The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy

Book by William Strauss and Neil Howe

Review by Thom Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on July 9, 2004

What is perhaps most relevant and impressive about this book is that the first edition was published in 1997, meaning it was written in 1995/6. Nearly ten years ago, in a book about how every four generations (roughly 80 years) history repeats itself, the authors had the prescience to write:

"The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share a regret about recent mistakes -- and a resolute new consensus about what to do. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.

"The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one of maximum risk and efforts -- in other words, a total war.

...

"America’s post-Crisis answers will be as organically interconnected as today’s pre-Crisis questions seem hopelessly tangled. By the 2020s, America could become a society that is good, by today’s standards, and also one that works.

"Thus might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse -- or glory. The nation could be ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis; all they suggest is the timing and dimension."

The key thesis of the book is that there are four generations that recur every roughly 80 years, and are built into the structure of our culture and civilization. One of those four generations invariably faces a crisis, which was produced innocently enough by the actions of the preceding three and the stage of time. Each generation in a particular way is reacting in a predictable and reasonable way to the values and world-view of the one preceding it.

Roughly 80 years ago was the Great Depression and World War II. Roughly 80 years before that was the Civil War. Roughly 80 years before that, the Revolutionary War. Roughly 80 years before that, Glorious Revolution of 1675-1704. Roughly 80 years before that, the Armada Crisis of 1569-1594. And roughly 80 years before that the War of the Roses (1459-1487).

In each 80 year period, there are four turnings, produced by each of the four generations. The Fourth Turning is the one of greatest danger, maximum impact upon the world. And it’s due to happen any day now -- if it’s not already underway.

Understanding how these "turnings" come about, and the archetypal roles both each generation and individuals within them play is one of the most important keys to understanding what we can collective and individually do to bring about the most positive outcome from each Turning.

Although Strauss and Howe have written more recent books, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny is, in my opinion, the most important of the bunch, a guidepost during this time of turbulence, providing access to the proverbial keystone that holds together our culture. It ’s certainly one of the most important and valuable books of this era.

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From Unequal Protection, 2nd Edition:
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Paul Hawken, coauthor of Natural Capitalism and author of The Ecology of Commerce
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David C. Korten, author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community and When Corporations Rule the World and board chair of YES! magazine