Q. How did you first become interested in generational history—and how did you discover the cycle?
A. In the late 1970s, Strauss co-authored a book about how the Vietnam War affected Boomers. In the early 1980s, Howe co-authored one about federal debts and entitlement liabilities. We thought we saw some interesting links between these two problems—how, for example, the uneasy resolution of 1960s-era generation gap helped give rise to the 1980s-era entitlement ethic. As the 1980s progressed, we wondered if the relationship between our parents’ generation and our own was unique or had ever before happened in history. When we looked into this, we discovered the cycle. For more background, see the preface in Generations and the acknowledgments in The Fourth Turning.
Q. How long did it take to write each of your books?
A. Generations took us nearly five years, from conception to publication, 13th-Gen about a year and a half, and The Fourth Turning two years. But, of course, our two later books rested to some extent on the method and research we had developed for Generations.
Q. How did you come to write The Fourth Turning?
A. While we wrote Generations primarily as a history book, we also observed how generations come in cycles of four types. In a closing chapter, we applied this cycle to offer predictions about America’s near-term future. We suspected that, amid all the buzz about Information Ages and New World Orders, the seasonal patterns observed by the ancients might be hardwired into the inner nature of our modern society. When the 1990s did in fact unfold as the cycle would suggest, we felt an urgent need to alert people about the Fourth Turning.
Q. How do you collaborate? Who writes which chapters?
A. Both us have had a roughly equal hand in the research, theorizing, writing, and editing of our books. To some degree, Howe has focused a bit more on the classics and pre-19th century, and Strauss a bit more on the last three saecula.
Q. Whose work has influenced you the most?
A. Among historians who have dared to think big, we’d have to put Arnold Toynbee and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. at the top. Among generations theorists, Karl Mannheim and Ortega y Gassett. Among psychologists, Carl Jung and Erik Erikson. Among the leading lights of the G.I. Generation, we’ve been persuaded and/or challenged by the work of Daniel Bell, Mancur Olsen, Samuel Huntington, Michael Walzer, and James Buchanan. Among the Silent Generation, ditto for Robert Bellah, Paul Kennedy, George Gilder, Alvin Toffler, and the late Christopher Lasch. For Boomers: Francis Fukuyama, Stephen Carter, Mickey Kaus, Charles Murray, and Charles Krauthammer. Among the rising 13th Generation: Douglas Rushkoff, Doug Coupland, Michael Lind, and Michael Lewis.
Q. Apart from book writing, what do you do?
A. Howe is a public policy consultant to corporations and a senior advisor to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation and the Concord Coalition, for whom he edits a faxletter on entitlements. Strauss is an entertainer and political satirist with the Capitol Steps, a troupe he directs, and for which he writes and performs. Both of us occasionally lecture on issues raised in our books.
Q. How did the two of you get together?
A. Though we grew up just a few miles from each other, near Palo Alto in the San Francisco Bay area, we never met each other until ten years ago, when Pete Peterson (now of the Concord Coalition) introduced us.
Q. Given that the two of you are Boomers, how does that influence your work?
A. Yes, we both lived a typical Boomer childhood and youth—“Leave It to Beaver” and “American Graffiti” sum it up reasonably well—and we both had our share of Consciousness Revolution adventures (though not always the ones that most often come to mind). Thanks to our study of history, and especially our inquiry into 13ers, we feel we can step outside our own backgrounds and see our generation as people of other ages see us—and, eventually, as future historians will see us. Like all generations, ours has its strengths and weaknesses.
Q. What’s the most common question people ask you, after they’re read The Fourth Turning?
A. That question is: So what can I do about it? Readers take this book very personally. That’s a reason for optimism. The only way America will do what’s necessary to prepare for the Fourth Turning, as a nation, is if most of us start showing more respect for the future in our own lives. A bit more urgency now will mean that less is needed later. It may even make the difference between a crisis that turns out well or badly.
Q. Do the two of you feel a sense of urgency yourselves, and the prospect of a Fourth Turning, when you think about your own families?
A. We are fathers who happen to be authors. We have six children between us: two 13ers and four Millennials. While we try to prepare our children for the future, we’re also trying—by writing this book—to help America prepare the future for our children.
Q. Would you describe yourselves as optimists or pessimists about the future?
A. We like to think of ourselves as optimists in that, unlike some others, we present a plausible vision of a positive future for America and the world. Today’s Rubik cubes of apparently unsolvable problems could snap into a solution in the Fourth Turning—a time when America could rise to a new and higher level of civilization. But the Fourth Turning could also bring national disintegration and total war. We don’t think it’s pessimistic to say so—just realistic.
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