Saturday, November 22, 2008


American historians and authors, Neil Howe and William Strauss, in their epic work, The Fourth Turning: America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny (1998) foretold the rise of Generation Xes leadership, the resurgence of the disenfranchised Party, and the return to a consensus. Why Barack Obama is our Fourth Turning President.

Certainly, Howe and Strauss did their homework: The Fourth Turning is a thorough analysis of the saeculum (cyclical rhythms) of history; in particular, American history. There are four basic "seasons" that last for a period of about 2 decades each (the life of a generation's maximum powers). Within these cycles , a generational consteallation is at work; when this shifts, the next cycle or season begins. There is the High, which is the period of general consensus and prosperity, This is followed by an Awakening, in which spiritual values begin to press on the status quo, demanding change. Then there begins an Unravelling, in which the values of the High period, having made the transition through the Awakening, are torn asunder, and a sort of liberal and polymorphous anarchy replaces the simple and solid consensus. When this reaches its apex, it reverses; a rebellion against this disorder begins to ripple through society. A crisis point is reached;  there are cultural rifts,  war,  and economic collapse (2000-08,  the W. Bush years of Iraq,  culture wars, and our present severe recession) and you are in the Fourth Turning: the epic period of great struggle and undertaking. This is the point we have reached - as predicted nearly exactly,  by Howe and Strauss - in 2008. And it is Barack Obama - the Generation X, biracial, multicultral orator - who will lead us through its first stages.   As per Howe and Strauss, these are as follows:

 1.  A return to the general consensus:  Nowhere is this more evident than in Obama's idea,  which is accepted by millions,  of national service.  There is a uniformity and community spirit which is reminsicient of FDR's New Deal era ( this was in fact the last Fourth Turning).
2.  A call to unity :  Obama,  with his bipartisanship approach, his insistence on "one America",  and his cry of,  "Yes,  we can" is showing his fourth turning tendencies clearly.
3.  The ascent to leadership of the Nomadic Generation :  Obama,  although he is close to being a Boomer,  has all the traits belonging to those of Generation X,  which is the nomadic generation,  as were those who were children of the Transcendentalists during the Civil War crisis.  "Nomads"  are those who born during the Awakening, and grew up throughout the years of the Unravelling.  They lacked proper parenting,  were confused about values and boundaries,  and were cynical about those in power.  There is the air of the jaded orphan about them.  They are edgy and self-reliant.  They crave action and a sort of "soft revenge".   Obama himself grew up without a father,  and was raised by a single mother.  He had a mixed heritage which confused him, and dabbled in drugs and deviant sexual behavior.  There is an muted but persistant anger in his fine oratory.  "Yes,  we can" has a bit of the warrior cry in it. 
4.  The need for urgent action in the face of economic and cultural crisis:  Obama,  when asked in an interview during the general election season,  whether the present economic crisis and the Iraq war gave him stern pause when considering the possibility of his winning the Presidency,  replied that no,  this was the very historical moment when he was most needed.  The time is primed for one such as he,  an innovator;  and although many have been complaining that all his talk of "Change,  Hope,  Progress"  may prove to be so much rhetoric and empty fireworks,  the discening eye can see that he is "keyed up", primed for fresh action and advance. Obama will deal creatively with crisis;  and his penchant for innovation will find a field for its expression.     To be continued. . .

1 comment:

SM Kovalinsky said...

This essay will be in four parts, weekly.

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