About seven or eight years ago I read The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Back in the 90’s, they evaluated historical, demographic, and economic data from the beginning of the colonization of the U.S., and posed that one could mark time by several 80-100 year cycles, or Saeculum, originating from England as far back as 1430 AD. (This model of a more cyclical rhythm to history incidentally jibes with observations from non-pozzed historians from antiquity to the modern era).
Last year, I revisited the book and stumbled upon the following passage, which in retrospect, seemed nigh prophetic and I couldn’t read it without thinking about the rise of Trump and the re-emergence of Right-Wing and Populist movements around the world. (Emphasis mine):
Before long, America’s old civic order will seem ruined beyond repair. People will feel like a magnet has passed over society’s disk drive, blanking out the social contract, wiping out old ideas, and clearing the books of vast unpayable promises to which most people had felt entitled. The economy could reach a trough that may look to be the start of a depression. With American weaknesses newly exposed, foreign dangers could erupt.
From this trough and from these dangers, the makings of a new social contract and a new civic order will arise…Public needs will assume a new shape and urgency. Old political alliances will be broken and new ones forged, and debates will commence on laws that radically shift the balance between individual rights and duties. National issues will break clear of the Unraveling-era circus and cast a clear and immediate shadow over the everyday shape of American life. The Unraveling-era culture warriors will no longer be attacking national institutions mostly from the outside. Come the Fourth Turning, they will be fully in charge.
Soon after the catalyst, a national election will provide a sweeping political realignment as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug-of-war, ending the era of split government that had lasted through four decades of Awakening and Unraveling. The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned. This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand public sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate…
In light of that; the election, the issues that surrounded it, what the future may hold, and what opportunities and pitfalls may lie ahead, I thought I’d pass along some of their theory and a bit that others have built off it.
Strauss and Howe argue that U.S. history is defined by Saeculum, which are composed of four periods, or Turnings. These Turnings are approximately twenty years in length, and emerge as the result of one cohort (age group) retiring and passing on while another matures and enters young adulthood, bringing with it different attitudes, values, preferences, norms, and overall social mood.
Likewise, this cycle is framed by a cohort’s position relative to a time of systems-changing crisis marking the end of one Saeculum and the beginning of a new one. Following the crisis, a new cohort is born, and due to their collective lack of trauma or sense of shared sacrifice or identity forged in the preceding crisis, they begin a process of undermining the post-crisis order that unravels everything and eventually leads to another all-hell-breaks-loose crisis at the end of the Saeculum. Strauss and Howe classify the turnings and their corresponding characteristics as follows:
- The First Turning is defined as the post-Crisis High period. “The recent fear for group survival transmutes into a desire for investment, growth, and strength – which in turn produces an era of commercial prosperity, institutional solidarity and political stability.” National optimism is at its zenith, the mainstream culture trends toward the friendly and homogeneous, crime rates are low, and gender distinctions are at their widest. It is during the High where Strauss and Howe plot The Era of Good Feelings, the Reconstruction and Gilded Age, and the post-WWII era.
- The Second Turning is marked by an Awakening, which is driven by an emerging youth cohort born in the post-Crisis High. “The prosperity and security of a High are overtly disdained though covertly taken for granted. A society searches for soul over substance, meanings over things.” The institutions and practices of the post-Crisis order come under attack, and as a result, social cohesion begins to erode; “Any public effort that requires collective discipline encounters withering controversy. Wars are awkwardly fought, and badly remembered afterward.” Due to the high degree of individualism over collectivism among the youth cohort, risk-prone lifestyles are tolerated to a higher degree, crime and substance abuse rates rise, gender distinctions begin to narrow, and immigration rates begin to rise. Towards the end of the Awakening period, “the enthusiasm cools, having left the old cultural regime fully discredited, internal enemies identified, comity shattered, and institutions delegitimized.” In U.S. history, The Great Awakening, Transcendentalism, the Progressive Movement, and the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960’s and ’70 all occurred during Awakening eras.
- The Third Turning is a period of Unraveling. “While personal satisfaction is high, public trust ebbs amid a fragmenting culture, harsh debates over values, and weakening civic habits…Decisive public action becomes very difficult, as community problems are deferred. Wars are fought with moral fervor but without consensus or follow-through.” Unlike the High, gender differences are at their most narrow, immigration rates climb toward their peaks, and the mood of society possesses a strong undercurrent of cynicism, alienation, and pessimism. Unraveling periods have been the backdrop for the French and Indian Wars, the Mexican War and U.S. Sectionalism and WWI.
- The Fourth Turning is marked by a period of Crisis which “arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire. Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail.” Crime and substance abuse declines, gender distinctions begin to widen again, families strengthen, immigration rates fall (with it being “seen as unsafe by the community and unattractive by those who might in better times wish to relocate.”), and wars are fought with great intensity and resolve. As the Crisis period draws to its conclusion, the national mood is one of “exhaustion, relief, and optimism.” The Crisis periods are the eras in the American Revolution, Civil War and WWII were fought.
Drawing from Jungian theory, Strauss and Howe argue that these turnings exert a formative influence on those growing up within them, leading to archetypical behavior within the generational cohort. They classify these generational archetypes accordingly:
- “A Prophet generation grows up as increasingly indulged post-Crisis children comes of age as the narcissistic young crusaders of an Awakening, cultivates principle as moralistic mid-lifers, and emerges as wise elders guiding the next crisis.” Members of this archetype include Jonathan Edwards, Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; Franklin Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur; Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
- “A Nomad generation grows up under-protected children during and Awakening, comes of age as the alienated young adults of a post-Awakening world, mellows into pragmatic mid-life leaders during a Crisis, and ages into tough post-Crisis leaders.” Prominent Nomads include George Washington, John Adams, and Daniel Boone; Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain, and John D. Rockefeller; Harry Truman, George Patton, George Marshall, and Ernest Hemmingway.
- “A Hero generation grows up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, comes of age as the heroic young team workers of a Crisis, demonstrates hubris as energetic mid-lifers, and emerges as powerful elders attacked by the next Awakening.” More notable Heroes are Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Paul Jones; John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Neil Armstrong.
- “An Artist generation grows up as overprotected children during a Crisis, comes of age as the sensitive young adults of a post-Crisis world, breaks free as indecisive mid-life leaders during an Awakening, and ages into empathic post-Awakening elders.” Artists include Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster; Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson
At the time of the writing, Strauss and Howe hypothesized that the U.S. was then progressing through an Unraveling phase which would culminate in a Crisis period beginning sometime around the mid 2000’s. This Crisis period would climax around the year 2020, be resolved within six years or so, and result in a new Saeculum.
MIT mathematician and historian alumnus John Xenakis built off their work and applied it to a global context. His Generational Dynamics model asserts that generational patterns help drive major Crisis conflicts (generally within 70-90 year intervals) and continues from the old assertion that “societies and nations make mistakes and then learn lessons from those mistakes. But generations grow older, retire and die, and are replaced by new generations who are too young to remember those mistakes and those lessons. When that happens, the mistakes are repeated.”
Xenakis classifies wars into two categories. Non-Crisis wars, he describes as being purely political, originating from political elite (such as the US involvement in WWI and Vietnam). “They can start at any time a politician decides, and they can end at any time.”
In contrast, Crisis wars dominate the entire nation and are traumatic to the extent that they influence all of the citizenry. Like Non-Crisis wars, Crisis wars have political and economic causes, however, for Xenakis, Crisis wars primarily emerge from within the people of a nation themselves rather than elites. He writes of Crisis wars, “They’re almost like sex in their emotional ferocity. They recur in any society at roughly 70-90 year intervals. Crisis wars may get off to a bumpy start, but once they pick up speed they can’t be stopped, and end with a genocidal fury.”
He argues that while these cycles of Crisis and Non-Crisis wars have largely played out independently among nations, empires, and regions, as a result of the world having been made smaller by technology, the World Wars have basically synched up the Saeculum of all the major powers:
In short, Straus, Howe, and Xenakis argued that the world would be exhibiting many of the symptoms of an unfolding Crisis period, and this certainly seems to be the case. Among the developed nations of the world, people have begun to express a higher degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo and overall lack of confidence in their leaders, while financial and political instability abounds, and post-WWII institutions are no longer able to keep apace as the Twenty-First Century winds through its second decade. This collective discontent confirms the assertion of Xenakis; “One stock market commentator defines a bear market as a time when ‘investors are looking for reasons to sell,’ and a bull market as a time when ‘investors are looking for reasons to buy…’ during an unraveling period, people ‘look for reasons to compromise,’ but during a crisis period, people ‘look for reasons to confront.’”
While this model has been criticized by some for the particular assignment of the years identifying generational cohorts or disregarding the free will of the individual, many in the corporate sector have taken to the explanatory power of it, and have adapted their practices to demographics accordingly. Terms such as “Boomer,” “Gen-X,” and “Millennial” are now part of regular discourse among both ourselves and Normies. There are even those in the modern American political establishment who have adopted the model.
People like Steve Bannon.
In 2010, while at Citizen United, Bannon wrote, produced, and directed Generation Zero. The documentary sought to explore “the causes of the global economic crisis which began in 2008, studying how decades of social changes have influenced financial systems and practices.” One of its primary themes was examining how such change unfolded and affected the various generations, even going so far as to feature Howe and Xenakis themselves for commentary.
This matters in that President Trump’s chief strategist believes (correctly, I think) that we are in the middle of an unfolding Crisis period. He believes it so strongly that he went out of his way and made a documentary about it. And it is not far-fetched in any way to suppose that he has advised Mr. Trump accordingly.
While Crisis periods are the harbinger of a new order yet waiting to be born, they are by their very definition fraught with peril. What if something goes wrong? What could go wrong; not just in theory-land but in the real world where people live and die? For Identity Dixie readers, what would this mean for Southerners?
To help us understand how things could unfold, we will look at the work of former soldier and mercenary of the Vietnam, Rhodesian, and Croatian wars, Mr. Thomas Chittum, in a review of his 1997 book, Civil War Two: The Coming Breakup of America.
Y’all come back now.