An interesting pattern in the Fourth Turning
Since, as the previous posting explains, the “War on Terrorism” is not the war of the next crisis, we need to go back to the Fourth Turning to find out what it will be.
To guess what’s next, the best place to look is back in the theory. Strauss & Howe say:
Through the last three saecula [i.e since the American Revolution], most liberationist social causes (like feminism or civil rights) tend to seed in a High, blossom in an Awakening, mature in an Unraveling, and decay in a Crisis. [page 310]
I believe this characterization by the authors of their own theory is misleading and perhaps even incorrect. A couple of postings ago, I quoted the authors in a passage in which they observed that the distribution of concentrated power that is achieved by a crisis is the culmination of a process that spanned the three phases prior to the crisis. In other words, a certain class of People fights for power during “peacetime”. But it takes the next major crisis for those People to finally break through and “crash the party” that is going on in the Big American Tent.
“Liberation” is defined as “the act or process of trying to achieve equal rights and status.” It is by definition the process of distributing concentrated power. So instead of “decaying” during the Crisis, as Strauss & Howe say above, the situation is reversed for some of the “liberationist”causes. In other words, those causes don’t decay in the Crisis; on the contrary, they break through. This pattern is obvious once you look closely at Strauss & Howe.
Specifically, the pattern exhibited by Strauss & Howe’s theory that the authors themselves missed is the following: the Crisis is about resolving a major “liberationist” issue that was raised in the prior Awakening, but which was not adopted by the nation. In other words, the Awakening is about people bringing forth new liberationist ideas. Sometimes, some of the ideas “stick” and are adopted by the nation. Other times, the idea does not stick. And it is precisely those powerful liberationist ideas which did not stick that become resolved during the next crisis. The following discussion shows how this pattern has played out over the past five crises:
- The name Strauss & Howe give to the Awakening that preceded the Great Depression and World War II is the “Third Great Awakening” (1886-1908). This period involved the blossoming of the labor movement. But by the 1920s, that movement was beaten back, its leaders jailed. But in the 1930s, the labor movement re-emerged “victorious” in Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in equal treatment in the military during World War II.
- The name Strauss & Howe give to the Awakening that preceded the Civil War is the “Transcendental Awakening” (1822-1844). This period involved the blossoming of the abolitionist (anti-slave holding) movement. After that Awakening, slavery only increased in the nation. But in the Civil War that followed, slavery came to an end.
- The name Strauss & Howe give to the Awakening that preceded the American Revolution is the “Great Awakening” (1727-1746). This period involved a religious movement of youths against the “Establishment”. Strauss & Howe say that, after this Awakening, the colonies “emerged having permanently eradicated Old World notions of class distinctions and social solidarity from American soil.” [page 48] But this Awakening didn’t buy the colonists political independence. Two generations later, however, the unfinished business of this Awakening was completed: the colonists threw off their imperialist masters.
- The name Strauss & Howe give to the Awakening that preceded the Glorious Revolution is the “Puritan Awakening” (1621-1649). This period involved a radical Protestant fervor that led some among the reformers to leave England for America, and to run their own Puritan show in the New World. But by the time of the next crisis, the Crown was back in control of these colonists. So the colonists staged their “pre-quel” to the American Revolution.
- The name Strauss & Howe give to the Awakening that preceded the Spanish Armada Crisis is the “Protestant Reformation” (1517-1542). This period involved the European movement of Martin Luther that gave birth to Protestantism. During this period, Henry VIII converted England from Catholicism to Protestantism. But the following decades saw Catholicism maintain a strong threat to Protestantism from within the country. But then the Spanish Armada Crisis served to permanently establish the ascendancy of the Protestant Reformation in England.
The applicable Awakening for our present time is what Strauss & Howe call the "Consciousness Revolution" (1964-1984). American society knows this period by the name the "Sixties".
Note that the pattern described above precludes the “War on Terrorism” from being the Next Crisis. In the Sixties, who was talking about combating terrorism in the quest to decentralize power? The answer is: Nobody that history remembers. So if this is the Next Crisis, Strauss & Howe’s theory breaks.
Once written out, this pattern – “to understand the next Crisis, look to the major prior Awakening attempts that failed” - seems so obvious that one wonders why the authors missed it. Why did everyone else who read the book apparently miss it too?
The only reason I can think of is that these people looked back at the Sixties – recalling the flower children, hippie communes, Transcendental meditation, Timothy Leary, the SLA and Black Panthers – and couldn’t imagine what from that troubled time would be worth risking the nation for. If that’s the case, they weren’t looking close enough.[posted: 12/14/03]