The Fourth Turning


I just finished a book titled The Fourth Turning. I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest the cycles, but given my year-long focus on the past, I thought I’d give it a go – The Fourth Turningand I’m glad I did. In my continued efforts to reimagine the future, books such as this provide a richness of historical perspective. Although history was a key aspect of the book, I was more intrigued by the focus on generations, archetypes, and the cycles of our history (which last the length of a long human life). What intrigued me as a Futurist is the claim by the books authors that our past can indeed predict our future – it’s a compelling argument when viewed through the lens of these historical cycles.

So add another book to my Book Library. It was written in 1997 and accurately predicted some of the events that occurred in what the book refers to as a period of unraveling. If the cycle which has repeated itself six times was to do so again, we would have entered a crisis period somewhere prior to 2010 (great recession anyone). The crisis period would last one generation – moving towards a resolution that dramatically alters the social order by the late 2020s. Here is how the cycle is described by the book abstract.


First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.


Each piece of the cycle is approximately 20 years in duration – adding up to a long life of 80 years. The book abstract from Amazon is included below. If we consider some of the headwinds that we face as a society, a crisis prior to 2030 is not that far-fetched.

ABSTRACT

With startling originality, The Fourth Turning illuminates the past, explains the present, and reimagines the future. Most remarkably, it offers an utterly persuasive prophecy about how America’s past will predict its future.

William Strauss and Neil Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history. The authors look back five hundred years and uncover a distinct pattern: Modern history moves in cycles, each one lasting about the length of a long human life, each composed of four eras—or “turnings”—that last about twenty years and that always arrive in the same order.

First comes a High, a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. Next comes an Awakening, a time of spiritual exploration and rebellion against the now-established order. Then comes an Unraveling, an increasingly troubled era in which individualism triumphs over crumbling institutions. Last comes a Crisis—the Fourth Turning—when society passes through a great and perilous gate in history. Together, the four turnings comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.

Strauss and Howe locate 1990s America as midway through an Unraveling, putting us currently in the era of Crisis. In a brilliant analysis of the post-World War II period, they show how generational dynamics are the key to understanding the cycles of American history. They draw vivid portraits of all the modern generations: the can-do G.I.s, the mediating Silent, the values-absorbed Boomers, the pragmatic 13ers, and the Millennials. Placed in the context of history’s long rhythms, the persona and role of each generation become clear—as does the inevitability of a Crisis.

Whatever your stage of life, The Fourth Turning offers bold predictions about how all of us can prepare, individually and collectively, for America’s next rendezvous with destiny.

One thought on “The Fourth Turning

  1. […] As I explored the catalysts of human action earlier this year, geopolitical instability was on the list of responses I received. Going into the poll I launched (please consider taking the short poll if you have not already) I had geopolitical instability at the top. It is the shifting of the global order that I had in mind as I thought through the question. Some have argued that a shift of this magnitude – when the reigning world power is challenged by an emerging power – inevitably ends in war. This is the argument made in Destined for War. What is clear is that the post World War Two era is likely over. Whether it’s the U.S. moving off the world stage, or Asia claiming its place in the global order, the world is transforming. We seem to be repeating the historial 80-100 year cycle laid out so well in The Fourth Turning. […]

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