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Ever hear of the Fourth Turning theory?

History

William Strauss and Neil Howe's partnership began in the late 1980s when they began writing their first book Generations, which discusses the history of the United States as a succession of generational biographies. Each had written on generational topics: Strauss on Baby Boomers and the Vietnam War draft, and Howe on the G.I. Generation and federal entitlement programs.[18] Strauss co-wrote two books with Lawrence Baskir about how the Vietnam War affected the Baby Boomers (Chance and Circumstance: The Draft the War and The Vietnam Generation (1978) and Reconciliation after Vietnam (1977)). Neil Howe studied what he believed to be the US's entitlement attitude of the 1980s and co-authored On Borrowed Time: How America's entitlement ego puts America's future at risk of Bankruptcy in 1988 with Peter George Peterson.[19] The authors' interest in generations as a broader topic emerged after they met in Washington, D.C., and began discussing the connections between each of their previous works.[20]

They wondered why Boomers and G.I.s had developed such different ways of looking at the world, and what it was about these generations’ experiences growing up that prompted their different outlooks. They also wondered whether any previous generations had acted along similar lines, and their research discussed historical analogues to the current generations. They ultimately described a recurring pattern in Anglo-American history of four generational types, each with a distinct collective persona, and a corresponding cycle of four different types of era, each with a distinct mood. The groundwork for this theory was laid out in Generations in 1991. Strauss and Howe expanded on their theory and updated the terminology in The Fourth Turning in 1997.[18][21]Generations helped popularize the idea that people in a particular age group tend to share a distinct set of beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors because they all grow up and come of age during a particular period in history.[8]

In Generations (1991) and The Fourth Turning (1997), they discussed the generation gap between Baby Boomers and their parents and predicted there would be no such gap between Millennials and their elders. In 2000, they published Millennials Rising. A 2000 New York Times book review for this book titled: What's the Matter With Kids Today? Not a Thing, described the message of Millennials Rising as “we boomers are raising a cohort of kids who are smarter, more industrious and better behaved than any generation before”, saying the book complimented the Baby Boomer cohort by complimenting their parenting skills.[22][23][24]

In the mid-1990s, the authors began receiving inquiries about how their research could be applied to strategic problems in organizations. They established themselves as pioneers in a growing field, and started speaking frequently about their work at events and conferences.[8] In 1999, they founded LifeCourse Associates, a publishing, speaking and consulting company built on their generational theory. As LifeCourse partners, they have offered keynote speeches, consulting services, and customized communications to corporate, nonprofit, government, and education clients. They have also written six books in which they assert that the Millennial Generation is transforming various sectors, including schools, colleges, entertainment, and the workplace.[promotional language]

On December 18, 2007, William Strauss died at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer.[25] Neil Howe continues to expand LifeCourse Associates and to write books and articles on a variety of generational topics. Each year Mr. Howe gives about 60 speeches, often followed by customized workshops, at colleges, elementary schools, and corporations.[8] Neil Howe is a public policy adviser to the Blackstone Group, senior adviser to the Concord Coalition, and senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.[26]

Steve Bannon, former Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump is a prominent proponent of the theory. As a documentary filmmaker, Bannon discussed the details of Strauss–Howe generational theory in Generation Zero. According to historian David Kaiser, who was consulted for the film, Generation Zero “focused on the key aspect of their theory, the idea that every 80 years American history has been marked by a crisis, or 'fourth turning', that destroyed an old order and created a new one”. Kaiser said Bannon is "very familiar with Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, and has been thinking about how to use it to achieve particular goals for quite a while."[27][28][29] A February 2017 article from Business Insider titled: "Steve Bannon's obsession with a dark theory of history should be worrisome", commented: "Bannon seems to be trying to bring about the 'Fourth Turning'."[30]

Works

Strauss and Howe's theory provided historical information regarding living and past generations and made various predictions. Many of their predictions were regarding the Millennial Generation, who were young children when they began their work, thus lacking significant historical data. In their first book Generations (1991), Strauss and Howe describe the history of the US as a succession of Anglo-American generational biographies from 1584 to the present, and they describe a theorized recurring generational cycle in American history. The authors posit a pattern of four repeating phases, generational types and a recurring cycle of spiritual awakenings and secular crises, from the founding colonials of America through the present day.[1][31]

Strauss and Howe followed in 1993 with their second book 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, which was published while Gen Xers were young adults. The book examines the generation born between 1961 and 1981, "Gen-Xers" (which they called "13ers", describing them as the thirteenth generation since the US became a nation). The book asserts that 13ers' location in history as under-protected children during the Consciousness Revolution explains their pragmatic attitude. They describe Gen Xers as growing up during a time when society was less focused on children and more focused on adults and their self-actualization.[32][33][31]

In 1997, the authors published The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, which expanded on the ideas presented in Generations and extended their cycles back into the early 15th century. The authors began the use of more colorful names for generational archetypes - e.g. "Civics" became "Heroes" (which they applied to the Millennial Generation), "Adaptives" became "Artists" - and of the terms "Turning" and "Saeculum" for the generational cycles. The title is a reference to what their first book called a Crisis period, which they expected to recur soon after the turn of the millennium.[2]

In 2000, the two authors published Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. This work discussed the personality of the Millennial Generation, whose oldest members were described as the high school graduating class of the year 2000. In this 2000 book, Strauss and Howe asserted that Millennial teens and young adults were recasting the image of youth from "downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged". They credited increased parental attention and protection for these positive changes. They asserted Millennials are held to higher standards than adults apply to themselves and that they are a lot less vulgar and violent than the teen culture older people produce for them. They described them as less sexually charged and as ushering in a new sexual modesty, with an increasing belief that sex should be saved for marriage and a return to conservative family values. They predicted that over the following decade, Millennials would transform what it means to be young. According to the authors, Millennials could emerge as the next "Great Generation". The book was described as an optimistic, feel-good book for the parents of the Millennial Generation, predominantly the Baby Boomers.[22][34][35]

Defining a generation

Strauss and Howe define a social generation as the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years or about the length of one phase of life: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age. Generations are identified (from first birthyear to last) by looking for cohort groups of this length that share three criteria. First, members of a generation share what the authors call an age location in history: they encounter key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life. In this view, members of a generation are shaped in lasting ways by the eras they encounter as children and young adults and they share certain common beliefs and behaviors. Aware of the experiences and traits that they share with their peers, members of a generation would also share a sense of common perceived membership in that generation.[36]

They based their definition of a generation on the work of various writers and social thinkers, from ancient writers such as Polybius and Ibn Khaldun to modern social theorists such as José Ortega y Gasset, Karl Mannheim, John Stuart Mill, Émile Littré, Auguste Comte, and François Mentré.[37]

Turnings

While writing Generations, Strauss and Howe described a theorized pattern in the historical generations they examined, which they say revolved around generational events which they call turnings. In Generations, and in greater detail in The Fourth Turning, they describe a four-stage cycle of social or mood eras which they call "turnings". The turnings include: "The High", "The Awakening", "The Unraveling" and "The Crisis".[31]

High

According to Strauss and Howe, the First Turning is a High, which occurs after a Crisis. During The High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.[38]

According to the authors, the most recent First Turning in the US was the post–World War II American High, beginning in 1946 and ending with the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.[39]

Awakening

According to the theory, the Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Just when society is reaching its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of "self-awareness", "spirituality" and "personal authenticity". Young activists look back at the previous High as an era of cultural and spiritual poverty.[40]

Strauss & Howe say the US's most recent Awakening was the “Consciousness Revolution,” which spanned from the campus and inner-city revolts of the mid-1960s to the tax revolts of the early 1980s.[41]

Unraveling

According to Strauss and Howe, the Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era they say is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. The authors say Highs come after Crises, when society wants to coalesce and build and avoid the death and destruction of the previous crisis. Unravelings come after Awakenings, when society wants to atomize and enjoy.[42] They say the most recent Unraveling in the US began in the 1980s and includes the Long Boom and Culture War.[31]

Crisis

According to the authors, the Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war or revolution, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.[43]

The authors say the previous Fourth Turning in the US began with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and climaxed with the end of World War II. The G.I. Generation (which they call a Hero archetype, born 1901 to 1924) came of age during this era. They say their confidence, optimism, and collective outlook epitomized the mood of that era.[44] The authors assert the Millennial Generation (which they also describe as a Hero archetype, born 1982 to 2004) show many similar traits to those of the G.I. youth, which they describe as including: rising civic engagement, improving behavior, and collective confidence.[45]

Cycle

The authors describe each turning as lasting about 20–22 years. Four turnings make up a full cycle of about 80 to 90 years,[46] which the authors term a saeculum, after the Latin word meaning both "a long human life" and "a natural century".[47]

Generational change drives the cycle of turnings and determines its periodicity. As each generation ages into the next life phase (and a new social role) society's mood and behavior fundamentally changes, giving rise to a new turning. Therefore, a symbiotic relationship exists between historical events and generational personas. Historical events shape generations in childhood and young adulthood; then, as parents and leaders in midlife and old age, generations in turn shape history.[48]

Each of the four turnings has a distinct mood that recurs every saeculum. Strauss and Howe describe these turnings as the "seasons of history". At one extreme is the Awakening, which is analogous to summer, and at the other extreme is the Crisis, which is analogous to winter. The turnings in between are transitional seasons, the High and the Unraveling are similar to spring and autumn, respectively.[49] Strauss and Howe have discussed 26 theorized turnings over 7 saecula in Anglo-American history, from the year 1435 through today.

At the heart of Strauss & Howe's ideas is a basic alternation between two different types of eras, Crises and Awakenings. Both of these are defining eras in which people observe that historic events are radically altering their social environment.[50] Crises are periods marked by major secular upheaval, when society focuses on reorganizing the outer world of institutions and public behavior (they say the last American Crisis was the period spanning the Great Depression and World War II). Awakenings are periods marked by cultural or religious renewal, when society focuses on changing the inner world of values and private behavior (the last American Awakening was the "Consciousness Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s).[51]

During Crises, great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order. During Awakenings, an ethic of individualism emerges, and the institutional order is attacked by new social ideals and spiritual agendas.[52] According to the authors, about every eighty to ninety years—the length of a long human life—a national Crisis occurs in American society. Roughly halfway to the next Crisis, a cultural Awakening occurs (historically, these have often been called Great Awakenings).[51]

In describing this cycle of Crises and Awakenings, they draw from the work of other historians and social scientists who have also discussed long cycles in American and European history. The cycle of Crises corresponds with long cycles of war identified by such scholars as Arnold J. Toynbee, Quincy Wright, and L. L. Ferrar Jr., and with geopolitical cycles identified by William R. Thompson and George Modelski.[53] Strauss and Howe say their cycle of Awakenings corresponds with Anthony Wallace's work on revitalization movements;[54] they also say recurring Crises and Awakenings correspond with two-stroke cycles in politics (Walter Dean Burnham, Arthur Schlesinger Sr. and Jr.), foreign affairs (Frank L. Klingberg), and the economy (Nikolai Kondratieff) as well as with long-term oscillations in crime and substance abuse.[55]

Archetypes

The authors say two different types of eras and two formative age locations associated with them (childhood and young adulthood) produce four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings. In Generations, they refer to these four archetypes as Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive.[56] In The Fourth Turning (1997) they change this terminology to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.[57] They say the generations in each archetype not only share a similar age-location in history, they also share some basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement. In essence, generations shaped by similar early-life experiences develop similar collective personas and follow similar life-trajectories.[58] To date, Strauss and Howe have described 25 generations in Anglo-American history, each with a corresponding archetype. The authors describe the archetypes as follows:

Prophet

Abraham Lincoln, born in 1809. Strauss and Howe would identify him as a member of the Transcendental generation.

Prophet (Idealist) generations enter childhood during a High, a time of rejuvenated community life and consensus around a new societal order. Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening, focus on morals and principles in midlife, and emerge as elders guiding another Crisis.[59] Examples: Transcendental Generation, Missionary Generation, Baby Boomers.

Nomad

Nomad (Reactive) generations enter childhood during an Awakening, a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening young adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders.[59] Examples: Gilded Generation, Lost Generation, Generation X

Hero

Young adults fighting in World War II were born in the early part of the 20th century, like PT109 commander LTJG John F. Kennedy (b. 1917). They are part of the G.I. Generation, which follows the Hero archetype.

Hero (Civic) generations enter childhood after an Awakening, during an Unraveling, a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez-faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening.[59] Examples: Republican Generation, G.I. Generation, Millennials

Artist

Artist (Adaptive) generations enter childhood after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders.[59] Examples: Progressive Generation, Silent Generation, Generation Z

Summary

  • An average life is 80 years, and consists of four periods of ~20–22 years
    • Childhood → Young adult → Midlife → Elderhood
  • A generation is an aggregate of people born every ~20–22 years
    • Baby Boomers → Gen X → Millennials → Homelanders
  • Each generation experiences "four turnings" every ~80–90 years
    • High → Awakening → Unraveling → Crisis
  • A generation is considered "dominant" or "recessive" according to the turning experienced as young adults. But as a youth generation comes of age and defines its collective persona an opposing generational archetype is in its midlife peak of power.
    • Dominant: independent behavior + attitudes in defining an era
    • Recessive: dependent role in defining an era
  • Dominant Generations
    • Prophet: Awakening as young adults. Awakening, defined: Institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy
    • Hero: Crisis as young adults. Crisis, defined: Institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival
  • Recessive Generations
    • Nomad: Unraveling as young adults. Unraveling, defined: Institutions are weak and distrusted, individualism is strong and flourishing
    • Artist: High [when they become] young adults. High, defined: Institutions are strong and individualism is weak

Generations

Late Medieval Saeculum

Arthurian Generation

The Arthurian Generation was born between 1433 and 1460 and is of the hero archetype. Members of the generation grew up during England's retreat from France, during an era of rising civil unrest.[60]

Humanist Generation

The Humanist Generation was born between 1461 and 1482 and is of the artist/adaptive archetype.

This generation came of age at the height of the Middle Ages, just prior to the Reformation and Renaissance. For the educated classes life was fairly static, with Renaissance Humanist teaching and a clear career path through the church or State bureaucracy becoming increasingly available for the educated middle classes. Humanist influences took hold across Europe, and in many ways prepared the intellectual landscape for the coming reformation. Their youth coincided with the development of the European Printing press allowing a greater dissemination of knowledge.[61]

According to Strauss and Howe, those who constituted this generation had a sheltered childhood during a bloody civil war and were educated abroad, becoming Greek language tutors, international scholars, poets, prelates, and literate merchants and yeomen.[62] The education produced by the humanist generation has been described as focused on the qualitative and the subjective, rather than the quantitative and the objective.[63]

Some of the notable persons who influenced this generation include Thomas More, Erasmus, Thomas Linacre, John Colet, Cardinal Wolsey, Michelangelo, Copernicus, Francisco Pizarro and Cesare Borgia. King Edward V was also born into this generation, but as he died at only 15 years old, it is difficult to properly place him in this archetype. However, according to the historian Dominic Mancini Edward was very fascinated with science and philosophy, and was very well learned beyond his years.[64]

Reformation Saeculum

Reformation Generation

Sir Thomas More (1527) by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Reformation Generation generation was born between 1483 and 1511 and is of the prophet archetype. This generation rebelled as youths, prompting the first colleges in the 1520s.[65]

Reprisal Generation

The Reprisal Generation was born between 1512 and 1540 and is of the nomad/reactive archetype. They spent their childhood amid religious frenzy and a widespread erosion of social authority—and came of age in a cynical, post-Awakening era of cut-throat politics and roller-coaster markets.[66] They crewed the ships during the wars of the Spanish Armada and saw the expansion of British territories and colonisation in the New World overseas.[67][68] Notable people in this generation include Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Thomas Gresham, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, Francis Walsingham, Michel de Montaigne, Walter Raleigh, Nicholas Fuller, and Edward Coke.

Elizabethan Generation

The Elizabethan Generation was born between 1541 and 1565 and is of the hero archetype. They benefited as children from an explosive growth in academies intended to transform them into perfect people of civic achievement and teamwork. They came to age during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604). They regulated commerce, explored overseas empires, built English country houses, pursued science, and wrote poetry that celebrated an orderly universe.[69]

Parliamentary Generation

The Parliamentary Generation was born from 1566 and 1587 and are of the artist archetype. Their childhoods took place during an era of foreign threats and war. They built impeccable credentials in law, scholarship, religion, and arts and crafts guilds.[70]

New World Saeculum

Puritan Generation

The Puritan Generation was born from 1588 and 1617 and is of the prophet archetype. Members of the generation were led through the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639-1651) by King Charles I and others led a large migration to the United States. The generation was very religious.[71]

Cavalier Generation

The Cavalier Generation was born from 1618 to 1647 and were of the nomad archetype. Members of this generation grew up in an era of religious upheaval and family collapse. Their generation was notoriously violent and uneducated, causing men to take great risks, resulting in many young deaths.[72]

Glorious Generation

The Glorious Generation was born from 1648 to 1673 and were of the hero archetype. They had a protected childhood with tax-supported schools and new laws discouraging the kidnapping of young servants. After proving their worth in the Indian Wars and triumphing in the Glorious Revolution, they were rewarded with electoral office at a young age. As young adults, they took pride in the growing political, commercial, and scientific achievements of England. They designed insurance, paper money, and public works.[73]

Enlightenment Generation

The Enlightenment Generation' was born between 1674 and 1700. They grew up as protected children when families were close, youth risk discouraged, and good educations and well-connected marriages highly prized. As adults they provided America's first large cadre of credentialed professionals, political managers, and plantation administrators.[74]

Revolutionary Saeculum

Awakening Generation

The Awakening Generation was born between 1701 and 1723 and was of the prophet archetype. They were the first colonial generation to consist mostly of the offspring of native-born parents. As adults they attacked their elders' moral complacency in a spiritual firestorm.[75]

Liberty Generation

Portrait of George Washington

The Liberty Generation (nomad archetype) was born between 1724 and 1741. Notable members include King George III, Czarina Catherine the Great, George Washington, Giacomo Casanova, Paul Revere, Thomas Paine, and Daniel Boone.

Republican Generation

The Republican Generation was born between 1742 and 1766. This generation is known for participating in several global revolutionary movements during the Age of Revolution. This generation witnessed political turmoil in response to growing British imperialism, and the vast social inequalities exacerbated by ruthless competition between European Monarchists.

They came of age during British imperialism and during a time when the viability of mercantilism was being questioned. Relying on Enlightenment philosophy, they unleashed violent episodes of revolution, vilified Monarchy, and promoted Republicanism. In colonial America, they participated in the American Revolutionary War, secured Independence from British rule, and established a libertarian system of governance, based on constitutional republicanism and representative democracy. Notable persons affiliated with this generation include Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Maximilien Robespierre, and Camille Desmoulins.

Compromise Generation

The Compromise Generation was born between 1767 and 1791 and were of the artist archetype. They "rocked in the cradle of the Revolution" as they watched brave adults struggle and triumph.[76]

Civil War Saeculum

Transcendental Generation

The Transcendental Generation was born between 1792 and 1821 and were of the prophet archetype. They started the Second Great Awakening across the United States.[77] Members of this generation include Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Smith, Henry David Thoreau, and William Lloyd Garrison

Gilded Generation



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