The Fourth Turning

Book Review by Milo Clark

March 17, 2003


William Strauss and Neil Howe, "An American Prophecy, The Fourth Turning, What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny;" Broadway Books (Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group), NY, 1997 ISBN 0-553-006682-X.

Given the ponderous titling, weighty volume, prior collaborations and their draped associations, Strauss and Howe beg to be taken very seriously. Dust jacket blurb makes Strauss as ". . . cofounder and director of the Capitol Steps, a political cabaret," and Howe as ". . . historian and economist, . . . senior adviser for the Concord Coalition."

OK, if you say so. Ask yourself, "What do these associations actually assert?" "Can I take these men as seriously as they want to be taken?" If I am incredulous, can I do better than to ask them?

Put-on? Capitol Steps? See their website, Fourth Turning. Concord Coalition? See their Web site.

Jimmy Carter caught a lot of flak in his days as President for postulating a great malaise enveloping America. Strauss and Howe extend great malaise exponentially. Add a collection of ponderous wordings and catchy generational postulations. In short, given what they give us, the doo-doo will hit the fan about 2005, which is pretty close to now. Hard to disagree with actualities in process.

Strauss and Howe are seemingly obedient to Bateson's injunctions to find patterns that connect and differences that make differences. Taking their generational differentiations at face value, folks born way back in the 1920s are and will be fundamentally different in many relevant aspects than folks born later who, in turn, will be fundamentally different than the successions of folks born thereafter. "Thereafter" is thereafter carved up into more slices with more differences. And, of course, there are many intra-and inter-generational factors also to consider.

Starting with a saeculum defined as a ". . . seasonal cycle of history, roughly the length of a long human life. . ." and establishing that the "Anglo-American saeculum [sic] dates back to the waning of the Middles ages in the middle of the fifteenth century; there have been seven saecula: . . . (Broadway editor, please edit!). . . ."

"America is present in the Third Turning of the Millennial Saeculum and giving birth to the twenty-fourth generation of the post-Medieval period." To get this far, page 123, I have waded through a lot of historical generalizations which lead me to ask, "So what? What are you trying to prove other than the obvious?"

Leopold Kohr is indeed correct to identify the essential problem as size in itself. Time for implosions? Look around.

Given Strauss and Howe's arguments, from the vantage point of 2003 to date, I wonder how and why the cross-generational crowd who seized power in the USA November 2000 chooses to accelerate rather than to mitigate Strauss and Howe's prophecy centered on 2005? Doesn't anybody within the Beltway, patrons of The Capitol Steps, for example, pay attention to the Concord Coalition?

We have a very determined group of power people for whom military adventure takes absolute priority. They are plunging the world's greatest debtor nation, purveyor of destruction unparalleled in history, ever more deeply in debt. If opinions or priorities of others merit weight or consideration, they are being ignored, trampled, overwhelmed and vilified.

If the tendencies and probabilities identified ad nauseum by Strauss and Howe have merit, are sound, why do these people court Armageddon and Apocalypse?

Is it the mantle of fundamental Christianity adopted by a playboy of the western world? There is little Christianity apparent in a Cheney or Rumsfeld, much less a Powell or a Rice. And yet?

The White Bull of Old Testament prophecy is being bred by eager geneticists of America's deepest South to precipitate the supposed Revelations of Revelation. You've got to be serious!

Israel, the modern nation-state, may now occupy lands of Old Testament, erect contemporary versions of Berlin Wall (taller, stronger and longer) while storing weapons of mass destruction and operating like South Africa's Apartheid redux, and be thought only as a possible, probable swing vote in American elections. . . 2004 next.

Strange bedfellows are circum-copulating profusely. Are these anomalies or Turnings? You will have to dig through Strauss and Howe for yourself to answer such questions.

P. S. One of the hallmarks of serious historical studies is a comprehensive index. The Fourth Turning does not have such.

P. D. Ouspensky elaborates on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff in The Fourth Way, "A Record of Talks and Answers to Questions based on the teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff" (NY, Knopf, 1957). Gurdjieff employed shock tactics on his devotees attempting to shake them loose, to see themselves from new and different points of view. See prior essays on perception and perspective.

"Now is the time for you to think about everything you have heard from the point of view of what is more important, that is to say, to look for the centre of gravity in all the different ideas you have studied and to try to find the chief points, bacause, as in everything else, there are more important and less important points. There are auxiliary things which help you to understand the chief points, and there are chief points which determine the whole. It is now time to distinguish between them." (p. 297)

Paul Kennedy, a Yale historian who meets the index criterion, earlier addressed questions similar to Strauss and Howe, published Preparing for the Twenty-First Century (NY, Random House, 1993). He suggests, "Nothing is certain except that we face innumerable uncertainties; but simply recognizing that fact provides a vital starting point, and is, of course, far better than being blindly unaware of how our world is changing." (p. 348)

Some, perhaps many, see.

The sun is cloaked, The waters are troubled, The land is clogged, The moon is masked, The stars are blinded.

And here sun shines, Water flows, Land is clear, Moon is open, Stars see all.*

While the power people prepare further to devastate what remains of western civilization's roots in present day Iraq, let me note than Chaldee, among the most ancient of Tigris and Euphrates valley societies, developed very sophisticated systems based in observations of planetary and stellar movements. To do so, they needed telescopes (lens have been found there). What they saw and recorded could not have been done with the naked eye alone.

Compared to the generational analyses of Strauss and Howe, their works are quite sophisticated and much more broadly based. As astrologists of repute, they issued annual almanacs in cuneiform. While we can't confirm their accuracy or relevance in context, neither can we adequately judge the conclusions of Strauss and Howe other than in retrospect. . . sorry, too late.

So what? The history most have been taught in recent years, if taught any history at all, credits the invention of lens, telescopes, microscopes, etc. to very recent times comparatively noted. I suppose that is as good a reason as any to destroy the evidence from past times. . . .lest somebody find out.

What is needed to see clouds when there are clouds, sun when there is sun?

Why are the power people insisting so vehemently that cloud is sun and sun is cloud?


* Milo G. Clark, 1996, in response to a re-reading of Stranger in a Strange Land (uncut version) by R. L. Heinlein

· · · · · ·


Size Matters  (February 17, 2003)

Adam Smith Is Still On Our Side  (March 3, 2003)

Adam Smith is on Our Side  (Original essay published on May 14, 1996)


Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).

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Published March 17, 2003
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