Book Review - The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny
December 16, 2020
“Plausible scenario: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus… Congress enacts quarantine measures… Mayors resist. Urban gangs battle suburban militias. Calls mount for the president to declare martial law” - Strauss/Howe (1997)
How Does This Book Relate to Current Events?
We are witnessing a profound shift in Western societies. What if we told you that the events of today were prophesied in a book published in 1997? Strauss and Howe authored one of the most important books of our modern day. If you are like most witnessing our troubled world, you want to know 1) what comes next, and 2) how long does this crisis last? By scrutinizing human nature, as it relates to the Anglo-American societies in particular, we can discern patterns of moods and resulting behaviors. We see cycles in nature as tides, day/night, and the seasons. Likewise, each of our physical lives cycle through a familiar pattern. So too are the cycles of humanity as a group. The reader will quickly recognize the events foretold in this book as having come to pass in recent years and further foretelling plausible. The revelations of the underlying forces that shaped such events are even more astounding.
Strauss and Howe explain how and why a cycle of history is largely measured by the years of a “long life”, about 86 years (a “long life” also known as a saeculum). About the span of four 21.5 year generations. In fact, this four-type generational cycle theory is not new. It is evident in the Old Testament and the works of Homer, Toynbee, et. al. The authors further explain the generational moods that occur from one generation to the next. Using historical accounts, the authors painstakingly chronicle Anglo-American saeculums dating back from the Medieval, Reformation, New World, and Revolutionary forward to the Civil War, Great Power, and Millennial. The individual generations largely coincide to “seasons” of the longer 86-year cycle. The book pivots on what was the imminent “Fourth Turning” from Fall to Winter at the time of publishing in 1997. As of this writing in 2020, it is now clear that Winter is upon our Anglo-American, indeed Western Civilization.
It is a treat to hear the explanations for the Beach Blanket Bingo ‘50s and the British Invasion of Rock in the ’60s and ‘70s. Why are some generations prolific in the arts and culture and others not? Why do some generations exhibit civic/social tendencies and others more triumphant of the individual? The reader marvels at the parallels that seem obvious, but only after the authors draw your attention to such distinctions. You will never see generations in the same way after reading this work. You will develop deep insights into the GI Generation, Artist Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials. (In fact, Strauss and Howe are credited with coining the “Millennial” generation moniker.)
Why would human nature play out in such a predictable way? As the authors repeatedly state, generations are shaped by the previous generation and shape the next generation. Howe states it in another way, "History creates generations because younger people are shaped by events; Generations create history because older people direct the course of events”. Here in the West, we do not typically think in terms of cyclical time; the ancients knew better as do those in the East. There is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We should awaken and respond to this immutable truth. Past is prolog. The curious will apply themselves to objective surveys of historical Fourth Turnings in order to prepare and brace for that which will be thrust upon each of us.
“ There is a mysterious cycle in human events.
To some generations much is given.
Of other generations much is expected.
This generation has a rendezvous with destiny. ”
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1936)
Why Should I Care?
Though history does not always repeat exactly, the future unfolds with familiar forces and outcomes. To appreciate when we are, this book is essential - a mandatory read. “This is a book that turns history into prophesy”, our authors state. We cannot change history any more than we can deny our future. However, we can prepare. We can soften the effects; turn down the volume. Few imagined that our world could change like it has during 2020. The response to the corona virus would have been hard to imagine a year ago. The effects of the response could be a total collapse of Western Civilization, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic. Certainly, small businesses cannot endure indefinite lockdowns, yet 70% of employment emanates from small businesses in the U.S. What we are seeing is an abolition of civil rights in exchange for promises of safety and security.
It is only through the lens of history can we evaluation the current motivations and likely outcomes. The one constant in all of life is that of human nature - it does not change. We should each deeply devote ourselves to the events of history within the context of this drum beat. Only then can we hold the promise of a joyous spring (First Turning).
Pros, Cons, and Is It Worth My Time?
The regularities of these seasonal turnings will astound even the most ardent skeptic. The reader will see generational moods and collective thinking in a new light. In fact, after reading this book (actually more than once for me), the reader will never see the world the same. The historical detail can be tedious for some. If that is the case, we would encourage you to go as deep as necessary to get the ideas and mark the cadence of time. For some of us, the book will prove a handy reference as questions mature throughout the readers’ overall research.
Some of the books that will be reviewed here at Reagan.com will pertain to financial manias, panics, and collapses. The Fourth Turning is foundational material. Knowing when we are in the timeline could help shape important financial, social, and health decisions as each of us will be confronted with acute change. As we progress in our blogs, we will be making use of terminology and concepts from this important work. As you meet with family and friends to discuss current events (and you should schedule periodic meetings), this is a reference to explore in order to anticipate future forces and direction.
Strauss, William, & Howe, Neil. (2009). The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Broadway Books.
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