Book Review, The Fourth Turning...

The Fourth Turning
What the Cycles of History Tell Us
About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny.

The Fourth Turning
What the Cycles of History Tell Us
About America's Next Rendevous with Destiny.
Authors: Willian Strauss and Neil Howe
Publ: Broadway Books, 1997
ISBN: 0-553-06682-X

This is a fascinating overview of the history of our society from the perspective of what are the past cycles that have governed our lives, and what information can we get from them to give us some idea of what can be expected in the future.

The authors make the argument that the past five centuries of Western Society have exhibited a very set of consistent cycles - the main period they call a saeculum, after a Latin word (which is in turn derived from an Etruscan concept of "a long human life"), or a period of roughly eighty to one hundred years. Each saeculum is divided into four "turnings," each about twenty years. These "turnings" are described as follows -

The book further looks at the influences various generations within each turning have on the social events in their time by defining the following pattern of "generational archetypes" -

Each archetype is an expression of one of the main life-cycle myths of mankind. And the overlay of these archetypes into the saeculum explains much of the current attitudes of a particular time. And why the authors maintain that history has so many repeating cycles.

This book gives an interesting brief overview of our societial perceptions of time, with examples from various historians, such as Toynbee's cycles that began with various wars -
Cycle Description Dates
Overture The Italian Wars 1494 - 1525
First cycle Imperial Wars by Phillip II 1568 - 1609
Second cycle Spanish Succession War 1672 - 1713
Third cycle French Revolutionary War 1792 - 1815
Fourth cycle World Wars I & 2 1914 - 1945

Toynbee further identified similar cycles in ancient Chinese and Hellenistic history, each of which typically lasted some 95 years, i.e., the saeculum again.

Several historians further identified usually four subcyles, often called "seasons of life", as follows -
Author First Second Third Fourth
  Quarter Quarter Quarter Quarter
Wright Peace Minor wars Peace Major wars
Toynbee Breathing space Supplementary wars General peace General wars
Rosecrance Decreased involvement Power vacuums Increased involvement War
Ferrar Jr. Probing wars Adjusting wars Probing wars Hegemonic wars
Hopkins, et al.Hegemonic maturity Declining hegemony Ascending hegemony Hegemonic victory
Modelski, et al.World power Delegitimization Deconcentration Global war
Strauss, et al. High Awakening Unraveling Crisis

The series of Anglo-American saeculae go back to the end of the Middle Ages, and is defined as follows -
Period Dates
Late Medieval 1435 - 1487
Reformation 1487 - 1594
New World 1594 - 1704
Revolutionary 1704 - 1865
Civil War 1794 - 1865
Great Power 1865 - 1946
Millenial 1946 - 2026(?)

To apply the subcycles to these saeculae -
First TurningSecond TurningThird TurningFourth Turning
(High) (Awakening Unraveling Crisis
Elderhood Nomad Hero Artist Prophet
Midlife Hero Artist ProphetNomad
Young adulthoodArtist ProphetNomad Hero
Childhood ProphetNomad Hero Artist
Saeculae Description Description Description Description
Late Medieval     Retreat from Wars of
      France Roses
      (1435 - 1439)(1459 - 1487)
Reformation Tudor Protestant Intolerance, Armada
  Renaissance Reformation Martyrdom Crisis
  (1487 - 1517) (1517 - 1542)(1542 - 1569)(1569 - 1594)
New World Merrie Puritan Reaction, Glorious
  England Awakening Restoration Revolution
  (1594 - 1621) (1621 - 1649)(1649 - 1673)(1673 - 1704)
Revolutionary Augustan Great French, American
  Empire Awakening Indian Wars Revolution
  (1704 - 1727) (1727 - 1746)(1746 - 1773)(1773 - 1794)
Civil War Good TrancendentalMexican Civil
  Feelings Awakening War War
  (1794 - 1822) (1822 - 1844)(1844 - 1861)(1860 - 1863)
Great Power Reconstruction Third Great World War I Depression
  Gilded Age Awakening Prohibition World War II
  (1865 - 1886) (1886 - 1908)(1908 - 1929)(1929 - 1946)
Millenial American ConsciousnessCulture Millenial
  High Revolution Wars Crisis
  (1946 - 1964) (1964 - 1984)(1984 - 2003)(2003 - 2026)

Overall, a very interesting review of the history of Western Civilization which wraps up with a full chapter devoted the authors' suggestions to prepare for the "Preparing for the Fourth Turning," i.e., 2003 - 2026.

Reviewed by E. Stiltner
Copyright (©) 2000

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