The 50-year Cycle of Political Violence Strikes Again

Peter Turchin


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Over the past weekend France has been rocked by “the worst urban riot in 50 years” (see reporting by Reuters, DW).

Indeed the previous comparable outbreak of political violence in France was in May 1968, almost precisely 50 years ago. (As a reminder, I define “political violence” as internal collective conflict that occupies the middle territory between individual-on-individual violence (crime) and interstate wars.)

Although most historians disagree with the idea that there are cycles in history (at best, it rhymes), our cliodynamic research has identified a number of periodic processes in historical dynamics. And one of them is the 50-year cycle in political violence (see a previous post on this topic). This cycle doesn’t need to be very precise—in historical data the cycle periods can vary anywhere between 40 and 60 years. But sometimes it strikes with eerie precision, like what we see today in Paris.

In the United States we also see this cycle, which resulted in spikes of political violence spaced almost precisely 50 years apart: late 1960s–early 1970s, circa 1920, and in the 1860s–early 1870s (see my book Ages of Discord for details). It is one of the reasons for my prediction that we will experience a peak of political violence in the early 2020s. (But not the only one: even more important are such factors as intraelite conflict and popular immiseration. Also, that prediction was made 10 years ago, and the way political unrest has been developing here hints that we may have this spike arrive “before it is scheduled”).

Returning to the political turmoil in France, if my reading of the situation is correct, we haven’t seen the peak yet. It’s interesting that a Reuters article, published last Spring on the 50-year anniversary of the May 1968 riots, concluded that French mood [is] far from revolutionary despite lingering May ’68 spirit. Strangely enough, the article argued that the current economic malaise affecting France (for example, expressed in high unemployment rate) was an argument against the willingness of the French to protest against the government. In the Structural-Demographic Theory, however, popular immiseration is instead one of the factors driving mass-mobilization potential, and therefore the social pressures for instability.

A very interesting question is what level the structural-demographic pressures for instability have reached in France. Unlike with the US, I haven’t run the numbers, so I can’t answer this question currently (and not for a while, as I will be wrapped up with the analysis of Seshat data and with models based on these data). But that will really determine whether political instability spreads, or dies out.

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Rick Derris

Peter, do you have any thoughts on how term limits could act as a release valve for intra-elite competition? Requiring political elites to step down would allow more elite aspirants to move into elected positions and could reduce intra-elite competition (albeit to a small degree).

If two terms (8 years) was good enough for George Washington then two terms in the Senate and 8 years in the House should be good enough for anyone else. The limits can also apply to the judiciary. The basis for lifetime appointments was to remove judges from the political process and an appointment limit would not alter that.

Ross Hartshorn

Rob, you’ll find Peter Turchin’s analysis of the USA situation in his book “Age of Discord”, in great detail. Long story short, we may be in for a bumpy next few years.

Rick Derris, interesting point on term limits. Another thing that comes to mind is that, the more important decisions are made at the state and local level, the more important positions there are. If all important decisions are made at the federal level, then you have of necessity fewer positions. Some states don’t even pay their state legislators enough for it to be their primary career.

One thing I am pondering is whether or not “electoral revolt” can function as a substitute for political violence. If the most important impact of political violence is to convince the elite that they need to rebalance the income distribution, etc., then perhaps a sufficiently alarming electoral result could do the same. Even if the people elected are not great, if they are voted out again in a few years in favor of members of the old elite who are sufficiently alarmed to work harder at popular immiseration, etc. then it could be a way to get back to the first part of the cycle without having to have a lot of bloodshed in between.

But, this would require that an outrageous electoral result is sufficiently alarming to the elite to get them to change their priorities, and that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

Edward Turner

John Lichfield believes the bulk of the rioters were provincials in their 20s and 30s.

ANALYSIS: The savage violence in Paris was not a protest, it was an insurrection

//At least 70 per cent, by my reckoning, were not urban guerrillas from the ultra-right or from the anarchist left. They were amateur provincial guerrillas. They came from the radical parts of the gilets jaunes movement in suffering areas of northern or western France or from the outer Paris suburbs. They were mostly men in their 20s and 30s but there were many older men and some women.

There were certainly Paris-based politically-driven thugs of extreme left and right at the heart of the violence. I overheard one group who were speaking in Italian.

But the overwhelming majority of the yellow vests who hurled paving stones at the police or overturned and burned cars were from the French provinces. Of the 287 people arrested on Saturday, two thirds were from outside Paris.//

Peter van den Engel

The 68 riots were mostly done by students, in conjunction with labor dissatisfaction not protesting in the streets. At the time also universities were occupied.
This time the yellow vest protests started from outside Paris, so this is a concentration of the same protest. From your description mostly involving unemployment in relation to low compensation. They are very generous about pensions, even from 55, but very stingy about unemployment benefits
Of course without a job the good old striking method does not work anymore.
It could be an idea to lever that/ but would couse new protests.
It might be they will find a cause to chop a few heads in the current political elite, to show they are taking things serious and lower the pressure.



Thanks for the updates. When can you run the number predictions for the USA? Could you build a timeline for estimated events and when they could occur? (what level the structural-demographic pressures for instability)


Also, that prediction was made 10 years ago, and the way political unrest has been developing here hints that we may have this spike arrive “before it is scheduled”).”

Yeah, that is the optimistic reading of the data. There is also the possibility that the peak of political violence will simply be much higher.

Vladimir Dinets

Or the peak will be simply prolonged. But you have to keep in mind that successive US governments have been busy redistributing wealth from the young to the old, so the most immiserated people are just beginning to enter politics – as well as militia groups and various activist organizations. For that reason alone it’s very likely that the worst instability is yet to come.

Ross Hartshorn

…I mean, “work harder at _reversing_ popular immiseration”, sorry.


Whatever “too much” means in this context. Recently someone won elctions in Brazil critizing Pinochet for not killing enough people. Seriously, as a societly polarizes and drifts into a crisis perceptions change on bloodshed (otherwise it wouldn’t happen).

As one cause of the crises is intra-elite competition and elite overproduction, I am very pessimistic about the elites doing the right thing. Even if a majority of the elites would want to do the right thing, there’ll be enough elite aspirants willing to add fuel to the fire to further their careers as it will be their only chance for having an elite career. Morever, it is not at all obvious what the right thing would be.

What do you think is the right thing for elites to do in France now?

Do you have any historical examples of elites doing the right thing and thereby avoiding bloodshed in the type of crises we are facing? If so, what was the right thing?

I’ve read your books. I am aware of the factors feeding the crisis, but how do you stop elite overproduction? How do you abolish youth unemployment? How do you prevent a fiscal crisis of an indebted government?

Peter van den Engel

Youth unemployment by creating new work; which the commercial sector cannot deliver anymore; and higher mobilty.
Fiscal debt is (by standards of MMT) no longer relevant since it is presented as an asset.

I guess the struggle will be about who gets a say in central bank spending, since this is not a democratic process right now.
There will be new emerging political groups (also locally) or parties.
I think what has already started in Italy will start spreading over the rest of Europe, perhaps first in France.

Richard Tung

Indeed, there is a historical example of American elites doing the right thing and thereby avoiding (major) bloodshed (at home):

“The October 1944 edition of Fortune magazine carried an article by a corporate executive that makes for amazing reading today. It was written by William B. Benton — a co-founder of the Benton & Bowles ad agency — and an editor’s note explained that Benton was speaking not just for himself but on behalf of a major corporate lobbying group. The article then laid out a vision for American prosperity after World War II.
At the time, almost nobody took postwar prosperity for granted. The world had just endured 15 years of depression and war. Many Americans were worried that the end of wartime production, combined with the return of job-seeking soldiers, would plunge the economy into a new slump.
“Today victory is our purpose,” Benton wrote. “Tomorrow our goal will be jobs, peacetime production, high living standards and opportunity.” That goal, he wrote, depended on American businesses accepting “necessary and appropriate government regulation,” as well as labor unions. It depended on companies not earning their profits “at the expense of the welfare of the community.” It depended on rising wages.
These leftist-sounding ideas weren’t based on altruism. The Great Depression and the rise of European fascism had scared American executives. Many had come to believe that unrestrained capitalism was dangerous — to everyone. The headline on Benton’s article was, “The Economics of a Free Society.”

Note what it took for American elites to value asabiyyah and the general welfare over individual profit and power however:
A massive Great Depression that wrecked economies and led to huge unemployment throughout the Western world (and discredited laissez-faire capitalism) as well as fascist movements that destroyed Europe and a hugely destructive world war where the US was fighting to ensure the survival of the free world.

Juan Urich

Peter as off today how far an order (significant delays) can your NLTSM model predict in a time series in order to estimate the PRCF. beyond (t-2).
Regards Juan Urich

Ysolda Dee

This fifty-year-cycle is intriguing. It made me think of the year of jubilee in book Bible. Each fiftieth year, prisoners had to be released, freedom had to be proclaimed and every man returned to his clan and his property. In other words: social justice, redistribution of wealth, freedom.

Now the “god” character in Bible is certainly not someone who loves mankind, or would want them free. Reading your article, I couldn’t help thinking that the idea of the year of jubilee – every 50 years – might have been brought up by the priests and writers, most probably to keep their people from rebelling against them.

1968 it was so much about “freedom”.
2018 it seems to be so much about one’s “property” and social justice.

Thank you so much Peter Turchin for bringing such an important issue to my mind. Food for thought! I find your article highly enlightening.

J. Daniel

What are the elite factions that are competing with each other in the US in recent years? I think it would be oversimplifying to simply cite the two major political parties. The parties are simply uneasy alliances of convenience of various elite fragments.
To give a partial answer to my own question, I’d call evangelical leaders an important faction. I know that in Ages of Discord the US elite is characterized economically as the wealthy, and the example given of a country in which the elite are predominantly religious is Iran. But maybe the US is a little closer to Iran than we think. Just one thought about the overall question, “What are the competing elite fragments in the US?”


The 2 main political parties are just ‘political theater’, making most people believe that they have a choice. They don’t. Both parties work together and for the different elite factions/Cartels. Elites, the real money people, they have the power, culture and language. “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.” – George Carlin. Watch the Dan Peña movie.


Peter Turchin writes: “Although most historians disagree with the idea that there are cycles in history. . .”

Do you have any idea why that is the case? Is it ideological, is there some kind of scientific rationale for it, or are historians just afraid to make predictions (because they might be wrong)?

I would imagine that “no cycles” in history would free us from the notion of a wrong way to run a railroad and a right way to run a railroad, as well as free scholars for having to formulate a coherent (and verifiable) model of historical trends.

Loren Petrich

I think that it is because of failures of previous theories of cycles of history. Theories like Arnold Toynbee’s theories, theories that often seem hopelessly contrived.

That also applies to overall theories of history more generally — they often look very contrived.

It seems to me that the failures of such overall theories is why many historians confine themselves to low-level theorizing whenever they theorize. Thus making history not much more than stamp collecting.

Edward Turner

Also, there’s a difference between understanding people and understanding systems. People who end up calling themselves historians often want to understand people, their relationships and tell stories about them. When we read their books we consider the experiences of the historical actors in light of our own experiences.

Scientists who want to understand systems mostly ignore the people and their relationships and emphasise the changing data and relationships between datapoints. The two camps are on different frequencies.

The funny thing is that the historical cycle is the ultimate grand narrative (that is rise and fall, or rise and fall and rise) that seems to be fractal – that is, it occurs at all timescales, over all spaces. It could also be that ever-present but often slipping away as you soon as you get closer reality of these cycles also put off historians who are not happy sifting through and analysing statistical datasets, preferring to strive for the definitive interpretation.

I haven’t looked into Arnold Toynbee’s theories (reference for his key work would be appreciated) but he may have been unique in being a specialist historian interested in cycles. The mid-20th century cycle theorists seem to have been non-specialist historians.

e.g. like John Bagot Glubb

Or – Carol Quigley.

//The golden age is really the glow of overripeness, and soon decline begins. When it becomes evident, we pass from Stage 5 (Universal Empire) to Stage 6 (Decay). The Stage of Decay is a period of acute economic depression, declining standards of living, civil wars between the various vested interests, and growing illiteracy. Vain efforts are made to stop the wastage by legislation. But the decline continues. The religious, intellectual, social, and political levels of the society begin to lose the allegiance of the masses of the people on a large scale. New religious movements begin to sweep over the society. There is a growing reluctance to fight for the society or even to support it by paying taxes.// p. 159

When was it written, 1961?

(to read e.g. from page 146 is interesting)

True Fezer Wolff

@ Richard Tung on whether elites ever do the right thing: There are some, but the majority do not want to heed them. To wit:

In 2014 Nick Hanauer published the following:
He warned that the 90% would rise up against the elites.
The predictable denial came in Forbes Magazine, which called Hanauer’s position ignorant.

Much earlier, in 1998, Richard Rorty published “Achieving Our Country” in which he gave similar dire warnings to the elites. The silence was deafening.

And then there was Thomas Frank’s “Listen, Liberal!” which was dismissed/ignored, until after the 2016 election.

It almost seems as if the fifty-year cycle has an inevitability…


“There are some, but the majority do not want to heed them.”
. . .yet.

It took the scare of Communism, a Great Depression, rise of fascism in Europe, and a World War last time to get Western elites to abandon anything-goes capitalism and value the general welfare.

That then led to the Trente Glorieuses.
The good news is that the decades after the 2020’s will likely be amazing for Americans. But we have to get through a rough patch ahead.

Steve H.

> A follow-up on the reasons for prime age labor force non-participation

it turns out that the prime decade driving the increase in non-participation is the 25-34 age group

among the 25-34 age group, the biggest jump in the reason for non-participation was education.

Peter van den Engel

Yes, it implies a parallel between an expansion over time in more people taking higher education/ and a decrease in labor offering over the same time period.
Resulting in relative devaluation of college degree, still wanting to enter the same labor market.
However, than overall unemployment would remain the same.
Supposing anybody doing unskilled labor would still be able to find a job in the first period/ but now not anymore, since it has been outsourced.
Hence outsourcing and labor cost inflation is the real reason/ and not just education, athough that graph shows the same essential.

Mateus D.

The 50 year cycles must have much to do with the fathers-sons cycle Peter described in his books. Essentially they are linked to human reproductive ages.

Loren Petrich

Two different names for the same kind of cycle. I call it the two-generation cycle. It’s alternations of generations that fight and generations that don’t fight.

Peter van den Engel

Yes I think it is. The 68 revolution was back reacting to the previous one and the same thing is happening now.
In both cases it demands a new freedom, which is not parallel to the previous rulings of its parents.
In my theory it would mean an evolution of efficiency reaches its highpoint after about 50 years; its learning period/ but at the same time becomes imparallel to previous accepted norms, or set rulings like in the state of law.
However this also depends on the type of evolution.

In this case it is very predictable, since it concerns material labor in the economy getting more efficient while it spreads over the globe.
The previous cycle had much more to do with ideals wanting to express themselves after the second world war resulting in a.o. the sexual revolution and never war agian. Love and peace.


I’m french. I have watched my country slowly collapsing for years.
I can tell you that the “unemployment” is just a narrative used mainly by the government and the press to explain the situation but it’s far more complex.
Yes, underemployment is a factor, but, here, we protest against very HIGH level of taxes and technocratic complexity. Running an company here is a hell. More over, the more we pay, the less we have in return. More and more money is spended on maintaining europe, immigration, paying to many public employees, journalists, and so on …
We also have an islamisation problem because we have the first “community” of muslin in europe. Everybody have heard about the Bataclan, but the day by day situation is a nighmare. Them whom we call “chance pour la France” throw stone at policemen, firemen, and even medicals on a daily basis. They stab us with knives for no reasons. But the national press keep hiding the situation. (you could ask how I know the situation : it’s not entirely hidden).

That are the real problem in France. And the yellow jacket, I think, is just the beginning.

Mateus D.

You are wrong about islamisation. In Brazil we have even more violence on the streets, and it is not about religion, immigration, ethnic minorities, etc – It is about people disenfranchised from basic living standards in the society. So, brazilians killing brazilians every day on the streets. In Europe and elsewhere it is a sad issue that the disenfranchised are muslim, so this violence becomes labeled and justified, by those who suffer and those who carry it out.


France is not Brazil.

Mateus D.

General patterns exist.

Cockshott brought me here

Oh, we also get the xenophobic and racist schmuck.


yoananda, the problems you mention are hardly new. The protests are. So what has changed?

I agree that you have an islamisation and immigration problem, but a solid majority of French citizens does not think so. Otherwise they would have voted for LePen instead of Macron. Why do you think did so many change their mind?

Peter van den Engel

It is quite common in France to point out just before the final elections it has never hapened an opposition party won the elections. So all of a sudden everybody starts voting strategicly.
She was leading the votes before the final elections.
So, it’s the result of mass psychology manipulation. Since the media are controled by the establishment elite.

keo nha cai

Leonardo lived as part of his own measured rhythm, and constantly cared about
the standard of his paintings completely ignoring the time it takes to achieve the task.
in April 22, 1560, he said:” Your Majesty, you’re invincible and contain the world in awe. The beginning of Leonardo’s life was committed to art and painting in particular.


Congratulations on an accurate prediction by your theory. Hopefully, the more such predictions are borne out, the more people will pay attention to SDT.

Peter van den Engel

Yes there are very clear overall parallels in all cultures, whether it is France, Brasil or any other.
It can be described as a lower class suffering from a combination of low income (unemployment is just the extended description of the same problem), or high debt which represents the same problem in an inverted sense.
Confronted with higher costs of living; represented also by raising taxes, or the confrontation of social inequallity as such. Which is a constant.

Because, when politicians decide to solve certain problems (like by raising taxes); without desrcribing which ones these are, nor disclosing it is not benefitting them personally/ results in expanding the same problem/ in stead of solving it, naturally the population of the commons will react to that. In the sense that they are right/ and their politicians are wrong of course.

Actually this emerges the core problem, which is the financial system itself is misunderstood in general, because it does exactly the opposite of what one tries to do.
Given the presumption also politicians are really trying to solve problems consciously.

The effect of it is that the failure of understanding its function/ is inmediately connected to the personal disfunction of the titel involved, meaning he or she should go. As a former elite.

Although not all cultures translate this in the same way. Some take a self initiative, others just protest and again others believe it is probably part of their constitution, their natural biotope.

This describes how the equation leads to behavorial patterns in society, containing oppositions.

So the momentum (differential) question of its future is, whether the elite will find a solution timely/ or nevertheless succeeds in surpressing the people – against whether a new elite which emerged from the protests, is able to understand the problem correctly, since they only understood protesting.
There are four different outcomes possible, including that both the current elite and a new one could not have understood the problem correctly/ or that again both might have understood the problem correctly, including the fifrh factor whether this was timely or not. That’s why I am calling it evolutionary quantum mechanics.

So, you see there is an evolurion possible containing partial solitions, leaning towards better or worse, without even solving the real problem, nor leading to a final end conclusion.
What it alway does though is buy more time and reach some kind of equilibrium anyway.


Except that muslims are not “people disenfranchised from basic living standards in the society”. Far from it. It’s not comparable with Brasil and favelas. The poorest in France leave in Ariège, Corèze and so on and not in cities (banlieues) with all the universities, hospital and jobs nearby. And they don’t burn cars.
Yes there are “parallels” : religion is cause of war. It’s old as history itself.
(and for the NPC : islam is not a race).

Peter van den Engel

Yes the immigrant problem overlapping all of that is a seperate one. My defenition so far is that muslims stem from a very old nomad belief system especially focussed on strict behavioral aspects/ not willing to respect other laws, like that money can also create elite rulers in power without any respect for their behavioral laws.
So, it is a culture clash going back to the Romans occupying Byzanthium; their empire; and the crusades.
I cannot see a quick solution to that.
Apart from a more defined discussion about what these behavioral aspects actually mean and that money by creating selfish rulers also is not a good solution.


Yoananda, Islam is not a race. But anti-islamism is racism. Brown non-Muslims get attacked and criticised, but white, male Muslims are ignored and praised.

Mateus D.

It´s not about being poor in Brazil. Please stop this line of thought that people there commit crimes “to buy a piece of bread”. So yes it´s obviously just like France, not the poorest being criminals, but yes those who are willing to go overboard since they feel left out of the society. Maybe you could imagine what it is like to be born in a place and being told your whole life by others that you don´t belong there…


@Matheus D.
thank you for this intelligent response.
And Yes, that’s what I am talking about : Islam. Islam says to muslims that they are apart, that they don’t belong “here” (in a country full of non believers). And that they are the best communities, that they have the true religion, and so on. I read the Quran and studied islam for year. And I discussed a lot with muslim too.
Asiatics are well fit in in France : they are in their communities, they came from poor countries, they suffer racist jokes like any other (French have racist joke for every people in the world), they have hard time to get jobs (like french coming from poor region of France). Everyone has to work to be accepted by the other. Everyone (including french).
But they do not have Islam. The do not burn cars. They are well accepted.
I’m not saying that Islam is THE only factor. I’m saying, it’s A factor. An important one that cannot being dismissed because a politician or an imam on TV says “it’s a religion of peace”.

Mateus D.

Thanks for the answer. I think we can agree that there is no such thing as a “religion of peace”!
I just don´t believe that Islam is such an important factor, contrary to what is commonly accepted. But maybe this is a futile discussion – it is a spark for conflict, but how important is the spark?
Regarding the differences of East Asian and Muslim communities, I believe that the conflict is gaining more ground with the latter because of the increase in political representation. Also there is an ongoing global conflict between Christian and Muslim communities. Would the chinese community in France be still if there were an open war between the EU and China?


@Matheus D.
You are probably an anglo-saxon and you live in a country where communautarism is culturally well accepted. In France, it’s very different. What could work in anglo-countries may not work as well in France, because of our mentality and political system, where communities are not recognized, neither by the state, neither by the people.
On top of that there, even if there is not a open war between french and muslim there are many historical memories : crusades, colonialism. We have in France the first jew community, so the palestinian cause (and conflict) is very present in minds here.
Islam can fit relatively well in anglo countries (because they don’t mix much), but it cannot in France.
So we can say that the burden is shared between french and muslim, but french, as far as I know, where previous inhabitant of France.
And that’s all the problem : muslims do not want to leave by our rules (we have statistics on that) because islam is not compatible with our way of live (on religious and cultural level)



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