October 6, 2011 at 7:27 am, by Carl
Two weeks ago, I posted an excerpt from the first chapter of my newest book, one that I am very excited about—Tracking the Storm. Chapter two follows below. You can download a pdf if you enjoy reading on your computer.
So why do old events from the 1850s matter to us? The answer lies in a 500-year-old pattern that occurs throughout Anglo-American history. The pattern provides us with clues to what is going on around us, and clearly a lot is going on around us. Throughout history, observers of culture and history have noted that life seems to work in large-scale patterns. Obviously, various cultures and societies have their own unique aspects that bring trends and patterns to them somewhat differently than other places, but overall, it is clear that we humans seem to be in a loop.
I was first introduced to this concept while studying history at Auburn University back in the 1980s. Various professors that I had, mostly European focused, had noted at different places the obvious fact of a repeating pattern—sometimes on a small scale, other times on longer views. It was at this time that I first read Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s book Cycles of American History. In that work, he postulated a two-cycle swing in American history. Working off earlier writings, starting with his historian father, Schlesinger produced evidence that the USA consistently swung between periods of “public activity” and “private interest.” He tied this flow to generations and their approach to events of the time.
A decade later in the ‘90s, I first read the book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. In this powerful book, I was introduced to their take on the larger concept of patterns, generations, the circular saeculum (in usage from the ancient Romans, the saeculum was “a natural century” or the equivalent of a long human life), parenting and the rhythm of American history. As I read, and later enjoyed their second, more powerful book, The Fourth Turning (published in 1997), I immediately renewed my study of Schlesinger and the concept of historical cycles. This was the start of my interest in the patterns that lead into the 4th Turning, how consistent the pattern of crisis-awakening was, and the impact of societal parenting views on generations.
So, what is the pattern? To start with, there exists four phases that occur generally through the generations. Each occurs roughly in 20-25 year periods, about the length of time for a specific generational group (like “The Boomers”) to move from one life cycle stage to another. The concluding phase is what the ancients called “revolution,” but Strauss and Howe make a convincing argument for “Crisis.” The crisis comes at the end of the cycle, much like a winter metaphorically brings an “end” to the year. This “great crisis” occurs within the last period, the fourth turning.
If winter, a “crisis,” brings the end, then the rebirth would be the first part of the cycle just as spring starts the year. This is the “High,” the sense of survival through the hard days of the social crisis. Twenty years later as the generations move into the next life cycle phase, that feeling will ultimately lead to the second turning of Spiritual Awakening. Much like the joy of spring will lead to the exuberance of summer, there is a pinnacle much like the summer solstice. Yet, signals that the days will again grow short is similar to the emerging third phase, the “Unraveling,” the period of social struggle and conflict that seems to portend harder days to come. And come it does, in the return of the Crisis, roughly 80-90 years after the start of the cycle.
Since the period of the Renaissance, Western history, within which the history of the USA is intertwined, that 4 phase cycle has moved. Within the saeculum, another clear two-fold pattern, working much like a helix, a two strand flow of history wrapping around one another, emerges. One the one hand, we have the strand of “Great Crisis,” those events that become epic shaking, monumental and powerful enough to alter the society and culture that flows out of it. On the other hand, we have the strand of the “Great Spiritual Awakenings.” Here, we see the human impulse for a search of meaning, for a connection with the Christian God (though later in the pattern, as we move into the 20th century, these Awakenings have included non-Christian impulses), the pinnacle of the joy of summer.
Along each strand of time, the Great Crisis or the Great Awakening occurs at roughly 80-year intervals. Connected to one another, each occurs 40 years apart from one another, thus society goes through a pattern by which they have a monumental crisis that wracks life, then 40 years later, a monumental spiritual awakening occurs as society takes a deep search for meaning.
When Strauss and Howe wrote The Fourth Turning, they closed their book with some thoughts about the future. They published the book in 1997 and today, their words read staggeringly like proclamations from some Old Testament prophet. They thought of possible events that could provoke the Great Crisis: a financial crisis that leads to acts of secession as the President engages in acts to dominate the states; a global terrorist act involving airplanes or portable nuclear weapons; a crisis of federal political power as Congress and the President fight one another; a destructive pandemic; global crisis emerging in the former USSR, across Asia. That list sounds like it was written today.
My point in writing is not to rewrite the book Strauss and Howe already wrote; you should read their work directly. What I believe we can learn is what happened in the years leading up to the previous great crises. I think that within each of the previous 5 historical moments, there is yet another pattern, clues we can use to prepare. We are heading into the great crisis; if all of the previous ones held some observable patterns, or all seemed aimed at one clear point, we would do well to know what that is!
Tracking the Storm provides powerful clues about what is coming, rapidly, to the United States. There is little doubt that a storm is approaching the country, the outer edges of the winds already swirling around us. What does that portend for the nation? Through the clues of history, we can find direction and steps to undertake to prepare. Many believe there won’t be a storm, or maybe that the worst is over. With history as a guide, I demonstrate that we haven’t yet even reached the Great Crisis.
Gripping and “a scary yet necessary read,” Tracking the Storm moves through the past 400 years of Anglo-American history to illustrate the various clues provided that show the steps to the coming crisis. I will tell the story of political instability, economic distress, rapid technological changes and a growing philosophical divide that challenged previous generations. At the end of each Great Crisis, the nation had been radically changed. Pick up your copy of Tracking the Storm today!