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Historical Patterns and the Theory of the Four Turnings

According to the theory of the Four Turnings, we're in a Crisis phase, marked by global pandemics, economic instability, and social unrest. How will we navigate from turmoil to transformation?

23 min read
Historical Patterns and the Theory of the Four Turnings

Table of Contents

There's a theory of cyclical patterns in history known as the Four Turnings that is gaining in popularity these days.

To learn more, I spoke with fictional AI persona Dr. Alexander Carter, an expert in historical patterns, holding a Ph.D. in History with a specialization in cyclical societal developments and over 20 years of experience analyzing generational theories and the Four Turnings.

The Four Turnings

Layng: What are the Four Turnings?

Dr. Alexander Carter: The concept of the Four Turnings is a theory about cyclical patterns in history, proposed by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book "The Fourth Turning," published in 1997. According to Strauss and Howe, history moves in cycles called "saecula," which last about 80 to 90 years, roughly the span of a human life. Each saeculum is divided into four "turnings," each lasting around 20-22 years, that together constitute a full cycle of societal moods, attitudes, and behaviors. These turnings are:

The High: This period follows a crisis. During the High, society is characterized by strong institutions, a sense of collective purpose, and a belief in the possibility of a better future. There is a general consensus on social and political norms, leading to a period of stability and prosperity.

The Awakening: After the High, society enters an Awakening, a period marked by a challenge to established social norms and a focus on spiritual discovery and personal autonomy. This era is characterized by a rebellion against the established order, leading to social and cultural change. Institutions are questioned, and there is a push for greater individuality and freedom of expression.

The Unraveling: The Unraveling follows the Awakening, during which the fabric of society becomes more fragmented. Confidence in institutions continues to decline, and individualism further increases. Society becomes more divisive, with people feeling disconnected from broader communal goals. This period is marked by a sense of cynicism and a decline in public spirit.

The Crisis: The final turning is the Crisis, a period of significant upheaval and change. This era is characterized by a decisive event or series of events (such as a war, economic collapse, or natural disaster) that fundamentally reshapes society. It leads to the rebuilding of institutions and the establishment of a new social order, marking the transition back to the High.

Strauss and Howe argue that these cycles have occurred throughout American history and can be traced back through Western history. They believe that understanding these patterns can provide insights into current and future societal trends.

Our Current Phase

Layng: Can you identify which of these periods corresponds to our current time?

Dr. Carter: Many observers and followers of Strauss and Howe's theory argue that we are currently in the Crisis phase of the cycle. This interpretation stems from various global challenges and upheavals experienced in the last two decades, including economic instability, political polarization, social unrest, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. These events have been seen as indicative of a period of significant upheaval and transformation, fitting the description of a Crisis phase.

According to the theory, the Crisis phase is a turning point where society faces significant challenges that can only be overcome through collective effort and potentially radical change. It's a time of rebuilding and redefining social, political, and economic structures.

However, it's important to note that the applicability and timing of these phases can be subject to interpretation, and not everyone agrees on the exact timing of these turnings or the events that might signify their transitions. The theory provides a framework for understanding historical cycles, but its predictive power and accuracy are debated among historians and social scientists.

The Last Century According to the Four Turnings Theory

Layng: Can you describe what events the other three turnings have corresponded to over the last century?

Dr. Carter: Over the last century, the cycle of Four Turnings, as proposed by William Strauss and Neil Howe, can be outlined through specific historical periods and events in American history. Each turning corresponds to significant societal shifts and events that reflect the characteristics of the High, Awakening, Unraveling, and Crisis phases.

The High (Post-World War II Boom)

  • Time Period: Late 1940s to the early 1960s
  • Characteristics: This period was marked by strong societal optimism, economic prosperity, and the establishment of robust government and social institutions. The end of World War II led to a sense of collective victory and unity, resulting in the Baby Boom and the expansion of the American middle class. There was a strong faith in technology and progress, leading to significant infrastructure developments and the suburban boom.

The Awakening (Consciousness Revolution)

  • Time Period: Mid-1960s to the early 1980s
  • Characteristics: This era was characterized by a challenge to the established order and a shift towards personal and spiritual discovery. The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War protests, the feminist movement, and the environmental movement reflected a society wrestling with profound questions about equality, peace, and the role of government. This period saw a dramatic shift in cultural and social norms, emphasizing personal liberation and skepticism of authority.

The Unraveling (Culture Wars)

  • Time Period: Early 1980s to the early 2000s
  • Characteristics: The Unraveling phase saw the fragmentation of the collective consensus that characterized the High, with growing distrust in institutions and a rise in individualism. This period was marked by economic shifts towards neoliberal policies, technological advancements, and the beginning of the digital age. Social and political divisions became more pronounced, exemplified by debates over moral and cultural values, leading to what many called the "culture wars."

The Crisis (Global Financial Crisis and Beyond)

  • Time Period: 2008 to present (as of my last update in 2023)
  • Characteristics: The financial crash of 2007-2008 marked the beginning of the current Crisis phase, characterized by economic instability, political polarization, and a growing sense of global interconnectedness and vulnerability. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have further emphasized the global scale of current challenges, requiring collective action and potentially leading to significant changes in how societies are structured and governed.

These periods are interpretations based on Strauss and Howe's theory and should be understood as one framework among many for analyzing historical trends. The theory argues that the cycle of turnings has recurred throughout American history, with each cycle reflecting the generational attitudes, life experiences, and societal conditions unique to its time.

The Previous Crisis Turning

Layng: Describe the Crisis "turning" in the 20th century.

Dr. Carter: The Crisis turning in the 20th century, according to William Strauss and Neil Howe's theory, corresponds to the period surrounding World War II. This era, spanning from the late 1920s or early 1930s to the mid-1940s, encapsulates the Great Depression followed by the Second World War. These events collectively represent a time of profound upheaval, challenge, and transformation, fitting the characteristics of a Crisis phase as defined in their generational theory. Here's an overview of this period:

The Great Depression

  • Time Period: 1929 to the late 1930s
  • Characteristics: Initiated by the stock market crash in 1929, the Great Depression was a decade-long period of severe economic downturn. It led to unprecedented levels of unemployment, poverty, and social distress. The economic crisis challenged faith in the free market and led to significant government intervention in the economy under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, aiming to provide relief, recovery, and reform.

World War II

  • Time Period: 1939 to 1945 (U.S. involvement from 1941)
  • Characteristics: The Second World War was a global conflict that involved the majority of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The war was marked by significant events such as the Holocaust, the use of nuclear weapons in combat, and the total mobilization of national resources and populations. It resulted in massive loss of life and the redrawing of international borders.

Societal Impact

The combination of the Great Depression and World War II fundamentally reshaped American society and its role in the world. These events:

  • Transformed the U.S. Economy: The mobilization for war ended the Great Depression, leading to technological advancements and laying the groundwork for post-war economic prosperity.
  • Established the United States as a Superpower: The post-war period saw the U.S. emerging as one of the world's dominant economic and military powers, playing a leading role in establishing the United Nations and other international institutions.
  • Led to Major Social Changes: The war effort and its aftermath led to significant shifts in American society, including changes in gender roles, civil rights movements, and the beginning of the Cold War.

This Crisis period was followed by a High, as Strauss and Howe describe, characterized by the post-war economic boom, strong societal institutions, and a sense of collective optimism and purpose, setting the stage for the next cycle of turnings.

Current Alignment with Crisis Turning

Layng: Describe in detail how our current scenario aligns with the Crisis turning.

Dr. Carter: Examining the current scenario through the lens of the Four Turnings theory by William Strauss and Neil Howe suggests that we are in the midst of a Crisis turning. This period is characterized by significant societal upheaval, challenges, and transformations that fundamentally reshape institutions, societies, and the global order. Here's how the current scenario aligns with the characteristics of a Crisis turning:

Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, emerging at the end of 2019 and continuing into the early 2020s, has had profound impacts on global health, economies, and societies. Pandemics are often seen as hallmark events of a Crisis phase, triggering widespread social and economic disruption, reevaluation of global and local priorities, and significant changes in public policy and individual behavior.

Economic Instability and Inequality

Economic challenges, including high levels of unemployment, increasing national debts, and significant market volatility, are indicative of the Crisis phase. The pandemic exacerbated existing economic inequalities, both within nations and globally, highlighting systemic vulnerabilities and prompting discussions on economic reform and resilience.

Political Polarization and Social Unrest

The current period has seen a rise in political polarization, with increased divisiveness within many countries. This has been accompanied by social movements and protests, reflecting public discontent with issues of governance, inequality, and systemic injustice. Such social dynamics are typical of the Crisis phase, where existing social contracts are questioned, leading to potential political and institutional reforms.

Technological and Environmental Challenges

The ongoing technological revolution, including the rise of artificial intelligence, cyber threats, and the impact of social media on public discourse, presents both opportunities and challenges that are reshaping societies. Concurrently, the escalating crisis of climate change, with its severe weather events and global impacts on ecosystems, economies, and communities, demands immediate and coordinated global action, reflecting the urgent and existential nature of Crisis phase challenges.

Reconfiguration of Global Power Structures

The current geopolitical landscape is marked by shifts in global power dynamics, with the rise of China, reassertion of Russian influence, and questioning of traditional alliances and international institutions. Such reconfigurations are typical of a Crisis turning, as the global order established in the previous High and maintained through the Awakening and Unraveling phases is challenged and potentially reshaped.


The alignment of these events and trends with the characteristics of a Crisis turning suggests a period of significant transformation. According to the theory, the resolution of this Crisis will lead to the emergence of a new order, with reinvigorated institutions and a reshaped societal consensus, marking the transition to the next First Turning, or High. However, the specific outcomes and the path to achieving them are contingent upon the choices, actions, and resilience of individuals, societies, and global institutions in navigating these challenges.

The Next High Turning

Layng: Describe the most likely scenario for how the next first turning (The High) will play out.

Dr. Carter: Predicting how the next First Turning, or "The High," will unfold involves speculation based on current trends and the patterns outlined by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their theory. Following a Crisis phase, a High is characterized by a sense of rebuilding and renewed confidence in institutions, with society seeking stability, unity, and a collective sense of purpose. Based on these criteria and considering the challenges faced in the early 21st century, here are some speculative themes and developments that could characterize the next High:

Technological Integration and Advancement

The next High could see the integration of advanced technologies into everyday life in ways that enhance societal well-being and economic efficiency. This could include breakthroughs in renewable energy, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, leading to improvements in healthcare, environmental sustainability, and the quality of life. Society might embrace these technologies, seeing them as tools for solving pressing global challenges.

Economic Rebuilding and Innovation

Following the economic disruptions of the Crisis phase, the next High could focus on economic recovery and innovation. This might involve new economic models that prioritize sustainability, equity, and resilience, potentially moving away from purely profit-driven paradigms. Efforts to rebuild the economy could emphasize creating jobs, reducing inequality, and fostering industries that address societal needs.

Strengthening of Institutions

After experiencing the shortcomings of existing institutions during the Crisis, there could be a concerted effort to rebuild and reform public and private institutions. This might include reforms in governance, finance, healthcare, and education to make them more responsive, efficient, and equitable. The goal would be to restore trust in these institutions as pillars of stability and progress.

Social Cohesion and Unity

The aftermath of a Crisis often brings a renewed sense of community and a desire for social cohesion. The next High could witness a resurgence of collective values, with society working towards common goals and placing a greater emphasis on civic engagement, volunteerism, and social responsibility. This period might see a decline in polarization and an increase in efforts to bridge cultural and ideological divides.

Global Cooperation

Given the global nature of many of today's challenges, the next High could be marked by increased international cooperation. Efforts to address climate change, prevent pandemics, and manage economic globalization might lead to stronger international institutions and agreements, fostering a sense of global citizenship and shared destiny.

Cultural Renaissance

Periods of stability and optimism often coincide with cultural flourishing. The next High could see a renaissance in arts, literature, and public discourse, reflecting the era's values and aspirations. This cultural revival could be characterized by a blend of tradition and innovation, drawing from diverse influences to create new forms of expression.

While these themes are speculative, they align with the patterns of renewal and optimism that define the High phase in Strauss and Howe's theory. The specifics will depend on how current crises are resolved and the choices made by societies in the coming years.

Precedent for Flourishing in a Crisis

Layng: Describe in detail some of the individuals who flourished in the Crisis of the 20th century and how they managed to do so.

Dr. Carter: The Crisis of the 20th century, particularly during the Great Depression and World War II, was a period of tremendous upheaval as well as remarkable human resilience and ingenuity. Several individuals not only flourished during these times but also made significant contributions to their countries and the world. Here are detailed examples of such individuals:

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)

  • Role: 32nd President of the United States
  • Contribution: FDR is best known for his leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. He implemented the New Deal, a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations, which aimed to provide relief for the unemployed and poor, recover the economy to normal levels, and reform the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. His leadership during World War II, including his role in establishing the United Nations, left a lasting impact on global politics and the post-war world order.
  • How He Flourished: Roosevelt's ability to communicate hope and solidarity through his Fireside Chats, his decisive actions to stabilize the economy, and his unwavering leadership during the war helped him win an unprecedented four presidential terms, reshaping American politics and policy.

Winston Churchill

  • Role: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • Contribution: Churchill is celebrated for his leadership of the UK during World War II, particularly his resolve and eloquence in rallying the British people during the darkest hours of the conflict. His speeches and broadcasts were crucial in boosting British morale during times of great adversity, such as the Battle of Britain.
  • How He Flourished: Churchill's extensive experience, oratory skills, and deep understanding of military strategy and international politics enabled him to lead his country effectively through the Crisis. His ability to forge strong alliances, particularly with the United States and the Soviet Union, was instrumental in the Allied victory.

Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Role: First Lady of the United States, diplomat, and activist
  • Contribution: Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady by actively engaging in public policy and human rights advocacy. During the Great Depression, she worked tirelessly to support New Deal policies and during World War II, she was a staunch advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes.
  • How She Flourished: Eleanor's deep commitment to social justice and her ability to use her public platform for advocacy reshaped the role of women in politics and public life. Her leadership in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a United Nations delegate after the war is considered one of her greatest achievements.

Alan Turing

  • Role: Mathematician, computer scientist, and cryptanalyst
  • Contribution: Turing played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial engagements, including the Battle of the Atlantic. His work on the development of the Turing machine laid the groundwork for modern computing.
  • How He Flourished: Turing's brilliance in mathematics and logic, combined with his innovative thinking in code-breaking and computing, made him indispensable to the war effort and significantly advanced the field of computer science.

John Maynard Keynes

  • Role: Economist
  • Contribution: Keynes is one of the most influential figures in modern economics. His ideas, known as Keynesian economics, involved the recommendation that governments should manage economic downturns through spending and investment to stimulate demand. His theories influenced the economic policies of governments worldwide during the Great Depression and after World War II.
  • How He Flourished: Keynes' ability to articulate and advocate for his economic theories, combined with the dire need for new economic solutions during the Great Depression, led to the widespread adoption of his ideas. His work on the financial structure of the post-war world at the Bretton Woods Conference helped establish the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

These individuals, among others, not only navigated the challenges of their time but also shaped the course of the 20th century, demonstrating leadership, innovation, and resilience during a period of global Crisis.

Precedent for Gaining Wealth in a Crisis Turning

Layng: Describe in detail some of the individuals who became wealthy in the Crisis of the 20th century and how they managed to do so.

Dr. Carter: The Crisis periods of the 20th century, notably the Great Depression and World War II, were times of great economic upheaval and transformation. Despite the widespread hardship, some individuals managed to find opportunities and became wealthy by adapting to or influencing changes in the economic landscape. Here are detailed examples of such individuals:

Joseph Kennedy Sr.

  • How He Became Wealthy: Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy political family, significantly increased his wealth during the Great Depression. He had a diverse portfolio, including substantial investments in real estate, Hollywood film studios, and the stock market. Kennedy's wealth accumulation strategies included buying stocks and properties at low prices during the economic downturn and later profiting from their appreciation. He also engaged in insider trading and other practices that, while legal at the time, would be considered questionable or illegal today.
  • Contribution: Kennedy's financial success allowed him to establish a powerful political legacy and dynasty, with his children becoming prominent figures in American politics.

Howard Hughes

  • How He Became Wealthy: Howard Hughes was an aviator, film producer, and business magnate who leveraged his wealth and innovative spirit to thrive during difficult times. During the Great Depression, Hughes produced and directed films that were commercially successful. He also invested in the aviation industry, setting multiple world air speed records and building Hughes Aircraft Company into a major defense contractor during World War II.
  • Contribution: Hughes' investments in aviation and technology not only expanded his fortune but also contributed to advancements in aerospace and entertainment industries.

Friedrich Flick

  • How He Became Wealthy: A German industrialist, Friedrich Flick's wealth grew substantially during the Nazi regime. He exploited the opportunities presented by the war economy, including the aryanization of Jewish-owned businesses and the use of forced labor in his factories. Flick's investments in steel, coal, and armaments industries flourished due to the high demand during World War II.
  • Contribution: Post-war, Flick faced trials for war crimes but was eventually released. His case is often cited in discussions on the ethics of profiteering from war and the moral responsibilities of businessmen.

Henry J. Kaiser

  • How He Became Wealthy: Henry J. Kaiser was an American industrialist who became known as the father of modern American shipbuilding. During World War II, he established the Kaiser Shipyards, which produced Liberty ships at a record pace to support the Allied war effort. Kaiser's innovative assembly-line techniques drastically reduced ship construction times, contributing significantly to the war effort and greatly enhancing his wealth and reputation.
  • Contribution: Kaiser's success in shipbuilding laid the foundation for his later ventures in steel, aluminum, and health care, including the establishment of the Kaiser Permanente health care system.

Paul Getty

  • How He Became Wealthy: J. Paul Getty was an American-British industrialist who made his fortune in the oil industry. During the Great Depression and World War II, Getty purchased oil fields at low prices, including in the Middle East, which later proved to be immensely valuable. His strategic investments in undervalued assets during times of economic distress and his subsequent expansion into the Middle East oil business were key to his wealth accumulation.
  • Contribution: Getty became one of the richest individuals in the world and a notable philanthropist, establishing the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and funding various cultural and scientific institutions.

These individuals demonstrate how crisis periods, while challenging, can also present unique opportunities for those with the resources, foresight, and sometimes moral flexibility to capitalize on the changing economic landscape. Their stories highlight a mix of innovation, opportunism, and controversy in the pursuit of wealth during times of global upheaval.

The Ethics of Growing Wealth in the Last Crisis Turning

Layng: Of the people who managed to grow wealth during the last Crisis turning, who was able to do this in a manner considered to be ethically sound, and who was not?

Dr. Carter: When considering individuals who grew their wealth during the last Crisis turning of the 20th century, particularly during the Great Depression and World War II, the ethical evaluation of their actions can be complex and subjective, often depending on the perspectives and values of the observer. Here's a brief look at some of these figures based on general consensus and historical analysis:

Ethically Sound

  • Henry J. Kaiser: Kaiser was an industrialist who contributed significantly to the American war effort during World War II through his shipyards, which produced Liberty ships faster than ever before due to innovative assembly line techniques. His actions are generally viewed as ethically sound because they directly contributed to the war effort against the Axis powers and led to advancements in industrial production that benefited society.

Ethically Questionable

  • Joseph Kennedy Sr.: Kennedy's wealth accumulation tactics before and during the Great Depression included stock market speculation and other financial maneuvers that, while legal at the time, would be considered ethically questionable by today's standards. His alleged involvement in bootlegging during Prohibition adds to the ethical concerns, although these claims have been debated by historians.
  • Friedrich Flick: As a German industrialist who significantly expanded his fortune during the Nazi regime, Flick's methods included profiting from the aryanization of Jewish-owned businesses and the use of forced labor. These actions are widely considered unethical due to their exploitation of human rights abuses and direct benefit from the atrocities of the Nazi regime.

The ethical assessment of wealth accumulation during times of crisis often hinges on the means by which wealth was generated, the societal impact of these actions, and the individual's contribution (positive or negative) to the broader community. While Kaiser's contributions are seen as beneficial and aligned with ethical wartime conduct, Kennedy's and Flick's activities raise ethical questions due to their exploitative nature and the controversial contexts in which they operated.

Heroes of the 20th Century Crisis Turning

Layng: Who were the heroes of the Crisis turning of the 20th century?

Dr. Carter: During the Crisis turning of the 20th century, particularly through the Great Depression and World War II, several individuals emerged as heroes, having made significant contributions to their countries and the world. Their actions and leadership provided hope, guidance, and solutions during times of severe hardship and conflict. Here are some of those heroes:

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)

As the 32nd President of the United States, Roosevelt led the country through the Great Depression with his New Deal programs, which aimed to restore economic health and provide relief to the suffering American populace. Later, his leadership during World War II was crucial in guiding the Allied forces to victory.

Winston Churchill

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the bulk of World War II, Churchill's leadership, oratory skills, and unyielding determination were instrumental in bolstering British morale during the war's darkest days. His speeches and strategic decisions were pivotal in the Allied victory.

Eleanor Roosevelt

As the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt redefined the role through her active participation in civil rights, human rights, and efforts to support the working class and poor during the Great Depression. She was also a strong advocate for the United Nations after the war.

Alan Turing

A mathematician and cryptanalyst, Turing's work during World War II on breaking the Enigma code used by Nazi Germany provided the Allies with critical intelligence. His contributions significantly shortened the war and saved countless lives.

George Marshall

As the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during World War II, Marshall played a crucial role in organizing the American military effort. He was also the architect of the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after the war, fostering peace and economic recovery.

Oskar Schindler

A German industrialist and member of the Nazi Party, Schindler saved the lives of more than a thousand primarily Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. His story is a remarkable account of courage and humanity within the horrors of war.

Raoul Wallenberg

A Swedish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Hungary, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory, saving tens of thousands of Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

These individuals, among others, are remembered as heroes for their courage, leadership, and humanity during a period marked by extreme adversity and moral challenges. Their actions and legacy continue to inspire future generations.

Summary of the Past 200 Years

Layng: Give me a summary of how the theory of the Four Turnings aligns to our past 200 years in the United States.

Dr. Carter: The theory of the Four Turnings, proposed by William Strauss and Neil Howe, provides a cyclical interpretation of American history, suggesting that society goes through recurring cycles of about 80-90 years, divided into four phases or "turnings": the High, the Awakening, the Unraveling, and the Crisis. Applying this theory to the past 200 years of U.S. history can help identify and understand the patterns of societal change, conflict, and regeneration. Here's a summary of how the theory aligns with American history over this period:

Early 19th Century - The Era of Good Feelings (High)

Following the War of 1812, the U.S. experienced a period known as the Era of Good Feelings, marked by national unity and a lack of partisan political strife, aligning with the characteristics of a High.

Transcendental Awakening (Awakening)

The 1830s to the 1840s saw the Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revival and the emergence of reform movements, including abolitionism, temperance, and women's rights, reflecting the Awakening phase's focus on spiritual renewal and social activism.

Civil War and Reconstruction (Crisis)

The mid-19th century was defined by the Civil War, a profound Crisis that tested the nation's survival, followed by the tumultuous Reconstruction era, addressing the deep social and political wounds of the war.

Gilded Age (Unraveling)

The late 19th century, known as the Gilded Age, saw rapid industrialization, economic inequality, and political corruption, highlighting the characteristics of an Unraveling, where societal consensus begins to break down.

World War II (Crisis)

The Great Depression and World War II together formed a significant Crisis period in the first half of the 20th century, challenging and ultimately reshaping American society and its role in the world.

Post-War Boom (High)

The post-World War II era, up until the early 1960s, was a time of economic prosperity, strong institutions, and social cohesion, exemplifying the High phase.

Consciousness Revolution (Awakening)

The 1960s and 1970s were marked by the Civil Rights Movement, anti-Vietnam War protests, and a cultural shift towards individualism and social justice, reflecting an Awakening phase.

Long Boom and Culture Wars (Unraveling)

The period from the late 1980s through the early 2000s saw technological advancements, economic globalization, and growing political and cultural divisions, indicative of an Unraveling phase.

Global Financial Crisis into the 21st Century (Crisis)

The theory suggests that the current era, starting with the 2008 financial crisis and including challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, represents a Crisis phase, marked by significant upheaval and the potential for transformative change.

Strauss and Howe's theory of the Four Turnings provides a framework for understanding the cyclical nature of societal change in U.S. history. It posits that each turning reacts to the previous one, contributing to an ongoing dynamic of conflict and resolution that shapes the nation's identity and future direction.

Speculating on the Next Century

Layng: give me your most accurate speculation for how the next century will align with the Four Turnings theory, with as much specific detail as you can provide.

Dr. Carter: Speculating on how the next century will align with the Four Turnings theory involves extrapolating current trends and historical patterns into the future, acknowledging the inherent uncertainty in such long-term predictions. However, using the cyclical model proposed by William Strauss and Neil Howe, we can envision a hypothetical roadmap for the 21st century:

2020s-2040s: Crisis Phase (Current to Near Future)

  • Global Pandemic Aftermath: The COVID-19 pandemic's social and economic impacts lead to significant reforms in healthcare, work, and education, prioritizing resilience and adaptability.
  • Technological Transformation: Advances in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and climate technology address critical challenges but also create new ethical dilemmas and societal divisions.
  • Geopolitical Realignments: Rising tensions and realignments, particularly with the ascent of China, the repositioning of the US, and the reshaping of global institutions, redefine international relations.
  • Environmental Crisis Response: Escalating climate change effects necessitate global cooperation on an unprecedented scale, leading to radical environmental policies and innovations in green technology.

2040s-2060s: High Phase

  • Post-Crisis Recovery and Rebuilding: Following the resolution of the Crisis phase, a period of economic growth, technological integration, and stronger community ties emerges, with increased faith in institutions.
  • Demographic Shifts: Aging populations in developed countries and youth bulges in developing nations lead to significant changes in global labor markets, immigration policies, and urban planning.
  • Education and Work Transformation: The education system undergoes a major overhaul to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, emphasizing critical thinking, adaptability, and lifelong learning.

2060s-2080s: Awakening Phase

  • Cultural Renaissance: A period marked by a surge in artistic and intellectual activity, questioning the status quo and exploring new forms of expression and identity.
  • Social Movements: Activism rises, focusing on issues such as digital privacy, artificial intelligence ethics, and furthering social justice, reflecting a push against perceived constraints and inequalities of the High phase.
  • Spiritual Exploration: A diversification of spiritual beliefs and practices, including a resurgence in non-traditional and syncretic religions, reflects a search for meaning beyond material success.

2080s-2100s: Unraveling Phase

  • Institutional Questioning: Confidence in global and national institutions wanes due to perceived failures to address emerging challenges effectively, leading to increased individualism and skepticism.
  • Economic Disruptions: Innovations and changes in the global economy, potentially including widespread automation and new economic models, challenge traditional employment and wealth distribution paradigms.
  • Digital and Physical Realities Blur: The advancement of virtual reality, augmented reality, and digital lives creates new societal divisions and questions about identity, privacy, and reality.

Throughout the Century

  • Adaptation to Climate Change: Ongoing efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be a persistent theme, influencing economic policies, urban development, and international relations.
  • Space Exploration and Colonization: Advances in space technology may lead to the colonization of the Moon or Mars, presenting new frontiers for human exploration and potential sources of conflict.

This speculative outlook based on the Four Turnings theory suggests that the 21st century will be a period of significant transformation, marked by cycles of challenge and renewal. Each phase will reflect humanity's responses to the unique challenges and opportunities of its time, influenced by technological advancements, environmental changes, and evolving societal values.

Layng: What are some other significant theories on historical cycles that are somewhat related to the Fourth Turning?

Dr. Carter: The concept of the Four Turnings, popularized by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book "The Fourth Turning," is part of a broader interest in cyclical theories of history. These theories suggest that societies and civilizations move through predictable cycles or patterns over time. Several other theorists have proposed models that, while distinct, share the notion of cyclical historical change. Here are some significant theories related to the concept of cyclical history:

  1. Giambattista Vico's Corsi e Ricorsi: The Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico proposed a cyclical theory of history in his work "The New Science" (1725), suggesting that societies progress through three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human, before inevitably declining and then starting the cycle over again in a concept he called "corsi e ricorsi."
  2. Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West: Spengler theorized that civilizations have distinct lifecycles, progressing through the stages of growth, maturity, decline, and death. His work, published in the early 20th century, argued that Western civilization was in its final stages of decline, a view that has influenced many cyclical theories of history.
  3. Arnold J. Toynbee's Study of History: Toynbee, a British historian, identified a pattern in which civilizations rise in response to challenges, achieve a creative peak, and then decline as their social institutions become overly rigid. His detailed analysis in "A Study of History" covers 19 major civilizations, noting their rise, flowering, and eventual decline.
  4. Nikolai Kondratiev's Long Waves: Kondratiev was a Soviet economist who identified long-term cyclical movements in the economy, now known as "Kondratiev waves." These cycles, lasting approximately 40 to 60 years, are characterized by periods of economic expansion followed by contraction. Though primarily economic, Kondratiev's theory has been linked to broader social and political changes.
  5. Peter Turchin's Cliodynamics: Turchin, a contemporary researcher, uses mathematical models to study historical dynamics and predict future trends. His work on "cliodynamics" views societies through cycles of internal cohesion and disintegration, influenced by factors like economic inequality and societal capacity for collective action.
  6. Ray Kurzweil's Technological Singularity: While not a historical cycle theory in the traditional sense, Kurzweil's concept of the technological singularity suggests a point in future history where technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, fundamentally changing human civilization. This theory implies a cyclical leap in human evolution driven by technology.

These theories, while varying in focus and methodology, all contribute to the understanding of history as a series of repeating cycles or patterns, whether they be cultural, economic, or technological. Each offers a lens through which to view the rise and fall of civilizations and the forces that drive historical change.

About Dr. Alexander Carter

For the sake of engagement, ChatGPT and I created a fictional persona.

"Dr. Alexander Carter" and his qualifications are entirely fictional and created for the purpose of this exercise.

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