While thinking on Voltaire, it struck me that many of the broad themes he comments on would be the same if he were writing in modern society. This prompted the thought: “What if history really does just repeat? Different people, same issues.”
One of the problems here is that there may be striking similarities over time and space, but no two events are exactly alike. And, despite the oft quoted mantra, history can not provide all the answers for the future, just helpful suggestions, but I digress.
When it comes to social ills, be they religious, racial, economic, nationalistic, or other in nature, there are two reasons that these appear cyclical: human nature and inextricably linked and that they were never truly resolved. They are inextricably linked and there may never be an answer or solution. Remember: for all of its glory and majesty, utopia, by definition, can never exist.
So many ills are common throughout all time that they can only be lain at the feet of human nature. Jealousy, fear, ambition, et al. provide inspiration for so many events, both good and ill in the world. Further, for many repeated issues, especially in religious and ethnic issues, they are little more than unsolved issues.
These combined provide the the appearance that history is cyclical. In many ways repetitive and certainly there is value in history, but it is anything but cyclical.