The Fourth Turning
by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Note: The following are notes from the above book. I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite. --Colby Glass
"After years of studying the cycles of American history, we have reached this startling conclusion: America is about to enter an era of crisis, during which it will pass through the next great gate in its history. Within the next few years, the public mood will change starkly and swiftly, and the emergency will climax with something comparable to the Revolution, the Civil War, or World War II" (Strauss & Howe, A Letter to the Reader).
"The conclusions of this book are the a product of a decade-long collaboration between the two historians. They studied the eighteen generations from the first Puritans to today's young children. Their primary discovery was that generations tend to come in cycles of four types" (Strauss & Howe, ALetter to the Reader).
"The cycle of four generations spans the length of a long human life, roughly 80 to 100 years" (Strauss & Howe, 3).
"Many of the ancient peoples recognized this cycle. The Roman name for it was saeculum."
These are the four generations which constitute a saeculum:
|1. A High.
|"..an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and an old values regime decays."
|2. An Awakening.
|"..a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime."
|3. An Unraveling.
|"..a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants."
|4. A Crisis.
|"..a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one."
"Each turning comes with its own identifiable mood. Always, these mood shifts catch people by surprise.
"In the current saeculum, the First Turning was the American High of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy presidencies. As World War II wound down, no one predicted that America would soon become so confident and institutionally muscular, yet so conformist and spiritually complacent...
"The Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, stretching from the campus revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s. Before John Kennedy was assassinated, no one predicted that America was about to enter an era of personal liberation and cross a cultural divide that would separate anything thought or said after from anything thought or said before...
"The Third Turning has been the Culture Wars, an era that began with Reagan's mid-80s "Morning in America" and is due to expire arount the middle of the Oh-Oh decade. Amidst the glitz and yuppiemania of the early Reagan years, no one predicted that the nation was entering an era of national drift and civic decay..." (Strauss & Howe, 3-4).
These national mood shifts have repeated themselves over and over in the past. Today's unravelling, for instance, occurred in the last saeculum from 1918 (Armistice Day) to 1929 (the Great Stock Market Crash). The following is an historian's description of this period:
"Euphoria over a global military triumph was painfully short-lived. Earlier optimism about a progressive future gave way to a jazz age nihilism and a pervasive cynicism about high ideals. Bosses swaggered in immigrant ghettos, the KKK in the South, the mafia in the industrial heartland, and defenders of Americanism in a myriad Middletowns. Unions atrophied, government weakened, third-parties were the rage, and a dynamic marketplace ushered in new consumer technologies (autos, radios, phones, juke boxes, vending machines) that made life feel newly complicated and frenetic. The risky pleasures of a "lost" young generation shocked middle-aged decency brigades--many of them "tired radicals" who were then moralizing against the detritus of the "mauve" decade of their youth (the 1890s). Opinions polarized around no-compromise cultural issues like drugs, family, and "decency." Meanwhile, parents strove to protect a scoutlike new generation of children..." The following is a quote from Walter Lippman during this period:
"We are unsettled to the very roots of our being. There isn't a human relation, whether of parent or child, husband or wife, worker and employer, that doesn't move in a strange situation. We are not used to a complicated civilization, we don't know how to behave when personal contact and eternal authority have disappeared. There are no precedents to guide us, no wisdom that was not meant for a simpler age."
The unravelling in the previous saeculum occurred in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The Mexican War had just ended and cities began to turn mean, slavery was being debated, and the young people were skipping college to go west and pan for gold.
The unravelling in the previous saeculum occurred in the 1760s. The French and Indian War had just ended and the colonies were seething with "directionless discontent." More debtors' prisons had to be constructed and people "complained of what Benjamin Franklin called the "white savagery" of youth... Gradually, colonists began separating into mutually-loathing camps, one defending and the other attacking the Crown" (Strauss & Howe, 5).
"During each of these previous Third Turnings Americans felt like they were drifting toward a waterfall.
"And, as it turned out, they were.
"The 1760s were followed by the American Revolution, the 1850s by Civil War, the 1920s by the Great Depression and World War II. All these Unraveling eras were followed by bone-jarring Crises so monumental that, by their end, American society emerged in a wholly new form" (Strauss & Howe, 6).
Each unraveling period is followed by a Fourth Turning-- a Crisis. "The Fourth Turning is history's great discontinuity. It ends one epoch and begins another" (Strauss & Howe, 6).
America's next Crisis, or Fourth Turning, is soon due. Here is what Strauss & Howe predict:
Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. NY: Broadway Books, 1997. ISBN 0-553-06682-X.
Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS