Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fourth Turning . . . the end of things and a beginning

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/22/08

Now might be a good time to review The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe. The authors’ theme is 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.

“Just after the millennium,” the authors write, “America will enter a new era that will culminate with a crisis comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. The survival of the nation will almost certainly be at stake.”

The book explains why the great gods fall like the petty gods; each becomes "post-seasonal" and submits to the ravages of time. It is the catastrophic failure of systems that have run their course that causes the turnings.

Sometime around the year 2005, say Strauss and Howe, America will enter a period of unraveling; the end of the third post-war generation and the beginning of the fourth. "The nation will be more affluent, enjoy better health, possess more technology, encompass a larger and more diverse population, and command more powerful weapons - but the same could be said about every other Unraveling era society compared to its predecessor. They were not exempt from the saeculum [the historical period]; nor will we be."

They make five possible crisis projections: the first, beset by fiscal crisis, a state lays claim to its residents' federal tax monies. Declaring this an act of secession, the president obtains a federal injunction. The second is a terrorist attack; the third an impasse over a federal budget that reaches a stalemate; the fourth, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus; the fifth; growing anarchy throughout the former Soviet republics prompts Russia to conduct training exercises around its borders. They point out that it is highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen. But what is likely, they say, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crisis dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: "An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies."

First published in 1997, the authors show remarkable prescience. Did somebody say terrorist attack? Did somebody say Russia conducting training exercises? Did somebody say fiscal crisis?