A crisis is not coming. It is already here, and it will be as defining a moment in the history of the United States as the Great Depression, World War II, or the American Civil War — that is, if you believe in an interesting theory laid out in a book called “The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous With Destiny.”
In this book published in 1997, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe make the argument that our ideas about the nature of history, linear time, and progress are illusory, and that if we want a more accurate concept on the way that history unfolds, we would do well to study the Ancient Greek concept of cyclical time. This concept views national and global historical phenomenon not as randomly occurring events, or the linear march of historical “progress,” but instead sees them as recurring archetypes placed into a larger tapestry of a greater repeating historical cycle.
The Fourth Turning: Destruction is Coming
According to Strauss and Howe, the relative geographic and historical isolation of the United States provides a unique opportunity to view this historical cycle unfold regularly and predictably every 80 years.
This 80-year cycle can be divided into four stages or seasons, each lasting approximately twenty years:
1. High– This initial stage occurs immediately following a period of crisis. The High is characterized by strong institutions, a sense of collective destiny, and a weakness of individuality. The most recent example of this would be the period of prosperity and conformity in the U.S. immediately following the conclusion of World War II.
2. Awakening- The second stage, or turning, is a period of questioning established values and asserting one’s independence from established norms and morals, be they spiritual or political. This stage may be seen as a rebellion of the previous era’s emphasis on material wealth and conformity. The 1960’s, with the psychedelic revolution, anti-war protests, Civil Rights marches, and New Age spiritual movements can be seen as recent characteristics of this second stage, as well as Reaganomics and the mid-1980s Wall Street ethos.
3. Unraveling- The emphasis on autonomy and the questioning of spiritual, political, and individual authority in the Awakening stage eventually destabilizes society, leading to the Third Turning, in which institutions are weak and untrusted while the subjective experience of the individual is emphasized. This stage can be thought of as the inverse of the initial High stage, where collective destiny is replaced by atomization. A recent symptom of this stage would be the culture wars, corporate malfeasance, a lack of faith in government, and political correctness.
4. Crisis- In the Fourth Turning, a destabilizing event, usually involving warfare, leads to the destruction and reconstruction of institutions of power. In the face of destruction, Americans are forced to unite and forge a vision to restructure a disrupted society. This fourth stage can be seen as the inverse of the Awakening stage, and the authors cite World War II as the defining event of the most recent period of Crisis.
Strauss and Howe predicted that the next Crisis period that the US would face would happen sometime around 2005 and end around 2025. Anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade would have a difficult time refuting this. The financial crisis of 2008 threw the planet into discord, and we are now just beginning to see some of the political ramifications of this.
Much of the establishment press have made note of Steve Bannon’s interest in this book, striking a fearful and disturbing tone inferring that Bannon wishes to somehow ‘bring about’ this Fourth Turning. If you take the ideas of cyclical time seriously, one can no more accelerate or delay the arrival of these repeating natural events than one could delay winter or somehow lengthen summertime.
The Crisis is here, and Trump, as well as the rest of the western rebellion against the destabilizing forces of globalism are symptoms of the crisis as well as the cure to it.
Buckle up, because I’ve got a feeling that the coming decade is going to get pretty bumpy.