Instead of viewing history as linear – either upward toward inevitably greater and greater human progress or else down toward devolution and destruction – Neil Howe and William Strauss tackled history as cyclical.
It’s hard to believe ‘The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy’ was published in 1997. Yet it’s equally hard to believe the way of viewing history and current events and the predictions for the future found in this work has been so seldom employed or adopted elsewhere.
The Strauss-Howe Generational Theory
Like the four seasons of a year – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – American history, for instance, looks very interesting when we see it in terms of the Strauss-Howe generational theory of four repeating generational personae.
According to the theory, each “saeculum,” or larger cycle, is comprised of a High, Awakening, Unraveling, and Crisis period in succession.. Each of these periods lasts about 20-years each, and has a corresponding general archetypes of generational personality and mode – Artist, Prophet, Nomad, and Hero.
Each generation is born in one of the four repeating periods in the cycle, coming of age and having certain general characteristics in each of the four cycles based on five stages of life – Childhood, Young Adulthood, Midlife, Elderhood, and Late Elderhood.
Like so, our history begins to resemble a sine wave, much like the feature image I used for the post on this episode.
Naysayers and Pseudoscience
Naysayers will doubtless chide that any predictions derived from such a model have more to do with astrology and fortune cookies than good science or history.
If you ask me, however, ‘The Fourth Turning’ feels like a long-form application to our nation’s story of what wise King Solomon wrote in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes.
“A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.”
“Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.”
Or to use another Biblical example which comes to mind, remember Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.
In light of examples such as these from God’s Word, would the Christian at least be surprised to learn that God has ordered repeating seasons for our generations in a similar way to how our climate changes four times in a year?
Non-Fiction Wheel of Time
Of course this is a lot to take in, and it bears careful examination and consideration. But I am entirely fascinated with the premise of ‘The Fourth Turning,’ and certain I will be returning to its claims and predictions for quite some time.
Perhaps some fresh insight or helpful conclusion with regards to leaving a godly legacy will come from pondering the implications of the Strauss-Howe theory for my understanding of my grandparents, parents, self, wife, and children, particularly in light of the times we have lived through, are living in, and may yet live to see.
And maybe Robert Jordan was onto more than I appreciated with his epic fantasy series, ‘The Wheel of Time.’ The literal reincarnation business therein was nonsense, of course. But maybe histories and human events do indeed turn something like what Jordan portrayed. What if human affairs and general themes repeat over and over like that in something approaching a predictable pattern?
The more I think on it, the more convinced I am that such is the case.
And indeed, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 puts it, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
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