“Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Four Turning.”
This is the opening sentence to Chapter 10 of Strauss and Howe’s book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, as they begin to discuss their expectations of the future. The book was written in the mid-1990s. The authors go on to say,
“A spark will ignite a new mood. Today [c. 1996], the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveliing-era mind-set. This time though it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial are commingled.” (p. 272)
Speculating on what might trigger the fourth turning, Strauss and Howe list five scenarios simply to give some example of the kind of things that could happen. Their second scenario was,
“A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches. Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S.” (p. 273)
Terrorists attack using aircraft? A threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists? Preemptive strikes? War declared? President's opponents charge the president concocted the emergency? Is any of this sounding familiar?
The events of September were undoubtedly the initiation of the fourth turning. That doesn’t mean the war in Iraq will be the defining issue that will bring the fourth turning to its climax. The stock market crash of 1929 sparked the last fourth turning, but the climax wasn’t reached until near the end of World War II, 15 years later. Similarly, if this turning unfolds like other fourth turnings, with the exception of the Civil War, the climax is probably 10-15 years away. What will it look like? Who knows? Strauss and Howe give seven examples of the kind of distress that could bring things to the brink. It could be any one of these types of events or some commingling of them.
- Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation)
- Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities.
- Cultural distress, with the media plunging into dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship
- Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shorrages, and new diseases
- Technological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases
- Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, authoritarianism, and altered national borders
- Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction. (Fourth Turning, p. 277)
Strauss and Howe have written that cultures seem almost driven to create crises that require reunification and recommitment to the culture in order for it to survive. Each crisis is followed by euphoria which leads to disillusion, which leads to unraveling which culminates in crisis. These are basically the four seasons or turnings. They are not the first to observet this. Thinkers and philosophers dating back to the Greeks have seen similar dyanmics.
As we enter the fourth turning, what does it mean for those of us who are alive today? I will tie this all together and wrap this up tomorrow.