by Tim Knight
August 13, 2012
After many instances of prodding from readers, I finally read
Turning, and I'm sorry that I waited so long.
It was a superb read, and it puts into words
(340 pages of words, in fact) the general feeling I've had for so long that
something big and bad is happening all around us.
I want to emphasize at the outset that this isn't some doom 'n' gloom book
that came off the presses after all the calamities we've seen over the past
decade. It is, in fact, a fifteen-year old book, and I imagine much of it
was written around 1995 or so, during the feel-good Clinton years.
When the book came out in 1997, the authors made
clear that they were currently in the Third Turning, and that the
Fourth Turning - the final quarter of a cycle that they postulate recurs
throughout modern human history - was coming around 2005 or so.
William Strauss and
Over the past five centuries, Anglo-American
society has entered a new era - a turning - every two decades or so...
Together the four turnings of the saeculum comprise history's seasonal
rhythm of growth, naturation, entropy, and destruction:
The First Turning is a High, an upbeat
era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism
The Second Turning is an Awakening, a
passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes
under attack from a new values regime
The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a
downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening
The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a
decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the
replacement of the old civic order with a new one
As they anticipated the next "Turning", they
referenced its start point around 2005, in the middle of the "Oh-Oh"
decade (which I've now heard referred to as the "Naughts"):
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...
Political and economic trust will implode...
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.
I would suggest, and I'm sure many would agree,
the attacks of 9/11 were the "sudden
Early in the book, the authors describe how
there have, through human history, been three general ideas about the path
of time in our lives - chaotic, cyclical, linear.
The entire basis of the book is that the
cyclical perception of the world is the accurate one, and the human species
continues to move its way through this quartet of cycles, totaling about the
length of a human life, called a Saeculum.
We are presently in The Millennial Saeculum,
which is broken down into these four parts:
The American High (1946-1964)
The Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984)
The Culture Wars (1984-2005?)
The Millennial Crisis (which, when the
book was published, was yet to arrive...)
If you consider the four quarters of a Saeculum
to the time "axis" of the grid, the other is made of the human archetypes,
whose character depends on their generation as well as what portion of the
Saeculum is currently running.
The present archetypes are described as follows:
The Boom Generation (Prophet archetype,
The 13th Generation (Nomad
archetype, born 1961-1981)
The Millennial Generation (Hero
archetype, born 1982-?)
The Artist archetype is being born now
I'm a member of what they dub the 13th
Generation, so-called simply because it is the 13th generation of
Americans that they track.
Many of the predictions about the near-future that were offered are eerily
accurate, whereas others are embarrassingly wrong, such as the supposition
that, to celebrate the year 2000,
"Others will board a chartered Concorde just
after midnight and zoom back through time from the third millennium to
Of course, I can't fault the authors for not
anticipating the fiery end of the Concorde fleet!
I am, of course, most interested in the Crisis era, since that is supposedly
what we're in the midst of living; the authors declare the Crisis can be
constructed with this morphology:
A Crisis era begins with a catalyst - a
startling event (or sequence of events) that produces a sudden shift
Once catalyzed, a society achieves a
regeneracy - a new counter-entropy that reunifies and reenergizes
The regenerated society propels toward a
climax - a crucial moment that confirms the death of the old order
and birth of the new.
The climax culminates in a resolution -
a triumphant or tragic conclusion that separates the winners from
losers, resolves the big public questions, and establishes the new
Here again, I would think most would agree the
9/11 attacks would serve the definition of "catalyst" quite well. As the
book draws to a close, it delves into greater detail about what could be
forthcoming from the perspective of someone writing in 1997.
I've emphasized a few items:
Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few
years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning... a
spark will ignite a new mood...
In retrospect, the spark might seem as
ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as
trivial as a Tea Party... the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem
A global terrorist group blows up an
aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons...
Congress declares war... Opponents charge that the president
concocted the emergency for political purposes.
An impasse over the federal budget
reaches a stalemate. The President and Congress both refuse to back
down, triggering a near-total government shutdown... Congress
refuses to raise the debt ceiling. Default looms. Wall Street
As superb as these projections were, the authors
hasten to add - ironically,
"It's highly unlikely that any one of these
scenarios will actually happen."
On the contrary, these guesses about the future
(which, let's face it, required the authors to really go out on a limb) were
They continue (although I am using ellipses to
replace large chunks of text, since I'm not in the mood to re-type an entire
Time will pass, perhaps another decade,
before the surging mood propels America to the Fourth Turning's grave
moment of opportunity and danger: the climax of the Crisis... the molten
ingredients of the climax, which could include the following:
Economic distress, with public debt
in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty
and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and
hyperinflation (or deflation)
Technology distress, with
crypto-anarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos
This is a thoughtful, well-articulated, and
As with any text that makes broad sociological
assertions and generalizations, the authors have opened themselves up to
plenty of criticism about the plausibility of their prophecy.
Taken as a whole, I think this book provide an
enlightening blueprint of both the present and the near-future.
Into The Fourth Turning
by David Galland
October 8, 2009
A Casey Research interview with Neil Howe,
co-author of The Fourth Turning
The Fourth Turning is an amazingly prescient book Neil Howe wrote
with the late William Strauss in 1997. The work, which describes
generational archetypes and the cyclical patterns created by these
archetypes, has been an eye-opener to anyone able to entertain the notion
that history may repeat itself.
At the time the book was published, the Boston
“If Howe and Strauss are right, they will
take their place among the great American prophets.”
Read this visionary interview published in The
Casey Report, and see for yourself.
DAVID GALLAND: Could you provide us a
quick introduction to generational research?
NEIL HOWE: We think that generations move history along and
prevent society from suffering too long under the excesses of any
particular generation. People often assume that every new generation
will be a linear extension of the last one.
You know, that after
Generation X comes Generation Y.
They might further expect Generation Y
to be like Gen X on steroids - even more willing to take risk and with
even more edginess in the culture. Yet the Millennial Generation that
followed Gen X is not like that at all. In fact, no generation is like
the generation that immediately precedes it.
Instead, every generation turns the corner and to some extent
compensates for the excesses and mistakes of the midlife generation that
is in charge when they come of age. This is necessary, because if
generations kept on going in the same direction as their predecessors,
civilization would have gone off a cliff thousands of years ago.
So this is a necessary process, a process that is particularly important
in modern nontraditional societies, where generations are free to
transform institutions according to their own styles and proclivities.
In our research we have found that, in modern societies, four basic
types of generations tend to recur in the same order.
DAVID: The four generational archetypes. Can you provide a sketch
of each for those of our readers unfamiliar with your work?
The first is what we call the Hero archetype. Hero generations are
usually protectively raised as kids. They come of age at a time of
emergency or Crisis and become known as young adults for helping society
resolve the Crisis, hopefully successfully.
Once the Crisis is resolved,
they become institutionally powerful in midlife and remain focused on
outer-world challenges and solutions. In their old age, they are greeted
by a spiritual Awakening, a cultural upheaval fired by the young.
is the typical life story of a Hero generation.
One example of the Hero archetype is the G.I. Generation, the soldiers
of World War II, who became an institutional powerhouse after the war
and then in old age confronted the young hippies and protesters of the
Going back in American history, we have seen many other Hero
archetypes, for example the generation of Thomas Jefferson, and James
Madison, and President Monroe. These were the heroes of the American
Revolution, who in old age were greeted by the second Great Awakening
and a new youth generation of fiery Prophets.
After the Hero archetype comes the Artist archetype. Artist generations
have a very different location in history - they are the children of
the Crisis. For Hero generations, child protection rises from first
cohort to last.
By the time Artists come along, child protection reaches
Artists come of age as young adults during the
post-Crisis era, when conformity seems like the best path to success,
and they tend to be collectively risk averse. Artists see themselves as
providing the expertise and refinement that can both improve and adorn
the enormous new institutional innovations that have been forged during
They typically experience a cultural Awakening in midlife,
and their lives speed up as the culture transforms.
A great example of the Artist archetype is the so-called “Silent”
Generation, the post World War II young adults who married early and
moved into gleaming new suburbs in the 1950s, went through their midlife
crises in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and are today the very affluent, active
seniors retiring into gated lifestyle communities.
The third archetype is what we call a Prophet archetype. The most recent
example of this archetype is the Baby Boom Generation. Prophet
generations grow up as children during a period of post-Crisis affluence
and come of age during a period of cultural upheaval.
moralistic and values-obsessed midlife leaders and parents, and as they
enter old age, they steer the country into the next great outer-world
social or political Crisis. Boomers, for example, grew up during the
Postwar American High, came of age during the Consciousness Revolution
of the 1960s and ‘70s, and are now entering old age.
Finally there is what we call a Nomad archetype. Nomads are typically
raised as children during Awakenings, the great cultural upheavals of
our history. Whereas the Prophet archetype is indulgently raised as
children, the Nomad archetype is under-protected and completely exposed
They learn early that they can’t trust basic institutions
to look out for their best interests and come of age as free agents
whose watchword is individualism. They are the great realists and
pragmatists in our nation's history.
The most recent example of the Nomad archetype is Generation X.
generation grew up during the social turmoil of the 1960s and ‘70s and
are now beginning to enter midlife. They are the ones that know how to
get things done on the ground. They are the stay-at-home dads and
security moms trying to give their kids more of a childhood than they
Their burden is that they tend not to trust large
institutions and do not have a strong connection to public life. They
forge their identity and value system by “going it alone” and staying
off the radar screen of government.
It could be very interesting to see
the rest of the life story of this generation, particularly as they take
over leadership positions.
DAVID: Could you tell us the general age ranges of these archetypes now?
HOWE: One Hero generation that is alive today is the G.I. Generation,
born between 1901 and 1924. They came of age with the New Deal, World
War II, and the Great Depression. They are today in their mid-80s and
beyond, and their influence is waning.
Today’s other example of a Hero archetype is the Millennial Generation,
born from 1982 to about 2003 or 2004. These are today's young people,
who are just beginning to be well known to most Americans.
K-12 schools, colleges, graduate schools, and have recently begun
entering the workplace. We associate them with dramatic improvements in
youth behaviors, which are often underreported by the media. Since Millennials have come along, we’ve seen huge declines in violent crime,
teen pregnancy, and the most damaging forms of drug abuse, as well as
higher rates of community service and volunteering.
This is a generation
that reminds us in many respects of the young G.I.s nearly a century
ago, back when they were the first boy scouts and girl scouts between
1910 and 1920.
DAVID: Then following the Hero, we have the Artist, right?
HOWE: Yes. As I mentioned earlier, one example of that archetype is the
Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1942. This generation was too
young to remember anything about America before the Great Crash of 1929,
and too young to be of fighting age during World War II.
That 1925 birth year is filled with people like William F. Buckley and
Bobby Kennedy, first-wave Silent who just missed World War II. Many of
them were actually in the camps in California waiting for the invasion
of Japan when they heard that the war was over. Part of their
generational experience is that sense of just barely missing something
Surveys show that this generation does not like to call themselves
They did not fight in World War II. They did not
build the A bomb. They are more like “senior partners.” Unlike G.I.s,
they are flexible elders, focused on the needs of others. Many of them
are highly engaged in the family activities of their children and
grandchildren. In politics, they are today’s elder advisors, not
There is a new generation of the Artist archetype just now beginning to
arrive. They started being born, we think, around 2004 or 2005. We did a
contest on our website to choose a name for this new generation, and the
winner was Homeland Generation, reflecting the fact that they are being
incredibly well protected. So we are tentatively calling them the
This generation will have no memory of anything before
meltdown of 2008 and the events that are about to unfold in America. If
our research is correct, this generation’s childhood will be a time of
urgency and rapid historical change.
Unlike the Millennials, who will
remember childhood during the good times of 1980s and ‘90s, the
Homelanders will recall their childhood as a time of national crisis.
So, those are the two examples today of the Hero archetype, and two
examples of the Artist archetype.
DAVID: What about the Prophet and the Nomad generations?
HOWE: There is only one Prophet archetype generation alive today: the
Boomer Generation. We define them as being born between 1943 and 1960.
Those born in 1943 would have been part of the free-speech movement at
Berkeley in 1964, the first fiery class whose peers include Bill
Bradley, Newt Gingrich, and Oliver North.
The last cohorts of this
generation came of age with President Carter in the Iran Hostage Crisis.
For the Nomad archetype, we again have only one example alive today, and
that is Generation X. We define Gen Xers as being born between 1961 and
Actually, there may be a few members of the earlier Nomad
generation still around - those of the Lost Generation born from 1883 to
1900, but today they would be around 110. This was the generation that
grew up during the third Great Awakening, the doughboys who went through
World War I.
They were the generation that put the “roar” into the
“Roaring ‘20s” - the rum runners, barnstormers, and entrepreneurs of
that period. They were big risk-takers.
DAVID: Is the Millennial Generation the next group up in terms of
controlling or being a powerful force in society?
HOWE: It depends what you mean by a powerful force in society.
DAVID: Who is going to be in the driver's seat?
HOWE: Let me put it this way. The generation that is about to be in the
driver's seat in terms of leadership is Generation X, the group born
1961 to 1981.
In fact, we now have our first Gen-X President, Barack
Obama, who was born in 1961 and who is in every way a Gen Xer, despite
being born at the very early edge of his generation.
family upbringing, with his father leaving while he was young and his
mother moving all over the world, is typical of the Gen X life story. A
telling anecdote from his biography is that, when he arrived at Columbia
University, he spent his first night in New York sleeping in an alley
because no one had arranged to have an apartment open for him.
His life story has a “dazed and confused” aspect. He made his own way
against a background of adult neglect and lack of structure. It’s
interesting that he is the first leader in America to call himself
As a matter of fact, he talks regularly about how he
intends to put an end to everything dysfunctional about Boomer politics:
the polarization, the culture wars, the scorched-earth rhetoric, the
identity politics, all of that. I understand a lot of people do not
believe he can actually do this, but it’s interesting that this is the
rhetoric he chooses.
That rhetoric is one reason why the vast majority
of Millennials voted for him.
Obama is the opening wedge of Gen Xers who will assume very high
leadership posts. They are not yet the senior generals in control of the
military, but they are taking over the reins of government and, of
course, the top spots in American businesses.
If you want to know what Neil Howe foresees for the U.S. economy, future
investment opportunities, and American society in general, read the
continuation of this report at "Into
the Fourth Turning - A Casey Research interview with Neil Howe".