I was meaning to write a profound and incendiary blog post today about something I recently learned of called The Tytler Cycle, but in my research, I came across an article written by John Eberhard and posted on I don’t know anything about the author or the website it came from, but this essay is fascinating and communicates some of the very things I considered writing about.

Eberhard posted this on 09/15/03, but it seems just as poignant today, if not more so.

Here’s the Wikipedia page on Tytler


Alexander Tytler [was] a Scottish historian who lived at the same time as the American Founding Fathers, [and] described a repeating cycle in history. He had found that societies went through this same cycle again and again, and that the cycle lasted roughly 200 years each time.

Tytler said the cycle starts out with a society in bondage. Then it goes in this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.

Tytler organized these items in a circle:

So to give a little more on the sequence above, a society starts out in bondage, meaning no or very limited freedoms. Now faced with a very difficult situation (bondage), they turn to religion and religious faith. Through this they achieve the courage they need to fight for and win their freedom. Next, through the benefits of freedom, they achieve an abundance in material things.

Now we start into the other side of the circle/cycle. We get selfishness and laziness setting in. Then we get apathy and finally dependence. Then we arrive back up at the top with bondage again.

I was intrigued. I looked for information on Tytler on the Internet, could find none, and finally wrote to Dr. Brooks. [Note: Dr. Shannon Brooks gave a lecture on politics at George Wythe College in Salt Lake City called “The Liber,” which is where Eberhard learned of Tytler.] He told first how to spell Tytler’s name, and told me that most of Tytler’s work has been completely lost. On further online search I found a number of sites with limited information on Tytler, but little more than what Brooks had said in his lecture.

I found this cycle to be very interesting in relation to where we are in the United States today. Dr. Brooks said he has asked the question of where the U.S. is in this cycle, in every one of these lectures he has given, to over 10,000 people to date. No one so far has said that we are on the right side of the cycle (spiritual faith, courage, liberty, abundance). Everyone has said we are somewhere on the left side of the circle (selfishness, complacency, apathy, dependence).

Let’s talk about selfishness for a second. We have a situation in America today where many people are trying to get whatever they can out of the “system,” with no concern of how this hurts the overall group of the United States of America.

Remember JFK’s words at his inauguration speech? “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” You’d be hard pressed to find that sentiment in America today.

You’ve got one third of the US Post Office and the US Printing Office out at any given time on Workers Compensation disability. Does anyone really believe that at any given time, one third of those workers are injured so badly (and injured on the job mind you) so that they are physically unable to work? There are cases documented of federal government employees, for example, going out on disability in 1983, and collecting $5,000 per month for the last twenty years on a completely fraudulent claim. And only now is something being done about some of these cases.

How about all the damage claims cases in the courts? We’ve perhaps lost our incredulity for suits against the tobacco companies. But how about the new crop of suits against the fast food companies because they somehow misled people about the fact that their food is not really that good for you and (horrors) the customers became fat.

Recently a person sued his neighbor because that neighbor’s dog bit him. And he won! Despite the fact that he was in the neighbor’s yard at the time within the reach of the dog who was tied up, and was throwing rocks, antagonizing the dog!

Then we’ve got the welfare class. My mother taught school in the inner city, and would sometimes ask kids what they wanted to do when they grew up. They would sometimes reply, “Get high and get drunk.” These kids’ parents had been on welfare their entire lives and these kids expected to do the same. Why work or learn or achieve anything in class?

Selfishness Crisis

What we have in the U.S. today is a selfishness crisis. And believe me, this did not exist in any way, shape or form 227 years ago.

We have a generation, many of whom are looking for a way to bleed the system to get their “fare share.” We could call them the “entitlement class.” But it goes beyond the welfare class to people with jobs and careers, looking for some way to “cash in” in some way. There are many variations, but the common denominator is people looking for a way to get some kind of a free ride, in a manner in which they did not work for it or earn it.

This reaches even to the tops of corporate America, with the recent bunch of corporate executives and CEOs that had a lapse of ethics and conscience and seem to have forgot such annoying things as laws, in the interest of their own personal fortunes. Enron et al.

I’m not necessarily saying we are at the “selfishness” part of Tytler’s cycle. We might have gone past that point. But we are at least up to that point. And complacency, apathy and dependence are not far behind. You could argue that some people today, such as those who have been on welfare for years, are in the dependence part of the cycle. I know that we had federal welfare reform passed a few years ago and that things are improving somewhat in that zone, but there’s no question that dependency has become a way of life for a certain portion of our citizenry.

And when a people becomes completely dependent, they can be made into slaves. Rather easily.

What Next?

Since learning of this Tytler cycle, hearing the lecture myself and meeting Dr. Brooks, and discussing the issue with friends, I’ve been grappling with the idea that our country may go through a major crisis within the next 30-50 years.

As someone who feels that the United States is without a doubt the best form of government ever seen on this planet, the idea of such a crisis that could lead to what Tytler called “bondage” is very painful.

And yet, we can see the signs. Welfare recipients on the dole for life, people suing others for wacky reasons just so they can “cash in,” state legislators and judges insisting that we must give billions in free benefits to illegal aliens, the concept of personal responsibility becoming a foreign concept, insurance claim fraud accounting for one third of all claims in California – all of these things weaken the group, the group of the USA. These examples penalize the ones who work hard and try to build a society, because these entitllement types are tearing it down. Those who take responsibility are hurt.

So is the cycle inevitable? Are we heading down the drain in the next few years? I wish I had the answer.

But I will say that I don’t believe in the inevitability of our collapse. I don’t think we can believe in it or that it’s sane to believe in it. Otherwise that puts us squarely in the apathy part of the cycle. So I believe we have to assume it’s not inevitable.

We need to educate people on the importance of ethics, of contributing rather than just taking, on insisting that people work for and exchange for what they receive. Only in that way can we reverse this slide. And I believe we can.


17 Replies to “The Tytler Cycle”

  1. m says:

    well, there were two thoughts screaming at me the entire time that i read this article: (one) this tytler guy is a freaking sociological genius, (two) we have just elected a president that campaigned by capitalizing on the left side of the circle, a man that has promised to do things that will help to perpetuate the welfare state…..

    i find this whole theory quite interesting, particularly the part about returning to bondage. the thing that made the USA great in the past was the lack of the government’s involvement in our every day lives, now our nation embraces the idea of a government that does as much as possible for people… we are approaching bondage, bondage to our government, and THAT my friend, is frightening because dependence on a government and on politicians means that we are learning less and less to depend on God.

    Jesus help us.


  2. Carol J. says:

    I must disagree with “M” in the above post. I do not believe that President-elect Barack Obama is promoting the LEFT side of the Tytler circle, but instead the RIGHT. It will take COURAGE to make the changes needed after the downward spiral that encompasses our nation. It will take LIBERTY & openness and of course sharing of ABUNDANCE. It will take time, but millions of people are pinning their hopes on CHANGE. Change not for the select few but for all of us. It will take time & effort on everyone’s part. ..and after 8 years of downhill. Let’s lock arms and get out of this mess!

  3. m says:

    my point is not that the president elect has overtly promoted the left side of the circle, but that his policies create a system of greater dependence on the government by the citizenry, which is the course of the left side of the circle.

    personally, i do not much like the president elect, but i am hopeful that i am wrong about him, because if i am right, then our nation is in for a great deal of change, change that could well be our undoing. ultimately though, i am a firm believer that all rulers and authorities receive their authority from the one true King, so while i can not see it, this man becoming our next president somehow fits into His plan.

    and that plan is where we should all ultimately place our trust…


  4. i’m guessing tytler was a christian, as he speaks about spritual faith (and as just about everyone in scotland in the 19th century was) and i’d be surprised if part of his inspiration for this cycle were not the history of israel in the old testament. one can track it from the bondage of egypt (from which israel was “born” according to exodus… why do you think he puts the start at bondage?), faith in the desert wanderings, courage in joshua, (perhaps a few small-scale cycles during the time of the judges) to liberty in david, abundace in solomon, but then on into selfishness and so down the chain (read the prophets’ indictments of complacency, spiritual apathy, dependence on things NOT God) and ultimately back to bondage in Babylon… then the cycle starts over, with faith in daniel, ezra, courage in nehemiah, esther (beyond this you’ve gotta hit up the apocrypha for specifics) and back up and down the cycle till rome smashes israel in the 1st and 2nd cent. ad.

    anyway, all that to say that i don’t think the “dependence” that tytler meant (maybe i’m wrong) was dependence on the gov’t for welfare. i think the idea is that its the dependence on false gods, the world system, etc. the complacency is not necessarily having to do with people not working (though that’s certainly a big problem) and milking the gov’t, but in complacency towards God. anyway, just my reading of it.

  5. m says:

    it is important to note that when i say “dependence on government” i am not solely referring to welfare dependence. i agree, dependence on false gods, the greatest of which in the usa are money and the government. my thought is that we are quickly adopting this idea that the government can fix our problems, and it can’t.

    i do appreciate your thoughts mr. morrison, and i think that you are correct. it appears that tytler started his model by looking at israel (although, my objectivity could be skued because i recently read rob bell’s book “Jesus wants to save christians”)

    good thoughts all!


  6. josh Allan says:

    Absolutely good thoughts! Thanks for joining the conversation everybody!

    I left out something in the above post that I really meant to include — it’s the prologue for Tytler’s Cycle. Supposedly (no one is sure, but for our purposes, it doesn’t really matter) this is also attributed to Tytler in the same quote as the Cycle:

    A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

    The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: [INSERT CYCLE HERE]

    Assuming that is that context for the Cycle, I think it’s pretty safe to say that he is referencing a dependence on government, although I very much like the parallels to a broader “dependence.” This seems to be a cycle that might reflect the rhythms of humanity in many areas…

    Of course the other important question is, where are WE in the cycle? Like the author, I, too, tend to fear we are at least in the “Selfishness” category, although I can easily see groups of people in every category stretching from Abundance to Dependence in our country.

    What will be our undoing? Is the cycle inevitable?

  7. […] Also, this is all related to the Tytler cycle, I fear. (Check that out here.) […]

  8. Thanks a lot for the acknowledgement Josh Allan. I’ve written 4 articles total about Tytler which people can see here if interested:

  9. Karl Tietze says:

    I’ve only now found this posting but would like to make a couple of comments.
    1. While your comments focus on the U.S.A., Tytler was talking about “civilisations”. One senses the same signs here in Australia too and I wonder if we really should be thinking of what we call “The West” or the civilisation based on the Judeo-Christian values. Since these have been deemed just subjective by a large portion of the public, we must end up in a war of all against all since the only value remaining is public opinion. I suggest reading “The Book that made Your World” by Vishal Mangalwadi which, among other things, points out that the difference between the Eastern world and the once Western world was the trust that a common faith inculcated.
    2. The media focuses on so called “leaders” in a manner that I see as unhealthy and inevitably leading to autocratic rule. It also doesn’t talk about the practicalities of rule – e.g. whether a temporal rulers has any authority to impose “morality” by force. Leaders have been prone to taking unto themselves the power of the almighty but such power actually makes them look pathetic since the deity they so appropriate must be pathetic to require the obeisance of a minuscule creation (c.f. the universe) like a human.

  10. 370H55V says:

    Surprised that in thirteen years no one pointed to Thomas Cole saying the same thing in oils:

  11. bill greene says:

    I discovered Alexander Tytler and his ‘Dismal and Fatal Circle” a few years ago and have referred to it in a book to be published soon. Many writers have grappled with this question concerning the Rise and Fall of Nations Most all point to a cyclical pattern, a gradual rise followed by a leveling and then a decline.

    It makes a difference whether you are talking about a free democratic nation or a despotic autocracy.. China has survived for thousands of years under authoritarian rule. They have had many ups and downs but the autocratic rulers of all types have maintained the nation as a nation all the time. However, that is because one despot follows the last.

    I think Tytler’s theory is directed mostly at free democratic republics which have formed a string of examples from ancient Greece to Rome, to the Renaissance cities and eventually to most of Europe and the British colonies such as America, Canada New Zealand, and Australia–all very successful free nations. The earlier ones did Fall after a few hundred years and the current ones seem to be about to collapse.

    The problem with democratic free people is that once they become greedy, and lose their moral compass, and discover they can vote for goodies and benefits from the government, they bankrupt the nation, lose their initiative and motivation, and the fate of the nation is doomed. However, all those nations somewhat confirm Tyler’s theory of rise and fall. And recently we have seen many other nations adopt the free market and democratic system developed in the West and prosper mightily–Japan, Singapore, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, all re doing well.

    Thus my hypothesis is that free people make very successful nations, because they draw on the contribution of everyone, but their freedom eventually allows the vices of greed, corruption, and selfishness to destroy the free market. And it is the corruption of their elites which feeds this greed and dependency. Our leaders win elections by offering a free lunch to all their supporters, which further erodes many of the peoples’ initiative. The problem is that Homo sapiens does not always act cooperatively or kindly. That is why democracies eventually fall–from the weaknesses of their people. That is why John Adams has been quoted as saying that “democracies like America can only work with a moral and industrious population.”

    What we need is benign dictators–leaders with the best interests of the people and the nation foremost in their enlightened view, but strong enough to resist the weak impulses of those who would cheat or take advantage. Some of those type of leaders oversaw the great success of the Renaissance cities, at least for a while. Sadly, there are few benign leaders because power does seem, sooner or later, to corrupt most Homo sapiens. However, if voters watched their leaders a closely as they watch the refereeing of our sports teams, we might be able to keep thre good times rolling a little longer.

  12. […] tenability of social structures. Notable examples include the Strauss–Howe generational theory, the Tytler cycle, the Kondratiev wave, and the Malthusian crisis. Lying at the heart of these disparate ideas is […]

  13. […] The Tytler Cycle, a hypothesis describing the rise and fall of democracies, consists of eight stages: bondage to spiritual faith, spiritual faith to great courage, great courage to liberty, liberty to abundance, abundance to selfishness, selfishness to complacency, complacency to apathy, apathy to dependence and dependence back to bondage. Davila’s musical took heavy inspiration from the concept.  […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.