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The meaning of "America"

The meaning of "America"

According to Fourth Turning, the previous six crises in American, and pre-American, history are:

  1. War of the Roses (1459-1487)
  2. Spanish Armada Crisis (1569-1594)
  3. Glorious Revolution (1675-1704)
  4. American Revolution (1773-1794)
  5. Civil War (1860-1865)
  6. Great Depression and World War II (1929-1946)

Concerning patterns of similarity among these crises, Strauss & Howe had this to say about the last three:

[E]ach of the past three Crises resolved aggravating value struggles that had been building up over the prior saeculum [100 year cycle]. The American Revolution resolved the eighteenth-century struggle between commerce and citizenship. The Civil War resolved the early-nineteenth century struggle between liberty and equality. The New Deal resolved the industrial-era struggle between capitalism and socialism. [page 300]

Note that, in these previous three crises, citizenship gained on commerce, equality gained on liberty, and socialism gained on capitalism. In other words, in every case, distributed power gained on concentrated power.

“Distributed” and “concentrated” here refers to the arrangement of power among people. The most concentrated sort of arrangement places one person on top, with the supreme and arbitrary power of life or death over everyone else. This is known as “totalitarianism”. At the other extreme is “populism”. In that structure, every person is of equal power and authority vis a vis everyone else. Obviously, there are many middle structures between pure totalitarianism and pure populism. But this gives the flavor.

Actually, this battle between distributed power and concentrated power describes not only the nature of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the New Deal, as Strauss & Howe explained. It also seems to describe the nature of every other major crisis identified in the Fourth Turning:

Stepping back and looking at this 500+ year pattern of major wars, the notion known as “America” emerges. “America” is the inexorable force of history chipping away at concentrated power, breaking it up into smaller pieces, and distributing those pieces among the People. True, the forces of history in between the crises exhibit the opposite dynamic at play. During these times of “peace”, distributed power is collected from the many and concentrated in the hands of the few. This counter-dynamic reaches its apex just before the next crisis. But then the next crisis comes along and busts up the concentrated power once more.

What an interesting dance. Are we at the entrance to the dancehall today?

[posted: 12/13/03]

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