Collective Folly - Are We Headed For The "Fourth Turning"?

Over the last few weeks, the more I watch the news and struggle to comprehend recent developments, the more I am reminded of a book I read several years ago. The book was extremely interesting and provided excellent food for thought on how America, or western societies in general, might evolve, if the cyclical rhythm of history continued to hold up. At this point, the prophetic power of this book is looking increasingly eerie. The world does indeed look like it’s headed for the “fourth turning”.


The book was written in 1997 (!) and it provides a thorough analysis of the cycles of history, eventually building up a compelling case of how history can be referenced to predict the future. In that sense, “The Fourth Turning” illuminates the past, explains the present, and paints a relatively clear picture of the future.

"One of the best efforts to give us an integrated vision of where we are going." --Wall Street Journal

Unfortunately, the current social unrest, the growing interventionism and centralist tendencies, combined with a mountain of debt and recessionary economies, looks EXACTLY like what the authors William Strauss and Neil Howe predicted. We’ve been here before.


Strauss and Howe base their vision on a provocative theory. 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 lifetime. Each is composed of four "turnings" that last about twenty years and always arrives in the same order. The authors illustrate these cycles using a brilliant analysis of the post-World War II period.


First comes a “High”: a period of confident expansion as a new order takes root after the old has been swept away. The psyche of society is full of optimism, fortitude, and resilience. Society is in a rebuilding mode. 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 goes through a painful and perilous stage in its history. Together, these “Four Turnings” comprise history's seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and rebirth.


If the predictions of Strauss and Howe hold true and “this time is NOT different”, then we should all tighten our seatbelts, get ready to toughen up, and do our best to do better than our predecessors during previous fourth turnings!

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