Friday, December 29, 2006

DKos diary 12/29/06 - 2006: Year of “The Fourth Turning”

by Bernie Quigley

Patterns of history have always puzzled historians and business writers. Arnold Toynbee found a mystical dimension to them when half way through his life's work he read Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West and studied C.G. Jung's work on psychological patterns. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. pioneered thinking on the theme that business trends and commerce run in cycles and other historians had written that religious sentiment runs in cycles. Not long ago historians William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote that not only do religious feeling and business trends run in cycles, but that these cycles appear to alternate.

Their fascinating book looks to the Roman historian's concept of the “saeculum”; the theory that history runs in cycles of 80 to 100 years. The writers link identity to each generation and its countervailing attitude to the previous generation (and its attachment to the generation which preceded that). It is a remarkable picture over time, giving history a series of interweaving paths, ascending and returning, like the patterns on the ceiling of the mosque at Cordoba, removing the categorical quality of events which form history and finding instead something more akin to the river of life.

The authors point out in their most interesting book, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny, that all historical periods are "post-war periods" and every eighty years or so a human cycle of four generations concludes itself in catastrophe and rebirth.

One of the book's potent forecasts - the authors call the book a prophecy - is this: all post-war cultures begin to go to pieces at the end of the third generation, roughly 60 years from the end of the previous war, as each generation lasts approximately 20 years in its direct impression on events. It is good to remember because those of the post-war Baby Boomer's generation like myself know well when the sixtieth year is as we were born in year one. It is this year.

It is the catastrophic failure of systems that have run their course that causes the turning. The new generation is formed in the crisis. It is not formed out of philosophy or idealism but out of need and the need to survive. At no time since World War II have we seen such catastrophic failure of systems – Supreme Court, Congress, the Executive - as we have since 9/11.

Two recent events bring the Strauss & Howe paradigm into focus: 9/11 and Daily Kos. 9/11 was a turning point in sensibility. It let go attitudes which had grown until that moment and began to grow new attitudes. As the authors point out, the generation is the Petrie dish for the new attitudes. DKos and the new Internet journals and political blogs are a matrix for a new generation, and it is clear that attitudes of this still burgeoning culture are quite different from the traditional mainstream political culture. The DKos poll posted over the last few days indicates this difference. Mainstream polls show the ’08 Presidential race wrapped up between two celebrities, Senators Clinton and Obama. The DKos poll shows Clinton with 11 votes, Obama with 44, Edwards with 65 and Wes Clark with 298. Vastly different sensibilities. Recently, George Will has written to suggest that the blogosphere is a passing influence. The mainstream always seeks to consolidate its power and to deny entry to the new generation; I vividly remember a TV reporter saying the same about The Beatles about six months into their arrival in America.

At this critical moment in history – the beginning of a century which hasn't really started yet, the beginning of a millennium - the press is terrified of looking forward; so it constantly today looks to the recent past; Senator Clinton and Senator Obama are nostalgico candidates. Hillary Clinton harks back to Bill and the heady pre 9/11 delirium. Obama is really something out of the liberal '50s. Had you gone to high school in a place like Tiverton or Newport, R.I. as I did in the very early ‘60s, you would find the same racial sensibility just awakening - it has passed well on to maturity today with Condi Rice and Colin Powell, but somehow liberals, particularly in the Northeast, are defaulting once again to first initiatives.

But 2006 was the year when Democrats began to enter reality. We have shown a new interest in mature, responsible professionals like Carol Shea-Porter who enters Congress from New Hampshire this week, Jim Webb, Mark Warner and Wesley Clark. These candidates are very much like old school Democrats – Tip O’Neil and Mary McGrory from here in the Northeast - and nothing at all like the billionaire chic - the eloi of the DLC - which has blessed and cursed us these past 20 years. These new people are not superstars. They are responsible women and men governing as Jefferson intended. From my point of view, this is a full step forward into adulthood and it is the first political step of a new political generation.

We are just not quite there yet but we have come to the edge of the river - this year we shall cross the river. When we get there we will look more to the model which is awakening this year and will leave the others behind.