According to a book by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, history follows a fairly predictable pattern, rotating in cycles equal to a long human life. The book, The Fourth Turning, was written in 1997.
If Howe and Strauss are right—and so far, they’re dead on—then we recently entered a Fourth Turning in the current saeculum which they named “millennium.”
What is a Fourth Turning?
The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.
We’re not talking about an election cycle; we’re talking about an entirely reformulated society.
So far, America has experienced three significant turnings. (Four, really, but the first was long before the Revolution.)
The Revolution, when the colonies declared independence from Great Britain and formed a democratic republic under the Constitution.
The Civil War, when we established the impossibility of secession and ended slavery.
The Depression-WWII, when we effectively abolished Constitutional government and re-ordered the entire world for increased security.
With the exception of the Civil War, each of these saecula lasted the length of a long human life—80 to 100 years. That’s also about four generations.
Fourth Turnings—Crisis turnings—begin not because of chronology, but because of generational attitudes. Fourth Turnings begin when the Boom children from the last Crisis reach Elderhood.
Think Bill Clinton as elder statesman.
Behind that Boom generation is a generation of Nomads—the Gen Xers in this saecula. My generation. Reality Bites people. Wild risk-takers. Generals George Patton and George Washington were the Generation Xers of their days. So was Francis Marion.
Next, ready to do battle, is a Hero generation. These were the foot soldiers and Marines and sailors of WWII. They’re also the kids fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq today. They’re the Millennials whom we too easily dismiss. But they’ll receive our ticker-tape parades someday. They’ll be the next Greatest Generation, if Howe and Strauss are correct.
Those born after about 2002? They’re the next generation of artists. The last generation of Artists were the Silent Generation who came of age just after WWII. They were too young to fight, but too old for Vietnam. This generation is great at following orders. It is the only American generation never to produce a President. (We skipped from the GI generation of George H.W. Bush to the Boomers with Bill Clinton, George W., and Obama.)
So the stars—and the players—seemed aligned for a Fourth Turning: 20 to 25 years of total upheaval and, possibly, total war. Those who think the worst is over, as I’ve said repeatedly, have another thought coming. The debt problem that caused the 2008 crisis was not solved; it was papered over and compounded. February’s deficit was 40 percent bigger than the entire deficit for 2007. The March deficit will be larger still.
I know some people believe that we can end the crisis with a single election—2010. That’s beyond wishful thinking. It’s irresponsible thinking. Our troubles go deeper than an election cycle. Or even two.
That doesn’t mean we don’t start now, though. In fact, the Tea Party movement was really a recognition of the Crisis, though I didn’t know it at the time. (Maybe some of you did.)
With spiraling debt, rising international tensions, Japan melting down, and public sector unions demanding the power to take even more away from the producers, we’re just beginning a long generation of turmoil.
Read The Fourth Turning this week. Learn your role and the risks we face. Then, we might as well get started.