Posts Tagged ‘Prediction’
History cycles

generations-and-the-fourth-turning

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.

 
The Fourth Turning

Strauss & Howe’s The Fourth Turning is looking more prescient by the day. It was written in the late 90’s and has done a reasonable job of predicting the future, unlike most economic and climate model predictions. The prediction and central thesis is:

“Just after the millennium, America will enter a new era that will culminate with a crisis comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. The survival of the nation will almost certainly be at stake.

Strauss and Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history as a series of recurring 80- to 100-year cycles. Each cycle has four “turnings”-a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling, and a Crisis. The authors locate today’s America as midway through an Unraveling, roughly a decade away from the next Crisis (or Fourth Turning).”

There are also interesting reviews on Amazon that accord with my recollection. Nassim Taleb would no doubt say that I am being “Fooled by Randomness”. Lots of books are published predicting the future. By chance at least one of them will be right. In this case the book that is right is The Fourth Turning.

It is the book that has done a reasonable job of predicting the future from its published date to now that comes to my attention. The accuracy of the book flows from chance, rather than the soundness of its approach. That said, having quickly moved from climate cycles to business cycles I’m sympathetic to cyclical phenomena in history.

Even if its central thesis is wrong, The Fourth Turning is a fascinating read. The concept that there are significant events that will shape the attitude of a generation seems sound. There was an attitude of thrift amongst many of those who lived through the depression. No doubt Perl Harbour and 9/11 mark similar landmark psychological events.

Lee Harris’s “The Next American Civil War” also offers some insights into what might be happening:

“Harris explains the nature and significance of the “tea party” movement as the latest phase in the evolution of America’s redefining and grappling with it’s notions of liberty. He sees this all as part of a dynamic and creative process the consequences of which are of the utmost importance. Simply put we are currently witnessing the latest populist revolt against elitist authority in American History. What’s different this time is that the revolt is a conservative uprising against authority and not a left wing one. This is a revolt which strives to maintain something which is perceived as being lost as the government in Washington grasps greater and greater overweening powers in the name of doing good for and serving those who it believes are incapable of deciding for themselves what is good for them. This is all within the grand tradition of grassroots American political movements except that the actors have reversed roles. And that’s what makes something seemingly very old in actually something quite new.”  (Michael B. Dipietro, Comments)

Although I dislike the term ornery, it does seem an apt description of one segment of the population. It is this segment Lee Harris thinks is leading the revolt against the elites. The book is well worth reading.