I am an amateur student of history. It seems to me that the tension in history can be described as conflicts between conservative and progressive ideas. In using these terms I am for the most part using their traditional definition and the definitions found in dictionaries. The definition I am using for conservative is disposed to preserve existing conditions, institution, etc. and to resist change. For progressive I am using the definition advocating movement toward a specific goal. In short conservative ideas support the status quo, while progressive ideas are for change, but not random change.
What I see as the basic pattern is that a new idea develops that is in conflict with an established idea. This conflict could lead to a synthesis, which is a combination of the old and new. The new idea or synthesis then becomes the new conservative idea and the process is repeated. It also seems to me that this process is gradual. Even when there appears to be a “revolutionary” change it seems to me that the ideas behind the “revolutionary” change were accepted gradually over time. Other times the change is gradually and is not always noticed.
What I think is a good example is the developing of modern democracy. I feel this development started in 17th century England with the English Civil War (1642) and the Glorious Revolution (1689). At first very few of the “demo” (the people) were allowed to vote. Restrictions included those based on gender, amount of property owned, amount of taxes paid, race, religion and so on. Gradually these restrictions were removed until now virtually all adults are allowed to vote in many nations. A very big change occurred shortly after World War I when virtually all women in the United States and in the United Kingdom were given the right to vote. I do not consider the United States and the United Kingdom to be democracies before that time I consider them to have been “pre-democracies.”
The original conservative idea was that the monarch, usually a King, ruled with very little restriction and that the monarch gained that status through birth. The progressive idea was to have the people vote for the officials who controlled the government. With each step toward full democracy the progressive idea eventually became the conservative idea. The final result is that now virtually full voting rights is a conservative idea.