OPINION – No book has changed the way I view current events more than “The Fourth Turning” by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe.
The book was first published in 1997 and contains a remarkably innovative method of describing the cycles of history. History makes much more sense when observed as a cyclical series of turnings rather than a linear list of events.
Strauss and Howe identified four turnings that take place every 80-100 years. The first turning is a “high” in which there is an abundance of social order, growth and stability. The second turning is an Awakening where individuals begin to question and test the rules of society such as was seen during the 1960s. The third turning is an unraveling where social disorder feels pervasive and culture wars are common.
The fourth turning represents a time of crisis during which the very identity of society hangs in the balance. Fourth turnings often include great economic upheaval and, more often than not, war plays a role in the crisis.
“All Fourth Turnings resemble Winter, with bitter cold options, biting winds of change, dark days, and destructive storms,” Jim Quinn wrote. “The seasons cannot be averted. The Seasons of a year are predictable, as are the seasons of a human life.”
The exact events of a fourth turning cannot be predicted, but following this turning, there is a dramatic realignment.
Examples in American history would include the founding era that followed the crisis of the War for Independence; the shift in power away from the states following the Civil War; and the rise in global influence that America experienced after the Great Depression and WWII.
During each of these fourth turnings, a new generation comes of age.
That generation often pays the highest price and does the heavy lifting required to see the country through the crisis. It was the G.I. generation, born from 1901-1924, which saw America through some of its most difficult years through the end of WWII. They are rightly represented by the archetype of a Hero.
In our day, the next Hero generation will be the millennials who were born from 1982-2005. Like the G.I. generation, they will come of age during a time of crisis and uncertainty. However, they will also be facing burdens that the previous Hero generation did not. They will pay the price for bad decisions made by the boomers and Generation X.
Jim Quinn explains what the millennials are up against, “The $17 trillion national debt accumulated by elder generations to benefit themselves and $222 trillion of unfunded entitlements promised to themselves is nothing but generational theft. It’s immoral and possibly the most selfish act in human history.”
The acceleration of deficit spending for the past few years has placed a gigantic debt squarely on the shoulders of a generation that had no say in the matter, yet is expected to pay it without complaint. This may instead lead to some form of intergenerational conflict.
Strauss and Howe in “The Fourth Turning” anticipated this likelihood and they warned that older generations could come to see the millennials as a threat. They wrote:
When young adults encounter leaders who cling to the old regime (and who keep propping up senior benefit programs that will by then be busting the budget), they will not tune out, 13er – style. Instead, they will get busy working to defeat or overcome their adversaries. Their success will lead some older critics to perceive real danger in a rising generation perceived as capable but naïve.
This is becoming apparent in political circles as the GOP and Democratic parties recognize that the millennials represent a potential voting bloc that’s 87 million strong. Right now the under-30 crowd tends to despise both establishment parties — with good reason.
There is no doubt that the influence of the millennial generation will be instrumental in determining the direction of our country over the next 15 years. They may have had little say in the creation of our current welfare/warfare state, but they will get the final word in the near future.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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