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“The Fourth Turning” | demographics and predictable change

Demographics is an interesting science, and one that has real impacts on society over time that are really only apparent after the fact.  Mauldin recounts a conversation with Strauss and Howe on their book, “The Fourth Turning“.  The premise is that the US and the western world move in 80 year cycles, with four ‘seasons’ within each cycle.  As historians, they have looked back in time, and concluded the cycles are quite consistent.

Whether you buy that or not, the four cycles noted do describe the 20th century well, and place us firmly in the latter part of the third, or ‘unravelling’ cycle/ first part of the ‘crisis’ cycle.  We have been/ are in a period of high individualism and discredited institutions.  We are entering a period of tearing down, and re-building.  Following the logic, we will enter a period of renewal, collective optimism and willingness to work together and help each other soon.  We can always hope we do not need the full 20 years for the fourth ‘crisis’ cycle.  What do you think?

Outside the Box | Mauldin

The First Turning is referred to by Howe as a High. As this follows a period of crisis, one of the hallmarks of a First Turning is a heightened sense of community and collective optimism, driven in part by the fact that the society has just come through a difficult and challenging time. Consequently, during First Turnings, societal institutions tend to be strong while individualism is weak. The post-World War II “High” of the mid-1940s through early ’60s is the most recent example of a First Turning.

The Second Turning, called an Awakening, typically starts out feeling like the high tide of a High, with signs of progress and prosperity everywhere. But just as everything seems to be going along swimmingly, large swaths of society begin to chaff under the social conformity of the High, beginning to gravitate to more individualistic pursuits and demanding that their personal interests come first. You may recognize the “Consciousness Revolution” of the mid-1960s through early 1980s, correctly, as the Second Turning.

Next up, the Third Turning, which Howe calls an Unraveling, is much the opposite of a High. To wit, individualism dominates, while institutions are increasingly weak and discredited. Quoting Howe on the Unraveling…

“This is a time when social authority feels inconsequential, the culture feels exhausted, and people feel bewildered by the number of options available to them. It is a time of celebrity circuses and a tremendous amount of freedom and creativity in our personal lives, but very little sense of public purpose.

The most recent Third Turning began in the mid-’80s with Morning in America, and continued through the ’90s. Previous periods of Unraveling in American history were also decades of cynicism and bad manners. Think of the 1920s, the 1850s, the 1760s. And history teaches us that the Third Turnings inevitably end in Fourth Turnings.

Finally, there is the Fourth Turning, called a Crisis. The recent Third Turning appears to be winding down, and we are currently on the cusp of a Fourth Turning. This is a time of great turmoil, when society’s basic institutions are torn down and rebuilt, and seemingly insurmountable problems are addressed. During Fourth Turnings, America engages in a struggle for its very survival and redefines its identity as a nation. Large wars are often a part of this process. The American Revolution, Civil War, Great Depression, and World War II were all features of past Fourth Turnings.

Written by Colin Henderson

June 30, 2009 at 10:27

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