THE STORM IS COMING!!— Blompf2024 (@PresidentBlompf) August 2, 2023
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Young men aren’t trending “conservative” they are trending radical right.— Andrew Torba (@BasedTorba) August 1, 2023
You’re welcome. We’ve only just begun. pic.twitter.com/9HJdC1cPaV
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Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning Is Here: What The Seasons of History Tell Us About How and When This Crisis Will End
It is thought provoking, insightful and poetic at times even though it mostly rehashes the ground covered in the original book. While I don’t fully buy into Neil Howe’s thesis that history is driven by a rhythm of generational change, it is unquestionably a major driver of historical change. As a theory of history, I find it much more compelling than the Marxist theory of historical materialism.
According to Neil Howe, history is cyclical and moves through four seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter) which are driven by generational change. Social generations shape history and are themselves shaped by history. History is divided into saeculum or natural centuries which are roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person. Each generation has a dominant archetype. Howe argues there are four archetypes (Artist, Prophet, Nomad and Hero) which recur in a predictable order. The public mood naturally shifts roughly every 23 years as the constellation of generations shift as older generations depart, new generations are born and adults mature and age through the life cycle.
In a High or Spring season (America from V-J Day in 1945 to the JFK assassination in 1963), a nation emerges from a major crisis and builds a strong new civic order. Conformity is high. The social order is at its maximum strength. Culture is bland. The focus is on the external world. In an Awakening or Summer season (America from the JFK assassination in 1963 to Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America ad in 1984), the children of a High come of age as the rebellious young adults of an Awakening, condemn the regime and challenge and overthrow its values. The social order weakens. Culture is vibrant and tumultuous. The focus shifts to the inner world of values. In an Unraveling or Fall season (America from Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America ad to the 2008 financial crisis), the strong civic order of the High is dismantled and the culture polarizes. Individualism flourishes. The focus is on material gain and personal piety. Finally in a Crisis or Winter season (America from the 2008 financial crisis to the present), the old civic order collapses, the social order reaches its nadir and one period of history dies in a big bang. As the demand for social order rises, society regenerates as individualism weakens and conformity rises. The sacrifices which are almost always made in war foster a new sense of social solidarity. Spring is coming.
Howe argues that this pattern of generational change culminating in a major crisis has occurred time and again across American history. The 19th century, for example, died on the battlefields of the World Wars. The victorious liberals who emerged triumphant after World War II created our civic order and it was their modernist imagination that left its stamp our values. The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The Romantic reaction followed. After the American Revolution, victorious Patriots, not defeated Tories, won the next era of history which lasted until the War Between the States. After the War Between the States, the victorious Union, not the Confederacy, won the next era of history which lasted until the Great Depression. To the winner always goes the spoils. There are no permanent victories though. Death is the only certainty in the organic world.
Every civic order and social order has a natural shelf life. The generations which created the post-World War II order (Missionary, Lost, GI Generation and Silent) have now either been wholly replaced or are now rapidly departing public life. It has been 78 years since the end of World War II. Nearly everyone who is alive today has no memory of the conflict. Zoomers are now as distant in time from World War II as the Silent Generation was from the War Between the States. The current constellation of generations (Boomer elders, Gen X mid-lifers, Millennial young adults and Homelander/Zoomer children) is highly combustible because it has never been chastened by a major war. It has lost the solidarity created by war.
I thought a very interesting part of this book is how children are rarely likely their parents and how parenting styles change over time. Gen Xers raised in permissive households by Silent parents who often got divorced are raising sheltered, overprotected Zoomer children. A generation of non-conformist individualists who often had a rough upbringing is raising the next generation of politically correct conformists and collectivists. Howe argues that each generation has its own parallel archetype across time: Missionaries and Boomers, Losters and Gen X, GIs and Millennials, Silents and Zoomers. Millennials can surely relate to young adult GIs whose lives were stunted by the Great Depression. Gen Xers who fought in stupid wars in the War on Terror can relate to cynical Losters who fought in World War I.
It occurs to me that Neil Howe’s generational theory neatly explains the War Between the States. Mainstream historians insist that slavery caused secession and the war. Why didn’t slavery or states’ rights trigger a conflagration at some other point of American history though? Why didn’t the two sides compromise? These weren’t new concepts. Slavery had existed for centuries. The states had always jealously protected their sovereignty. Surely, the reason the War Between the States happened at that particular moment in history is because David Goldfield is correct. The Second Great Awakening caused the War Between the States and it is a straight line from there to the war. The Transcendental Generation caused the war by injecting religious and moral energies into politics.
According to Neil Howe, the Baby Boomer generation is destined to ignite the next cataclysm as it retires and ascends into elderhood. Howe argues that Boomers are an inwardly focused Prophet generation, a moralizing, impractical, crusading generation like the Transcendentals and Missionaries before them in previous historical cycles. This is not to say as some Millennials erroneously assume that Boomers all have the same politics or that Boomers destroyed our culture. On the contrary, Boomers weren’t eligible to vote during the highwater mark of the Civil Rights Movement. It was older generations (GIs and Silents) who created the dominant liberal regime and who passed civil rights legislation. Boomers destroyed the cultural unity of the previous High and have been viciously arguing among themselves ever since. Boomers are divided into rival values camps and have been driving polarization. Some Boomers were stereotypical modernist hippie liberals while others were religious fundamentalists and populists.
The predecessors of Boomers were divided in the same way. America in the 1850s was riven in two by abolitionists on one side and fire eaters on the other. Similarly, America in the 1920s was ripped apart in a raging culture war between liberals and modernists in the cities and Protestant fundamentalists in the Heartland who supported Prohibition. The country only escaped a destructive internal conflict in the last cycle by rallying late in the Great Depression against the Axis Powers. The liberal side won by redirecting and harnessing all the negative energy against an external enemy.
In the current cycle, Howe argues that America entered a Fourth Turning which is a Crisis era in the 2008 financial crisis. We are now 15 years into the Crisis era. He sees strong parallels between the 1930s and the 2010s. The precursor was the War on Terror which he compares to the Mexican War and World War I. The catalyst in both cases was a financial crash although the policy responses varied. Both eras have seen a bewildering number of programs (NIRA, CCC, TARP) designed to stave off economic collapse. Both eras have seen a massive and sudden resurgence of populism and nationalism. Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election was the first regeneracy which is an inflection point when entropy ceases, the demand for order rapidly begins to rise and “when a sense of urgency about institutional dysfunction and civic vulnerabilities coalesce the nation or large blocs of the homeland behind a strong leader to tear down the existing social, economic and cultural order and replace it with something different.”
What comes next? Either a second regeneracy which alters the Crisis trajectory or a consolidation which is “when enough people realize the fate of the country is at stake, and when societal mobilization is required.” Previous examples of this include Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution, Fort Sumter during the War Between the States and Pearl Harbor during World War II. The final act is the climax which separates winners from losers and the resolution which ends the Crisis. Think of Gettysburg and Appomattox or D-Day and VJ-Day. Crisis eras nearly always culminate in war.
So, what are the possible scenarios of the climax? As you may have guessed by now, Neil Howe imagines a range of scenarios from soft landings to hard landings. At the softer end of the spectrum, the nation rallies to overcome a devastating financial crash or experiences a near bloodless revolution like the Glorious Revolution. At the harder end of the spectrum, the nation is devastated by a nuclear exchange with another Great Power, loses an external conflict against a coalition of Great Powers (China, Russia, Iran) or collapses into a devastating civil war. Howe is optimistic that we will avoid the worst scenarios. Previous crisis eras have had successful resolutions except for the South after the Civil War.
Regardless of how it goes, the culmination of the Crisis will leave behind a crater in history the size of the War Between the States or the Great Depression and World War II. It will shape and mark every generation that lives through it for life. It will be the reference point for the next 70 to 80 years. It will terminate the post-World War II era and begin the next era of history. Then the cycle will repeat itself as generations age and it all happens again. The generation of children born in the post-Crisis High of the 2030s will become the bomb throwers of the next Awakening in the 2050s when new values convulse the culture.
As a road map to the future, The Fourth Turning Is Here will turn out to be either prescient and bone chillingly accurate in hindsight or an interesting exercise in historical astrology. I currently think it is over the target for a book written in the 1990s. Is this not Dark Brandon (and Punished Trump) and where is he leading us today if not full speed ahead over the cliff and past the point of no return?
Note: One last thing … as Howe notes in the book and Whatifalthist has emphasized, the two sides are not equal. Polarization is driven by education and a huge gender gap. War heightens and sharpens gender roles and angry young men are clearly trending toward one side.
“At each of these great gates of history, eighty to a hundred years apart, a similar generational drama unfolded. Four archetypes, aligned in the same order—elder Prophet, midlife Nomad, young adult Hero, child Artist —together produced the most enduring legends in our history. Each time the Gray Champion appeared marked the arrival of a moment of “darkness, and adversity, and peril,” the climax of the Fourth Turning of the saeculum. …
We may not wish the Gray Champion to come again—but come he must, and come he will. …
Eight or nine decades after his last appearance, America will be visited by the “figure of an ancient man … combining the leader and the saint (to) show the spirit of their sires.” Again will appear the heir to the righteous Puritan who stood his ground against Governor Andros, the old colonial governors of the American Revolution who broke from England, the aging radicals of the Civil War who pitted brother against brother with a “fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel,” and “the New Deal Isaiahs” who achieved their rendezvous with destiny.
Whence will come the Gray Champion? Picture the Boomer Overclass of the Unraveling, aged another twenty years. Picture William Bennett’s “Consequence and Confrontation” missives; Al Gore predicting an environmental cataclysm; James Webb’s summoning a “ruthless and overpowering” retaliation against foreign enemies; James Fallows rooting for a “7.0 magnitude diplo-economic shock”; “Apocalypse Darman” and “Default Newt” with their budget train wrecks; Earth First saboteurs, willing to sacrifice other people’s lives to save trees; and Army of God antiabortionists summoning the terminally ill to “use your final months to torch clinics.” Picture Boomers like these, older and harsher, uncalmed by anyone more senior, feeling their last full measure of strength, sensing their pending mortality, mounting their final crusade—all at a time of maximum public peril.
The full dimension of the Boomer persona will only emerge when today’s better-known 1940s birth cohorts (whose youth was marked by relatively few social pathologies) are joined in public life by the tougher-willed, more evangelical 1950s cohorts (whose youth was marked by many more pathologies). That is the mix that will beget this generation’s elder priest-warrior persona, vindicating the early Unraveling-era warning of Peter Collier and David Horowitz that Boomers are “a destructive generation whose work is not over yet.”
As the Crisis deepens, Boomers will confront the end result of their lifelong absorption with values. They will have laid a long trail of Unraveling-era rhetoric, much of it symbol and gesture, but now the words will matter. When James Redfield (or his elder equivalent) describes his peers as “a generation whose intuitions would help lead humanity toward a … great transformation,” the summons will no longer be for pensive spiritual reflection but for decisive civic action. Boomers will comply with Cornel West’s suggestion that “the mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage—come what may.” Their habitual tendency to enunciate unyielding principles will now carry the duty of enforcement.
The final Boomer leaders—authoritarian, severe, unyielding—will command broad support from younger people who will see in them a wisdom beyond the reckoning of youth. In domestic matters, old Boomers will recast the old arguments of the Culture Wars into a new context of community needs. They will redefine and reauthenticate a civic expansion—crafted from some mix of Unraveling-era cultural conservatism and public-sector liberalism. In foreign matters, they will narrowly define the acceptable behavior of other nations and broadly define the appropriate use of American arms.
The same Boomers who in youth chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” will emerge as America’s most martial elder generation in living memory. Whatever the elements of Crisis, old Boomer leaders will up the moral ante beyond the point of possible retreat or compromise. The same Boomers who once chanted “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win!” will demand not just an enemy’s defeat, but its utter destruction. They will risk enormous pain and consequence to command youth to fight and die in ways they themselves never would have tolerated in their own youth. They will believe, as did Cicero, that this moment in history assigns “young men for action, old men for counsel.”
Old Boomers will find transcendence in the Crisis climax. As they battle time and nature to win their release from history, they will feel themselves in position to steward the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds. It is easy to envision old Aquarians as pillars of fire leading to the Promised Land—but just as easy to see them as Charonlike monsters abducting doomed souls across the Styx to Hades. Either is possible.
As the Crisis resolves, elder Boomers will have not the last word, but the deep word. If they triumph, they will collectively deserve the eulogy Winston Churchill offered to Franklin Roosevelt: to die “an enviable death.” If they fail, their misdeeds will cast a dark shadow over the entire twenty-first century, perhaps beyond. Whatever the outcome, posterity will remember the Boomers’ Gray Champion persona long after the hippie and yuppie images have been forgotten to all but the historian.”