The Fourth Turning

“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There’s no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted – but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial.

– Straus and Howe (1997):  “The Fourth Turning”, FIRST EDITION page 2

The books Generations (1992) and The Fourth Turning (1997) by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe identified and categorized recorded cycles of history across multiple cultures and eras.  Both books analyzed the timelines of historical events and correlated them to specific life cycles identified as generational “types”.   Strauss and Howe addressed the concept of time in the context of both circular and linear perspectives.  In so doing, they described the “saeculum” as a “long human life” measuring approximately 80 to 90 years and comprised of four turnings, each lasting around 20 to 22 years.

Just as there are four seasons consisting of springsummerfall and winter, there are also four phases of a human life experienced in childhoodyoung adulthoodmiddle age and elderhood.

Each generation experiences the historical turnings according to their life stage; and the Seasons (i.e. order of societal “turnings”) are identified by each generation as they reach middle-age.  Amazingly, history shows a consistent pattern in how the generations similarly cause and affect historical events.

In America, since the end of the late sixteenth-century, there have been four full “cycles”, or saeculums, as follows:

1.) Colonial Cycle

2.) Revolutionary Cycle

3.) Civil War Cycle

4.) World War Cycle

In every Fourth Turning “winter”, or crisis period, within all of the above cycles, American society experienced great upheavals and war.

Accordingly, in 2024, as one who Strauss and Howe identified as a (Generation X) “Nomad”, I find myself middle-aged and in the center of a literal (seasonal) winter, at the beginning of a Fourth Turning (generational) winter, and at the advent of World War III occurring approximately 80 years after World War II.

Lucky me.

History repeating and the daily repetitiveness of life calls to mind the Sisyphean task of continually rolling the same giant allegorical boulder up the same steep proverbial hill; over and over and over again.

But Sisyphus had it much easier in Hades.  At least it was warm there. Had he lived in the northern climes as I do, Sisyphus would have had to remove the snow from the hill before he attempted to reach the summit with the rock.  Then, once the snow was removed all the way to the top, he would have turned around only to see that high winds had drifted in the very path he had just shoveled; except the drifted snow would then be densely packed and made harder than concrete via double-digit wind-chills below zero degrees.  Even so, the snowpack would need to be moved repeatedly before the rock received even one little push; then Sisyphus would do it again tomorrow and the next day too.

What’s the point?  It is this:  The cold winds of both seasonal and generational winters add dangerous risks and difficulty to daily Sisyphean tasks.”