The Fourth Turning is a book written by William Strauss. I've heard several interviews with him and have read some of his work, but not his entire book. His book basically paints a theory of how Society tends to go through cycles in history; basically saying that history repeats itself. He has formed a system of noting the role that each generation seems to play as a whole in history. It is a system that both allows for a clear explanation of the patterns in America's history (theory most strongly applies to America), and a way of predicting what sort of role future generations will play based on the pattern. So far, this pattern has held strongly.
Basically what it comes down to are fractal cycles of four that at the smallest level represent the 4 stages of life that individuals live through. Those 4 stages are played out on the larger scale through 4 repeating stages of history as played out by society and its present set of generations as a whole. Each turning lasts about 20 years, about the time it takes for a generation to enter a new cycle of life. As generations reach new stages of life, the younger generations also come up to fill the spot. This creates a cycling of roles in society as each generation is faced with both new experiences and the inheritance of their predecessors.
History basically repeats through the four cycles of the "High, awakening, unraveling, and crisis", repeating in that order as the 1st through 4th turnings. These are explained below with excerpts from the website. What this means for the present era is that we are entering (as of about 2005) a fourth turning , the "Millennial crisis", as should be readily apparent. It is represented by the Boomers entering elderhood, X'ers (13ers) entering midlife, Millennials entering young adulthood, and the New Silent entering childhood. If history is to repeat itself again, we will likely see that in the next 20 years there will be an upheaval, started and directed by the Boomers and X'ers, and carried on to a close by the millennials.
From the website-
The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Generations and Archetypes
A generation is composed of people whose common location in history lends them a collective persona. The span of one generation is roughly the length of a phase of life. Generations come in four archetypes, always in the same order, whose phase-of-life positions comprise a constellation.
* The Prophet archetype is born in a High, enters young adulthood in an Awakening, midlife in an Unraveling, and elderhood in a Crisis.
* The Nomad archetype is born in an Awakening, enters young adulthood in an Unraveling, midlife in a Crisis, and elderhood in a High.
* The Hero archetype is born in an Unraveling, enters young adulthood in a Crisis, midlife in a High, and elderhood in an Awakening.
* The Artist archetype is born in a Crisis, enters young adulthood in a High, midlife in an Awakening, and elderhood in an Unraveling.
During a Fourth Turning, the constellation contains all four archetypes born in the current saeculum. During the first three turnings, the constellation includes one or more archetypes born in the prior saeculum.
From the Arthurian Generation through today’s Millennial Generation children, there have been 24 generations in the Anglo-American lineage. The first six were purely English. The next four were colonial, yet still heavily influenced by English society and politics. The eleventh (Awakeners, born 1701-1723) became the first distinctively American generation—the first whose name, birthyears, and persona diverge significantly from peers in the United Kingdom. The Awakeners were also the first generation to be comprised mostly of native-born Americans and—late in life—the first to know the U.S. nation and flag. So although today’s Millennial children are the 24th in our full lineage of post-medieval generations, they are 14th in the American line.Life Cycles
Lifecycle of the PROPHET Archetype
We remember Prophets best for their coming-of-age passion (the excited pitch of Jonathan Edwards, William Lloyd Garrison, William Jennings Bryan) and for their principled elder stewardship (the sober pitch of Samuel Langdon at Bunker Hill, President Lincoln at Gettysburg, or FDR with his “fireside chats”). Increasingly indulged as children, they become increasingly protective as parents. Their principal endowments are in the domain of vision, values, and religion. Their best-known leaders include: John Winthrop and William Berkeley; Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin; James Polk and Abraham Lincoln; and Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. These have been principled moralists, summoners of human sacrifice, wagers of righteous wars. Early in life, none saw combat in uniform; late in life, most came to be revered more for their inspiring words than for their grand deeds.
A lifecycle outline:
* As PROPHETS replace Artists in childhood during a High, they are nurtured with increasing indulgence by optimistic adults in a secure environment.
* As self-absorbed PROPHETS replace Artists in young adulthood during an Awakening, they challenge the moral failure of elder-built institutions, sparking a society-wide spiritual awakening.
* As judgmental PROPHETS replace Artists in midlife during an Unraveling, they preach a downbeat, values-fixated ethic of moral conviction.
* As visionary PROPHETS replace Artists in elderhood during a Crisis, they push to resolve ever-deepening moral choices, setting the stage for the secular goals of the young.
The Lifecycle of the NOMAD Archetype
We remember Nomads best for their rising-adult years of hell-raising (Paxton Boys, Missouri Raiders, rumrunners) and for their midlife years of hands-on, get-it-done leadership (Francis Marion, Stonewall Jackson, George Patton). Underprotected as children, they become overprotective parents. Their principal endowments are in the domain of liberty, survival, and honor. Their best-known leaders include: Nathaniel Bacon and William Stoughton; George Washington and John Adams; Ulysses Grant and Grover Cleveland; Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. These have been cunning, hard-to-fool realists—taciturn warriors who prefer to meet problems and adversaries one-on-one. They include the only two Presidents who had earlier hanged a man (Washington and Cleveland), one governor who hanged witches (Stoughton), and several leaders who had earlier led troops into battle (Bacon, Washington, Grant, Truman, and Eisenhower).
A lifecycle outline:
* As NOMADS replace Prophets in childhood during an Awakening, they are left underprotected at a time of social convulsion and adult self-discovery.
* As alienated NOMADS replace Prophets in young adulthood during an Unraveling, they become brazen free agents, lending their pragmatism and independence to an era of growing social turmoil.
* As pragmatic NOMADS replace Prophets in midlife during a Crisis, they apply toughness and resolution to defend society while safeguarding the interests of the young.
* As exhausted NOMADS replace Prophets in elderhood during a High, they slow the pace of social change, shunning the old crusades in favor of simplicity and survivalism.
The Lifecycle of the HERO Archetype
We remember Heroes best for their collective coming-of-age triumphs (Glorious Revolution, Yorktown, D-Day) and for their hubristic elder achievements (the Peace of Utrecht and slave codes, the Louisiana Purchase and steamboats, the Apollo moon launches and interstate highways). Increasingly protected as children, they become increasingly indulgent as parents. Their principal endowment activities are in the domain of community, affluence, and technology. Their best-known leaders include: Gurdon Saltonstall and “King” Carter; Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. They have been vigorous and rational institution builders. All have been aggressive advocates of economic prosperity and public optimism in midlife; and all have maintained a reputation for civic energy and competence even deep into old age.
A lifecycle outline:
* As HEROES replace Nomads in childhood during an Unraveling, they are nurtured with increasing protection by pessimistic adults in an insecure environment.
* As teamworking HEROES replace Nomads in young adulthood during a Crisis, they challenge the political failure of elder-led crusades, fueling a society-wide secular crisis.
* As powerful HEROES replace Nomads in midlife during a High, they establish an upbeat, constructive ethic of social discipline.
* As expansive HEROES replace Nomads in elderhood during an Awakening, they orchestrate ever-grander secular constructions, setting the stage for the spiritual goals of the young.
he Lifecycle of the ARTIST Archetype
We remember Artists best for their quiet years of rising adulthood (the log-cabin settlers of 1800, the plains farmers of 1880, the new suburbanites of 1960) and during their midlife years of flexible, consensus-building leadership (the “Compromises” of the Whig era, the “good government” reforms of the Progressive era, the budget and peace processes of the current era). Overprotected as children, they become underprotective parents. Their principal endowment activities are in the domain of pluralism, expertise, and due process. Their best-known leaders include: William Shirley and Cadwallader Colden; John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson; Walter Mondale, and Colin Powell. These have been sensitive and complex social technicians, advocates of fair play and the politics of inclusion. With the single exception of Andrew Jackson, they rank as the most expert and credentialed of American political leaders.
A lifecycle outline:
* As ARTISTS replace Heroes in childhood during a Crisis, they are overprotected at a time of political convulsion and adult self-sacrifice.
* As conformist ARTISTS replace Heroes in young adulthood during a High, they become sensitive helpmates, lending their expertise and cooperation to an era of growing social calm.
* As indecisive ARTISTS replace Heroes in midlife during an Awakening, they apply expertise and process to improve society while calming the passions of the young.
* As empathic ARTISTS replace Heroes in elderhood during an Unraveling, they quicken the pace of social change, shunning the old order in favor of complexity and sensitivity.
History and Turnings
A turning is an era with a characteristic social mood, a new twist on how people feel about themselves and their nation. It results from the aging of the generational constellation. A society enters a turning once every twenty years or so, when all living generations begin to enter their next phases of life. Like archetypes and constellations, turnings come four to a saeculum, and always in the same order:
* The First Turning is a High —an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays. Old Prophets disappear, Nomads enter elderhood, Heroes enter midlife, Artists enter young adulthood—and a new generation of Prophets is born.
* The Second Turning is an Awakening —a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. Old Nomads disappear, Heroes enter elderhood, Artists enter midlife, Prophets enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Nomads is born.
* The Third Turning is an Unraveling —a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants. Old Heroes disappear, Artists enter elderhood, Prophets enter midlife, Nomads enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Heroes is born.
* The Fourth Turning is a Crisis —a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter elderhood, Nomads enter midlife, Heroes enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Artists is born.
Like the four seasons of nature, the four turnings of history are equally necessary and important. Awakenings and Crises are the saecular solstices, summer and winter, each a solution to a challenge posed by the other. Highs and Unravelings are the saecular equinoxes, spring and autumn, each coursing a path directionally opposed to the other. When a society moves into an Awakening or Crisis, the new mood announces itself as a sudden turn in social direction. An Awakening begins when events trigger a revolution in the culture, a Crisis when events trigger an upheaval in public life. A High or Unraveling announces itself as a sudden consolidation of the new direction. A High begins when society perceives that the basic issues of the prior Crisis have been resolved, leaving a new civic regime firmly in place. An Unraveling begins with the perception that the Awakening has been resolved, leaving a new cultural mindset in place.
The gateway to a new turning can be obvious and dramatic (like the 1929 Stock Crash) or subtle and gradual (like 1984’s Morning in America). It usually occurs two to five years after a new generation of children starts being born. The tight link between turning gateways and generational boundaries enables each archetype to fill an entire phase-of-life just as the mood of an old turning grows stale and feels ripe for replacement with something new.
The four turnings comprise a quaternal social cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and rebirth). In a springlike High, a society fortifies and builds and converges in an era of promise. In a summerlike Awakening, it dreams and plays and exults in an era of euphoria. In an autumnal Unraveling, it harvests and consumes and diverges in an era of anxiety. In a hibernal Crisis, it focuses and struggles and sacrifices in an era of survival. When the saeculum is in motion, therefore, no long human lifetime can go by without a society confronting its deepest spiritual and worldly needs.
Modernity has thus far produced six repetitions of each turning, each repetition lasting roughly the duration of a phase of life and corresponding to an identical constellation of generational archetypes. Each sequential set of four turnings constitutes a saeculum.
The Anglo-American saeculum dates back to the waning of the Middle Ages in the middle of the fifteenth century. In this lineage, there have been seven saecula:
* Late Medieval (1435-1487)
* Reformation (1487-1594)
* New World (1594-1704)
* Revolutionary (1704-1794)
* Civil War (1794-1865)
* Great Power (1866-1946)
* Millennial (1946-2026?)
America is presently in the *FOURTH* Turning of the Millennial Saeculum and giving birth to the 24th generation of the post-medieval era.