, is history in predicting the future?

All we can say is that history is our main source of knowledge about how the world works in concrete situations. Political leaders charged with making important decisions often let historical analogies guide their decision making process. For instance, Harry Truman wrote in his autobiography that he saw a parallel between the Congressional "Committee on the Conduct of War" established during the U.S. Civil War, which became a center of espionage for the Confederacy, and a similar investigating committee which he chaired during World War II. He therefore took extra precautions to make sure that this committee did not leak valuable information to the Nazis. "Almost all current events in the affairs of governments and nations have their parallels and precedents in the past," Truman wrote. "I know of no surer way to get a solid foundation in political science and public administration than to study the histories of past administrations."

General Jakabu Gowan, Nigeria's head of state during the war with secessionist Biafra, had read Carl Sandberg's four-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. Identifying his own cause with that of the North, Gowan told reporters that he could recognize the "Shermans" and the "Grants" among his commanders. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler was mistakenly encouraged by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death to hope that the Allies might relax their military pressure upon his crumbling nation because his hero, Frederick the Great of Prussia, had been rescued from probable defeat when Russian armies pulled back following the death of Catherine the Great. Such analogies may or may not follow through.

To predict history on the broadest level we cannot rely upon any particular set of events proceeding from the present situation but only on general expectations based on the nature of human societies like the following: What goes up usually comes down. What is born dies. People fight for rank and position. Powerful interest groups try to protect their own turf. These are some of the "lessons" to be drawn from past history. On the positive side, the new is youthful and vigorous and creative, but also unpredictable. One must make allowance for unexpected paradigm shifts. Future history will frustrate our best efforts to project a certain vision unless, perhaps, we ourselves participate in the fulfilling events.

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