Monday, February 27, 2017

What's All This About "Fourth Turnings"

Trump adviser Steve Bannon, we are told, is a devotee of a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe called The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy published back in 1997. Now the Washington Post has asked Neil Howe to write about his book.

As Neil Howe writes, his book proposes that society moves in "a recurring cycle of four-generation-long eras." The cycle culminates in "a time of civic and political crisis." The idea of the book was to "reject the deep premise of Western historians that social time is either linear... or chaotic[.]"

The Crisis could, of course, involve war, as in World War II, the American Revolution, and the Civil War. For the current Crisis, Strauss and Howe predicted a "'Great Devaluation' in financial markets" starting in about 2005. In other words, we are back in the 1930s, a decade that was resolved, you may remember, by a big old world war that healed the divisions in America by drafting all the young men from the great immigration wave at the turn of the 20th century into the armed forces.

Strauss and Howe were writing a book, so their cycle theory of history needed fancy names, with four Turnings that amount to a seasonal cycle, starting with the hope of High, followed by Awakenings, Unraveling, and Crisis. But their theory is not much more fanciful than the normal way of politics. A new ruling class gets power, mobilizes the nation in a new vision but, after a decade of two of looking after their supporters and blindly ignoring the fate of others, find that the natives are getting restless. That leads to a crisis, because the ruling class is usually too stupid or too proud to listen to the grievances of the "other," and allows grievances to fester. Anyway, they already spent all the money on their supporters.

My daughter recently alerted me to the work of Peter Turchin. In Ages of Discord he observes that the last time that the US experienced a partisan divide like the present was back in the 1850s. Same thing, different theory.

In the 1850s the issue was slavery. Imagine that the South had been willing to deal on slavery. The deal would have involved some sort of payoff, some sort of compensation to the plantation owners for the loss of their property. In retrospect that would have been a pretty good deal.

Now we have an issue between the idea of the nation-state community and the global elite. The global elite wants to get to the future in double quick time, and the people of the nation states don't want to lose what they have got. You would think there has to be a deal that would satisfy both parties before we get to fighting words.

The immediate question is: what does Steve Bannon want? Is he using the theory of Strauss and Howe to upset the apple cart, to force a crisis? Or is he trying to move President Trump to a deal that preserves the nation-state culture while still admitting the fact of a global economy where there is no place to hide, at least not for long?

Is the Trump era going to solve the Crisis, or is it going to intensify it?

The problem for our liberal friends, I suspect, is that they instinctively realize that the Trump era is not going to be good for liberals. That is why they are all piling up at their therapists.

But how bad could it be? At this stage of the game, all we deplorables want is for liberals to stop insisting on piloting the US solo. We want them to share power, and allow other hands upon the controls.

It is pretty obvious, since November 8, that our liberal friends are terrified by the idea of other hands on the controls. They seem to be preparing to fight to the knife to prevent Donald Trump from messing with their hegemony.

Either way, it seems that the US, and the rest of the West, is approaching a crisis, because something will have to change.

I would like the crisis to be resolved amicably. But I am not sure that we will get so lucky.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not so sure we'll get so lucky, either.

    Definitely, the Left will continue to resist, and to look for any minor detail that they can blow up into a cause celeb. If they can do no more than hamstring Trump, keeping him off balance and always fighting a rear-guard action, they will have partially succeeded. If they can actually find a scandal, or manufacture one, and somehow either force impeachment hearings (they don't control the House right now), or further delegitimize Trump, they will feel the more better. Short of doing those things, then physical violence may be their only alternative.