“Do you love the Jews? I do.— Michael Skiberg (@Ski_Berg) July 26, 2020
Do you love white ppl? I don’t know the meaning of that question.”
Should tell you everything about what they think of US! pic.twitter.com/gOlA2I7z5m
The Zeitgeist of the post-World War II era is clear.
It has been a mood of “antiracism” or self hatred that has haunted us ever since 1945. Western civilization has been in a funk ever since World War II. This idea has dominated the last 80 years of history. This lack of self confidence in our civilization can be seen in our art, music, film, philosophy, politics, monuments, etc. The idea that the White man is no good dominates and defines mainstream culture.
Anyway, this has been on mind as I wrote The Burden of the 20th Century and Shrugging Off The Burden of the 20th Century. It was on my mind tonight when I came across a video about William Strauss and Neil Howe’s book The Fourth Turning which I am familiar with but haven’t read in full. In the video, it was mentioned that in the book which was published in 1996 that a new virus was listed as one of the potential scenarios that could trigger a new Crisis that would bring the post-World War II era to a close.
After doing some Googling, I came across an online copy of the book:
“A spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-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.
Recall that a Crisis catalyst involves scenarios distinctly imaginable eight or ten years in advance. Based on recent Unraveling-era trends, the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible …
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus. The disease reaches densely populated areas, killing some. Congress enacts mandatory quarantine measures. The president orders the National Guard to throw prophylactic cordons around unsafe neighborhoods. Mayors resist. Urban gangs battle suburban militias. Calls mount for the president to declare martial law.”
Needless to say, this was intriguing.
The Fourth Turning was written during the mid-1990s which it described as an “Unraveling” period or Fall season – a period of weak institutions, strong individualism, cynicism and culture war – which aptly sums up my adult life and the last 30 years of American history
“At home and abroad, these events will reflect the tearing of the civic fabric at points of extreme vulnerability—problem areas where, during the Unraveling, America will have neglected, denied, or delayed needed action. Anger at “mistakes we made” will translate into calls for action, regardless of the heightened public risk. It is unlikely that the catalyst will worsen into a full-fledged catastrophe, since the nation will probably find a way to avert the initial danger and stabilize the situation for a while. The local rebellions will probably be quelled, terrorists foiled, fiscal crisis averted, disease halted, or war fever cooled. Yet even if dire consequences are temporarily averted, America will have entered the Fourth Turning.
The new mood and its jarring new problems will provide a natural end point for the Unraveling-era decline in civic confidence. In the pre-Crisis years, fears about the flimsiness of the social contract will have been subliminal but rising. As the Crisis catalyzes, these fears will rush to the surface, jagged and exposed. Distrustful of some things, individuals will feel that their survival requires them to distrust more things. This behavior could cascade into a sudden downward spiral, an implosion of societal trust.”
If there is one word that describes 2020, “jarring” would undoubtedly be it. “Jagged” would be another. It feels like a major break. It feels like we have entered into a new Crisis period.
According to the theory, an Unraveling period in which social order declines is inevitably succeeded by a Crisis period like how fall becomes winter. The social mood grows increasingly dark until a catalyst comes along which triggers a break. The social mood suddenly shifts from “doing what feels right” to “fix the outer world.” Longstanding social problems suddenly become urgent in a Crisis.
“Like nature, history is full of processes that cannot happen in reverse. Just as the laws of entropy do not allow a bird to fly backward, or droplets to regroup at the top of a waterfall, history has no rewind button. Like the seasons of nature, it moves only forward. Saecular entropy cannot be reversed. An Unraveling cannot lead back to an Awakening, or forward to a High, without a Crisis in between.
The spirit of America comes once a saeculum, only through what the ancients called ekpyrosis, nature’s fiery moment of death and discontinuity. History’s periodic eras of Crisis combust the old social order and give birth to a new.”
The previous three times this happened were the American Revolution, the War Between the States and the Great Depression/World War II. The post-World War II era has also followed the familiar pattern: the High period lasted from 1945 to 1965, the Awakening period lasted from 1965 through 1985 and the long Unraveling period which has lasted from around 1985 to the present. The period between one Crisis Climax and the next is typically around 81 years which would put the next around the year 2025.
“A Fourth Turning is a solstice era of maximum darkness, in which the supply of social order is still falling but the demand for order is now rising. It is the saeculum’s hibernal, its time of trial. In winter, writes William Cullen Bryant, “The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year, / Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sere.” Nature exacts its fatal payment and pitilessly sorts out the survivors and the doomed. Pleasures recede, tempests hurt, pretense is exposed, and toughness rewarded—all in a season (says Victor Hugo) that “changes into stone the water of heaven and the heart of man.” These are times of fire and ice, of polar darkness and brilliantly pale horizons. What it doesn’t kill, it reminds of death. What it doesn’t wound, it reminds of pain. In Swinburne’s “season of snows,” it is “The light that loses, the night that wins.”
Like natural winter, which reaches its solstice early, the Fourth Turning passes the nadir of public order right at its beginning. Just as the coldest days of winter are days of lengthening sun, the harsh (and less hopeful) years of a Crisis are years of renascent public authority. This involves a fundamental shift in social momentum: In the Unraveling, the removal of each civic layer brought demands for the removal of more layers; in the Crisis era, each new exercise of civic authority creates a perceived need for the adding of layers. …”
After a long period of neglect, there is a shift in the social mood away from individualism. A sense of solidarity begins to grow in a Crisis back toward the levels of the previous High.
“Fourth Turnings have provided the great pivot points of the Anglo-American legacy. Dating back to the fifteenth century, there have been six. Each produced its own Crisis and its own facsimile of the halcyon spirit today’s aging World War II veterans remember so vividly. From the similarities of these eras, a morphology can be constructed:
- A Crisis era begins with a catalyst —a startling event (or sequence of events) that produces a sudden shift in mood.
- Once catalyzed, a society achieves a regeneracy —a new counterentropy that reunifies and reenergizes civic life.
- The regenerated society propels toward a climax —a crucial moment that confirms the death of the old order and birth of the new.
- The climax culminates in a resolution —a triumphant or tragic conclusion that separates the winners from losers, resolves the big public questions, and establishes the new order. …
Every Fourth Turning starts with a catalyst event that terminates the mood of Unraveling and unleashes one of Crisis. Chapter 4 explained how sparks of history—sudden and startling events—can arise in any turning. Some sparks ignite nothing. Some flare briefly and then extinguish. Some have important effects but leave underlying problems unresolved. Others ignite epic conflagrations. Which ones ignite? Studying the sparks of history themselves won’t help answer this question, because what they are is far less important than how a society reacts to them. That reaction is substantially determined by the season of the saeculum—in other words, by the turning in which they are located. Sparks in a High tend to reinforce feelings of security; in an Awakening, argument; in an Unraveling, anxiety. Come the Fourth Turning, sparks of history trigger a fierce new dynamic of public synergy.”
The last three Fourth Turnings have all ended in war that separated the winners from the losers, settled longstanding questions and established a new order that lasted about 80 years.
“The catalyst can be one spark or, more commonly, a series of sparks that self-ignite like the firecrackers traditionally used by the Chinese to mark their own breaks in the circle of time. Each of these sparks is linked to a specific threat about which society had been fully informed but against which it had left itself poorly protected. Afterward, the fact that these sparks were foreseeable but poorly foreseen gives rise to a new sense of urgency about institutional dysfunction and civic vulnerability. This marks the beginning of the vertiginous spiral of Crisis. …”
This is worth looking at through Peter Turchin’s State Collapse Formula.
Political Stress Index = Mass Mobilization Potential (MMP) x Elite Mobilization Potential (EMP) x State Fiscal Distress (SFD).
Mass Mobilization Potential has three components: relative wages, urbanization rate and the effect of age structure. Basically, a measure of a surplus of unemployed or underemployed young people in cities.
Elite Mobilization Potential has three components: elite composition, elite incomes and elite overproduction. Basically, a measure of the total number of elites, their relative wealth and competition over a limited number of government positions. It is high when we have too many bored, idle rich and overeducated people who are viciously competing with each other.
State Fiscal Distress has three components: total state debt, GDP and the proportion of the population expressing trust or distrust in state institutions.
“The Crisis climax is human history’s equivalent to nature’s raging typhoon, the kind that sucks all surrounding matter into a single swirl of ferocious energy. Anything not lashed down goes flying; anything standing in the way gets flattened. Normally occurring late in the Fourth Turning, the climax gathers energy from an accumulation of unmet needs, unpaid bills, and unresolved problems. It then spends that energy on an upheaval whose direction and dimension were beyond comprehension during the prior Unraveling era. The climax shakes a society to its roots, transforms its institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people (and its generations) for life. The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both. Whatever the event and whatever the outcome, a society passes through a great gate of history, fundamentally altering the course of civilization.”
This is hardly reassuring.
Everyone sees America self destructing or spiraling toward some kind of reckoning. Turchin, Strauss and Howe agree that it is a natural process driven by long term structural factors. Complex societies naturally destroy themselves in order be renewed. The cycle has been going on throughout all of history.
“Soon thereafter, this great gate is sealed by the Crisis resolution, when victors are rewarded and enemies punished; when empires or nations are forged or destroyed; when treaties are signed and boundaries redrawn; and when peace is accepted, troops repatriated, and life begun anew.
One large chapter of history ends, and another starts. In a very real sense, one society dies—and another is born. …”
Prediction: the post-World War II era is fated to end in a Crisis. What brings on the Crisis?
“History leaves no doubt about the reaction enabler of a Crisis: the Fourth Turning constellation of generational archetypes. Once every saeculum, the archetypes reach a combustible combination, dramatically lowering the threshold for a spark of history to ignite a Crisis.”
Unlike Peter Turchin, Strauss and Howe attribute it to a peculiar combustible combination of generational archetypes at phases in their lives.
“Since the dawn of the modern world, there has been but one Fourth Turning constellation: elder Prophets, midlife Nomads, young-adult Heroes, and child Artists. For half a millennium, that constellation has recurred exactly the same way five times, and a sixth time with a slight variation in timing and consequence. This archetypal lineup has been one of the great constants of Anglo-American history.
- The indulged Prophet children of Highs, born in the aftermath of one Crisis, foment the next Crisis upon entering elderhood.
- The abandoned Nomad children of Awakenings become the pragmatic midlife managers of Crisis.
- The protected Hero children of Unravelings provide the powerful young-adult soldiers of Crisis.
- The suffocated children of Crises come of age afterward as Artist youths.
Earlier chapters explained how Crisis eras shape generations; now you see how generations shape Crises. This explains the underlying link between the cycles of history and the rhythms of the saeculum.”
As the theory goes …
The Silent Generation (Artists) die off.
Baby Boomers (Prophets) enter elderhood and foment a new Crisis at the peak of their control over America’s institutions.
Gen Xers (Nomads) become the middle managers of the Crisis.
Millennials (Heroes) become the soldiers.
Gen Z (Artists) replace the Silent Generation.
“While all generational transitions are important to create a Fourth Turning constellation, the aging of the Prophet is critical. A Crisis catalyst occurs shortly after the old Prophet archetype reaches its apex of societal leadership, when its inclinations are least checked by others. A regeneracy comes as the Prophet abandons any idea of deferral or retreat and binds the society to a Crisis course. A climax occurs when the Prophet expends its last burst of passion, just before descending rapidly from power. A resolution comes, with the Prophet’s symbolic assistance, at a time when the Nomad is asserting full control.”
The Boomers bring on the Crisis at Peak Boomer which is clearly the 2020 election.
In the new High of the 2030s and 2040s that follows the Crisis, Gen Xers (Nomads) become elders, Millennials (Heroes) whose passions have cooled become middle aged like the GI Generation in the late 1940s and 1950s, Gen Z (Artists) ripen into young adulthood in a time of settled ideals and strong community and the next generation of Prophets (offspring of Millennials and Gen Z) is born in the good times of the 2030s and 2040s who 80 to 90 years from now will plunge America into another Crisis.
Note: I never paid much attention to the theory until it started to seem like it was coming true. The 2020s have long been projected to be a turbulent and decisive decade.