The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.
~ The Fourth Turning – Strauss & Howe – 1997
The mass murder in Tucson is another brick in the wall of this Fourth Turning Crisis. The importance of this tragic event is not what happened in that Safeway parking lot, but the reaction in the aftermath of the shooting. Turnings are not about specific events, but how generations react to the events based on their stages of life. A turning is an era with a characteristic social mood, a new twist on how people feel about themselves and their nation. It results from the aging of the generational constellation. A society enters a turning once every twenty years or so, when all living generations begin to enter their next phases of life. We entered this Fourth Turning between 2005 and 2008, with the collapse of the housing market and subsequent financial system implosion.
We have crossed the threshold into a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime will propel the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. The Silent Generation (1925–1942) is dying off, Baby Boomers (1943–1960) are entering elder hood, Generation X is entering midlife, Millenials are entering young adulthood – and a new generation of child Artists are being born. Strauss & Howe have documented that a long human life of 80 to 100 years makes up a social cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and rebirth) known as a Saeculum. Within each cycle, four generations proceed through their four stages of life. Every 15 to 25 years a new Turning surprises those who only think of history in a linear way. Strauss & Howe are historians who have been able to document this generational cycle going back to the 1400s.
The Anglo-American saeculum dates back to the waning of the Middle Ages in the middle of the fifteenth century. In this lineage, there have been seven saecula:
- Late Medieval (1435–1487)
- Reformation (1487–1594)
- New World (1594–1704)
- Revolutionary (1704–1794)
- Civil War (1794–1865)
- Great Power (1866–1946)
- Millennial (1946–2026?)
The Turnings of history are like the seasons of nature. Seasons cannot be rearranged, seasons cannot be avoided, but humans and nations can prepare for the challenges presented by each season. Winter has descended upon our nation.
We are still in the early stages of this Fourth Turning and the mood of the country continues to darken like the sky before an approaching blizzard. Generational theory does not predict the specific events that will happen during a Turning. The events, personalities, and policies that become the chapters in history books are not what drive a Turning, it is how each generation reacts to the events, personalities and policies. Someone who is 60 years old will react differently to an event than they would have reacted at 20 years old. The issues that are driving this Fourth Turning (un-payable entitlement obligations, Wall Street greed & power, globalization gutting the middle class, increasing government control, wealth distribution) were all known and understood in 1997. It took the spark of a housing market collapse and the generations being in proper alignment to catalyze the mood of the country.
Chapter one of this Fourth Turning is approaching its end. Chapter two guarantees to be more intense, with more violence, and periods of great danger. Strauss & Howe envisioned this chapter based upon their analysis of the issues looming back in 1997:
The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort – in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it. Thus, might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse – or glory. The nation could be ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis; all they suggest is the timing and dimension.
~ The Fourth Turning – Strauss & Howe – 1997
“A Fourth Turning is a solstice era of maximum darkness, in which the supply of social order is still falling but the demand for order is now rising. As the community instinct regenerates, people resolve to do more than just relieve the symptoms of pending traumas. Intent on addressing root causes, they rediscover the value of unity, teamwork, and social discipline. Far more than before, people comply with authority, accept the need for public sacrifice, and shed anything extraneous to the survival needs of their community. This is a critical threshold: People either coalesce as a nation and culture – or rip hopelessly and permanently apart.”
~ The Fourth Turning – Strauss & Howe – 1997
There have been three prior Fourth Turnings in U.S. history: the American Revolution, Civil War and Great Depression/World War II. The American Revolution preceded the Civil War by 87 years. The Great Depression followed the Civil War by 69 years and this Millenial Crisis arrived 76 years after the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Essentially, each prior Fourth Turning has represented a Revolution in American history.
The First American Revolution began in 1773 when Parliament’s response to the Boston Tea Party ignited a colonial tinderbox – leading directly to the first Continental Congress, the battle of Concord, and the Declaration of Independence. History always seems easy to predict in retrospect. This is another of the many faults in human thinking. There was very little talk or thought of the colonies breaking away from the mother country during the 1760s. Up until the Boston Tea Party catalyst event, no one could have predicted the events which would occur in a chain reaction over the next 21 years. There were dark cold bitter days during this Crisis winter. In the end, George Washington’s honor, courage and fortitude symbolized the character of a new nation.
Historians Charles and Mary Beard described the Civil War as the Second American Revolution. The Civil War Crisis began with a presidential election that southerners interpreted as an invitation to secede. The attack on Fort Sumter triggered the most violent conflict ever fought on New World soil. The war reached its climax with the Emancipation Proclamation and Battle of Gettysburg (in 1863). The epic conflagration redefined America. The slavery issue was settled for good, signed in the blood of 600,000 men. The industrial might of the North was rechanneled toward progress as a world industrial powerhouse. In retrospect many will say the Civil War was entirely predictable, but that is completely untrue.
The great compromise generation (Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster) of the 1850s passed from the scene, leaving the country in the hands of firebrands on both sides. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and subsequent execution served to increase the brooding mood of the country. The bloodiest war in the history of mankind was not predictable even one year before it began. The aristocracy of Washington DC actually took carriages in their Sunday best to watch the First Battle of Bull Run. Shortly thereafter Lincoln mobilized 500,000 men and unleashed a catastrophic spiral of butchery over the next four years that exhausted itself with the assassination of Lincoln and the surrender at Appomattox in the same week. The resolution of this Crisis felt more like defeat than victory.
Renowned American historian Carl Degler called FDR’s New Deal the “Third American Revolution”. The Crisis began suddenly with the Black Tuesday stock-market crash in 1929. After a three-year economic free fall, the Great Depression triggered the New Deal Revolution, a vast expansion of government, and hopes for a renewal of national community. After Pearl Harbor, America planned, mobilized, and produced for world war on a scale never seen in the history of mankind, making possible complete victory over the Nazis and Fascists. In 1928 did anyone foresee an 89% stock market crash, worldwide depression, vast expansion of government power, a world war more devastating than the prior war, and the usage of an atomic weapon of mass destruction? Not a chance. Only in retrospect do people convince themselves that it was predictable.
Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929 marked the abrupt unforeseen end of the Roaring Twenties. The bewilderingly rapid collapse of the worldwide financial system in the space of three years left the American people shaken and desperate. With their wealth destroyed and unemployment exceeding 20%, the American public turned to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal promises of government social and work programs. He declared “nationwide thinking, nationwide planning, and nationwide action, the three essentials of public life”. This was truly a Third American Revolution. FDR’s policies changed the course of American history. The renewed spirit of American youth during the 1930s was essential in preparing them for the trials that awaited from 1941 through 1945. It is somewhat ironic that FDR’s revolutionary social programs, begun during the last Crisis, will be a major factor in the current Crisis – the Fourth American Revolution.