Our 2010 claim that “Strauss & Howe’s The Fourth Turning is looking more prescient by the day” is holding up well. As is the view that “we are currently witnessing the latest populist revolt against elitist authority” extracted from Lee Harris’s “The Next American Civil War”. It appears we may not be the only ones thinking along these lines:
President Trump’s chief strategist (Steve Bannon) is an avid reader and that the book that most inspires his worldview is “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy.”
The fourth turning takes a view that history is cyclical. It is made up of 4 cycles, which correspond to four human generations. The cycles are driven by human experience and have common themes, resulting in similar manifestations:
The cycle begins with the First Turning, a “High” which comes after a crisis era. In a High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, even if many feel stifled by the prevailing conformity. Many Americans alive today can recall the post-World War II American High (historian William O’Neill’s term), coinciding with the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies. Earlier examples are the post-Civil War Victorian High of industrial growth and stable families, and the post-Constitution High of Democratic Republicanism and Era of Good Feelings.
The Second Turning is an “Awakening,” when institutions are attacked in the name of higher principles and deeper values. Just when society is hitting its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of all the social discipline and want to recapture a sense of personal authenticity. Salvation by faith, not works, is the youth rallying cry. One such era was the Consciousness Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s. Some historians call this America’s Fourth or Fifth Great Awakening, depending on whether they start the count in the 17th century with John Winthrop or the 18th century with Jonathan Edwards.
The Third Turning is an “Unraveling,” in many ways the opposite of the High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Third Turning decades such as the 1990s, the 1920s and the 1850s are notorious for their cynicism, bad manners and weak civic authority. Government typically shrinks, and speculative manias, when they occur, are delirious.
Finally, the Fourth Turning is a “Crisis” period. This is when our institutional life is reconstructed from the ground up, always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. If history does not produce such an urgent threat, Fourth Turning leaders will invariably find one — and may even fabricate one — to mobilize collective action. Civic authority revives, and people and groups begin to pitch in as participants in a larger community. As these Promethean bursts of civic effort reach their resolution, Fourth Turnings refresh and redefine our national identity. The years 1945, 1865 and 1794 all capped eras constituting new “founding moments” in American history.
In their 1997 book, “The Fourth Turning”, they predicted that “starting around 2005, America would probably experience a “Great Devaluation” in financial markets, a catalyst that would mark America’s entry into an era whose first decade would likely parallel the 1930s”. Their book incorporates the promise of renewal, before the cycle repeats. One of the authors, Neil Howe, adds:
“Despite a new tilt toward isolationism, the United States could find itself at war. I certainly do not hope for war. I simply make a sobering observation: Every total war in U.S. history has occurred during a Fourth Turning, and no Fourth Turning has yet unfolded without one. America’s objectives in such a war are likely to be defined very broadly.”
Thus far, at the grand strategic level, everything is proceeding exactly as I expected. There are blips on the trend, but the trend train is remorselessly rolling down the tracks. This also appears to accord with The Fourth Turning and The Next American Civil War.