About Our Message
Q. What would you say is the single most important message of The Fourth Turning?
A. Around the year 2005, this country’s mood will change sharply—marking the end of today's era of individualism and civic drift and ushering in an urgent new era of community and civic commitment. Over the next two decades, America will pass through a political and social upheaval on par with the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the New Deal and World War II. It will threaten the nation and pose a major risk of war, yet also offer an opportunity to elevate ourselves to a new level of civilization.
Q. How is The Fourth Turning different from Generations?
A. Generations was, for the most part, a history of America told as a succession of generational biographies. We at times referred to a larger cycle of history, but the book focused mainly on telling generational stories. The Fourth Turning directly addresses the rhythms of history and America's future—and has a far more urgent bottom line.
Q. In a nutshell, what drives the cycle?
A. History creates generations, and generations create history. The cycle draws forward energy from each generation's need to redefine the social role of each new phase of life it enters. And it draws circular energy from each generation's tendency to fill perceived gaps and to correct (indeed, overcorrect) the excesses of its elders. The powerful nurturing and “shadow” relationships between two-apart generations are especially important. The alternation between underprotection and overprotection of children is also key. In The Fourth Turning, we devote much of Part I to answering this question.
Q. You write of an Anglo-American saeculum. What about all the other cultures and societies that make up today's America?
A. The phrase refers to historical precedence—not to timeless fact—as in the phrase “Greco-Roman” or “Judeo-Christian” or “African-American.” The American saeculum had its origin in the early modern history of western Europe, England specifically. Throughout the long colonial era, English and Scottish peoples vastly dominated the free population that developed the territory and society that later became the United States. They continued to do so, after the nation was founded, until midway through the fifth saeculum (around the 1840s). Meanwhile, the social contribution of the African-American minority, while very significant, was constrained by their geographic and social isolation and by their legal bondage. Over the last century and a half, the American saeculum has become genuinely multicultural. And today, clearly, only a small and declining share of Americans (around 20 percent) deem themselves to be of mainly English ancestry.
Q. What about the rest of the world? Does the cycle apply elsewhere? Will other societies have a Fourth Turning, too?
A. While America offers the world’s best example of cyclical history, other modern societies have beaten to similar rhythms—and since World War II, these rhythms are drawing closer together. Generational archetypes similar to America's can be found, in roughly the same age brackets in Canada and Australia, throughout western Europe, Russia, Israel, and China. This means that, to a significant degree, the Fourth Turning could be global.
Q. Can a Fourth Turning be avoided?
A. A Fourth Turning can come a bit early or a bit late, be mild or harsh, and have a good or bad ending—but history warns that it must come. You can't get from fall to spring except through winter, and you can't get from Unraveling to High except through an era of Crisis.
Q. Do you have a single most important message for each of today's living generations? What about the G.I.s, born from 1901 to 1924?
A. Realize that children, not you, must now become America's new target of civic adulation. Allow these “junior citizens” to become the new priority of public spending.
Q. What about the Silent, born from 1925 to 1942?
A. Realize that younger generations don’t take economic prosperity or family stability for granted. Back off and let them do what they must when facing bottom-line challenges your generation did not.
Q. And what about Boomers, born from 1943 to 1960?
A. Realize that, as a generation that came of age chanting “make love not war,” what you meant by “love” contained the seeds of a war you could well foment in your old age. Or so history (and their own proclivities) suggest.
Q. And what about 13ers, born from 1961 to 1981?
A. Stop thinking that you can avoid civic life—and history—for the rest of your lives. You can't and won’t. Hone your survival skills and learn how to handle Boomers. That’ll all come in handy.
Q. And what about Millennials, born in 1982 and later?
A. Learn to work in teams, do good deeds for your community, and apply peer pressure to positive advantage. Understand that older people will come to expect greatness from you.
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