Like his hippie predecessors, Steve Bannon wants to take down the Establishment — only this time from the far right. (credit: Huffington Post)
One day back in 1997, while I was a stay at home mom and my kids were both in school, I felt bored, so I decided to visit the library and find something interesting to read. The book that caught my eye and I decided to check out was called The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, written by two political sociologists named William Strauss and Neil Howe. Little did I know how this book would change my entire view of history and in many ways, change my life. The predictions Strauss and Howe made 20 years ago were spot on — almost all of them have become reality. I can honestly say I’m a believer and have been for a long time. Their theory seems to make a lot of sense and the predictions made in their book are uncannily accurate.
Many people dismiss The Fourth Turning as bunk or even hocus-pocus. Some people regard it as not much better than superstition — on par with the worst conspiracy theories, astrology, reading tea leaves, or Nostradamus prophecies. But Strauss and Howe’s theory that history runs in cycles that keep repeating themselves are based on sound research and their own and others’ observations of history over hundreds of years, since well before the founding of America. In their view, history is not linear — it seems to repeat itself in varying forms approximately every 80 -100 years, with each cycle containing four distinct turnings — lasting about 20-25 years each– and in which four distinctly different generational archetypes (themselves created by child rearing methods in fashion during the turnings each generation was born in) both foment and affect each of the turnings –and how the generations themselves are affected by the turnings.
Before I get to the main point of this article — which is about Trump’s right hand man Steve Bannon and the ways he is misusing and even abusing Strauss and Howe’s theory of history –let me spend some time describing how the theory works for those who may never heard of it. A few months ago, I wrote an earlier article that focused more on Millennials’ role during the crisis we’re now facing (we are in a 4th turning right now and reaching its climax). From that article, I’m going to copy and paste the part that gives an overview of how the theory works so I don’t have to write that part again from scratch.
Generational and Turning Theory: a four-part repeating cycle of history.
Turnings throughout American History.
We are currently in the Millennial Cycle, the fourth cycle since the Revolutionary War. We have been in this cycle since V-Day at the end of WW2, in 1946 — more than 70 years ago. We are reaching the end of the Millennial cycle, and about to begin a new one, once the fourth turning we are in is resolved. But things are going to get a lot worse before they begin to improve. It’s not necessarily going to be Armageddon; it’s just what happens in 4th turnings.
The last 4th turning (which was actually the final turning of the “Great Society” historical cycle) started suddenly in 1929, with the financial crash on Wall Street that plunged us into the Great Depression. In 1942, America entered WW2. We came out victorious in that war with newfound prosperity and confidence and we were now a world power to be reckoned with. Full of optimism and confidence, we entered the first turning of the Millennial cycle — the booming (but conformist) postwar years of the 1950s and early 60s. Lots of victory babies (Baby Boomers) were born, who were very much indulged, and the first turning of this current cycle saw shining new suburbs, brand new scientific discoveries, and a brand new, modern infrastructure where kids and families felt safe.
Approximately 8o years before the Great Depression/WW2 was the Civil War, and 80 or so years before that was the American Revolution. It goes even farther back than this, but I won’t go into detail about those cycles here, since we weren’t fully “American” yet.
One example from earlier times was the Renaissance, actually a first turning that occurred after The Black Plague (a 4th turning) that set civilization back into motion for a variety of reasons. Prior to the Plague were a thousand years of dark ages (more commonly known as medieval times, which lasted from the 400’s to the early 1500’s). Dark ages are eras when time seems to stand still and turnings do not occur. Generations don’t follow the archetypes we’re familiar with — they don’t change much over time because there are no historical turnings. One generation pretty much follows the same life pattern as their parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and most progress comes to a screeching halt. People live very difficult and short lives, eeking out an existence as best they can. The middle ages were the result of a disastrous 4th turning — the Fall of Rome. It could happen that if this turning ends badly, we could be thrust into a new dark age, but it’s not likely. The Protestant Reformation was the Awakening (second turning) of the same cycle the Renaissance (or the Plague) began. There were other cycles after this that led up to the Revolutionary War and the founding of America, but I’m not as familiar with those.
We are about halfway or more than halfway through the current crisis (which as yet, has no official name). It started (depending on who you ask) with either 9/11 in 2001 or the housing crisis of 2008 (most followers of the theory believe 2008 was the real start date of the current 4th turning — which means we’re only about halfway through).
4 Generational Archetypes.
A Boomer at different life stages criticizes (from left to right) “square” GI/Silent parents; “hypocritical” fellow Boomer Yuppies; “materialistic” Gen Xers; and finally looks to her Millennial kids as future saviors. (credit: Millennials Rising, 2000).
The four generational archetypes are Prophets, Nomads, Artists, and Heroes. The most recent Prophet generation are the Boomers, born during the prosperous postwar years (their predecessors were the Missionaries born during the Gilded Age). Prophets are born in a First Turning (a time of prosperity and conformity) and tend to become narcissistic and moralistic as they age.
The current Nomads are the Gen-Xers (who correspond with the Lost Generation), who are born during a Second Turning (the most recent was the Consciousness Revolution, which took place in the ’60s and ’70s). They grow up feeling neglected and unworthy and as a result become apathetic to world issues and lack trust in their leaders. As children with self involved Silent and Boomer parents they were often left to fend for themselves from a young age. They have collective low self esteem. Think back to the Lost Generation, the last Nomad archetype before them. Those were the orphaned kids, young toughs, Chicago mobsters, and the poor newsboys who roamed the streets during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Artists are the Silent Generation (the oldest generation still alive but are dying off fast), They are always born during a Crisis, or a Fourth Turning (the new Artists are still being born now). The current Crisis began either in 2001 with 9/11, or 2008 with the housing crisis (the jury is still out on the start date). They are overprotected as children (today’s helicopter parenting) and strictly disciplined. They grow up to be peacemakers and believers in checks and balances. We have never had a Silent president, but they have provided reason, empathy, and logic, and worked behind the scenes to keep us from going to dangerous extremes — until now.
Heroes are born during a Third Turning (the most recent one being the Culture Wars of the ’80s and ’90s), when individualism is high but institutions built during the First Turning are beginning to unravel. The last generation of Heroes were the GI Generation, also fondly known as The Greatest Generation, who are remembered as our WWII heroes and the builders of the prosperous America of the midcentury. Almost all of them have died off by now. They have been replaced by the Millennials.
This may sound like hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The overall character of each of the four generational archetypes is influenced by the turnings in which they were raised and came of age in, and the parenting styles of that particular turning. In turn, the generational character combined with the life stages they happen to be occupying at a given time (what S&H calls “generational constellations”) both foments and influences each of the four turnings themselves.
Prophets, born in a time of prosperity, conformity, and increasingly indulgent parenting, become self confident but by adolescence, they begin to rebel against the stultifying conformity, and set off an Awakening (Second Turning). During young adulthood, they are experimental idealists. As they rise to power during midlife, they have become vocal, highly opinionated, and passionate about whatever values they have adopted, leading us into a Third Turning (culture wars mentality). They tend to be judgmental and engage in black and white thinking, convinced that only their way is the right one. Prophets’ parents are usually Heroes or Artists.
Nomads, born in a time of questioning traditional values and changing social mores, are often neglected by their self involved parents who seem more interested in their own personal growth instead of them. In reaction, they become self sufficient early on (latchkey kids), but become cynical and reach adulthood with collective low self-esteem. They tend to distrust the system, which they regard as having failed them and of all generations, they are both the most conservative and least likely to be politically involved. They care more about pragmatism and “just getting things done” than about values and ideals. Their parents are usually Artists or Prophets.
Heroes, born in a time of institutional failure but increasing choices and the beginning of the cultural polarization of a nation, are increasingly protected by their stressed-out parents (who perceive the world as more dangerous), and are encouraged to achieve great things but also tend to be micro-managed and overly controlled. As they rise into adulthood, they realize the things promised them are not going to materialize, and take matters into their own hands to change the system to one that will work for them. Their parents tend to be Prophets or Nomads.
Artists, born during a national Crisis, are overprotected (“helicopter parenting”) and strictly disciplined. They are the children most likely to be told to be quiet, stay out of the way and not bother the adults, who are trying to deal with a dangerous world. Artists tend to be obedient conformists until midlife, when they finally begin to rebel, often spurred on by the Prophets born right after them. But caught between two more powerful archetypes (Prophets and Heroes), they tend to never take one side or the other, and learn to be sensitive peacemakers instead, concerned with checks and balances, and “reasonable”and “fair” policies that don’t make waves. They attempt to bring people together. Their parents are Nomads and Heroes.
It’s interesting to note that no Artist has become President during the Millennial Cycle (the 80-year historical period we are currently still in), but Bernie Sanders, a textbook example of the Artist archetype, came awfully close.
It’s also interesting that a Crisis forms just as peacemaking Artists are at their lowest point of influence–when they are in early childhood and very old age. In other turnings, their peacemaking and diplomatic character keeps us from heading into a real crisis, so nothing really gets out of control, no matter how bad a situation potentially is. It all gets handled somehow, and America remains intact. Not so in a fourth turning, when Artist diplomacy is almost completely missing and things become chaotic and there seem to be barely any checks and balances left to keep warring factions from doing real and permanent damage.
I’ve posted this video before, but it’s a very easy to understand overview of how generational and turning theory works. There’s nothing woowoo about it. It’s based on sound historical observations that repeat over time.
The 4 Turnings.
The four turnings are approximately 20 – 25 year time periods encompassing a particular national mood, which is shaped by the generational attitudes and the age brackets they happen to be in at the time. Whatever generation happens to be in their prime adult years (midlife) and in the most important leadership roles, tends to set the overall tone for the turning in question.
A First Turning, with Heroes in midlife (and Artists as their helpmates), is concerned with institutional building, scientific advancement, prosperity for all, family life, and indulgent parenting. Children are highly valued and given pretty much whatever they want. Remember, their parents just came out of the worst time in history and never want their children to have to experience what they had to. There is a narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest. Individualism is not encouraged; it’s a time of conformity. Sex roles seem to be at their least ambiguous. A first turning tends to be unconcerned with matters of a religious or spiritual nature, idealistic values, or social change. Building bigger and better institutions, a government that works for (instead of against) the people, and scientific discovery seem to be priorities. The last First Turning we experienced were the prosperous post-war years (“Pax Americana”), until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. We are due to enter a new First Turning within 5-15 years, or whenever (and if) the current Crisis is resolved. The Gilded Age, with its indulged Missionary children, was the earlier analogue to Pax Americana. The romantic myths we still have of Christmases of “olden times,” with Santa Claus and sleigh rides for well bundled rosy cheeked children and their loving families arose during that earlier first turning. The Nutcracker story is a great example of what life was like for the indulged Missionary children of the Gilded Age.
A Second Turning, with peacemaking Artists in midlife (and idealistic Prophets in rising adulthood and adolescence), is a time of great social upheaval and a greater focus on matters of a religious, spiritual, or social nature. Less value is placed on institution building, bureaucracy, and scientific advancement in favor of things of a more esoteric nature, such as discovering altered state of consciousness (through drugs, meditation or other means), civil or womens’ rights, and rebelling against the “establishment.” There is a great deal of experimentation with different lifestyle choices, but children born during this time tend to be dismissed as burdensome to self-development. The most recent Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, which started with the first campus protests and the civil rights movement, and ended with either Reagan’s election in 1980 or his “Morning in America” speech when he was re-elected in 1984. The earlier analogue to the most recent Consciousness Revolution was the Romantic movement back in the 1880s and 1890s. Women’s suffrage, communal “back to nature” living (think of Walden), campus protests(!), and lots of religious groups (including modern Christian charismatic groups and fundamentalism as well as “the social gospel”) sprang up during this time.
A Third Turning, with impassioned and judgmental Prophets in midlife (but with Artist checks and balances still in place and disaffected Nomads just trying to get by), is in some ways a continuation of a Second Turning, except that the pendulum begins to swing back to greater social conservatism and more law and order. The left and right tends to become polarized, with both sides thinking only they are right and setting off ugly culture wars. Institutions, which still thrived in the Second Turning (though they may have stopped being built) begin to atrophy and unravel. Distrust abounds, especially toward government, which seems to take a backseat to shallow entertainment and “bread and circuses.” Escapism into shallow entertainment continues into the Fourth Turning (the reality shows that have been popular since the ’90s are the modern equivalent of the circus freak shows, vaudeville acts, and dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s.) Sex roles are at their most ambiguous during this time, and the gap between the wealthy and less wealthy widens. The most recent Third Turning started with Reagan’s presidency in the early 1980s and ended sometime in the first decade of the new millennium (the most likely dates are 2001 or 2008). The last Third Turning before the most recent one is characterized by the excesses and opulence of the 1920s, the worship of money and material wealth, the jazz age (considered rebellious music at the time and the Lost incarnation of rap and hip hop, a musical form that was later incorporated into the Big Band music of the GI Generation, much as hip hop has been incorporated into Millennial EDM and dance pop), and the brazen “bad behavior,” political apathy, and disrespect shown by Lost young adults toward their Missionary elders.
A Fourth Turning, with now-pragmatic, non-nonsense Nomads in midlife (and Prophets in high level leadership roles as early elders) is a national crisis, with no Artists to keep things in check. No matter what the Crisis itself is, things tend to go awry and quickly go out of control. Children are overprotected in this newly dangerous world, and adults just try to get by as best they can, but have little trust in their government or the people who run it. But it’s also during the Crisis that the seeds are sown for the new cycle that will begin in the First Turning: renewed community spirit and people in crisis helping each other. This could be seen during the Great Depression and WWII. What worries me is that so little of that is seen during this Crisis so far. But maybe it’s still too early.
On crises that don’t end well.
If a Crisis ends very badly, it could spell the end of or the fracturing of that particular society, or even–in a very bad case scenario–the end of modernity or even civilization as we know it. If a Crisis ends well, it will lead to a First Turning and a brand new historical cycle (we are currently in the Millennial Cycle, and have been since 1946). If the Millennials are thwarted in their efforts to rebuild society to one that will work for them (and for everyone), we could fall into a Dark Age or a banana-republic-like dystopia with an accompanying loss of progress, or even of modernity. In the very worst case scenario (should humanity survive), we could even revert to barbarism and the complete loss of technological and scientific progress.
Who is Steve Bannon and what does he know?
Steven Bannon is Trump’s chief strategizer and adviser. He seems to have so much influence over Trump’s decisions that people have jokingly (or not so jokingly) referred to him as President Bannon. I’m sure this doesn’t sit well with Trump, but I’m not going to discuss Trump’s narcissism; we already know all about that.
Steve Bannon is a filmmaker, businessman and far-right (now known as alt-right) activist who has no political experience. However, he is intelligent and has read Strauss and Howe’s books and considers The Fourth Turning his bible. He is also a white supremacist and heads up the alt-right, neo-Nazi news website, Breitbart News. Breitbart News is populated by neo-Nazis and people affiliated with the KKK. For all I know, Bannon might himself be a member of the KKK; I know many of the Trump administration’s supporters are.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, Bannon made a film called Generation Zero. Given the fact it’s really subtle propaganda for the far right, it’s actually a well made film, and is palatable enough (no racist slurs) that I could see how it might have been used to win gullible or ignorant people over to his side. While the film addresses the excesses and abuses of Wall Street in the film (so you almost think he might sympathize with the Occupy protesters even though it’s really more Tea Party), he also seems to blame the entire financial crisis on the narcissism and excesses of the hippies of the 1960s, who morphed into these greedy Wall Street bankers. Like all propaganda, there are grains of truth here, but they are intended to disguise a far right agenda that is far from benign (which I will get to later). I recommend watching the film, especially because of its detailed discussion about the four turnings and Strauss and Howe generational theory (which is a valid theory in my opinion), but please be mindful of the hidden alt-right message here.
Bannon is not only a white supremacist and outspoken member of the alt-right, he is also a great admirer of Vladimir Lenin, a Russian Communist dictator from the early 20th century. It’s jarring how this administration seems to regard certain dictatorial Russian leaders (such as Putin) as mentors at best, and possibly even as heroes. But I digress. In one of his most damning statements to the press, Bannon said,
“I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” — Steve Bannon for The Daily Beast, 2013.
There is also a video of him being interviewed on Fox and Friends in 2014, in which he says something along these same lines, but I’m not able to find the video now. Perhaps it’s been removed. In that interview (which I did see so I’ll paraphrase), Bannon said that the only way to enact change was to create mass rioting and chaos.
How Bannon is using historical turning theory for his own dystopian agenda.
Bannon appears to be using fourth turning theory for purposes of destroying our democracy and, knowing we are at such a vulnerable point in history and bloodshed is more likely than not (there is always bloodshed in any fourth turning), he seems dead set on using what he knows to instigate mass unrest, suffering, strife and upheaval by enacting outrageous policies that enrage the left and any people of reason (the way I see it, the Left are now the real conservatives, who don’t want to lose what little democracy and freedom we have left). He seems to want America to become a permanent hellish dystopia run by authoritarian rulers who allow no freedoms to the people and no mercy shown to anyone who isn’t white and Christian.
An article appeared on The Huffington Post the other day, which I will link here. It goes into more detail about Bannon and the Trump administration’s real intentions and it’s disturbing reading.
This article deeply disturbed me for a number of reasons. Bannon seems to be cherry-picking S&H’s theory, using it for his own evil ends, and in the process totally discrediting a perfectly good theory of history that until now, was almost unknown. William Strauss died several years ago, and I’m sure would be turning in his grave if he knew the ways his theory is being used and may soon be associated with the alt-right and extreme racism, even though it was never intended to be used that way. Bannon completely leaves out the fact that, in any fourth turning, there is also (toward the end) an increase in a sense of community, with people helping each other, and this renewed sense of community helps sow the seeds for the first turning to come (if the crisis ends well). Fourth turnings are always bad, but they don’t have to be completely devastating, and they do have their good points such as strengthening community spirit and fomenting a desire for families to stay together and protect each other. I also think it’s incredibly immoral of Bannon to “stir the pot” and actually attempt to instigate chaos and bloodshed that is bound to happen on its own anyway.
My comment under this post:
To be fair, there is validity in 4th turning theory. I read S&H’s book in 1997 (also their excellent “Generations’); these 80-100 year cycles are pretty obvious, and S&H nailed the timing of the 4T — many years ahead of time. So it all seems pretty valid. You have to read the book with an open mind and not through Bannon’s dark filter. That being said, I completely disagree with Bannon’s racist, authoritarian politics and I also do not believe this is a war of Judeo-Christianity against Islam. It’s a war alright, but it’s a civil war between those on the far right (like Bannon), who want to see a new authoritarian, xenophobic regime with all our freedoms removed, and those who (like me) want to see a more European style social democracy that puts the people first. There’s no telling how things will resolve and what sort of first turning will result in a few more years (or ten more years, if you go by the 2008 start date). Bannon’s vision of a new America is hell to me, and I think, to most. I do agree it may not end well, and at the very least, many will die and our physical borders may be altered. I also think that Bannon mis-using 4T theory to his own ends to create global chaos is evil beyond belief.”
I’m not giving up hope for a better future.
Credit: Norman Rockwell (member of the Lost generation) — “The Golden Rule” (1961)
In spite of the country feeling like it’s cracking up like a bar of Turkish taffy, I’m not giving up hope. Perhaps this unfortunate presidency is actually the wake up call we all need for change to actually happen. Already, there are new movements getting under way that show no signs of stopping. The new and growing Indivisible movement seems to be the Left’s answer to the Tea Party, and seems better organized with clearer goals than Occupy was. Demonstrations are taking place in every major city and are spreading to the suburbs. There’s a huge one going on in Raleigh here this very weekend (I wish I was there!). I think people are finally waking up to what is happening. To quote the movie Network, they’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! The sheep have become tigers.
Here is another comment I wrote on a Facebook group about 4T theory. It describes what I would like to see happen in the future and how this crisis might be resolved, if things go well:
If the 4T began in 2001, it has only a few years left. We have reached the peak of the crisis, and it’s a wake up call to a lot of people. It will get worse, but is not unresolvable. We will have 4 years of hell under this president (or whoever replaces him, such as Pence) and quite possibly, California and other states (perhaps the entire west coast) will secede. All this will happen very quickly. For a short time it will be absolute hell. I don’t have to describe that — I think we can all see what sort of hell it will be. In 2020, Sanders runs again (he says he will) and this time, Millennials who sat out this election (and are all of voting age by then) go to the polls in droves — and Bernie wins (I simply cannot see Trump winning over Bernie after all the damage he will do and is already doing). Also, more of the Boomer generation will have passed on and will have less influence than they do now. Millennials, now reaching midlife, rail behind Sanders (or whoever rises to power to replace him, since he is quite elderly even now) and begin to enter the political sphere and have some influence. The New Silents [the kids being born now who are entering their preteen years or early teens] will be their helpmates, as S&H predicted. They begins to rebuild society with the help of those of us older generations who want the same). This brings us into the 1T. But instead of celebrating victory, this time, the first few years will be about recovering from trauma and helping each other recover. It will be about reconstruction more than victory, so perhaps Millennials won’t become as hubristic as GIs were. The infrastructure will be repaired and rebuilt, and for the first time, we will have socialized healthcare, in addition to some modern version of those things we are about to lose (Medicare, social security, good public schools, etc.). If the 4T began in 2008 and not 2001, it’s going to take longer. Things could get much worse and we could be destroyed completely. So I hope we’re nearing the end of it. I also don’t see us being as much of a world power as we were the last time around, we will have learned humility. That’s actually a good thing. We need to put an end to our lack of humility, narcissism and greed, once and for all, and relearn empathy and community spirit, even if it means our borders are smaller and we have less power in the world.
Neil Howe Interview: Inside Bannon’s Brain
After writing this post, I just came across this video. It’s an interview with Neil Howe, one of The Fourth Turning‘s authors, setting the record straight about his theory. (Sorry, I am not able to embed this video).