The Cyclical Nature of History, according to Anthony Burgess in the Light of the Augustinian–Pelagian Dichotomy of The Wanting Seed


  • Zsolt Czigányik Eötvös Loránd University
  • Judit Bánházi Eötvös Loránd University



The interpretation of time has been a challenge to philosophers, writers, and common people alike since the dawn of mankind, more precisely, since the appearance of ancient, natural religions. This paper, after giving an overview of the various responses in the history of philosophy to the challenge of the concept of time since Augustine and Averroës, analyses the circular notion of history expounded in Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel, The Wanting Seed. Linear time, the roots of which are found in both Antiquity and Judeo-Christian religious texts such as the Bible, is mainly the prerogative of “modern man,” whilst circularity is more engraved in the (sub)conscious of natural religions, “primitive societies,” as Mircea Eliade calls them. In Burgess’s book the protagonist, a fictive teacher describes a view of history in cycles that change according to the anthropological aspects of the dominant ideology. The holders of power may either view their citizens optimistically as essentially good-willing and obedient, or through the lenses of Augustinian pessimism. The novel demonstrates through quick changes in the approaches of the governing groups how the lives of individuals are influenced by such changes, while the paper investigates how human freedom is impacted through a cyclical, hence deterministic view of history. The paper examines the central question whether the circular, paradoxical historical pattern described in The Wanting Seed, which deletes most opportunities for human freedom, free will and progress, can be called history at all.