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The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny Paperback – December 29, 1997
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The Fourth Turning continues the project of mapping out the place of generations in history, a project begun in the authors' earlier books Generations and 13th Gen. If millennial fever takes hold, The Fourth Turning may be only the first of an impending wave of pseudo-scholarly tracts prognosticating future (but imminent!) doom as we collectively close the books on this millennium. Those expecting a serious or dry tome might be put off by the authors' taste for bulleted text and catchy phrasings, but can you blame these guys for wanting to make impending peril as exciting as possible? After all, they think we are headed toward "events on par with the Revolution, the Civil War, or World War II" in the next 20 years. Mixing solid understanding of present generational divisions, with some fairly broad generalizations, Strauss and Howe promise to move from history to prophecy. Fans of Future Shock, Megatrends, or Powershift will be familiar with the authors' style of writing and not at all put off by the book's reach or style. Their take on history provides an intriguing (if not always reliable) lens through which to view the past, present, and maybe even the future. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
After researching historical patterns, the authors (Generations: The History of America's Future, Morrow, 1991) conclude that America is on the verge of crisis. They substantiate their hypothesis by identifying and tracing a repetitive, four-stage historical cycle that, throughout recorded time, started on a high note and ended in hardship. Narrator Michael Tilford's polished, convincing voice and steady pacing lend an air of legitimacy to the authors' assertions. A brief question-and-answer session between the narrator and the authors at program's end provides an interactive quality that enhances the sometimes methodical drone of the historical analysis. Like other works of prophecy, The Fourth Turning should circulate well in public libraries.?Mark P. Tierney, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In a nutshell, the book advances the view that history roughly repeats itself every 80 years. Further, every 80 year period is characterized by the arrival of Artists (silent generation in this cycle), Prophets (boomers), Nomads (Gen Xers) and Heroes (millennials). Previous incarnations of this cycle ended with the war of independence, the civil war and world war II. This naturally sets up the denouement for this cycle which the authors expect to occur in the 2025 time frame. Each cycle is divided into turnings: the present one is characterized by First (High: 1946-1964), Second (Awakening: 1964-1984), Third (Unraveling: 1984-2008) and Fourth (Crisis: 2008-202X). From the book's perspective and Neil Howe's subsequent blog posts, we entered the Fourth Turning in 2008. There's nothing spooky or mystical about these cycles and turnings: instead the authors stress that human nature and culture seem to have these rhythms and that Anglo-American history is stable enough to be characterized in this manner. Other cultures may either be too stable or too chaotic to follow this type of pattern.
Prior to the arrival of Donald Trump and despite the eerie portend of the financial crisis, I would have dismissed this book. Now, it looks positively prophetic. Is there any doubt now that the combination of (i) income inequality, (ii) the economic problems of the white working class, (iii) the culture wars, (iv) multiculturalism and globalism, (v) the ravages of identity politics and postmodernism and (vi) terrorism is not going to be a combustible mix over the next decade? And that these will simultaneously distract us from combating global warming - the clear threat of the next era? While I find it hard to buy into the notion that the US will face an existential crisis (as predicted by the book), there's definitely merit in the view that the next ten years will probably have the capability of shocking us however jaded we may be at the present time.
This book was first published in a hardbound edition in 1997, then in a softbound edition the following year. I suggest you keep this thought in mind when William Strauss and Neil Howe share their circa-2005 predictions that include tax rebellions throughout the United States in protest of governmental inefficiency and incompetence, global terrorism initiatives (e.g. blowing up an aircraft), foreign capital flight from U.S., and growing anarchy throughout the former Soviet republics. This is a research-driven book, as indicated by 25 pages of "Notes."
Also, at least some of the material develops in much greater depth what Strauss and Howe previously introduced in Generations: A History of America's Future (1991) and 13th-GEN (1993). I suggest that you check out the quantitative and bibliographical appendices available (Pages 455-519) in Strauss and Howe's previous book, Generations.
Here is a representative selection of key points that caught my eye:
On Turnings: "The Fourth is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with the new...The fourth Turning is history's great discontinuity. It ends one epoch and begins another." (Pages 3 and 6)
On the three ways that man has measured time: (i.e. chaotic, cyclical, and linear) "The great achievement of linear time has been to endow mankind with a purposeful confidence in its own self-improvement...Yet the great weakness of linear time is that it obliterates time's recurrence and thus cats people off from the eternal - whether in nature, in each other, or in ourselves." (Page 11)
On the Anglo-American Saeculum: "The saeculum is a seasonal cycle of history, roughly the length of a long life [i.e. 80-100 years], that explains the periodic recurrences of Awakenings and Crises throughout modernity. The Anglo-American saeculum dates back to the waning of the Middle Ages in the middle of the fifteenth century." (Page 123)
On the six prior Fourth Turnings in the Anglo-American lineage:
Wars of the Roses (1459-1487), Late Medieval Saeculum
Armada Crisis (1569-1594), Reformation Saeculum
Glorious Revolution (1675-1704), New World Saeculum
American Revolution (1860-1865), Civil War Saeculum
Great Depression and World War Two (1929-1946), Great Power Saeculum
"With the partial exception of the U.S. Civil War, Each Fourth Turning followed a similar morphology." (Page 259)
On the circularity of life, but also its perpetuity: "Modern societies too often reject circles for straight lines between starts and finishes. Believers in linear progress, we feel the need to keep moving forward. The more we endeavor to defeat nature, the more profoundly we land at the mercy of its deeper rhythms." (Page 329)
On empowerment by the next Fourth Turning: "We should not feel limited, but rather empowered by the knowledge that the Fourth Turning's ekpyrosis [i.e. a Stoic belief in the periodic destruction of the cosmos by a great conflagration every Great Year] can have such decisive consequences. By lending structure to life and time, the seaculum makes human history all the more purposeful. A belief in foreseeable seasons and perceptible rhythms can inspire a society or an individual to do great things that might otherwise seem pointless." (Page 332)
Throughout years of research and analysis, Strauss and Howe located patterns that recur over time and discovered the natural rhythms of social experience. They then shared what they learned in this book, first published 15 years ago. They help their reader to understand "what the cycles of history tell us about America's next rendezvous with history." Although I carefully re-read the several hundred passages I had highlighted before composing this review, I do not claim to understand, fully, everything in the book.
We cannot predict with seamless accuracy what will happen in months and years to come. However, I agree with William Strauss and Neil Howe that we [begin italics] can [end italics] prepare for probable contingencies with initiatives guided and informed by the information insights, and wisdom they provide in this book.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. provides an appropriate conclusion to this review: "A true cycle...is self-generating. It cannot be determined, short of catastrophe, by external events...The roots of this cyclical self-sufficiency lie deep in the natural life of humanity. There is a cyclical pattern in organic nature - in the tides, in the seasons, in night and day, in the systole and diastole of the human heart."