OPINION – I can’t recall a New Year’s celebration where I’ve heard so many people describe the past year in such malevolent terms. It’s as if the year 2016 somehow became a living breathing entity that chose to turn against humanity.
Some are emotionally frayed from the contrived and divisive political power struggle that dominated so much of our public awareness. Others are jumping on the bandwagon of celebrity worship as they obsess over entertainers they’ve never met who happened to die during the past year.
Whatever the subjective high points and low points of 2016 might have been, the current sense of crisis and dissolution is perfectly in keeping with the historical cycle known as the Fourth Turning.
Those unfamiliar with this generational theory first put forth by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe can get a brief summary of their theory here.
In a nutshell, Strauss and Howe identified a seasonal cycle of history that plays out every 80-100 years. The cycle is easy to see when compared to our nation’s historical past.
The First Turning is described as a “High,” which corresponds with renewal and springtime. This would best be recognized in the period immediately after our nation’s founding, in the years that followed Reconstruction and the boom that came after WWII and the Great Depression.
The Second Turning is an “Awakening,” which mirrors the bright and productive days of summer. This would include the early 1800s and Westward expansion, the Gilded Age, industrialization and America’s rise to a world power and the ’50s, ’60s and much of the ’70s.
The Third Turning is an autumn of “Unraveling,” in which institutions become weak and distrusted, and cynicism and bad manners are the new norm. It’s when the true state of many of our cultural institutions is revealed.
Examples from American history include the sectionalism that divided North and South, the Roaring ’20s and the era of prohibition. Our most recent Unraveling began in the 1980s and continued to 2008.
Chris Oswald spells out some of the key mileposts:
- 911 and the subsequent terror attacks in America have exposed the tenuousness of our homeland security.
- The proliferation of online pornography and the Ashley Madison hacks exposed the unsoundness of our marriages.
- The 2008 housing crisis exposed our financial leaders to be lemmings and our firmest financial segment (housing) to be Papier-mâché.
- Ferguson exposed our inner cities to be piles of sweaty dynamite.
- Snowden and WikiLeaks exposed our government to be dishonest.
- Dozens of reporting scandals exposed our media to be duplicitous.
The Fourth Turning is a long winter that’s defined by crisis. Typically, these turnings have set the stage for founding moments in our national history.
It was from the crisis of the Revolutionary War and its aftermath that the Constitution was written and our republic was founded. The War Between the States set the stage for the transformation from a federal system of government to an all-powerful national government where the states became subservient.
The crises of the Great Depression and WWII altered our nation’s status to that of a super power both economically and militarily. Strauss and Howe have noted that typically, Americans are blind to each turning until after it fully arrives.
No sane person would argue that these crises were mere speed bumps along the path of national history. They were times when the very survival of the nation felt at stake and the outcome was uncertain.
Emerging from the first Fourth Turning, our nation was in a very favorable condition in terms of personal liberty and the opportunity to prosper. The next two crises and subsequent Fourth Turnings have given us less reason to celebrate.
They have taken us further away from the foundational principles of freedom that were present at our nation’s beginning. This is not widely recognized by a populace that is held in thrall to flickering images on the walls of their homes. Images that they believe represent reality.
As Chris Oswald laments, classical liberalism is “now twisted into the rootless fascist rage of the Social Justice Warrior” and classical capitalism is “now perverted into Wall Street’s formless greed.”
“Both movements employ circular reasoning,” Oswald notes, “and above all, both attempt to bully the culture with the aires of inevitability.”
This, more than mere political dissatisfaction, helps to explain the intensifying sense of despair and urgency that is taking hold in the lives of common people.
While we cannot know with certainty the events that will accompany the climax of this Fourth Turning crisis, there remains one area of critical importance where our influence matters.
Each of us still retains ultimate control over what kind of person we choose to be and how we will react to the events around us. To realize a positive result on the other side of this crisis, we’ll need to focus on being builders rather than destroyers.
This requires us to be defined by those things for which we stand and to consciously become less enemy-driven.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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