A Foucault pendulum at the North Pole: The pendulum swings in the same plane as the Earth rotates beneath it.
In the same way, social forces and popular beliefs sometimes swing back and forth. One generation is conservative. The next generation is liberal. Then the next generation is conservative.
The "pendulum theory" is based on the idea that some ideology or belief system is adopted and put into effect with high hopes, the people who do it are convinced that this will create a new age of peace, prosperity, freedom, whatever. But in practice there are always flaws.
So some time later people see the flaws and failures and reject the basic ideology. And so they try some opposite extreme, thinking THIS is the real answer. But of course that turns out to be less than perfect also. So people react against that, they now see the advantages of the previous system, and society goes in the opposite direction.
And so it swings back and forth, like a pendulum. For example, America in the s embraced free market capitalism. For a while it seemed like things were going great. The economy was booming, there were plenty of jobs, the stock market was going up and up, etc. Then in the s the Great Depression hit.
Many blamed it -- rightly or wrongly, I don't want to get into that here -- on flaws in capitalism. And so the country turned to socialism.
Many socialist programs were enacted, government expanded, etc. While there were many programs to help the poor, the economy didn't really recover. Plus in World War 2 people saw really bad examples of government-controlled economies in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. So in the s people turned back to capitalism.
In the s the country turned to a more middle ground.
In the s back to the right. In the s more to the middle. In the s kind of muddled. In the s sharply left. The pendulum swings back and forth. I'm sure people will disagree with some of my characterizations above.
But that's how at least some people see it.The idiom refers to the inevitable return of the pendulum to center or rest, in doing so it moves past center in the other direction, only briefly reaching center or the point of rest.
A "Pendulum Swing" refers to the typically equal but opposite reaction to some event, organization, political party etc.
Philosophy, May , Arkansas State University. The author's undergraduate coursework on epistemology, theory of mind formation, and the philosophy of psychology, combined with more recent studies of cognitive science and criminology, inform his beliefs about human cognition.
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