The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny ペーパーバック – 1997/12/29
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"A startling vision of what the cycles of history predict for the future." —USA Weekend
This astonishing book will change the way you see the world—and your place in it.
With startling originality, The Fourth Turning illuminates the past, explains the present, and reimagines the future. Most remarkably, it offers an utterly persuasive prophecy about how America’s past will predict its future.
William Strauss and Neil Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history. The authors look back five hundred years and uncover a distinct pattern: Modern history moves in cycles, each one lasting about the length of a long human life, each composed of four eras—or "turnings"—that last about twenty years and that always arrive in the same order.
First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history's seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.
Strauss and Howe locate 1990s America as midway through an Unraveling, putting us currently in the era of Crisis. In a brilliant analysis of the post-World War II period, they show how generational dynamics are the key to understanding the cycles of American history. They draw vivid portraits of all the modern generations: the can-do G.I.s, the mediating Silent, the values-absorbed Boomers, the pragmatic 13ers, and the Millennials. Placed in the context of history's long rhythms, the persona and role of each generation become clear—as does the inevitability of a Crisis.
Whatever your stage of life, The Fourth Turning offers bold predictions about how all of us can prepare, individually and collectively, for America's next rendezvous with destiny.
"I put down The Fourth Turning with a mixture of terror and excitement....If Strauss and Howe are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
--David Kaiser, Boston Globe
"One of the best efforts to give us an integrated vision of where we
--Wall Street Journal
"A startling vision of what the cycles of history predict for the future."
This will not be a long review; that merely prolongs the agony. I write only to sketch out the major areas of failure, to make clear your need to avoid losing time you will never see again. At its core this book requires a total detachment of the reader from reality. The singer Cat Stevens (bear with me) is known nowadays for having adopted Salafi Islam and being a rabid Jew-hater. But before he converted, he was big into numerology, as I remember from watching, some years ago, a VH1 “Behind the Music” special on his life. In that phase of his life, at least, Stevens would have been very comfortable with "The Fourth Turning," because the entire book is prophecy based on numerology. All that’s missing is a good dose of astrology.
In a nutshell, what William Strauss and Neil Howe claim is that all human affairs are, always have been, and always will be, governed by a time period, the saeculum, which approximates the length of a “long human life,” or roughly eighty years. Each saeculum has four generations, each of which has universal and certain characteristics, which succeed each other like the tick-tock of a clock. I am not going to tell you anything about them, their names or anything else, though, because they are stupid. Each saeculum also has a succession of events, from Awakening to Crisis, in a repeating pattern. After the climax of a Crisis, the society reboots itself and is reborn; this is the “Fourth Turning.” Strauss and Howe predicted, in 1997, such a Crisis beginning around 2005, with the rebirth to be complete by around 2025.
Before we get to the predictions, let’s cover the core structure. The reader quickly realizes that all this is a charlatan’s game, when he reads how narrowly the authors constrain their historical examination. Despite muttering about the Romans and the ancient Hindus, they identify only six saecula, beginning at the end of the Wars of the Roses, through 1997. This is the “Anglo-American Saeculum.” No attempt whatsoever is made to extend their analysis beyond England, until the Glorious Revolution, after which no mention at all is made of England, and the focus shifts solely to America. No Europe. No Asia. No Africa. Nothing at all. You’d think at least some attempt would be made to extend this supposedly universal framework beyond a very stripped-down history of America, but you would be wrong.
Even worse, the stated reason for beginning the examination of cycles around 1500 A.D. is not, as one might expect, lack of data. As becomes clear later, only the most trivial and superficial data is necessary for the authors to claim support for their theory. No, it’s because until the Reformation, don’t you know, Europeans could not comprehend linear time, except for maybe a few priests. Everyone lived in the eternal, cyclical now. The ignorance of this is astounding, and moreover it’s not clear why supposedly immutable and invariable generational cycles would be obviated by the common people’s perception of time, but nonetheless, it is the authors’ excuse for narrowing their time window to a convenient one—namely, one where throwing out a few names from the relevant time period makes it seem like the authors know what they are talking about, because of the vague familiarity most people have with at least some of the names.
Much ink is spilled in pseudo-academic and pseudo-scientific jargon. Many tables and charts are offered, complete with arrows to guide the confused reader through pop history along the desired garden path. The writing is terrible—rambling, repetitive, and reeking of selective fact choice. Even ignoring the tightly constrained focus, the exposition of the supposed saecula is risible. It consists of shouting out references to well-known figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, or cultural happenings, such as the Great Depression or rock-and-roll; giving a short and utterly flat (and often false) description of the figure or happening; and then making an enormous leap to conclude that figure or happening proves something, by itself, about a twenty- or forty-year period in history, which just so happens to coincide exactly with the authors’ thesis. It is a total waste of time; you would be better informed about world history by reading "Goodnight Moon."
Every substantive prediction in this book has been falsified. No, there has not been another religious “Great Awakening” in America. The 1990s are not remembered as a time of misery. Old people today are not inspired to refuse government handouts and young people have not stood up to deny them handouts. The Baby Boomers in their retirement have not created new forms of civic life. Nor have they created an “elder ethos that will hinge on self-denial.” I laughed out loud when I read that, before I read that “On the job, Millennials will be seekers of order and harmony. They will delight employers with their skills, work habits, and institutional loyalties.” I nearly ruptured myself laughing after that one. Even a blind squirrel is supposed to find a few nuts, but surveying the predictions in this book, that adage has been disproven.
The Crisis, ending a saeculum, that the authors predict isn’t some minor tumult, but, by the examples they give, something along the lines of complete political breakdown, major war, or a widespread pandemic leading to social near-collapse. Society will stabilize; then, after a few years, society will change dramatically, creating a new Awakening, and beginning the cycle again. Some people, doubtless Bannon among them, seem to think that because Strauss and Howe predicted a Crisis beginning around 2005, that they are therefore great prognosticators. No doubt Bannon would like a Crisis to help move his program forward; I have a lot of sympathy for that view. But it takes no skill to claim that any advanced society will, at least every few decades, pass through something that can justly be cast as a crisis, yet is still modest, and the 2007 financial crisis fits into that mold. It was not an existential Crisis in the sense the authors predicted. Nor does it take much skill to predict that America, which has been in decay for decades, will someday face an existential Crisis. It hasn’t arrived yet, though, and time is up on Strauss’s and Howe’s predictions.
Oh, it’ll come, because history will return. But this book does not tell us anything about it. Certainly, if there is a such an extreme Crisis, the path of initial stabilization followed by a reworking of society is more or less the typical one. Where the authors go wrong is in thinking there is any more pattern to history than that. That in retrospect some groups of people born roughly at the same time may evince, when viewed from certain angles, a set of common characteristics, does not create some kind of magic predictability machine. There is no wisdom here.
In a nutshell, the book advances the view that history roughly repeats itself every 80 years. Further, every 80 year period is characterized by the arrival of Artists (silent generation in this cycle), Prophets (boomers), Nomads (Gen Xers) and Heroes (millennials). Previous incarnations of this cycle ended with the war of independence, the civil war and world war II. This naturally sets up the denouement for this cycle which the authors expect to occur in the 2025 time frame. Each cycle is divided into turnings: the present one is characterized by First (High: 1946-1964), Second (Awakening: 1964-1984), Third (Unraveling: 1984-2008) and Fourth (Crisis: 2008-202X). From the book's perspective and Neil Howe's subsequent blog posts, we entered the Fourth Turning in 2008. There's nothing spooky or mystical about these cycles and turnings: instead the authors stress that human nature and culture seem to have these rhythms and that Anglo-American history is stable enough to be characterized in this manner. Other cultures may either be too stable or too chaotic to follow this type of pattern.
Prior to the arrival of Donald Trump and despite the eerie portend of the financial crisis, I would have dismissed this book. Now, it looks positively prophetic. Is there any doubt now that the combination of (i) income inequality, (ii) the economic problems of the white working class, (iii) the culture wars, (iv) multiculturalism and globalism, (v) the ravages of identity politics and postmodernism and (vi) terrorism is not going to be a combustible mix over the next decade? And that these will simultaneously distract us from combating global warming - the clear threat of the next era? While I find it hard to buy into the notion that the US will face an existential crisis (as predicted by the book), there's definitely merit in the view that the next ten years will probably have the capability of shocking us however jaded we may be at the present time.
The content of this book is astounding. I just picked it up this year (2018) and the book was written over two decades ago. The breakdown in American politics and society that the authors mention for the unraveling era are alive and present. The older boomer generation pushing for "action" and wanting the young to dedicate themselves toward a path of war is ever present (even after two seemingly never ending wars in the last 13 years). There were some predictions that were wrong, such as the spirit of the millennial group, but all in all, it's a frighteningly accurate prediction.
The authors give good ideas on how we can prepare for the 4th Turning bother socio-politically and on an individual level. I'm not holding my breath on society preparing itself and I have even less hope for politicians to do so. Preparation is for the individual as far as I'm concerned.
This is the kind of book that you want to share with everyone you care about and even with the public in general, but unfortunately it's not something most people will care about until it's too late.
If you're thinking of getting this book, get it asap, try to complete it within a month's time, share it with those you care about and then make a plan of action to ready yourself for the 4th Turning.