Best known for coining the nickname for the “millennial” generation, their [Strauss and Howe’s] work [The Fourth Turning] identified a pattern: Every two decades or so, “people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future.” Strauss and Howe called these changes “turnings,” and argued that they come in cycles of four—matching nature’s seasons—with each cycle lasting a total of roughly eighty to one hundred years (about one long human lifespan). Theirs is a sociological view of history.
Strauss and Howe are worth quoting at length on their Fourth Turning, which they call “history’s great discontinuity” because it “ends one epoch and begins another.” They wrote:
“History is seasonal, and winter is coming. . . . Here, in summary, is what the rhythms of modern history warn about America’s future. . . . 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. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring the seeds of social rebirth. . . a resolute new consensus about what to do. 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.
“The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and effort – in other words, a total war. Every Fourth Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it. In the Civil War, the two capital cities would surely have incinerated each other had the means been at hand. In World War II, America invented a new technology of annihilation, which the nation swiftly put to use. This time, America will enter a Fourth Turning with the means to inflict unimaginable horrors and, perhaps, will confront adversaries who possess the same.
“Yet Americans will also enter the Fourth Turning with a unique opportunity to achieve a new greatness as a people. Many despair that values that were new in the 1960s are today so entwined with social dysfunction and cultural decay that they can no longer lead anywhere positive. Through the current Unraveling era, that is probably true. But in the crucible of Crisis, that will change. As the old civic order gives way, Americans will have to craft a new one. This will require a values consensus and, to administer it, the empowerment of a strong political regime. If all goes well, there could be a renaissance of civic trust, and more. . . . By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good, by today’s standards, and also one that works.”
Photo “Winter Road” via Pavel P.