The Generations of Men: How the Cycles of History Shape Your Values, Your Idea of Manhood, and Your Future

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 12, 2012 · 136 comments

in A Man's Life

Image via capitalist_b

As is the generation of leaves, so to of men:
At one time the wind shakes the leaves to the ground
but then the flourishing woods
Gives birth, and the season of spring comes
into existence;
So it is with the generations of men, which
alternately come forth and pass away.
- Homer, The Illiad, Book Six

If you’ve been following AoM for awhile now, you know that Kate and I love history. I studied classical history in college and Kate actually taught American history and Humanities at a community college here in town. And in running the Art of Manliness for the past five years, we’ve read hundreds of old writings while researching material for our posts and two books.

Through our study and reading, something that we’ve both come to appreciate about history is just how right the author of Ecclesiastes was: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

We are often struck, even sort of tickled, about how much the hopes, observations, and complaints of people decades, even centuries, ago sound just like the hopes, observations, and complaints of modern folks. It’s uncanny sometimes!

It is often said that history repeats itself. But do these repetitions happen at random…or is some kind of regular cycle at work?

The Strauss-Howe Generational Theory

“All human things are a circle.” -Inscription upon the temple at Athens

While modern societies typically see history as a linear movement–either ever improving or declining from a past high–ancient and traditional cultures believed time was cyclical, just like the waxing and waning of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun, the birth and death of living creatures, the planting and harvesting of crops, and the seasons of the year. The idea of sacred time as an eternal round and the symbol of the ring or wheel is common to many faiths, including Buddhism and Hinduism. The Old Testament is in many ways the story of a “pride cycle” with repeating periods of renewal, regression, and repentance. And many ancients couldn’t help but notice that times of war and peace seemed to move in a regular cycle as well.

In the 1990′s, William Strauss and Neil Howe published two books, Generations and The Fourth Turning, which set out a bold and fascinating theory: that the generations of history change in a regular cycle, just like the seasons of the year — that the ancients were on to something with their cyclical view of time after all.

Strauss and Howe argue that the last five centuries of Anglo-American history can be explained by the existence of four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern every 80-100 years, the length of a long human life, or what the ancients called a “saeculum.” These generational archetypes are: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Each generation consists of those born during a roughly 20 year period. As each generation moves up the ladder of age and takes a different place in society, the mood of the culture greatly changes:

Childhood: 0-20 years old
Young Adulthood: 21-41
Midlife: 42-62
Elderhood: 63-83
Late Elderhood: 84+

A generation reaches it apex of influence when it moves into midlife and begins to take leadership positions of power within society. Thus every 20 years as a new generation fills the midlife rung of the age ladder, and the generation that previously occupied that rung moves into less influential elderhood, the mood of the culture shifts. As each generation type is born, matures, comes to influence in the culture, and then declines and dies, it plays a role in propeling society through a cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, destruction, and then regrowth. Just as in nature, this cycle of death and rebirth is necessary to maintain the health of the ecosystem or society.

Why do the same four generational archetypes repeat in the same way each saeculum? They are molded by four historical turnings that reoccur every 80-100 years as well. The four historical turnings are: High (First Turning), Awakening (Second Turning), Unraveling (Third Turning), and Crisis (Fourth Turning). Historical turnings and generational archetypes work together to power the generational cycles. Historical turnings shape generations in childhood and young adulthood; then, as parents and leaders in midlife and old age, generations in turn shape history.

Because each of the four generation types experience the four historical turnings at different times in their lives, each generation is shaped differently by these watershed moments in history.

Below I include a chart that lists the four generational archetypes and turnings and shows at which point in life each generation experiences the turnings:

Prophet Nomad Hero Artist
High Childhood Elderhood Midlife Young Adult
Awakening Young Adult Childhood Elderhood Midlife
Unraveling Midlife Young Adult Childhood Elderhood
Crisis Elderhood Midlife Young Adult Childhood


Each horizontal row represents a “generational constellation” — the set arrangement of the generations on the age ladder during a turning. The generational constellations are the same in each turning, saeculum after saeculum.

If you’re feeling confused, hopefully things will become clearer as we discuss the Historical Turnings and the Four Generational Types below. The theory will be easiest to grasp and keep track of if you think in terms of who the generational types were/are during our most recent saeculum as we go along:

Most Recent Generations:

Heroes: G.I. Generation (born 1901-1924)
Artists: Silent Generation (born 1925–1942)
Prophets: Baby Boom Generation (born 1943-1960)
Nomads: Generation X (born 1961-1981)
Next Heroes: Millennial Generation (born 1982-2004)

Most Recent Turnings:

Crisis (Fourth Turning): Great Depression/WWII (1925-1945)
High (First Turning): Postwar Boom (1946-1960)
Awakening (Second Turning): Consciousness Revolution (1961-1981)
Unraveling (Third Turning): Reagan Revolution/Culture Wars (1982-2006)
Next Crisis (Fourth Turning): ? (2008-?)

Before we move on, we should note that a cyclical view of history does not preclude the idea of a society progressing or regressing; the cycle may be spiraling up or spiraling down.

Historical Turnings

The saeculum is broken up into four periods: First Turning (High), Second Turning (Awakening), Third Turning (Unraveling), Fourth Turning (Crisis). Each lasts roughly 20 years, just as the generations do. It’s helpful to imagine these periods as the seasons of the year. The Awakening is the summer of the saeculum, and the Crisis is the winter. The Unraveling (fall) and High (spring) are the transitional seasons. An Awakening changes a society’s culture; a Crisis changes its public life.

The changing of the turnings always catches people by surprise, as people ever suppose that life will keep going on just like it is now. For example, people in the 1950s envisioned the future as a stretch of unceasing progress–a clean, orderly world filled wondrous technology and space travel. What they got instead was a sagging economy and the counter-culture movement. We are bad at seeing the next Turning coming because just as in nature, “the season that is about to come is always farthest removed from memory.” In nature we are currently in summer and are awaiting the fall–the season we have not experienced in the longest time; in history, we now await (or perhaps are actually in) the Crisis, the Turning we have not experienced since WWII.

High (First Turning)

A High follows the Crisis era. It is a time with strong civic values: institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Ideals that were valued during a crisis are institutionalized. The emphasis during a High is on planning and building–doing big things. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majority often feel stifled by the conformity. Culture is friendly, but bland and lacks spiritual depth. Big technological advances are often made during High eras. The amount of structure/protection/nurturing given children begins to diminish towards the end of the turning.

During a High, Old Prophets die off, Nomads enter elderhood, Heroes enter midlife, Artists enter young adulthood—and a new generation of Prophets is born.

The postwar boom between 1948 and 1963 was America’s most recent High. Before that was the twenty year period after the Revolutionary War. According to Strauss and Howe, the Civil War created an anomaly in which the High period was skipped.

Awakening (Second Turning)

The focus of society shifts from building institutions to developing an individual’s inner life. New social ideals emerge during this time and experimentation with utopian communities is common.  Members of the coming-of-age Prophet generation are often at the forefront of the spiritual awakenings during Second Turning eras. Young activists look back at the previous High as a period of cultural and spiritual poverty and begin to rebel against the midlife Hero generation who made it possible. The amount of structure/protection/nurturing given children reaches a saeculum low.

During an Awakening, Old Nomads disappear, Heroes enter elderhood, Artists enter midlife, Prophets enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Nomads is born.

The Consciousness Revolution of the 1960s, the Transcendental Movement, and the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries are examples of Awakening turnings.

Unraveling (Third Turning)

An Unraveling begins as a society embraces the liberating cultural forces set loose by the Awakening.  Individualism and personal satisfaction are at their highest, while community and confidence in public institutions are at their lowest. Pleasure seeking and extreme lifestyles emerge. Society fragments into polarizing groups which makes decisive public action difficult. Instead of addressing problems, businesses and government leaders just kick the can down the road. Confidence in society’s future darkens, and the culture feels used up and worn out. Civic and moral paralysis and apathy set in. Art reflects the growing pessimism as themes of dreary realism take center stage. Child-rearing begins to move back towards protection and structure.

During Unravelings, Old Heroes disappear, Artists enter elderhood, Prophets enter midlife, Nomads enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Heroes is born.

Previous Unravelings occurred around World War I and the decades before the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. According to Strauss and Howe, the most recent Unraveling began during the second term of the Reagan administration and continued into the 2000′s. Today trust in institutions and leaders are at an all-time low and individualism is at an all-time high. Decisions on national problems like the growing deficit, deteriorating infrastructure, and rising education and healthcare costs are continually postponed because politicians and citizens are increasingly entrenched in their ideologies; consensus action and progress seems impossible.

Crisis (Fourth Turning)

This is an era in which America’s institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival. This threat can take numerous forms; economic distress caused by defaulting on national debt, hyper inflation, or widespread unemployment, social distress caused by class or race warfare, ecological distress caused by natural or man-made disasters, energy or water shortages, disease epidemics, secessionism and civil revolts, and traditional, nuclear, or cyber warfare are some of the possibilities. The Crisis can be caused by one large threat, or by the many little things that a society failed to deal with during the Unraveling finally coming to a head.

Obviously, societies’ are faced with wars and crises all the time; it is how the society responds to the crisis that determines whether it catalyzes into a Fourth Turning. There are always sparks, but not all sparks turn into fire. A spark ignites a Fourth Turning because in some way, the society is ready for it and wants it, though not consciously; they sense that society feels tired, worn out, and needs to be renewed.

No matter what form the Crisis takes, it galvanizes people into an action-taking consensus; problems that were once kicked down the road during the Unraveling are finally taken by the horns. Civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. Self-sacrifice, institution building, and consensus replace self-interest, personal development, and contrarianism as values society encourages. Wanting to protect their children from the turmoil surrounding them, parents are overprotective of their children during the Crisis.

During the Crisis, Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter elderhood, Nomads enter midlife, Heroes enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Artists is born.

America experienced a Crisis-era during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Our previous Crisis began with the Great Depression and ended after WWII. When Strauss and Howe wrote The Fourth Turning in 1997, they predicted that the next Crisis would begin in the middle of 00′s and last until around 2025. According to Howe’s current blog, he believes the next Fourth Turning began with the 2008 economic crisis.

Strauss and Howe argue that it’s never possible to predict how long or severe a Fourth Turning may be, or what form it may take (the last Crisis after all started with the Depression and ended with a World War). In whatever form it takes, by the time the Fourth Turning  is over, it has created a sharp break with the old order and a rebirth and renewal of society — a new High.

Generational Archetypes

Just as there are four turnings in a saeculum, there are four generational archetypes: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, Artist. The generations are shaped both by each other and by the turnings; they are affected by the amount of nurturing they receive growing up and then by the challenges they face as they come of age.

The idea of breaking people into generations isn’t very popular in our highly individualized age. But to say that generations share common characteristics is not to say these cycles force people’s behavior, or that there are not always exceptions to the rule: in every generation there are three groups of people: those who set the tone for the generation, those who follow the tone-setters lead, and those who rebel against the generational mood altogether. Talking about generations is simply a way to acknowledge that because different age groups are raised in less or more nurturing families, and experience historical events at different times in their development, their “generational persona”–their “attitudes on family life, gender roles, institutions, politics, religion, lifestyle, and the future” are shaped in a distinct way.

It’s also important to keep in mind that no generation is “better” or “worse” than another; each generation has unique strengths and weaknesses, each is important, and each provides balance and self-correction to the cycle of history. This is especially important to remember as you notice that one of the generations is labeled the “Hero” generation. This is not in reference to its superiority, but to the fact, as you will see below, that the Hero generation serves as the foot soldiers during a Crisis, and so are given a chance to do heroic things during that time and are thus reverently remembered for their service during the Crisis. But the Hero generation has flaws and strengths just like every other.

Finally, it is essential to understand that just because generational types repeat throughout history, this does not mean they are just like each other. The Puritan generation and the Baby Boomer generation are both Prophet generations, but they couldn’t be more different! Instead, it is only that a set of salient characteristics unique to each generational archetype reemerges over and over again, manifesting in very different ways according to the circumstances of the time. So what the Puritans and Baby Boomers have in common is the value those generations placed on one’s inner convictions and spiritual awakening.


Artists grow up overprotected by adults during a Crisis. Children are expected to stay out of the way and be well behaved, and for the most part Artist children comply. Taught from a young age to please adults, Artists enter adulthood as one of the most conformist but also most well-off youth generations. Young adult Artists often take a supportive role to midlife Heroes. Those who find their generation’s conformity to elder expectations stifling, begin to explore a “fresher, more fulfilling role.” Rebellious young adult Artists are frequently the leaders of youth movements filled with teenage Prophets (like MLK).

In midlife, Artists become known for their flexible, consensus-building leadership. They put a premium on expertise, process, and statistics. While this allows Artists to take on complex issues in a nuanced way, midlife Artist leaders often get bogged down in details and tend to postpone unpleasant choices. Midlife Artists become increasingly sympathetic to and even embrace the ethos of the younger Prophet generation who led the Awakening Turning. Midlife Artists redefine what it means to age and try to remain young at heart.

In old age, Artists maintain their flexible attitude towards life and continue to adopt the values of the younger Prophet generation. “They preserve a social conscience, show a resilient spirit, and never stop raising new questions.”

In many ways, the Artist generation comes of age in an tough, in-between spot in the generational cycle; for example, the Silent Generation just missed out on serving in WWII, and were left only to hear the stories of service from the Hero generation, and then when the counter-cultural movement happened in the 60s and 70s, they were already settled down in families, leaving some to look on enviously at the Prophet generation’s experiments with drugs and free love. Because of their in-between position in history, members of the Silent Generation have sometimes been overlooked; there has never been a Silent Generation president, and because McCain lost the 2008 election, there almost certainly never will be.

The Artist generation’s main societal contributions are in the area of expertise and due process. The Artists generation produces, surprise, surprise, great artists (Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol), reformers (Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Dewey), and statisticians (Frederick Winslow Taylor). America has had four Artist Generations: Enlightenment Generation (1674–1700), Compromise Generation (1767–1791), Progressive Generation (1843–1859), and Silent Generation (1925–1942).


Prophet generations are born after a Crisis Turning, and grow up increasingly indulged as children and youth, which imparts a sense of narcissism to this generation. They come of age as passionate young crusaders during an Awakening era and rebel against their elders’ spiritually sterile society. Self-discovery and authenticity are valued by Prophets throughout their lives, and they feel passionate about the morals, principles, and ideas they hold dear.

Prophets enter mid-life during an Unraveling by initially disengaging from public life in order to focus on themselves. However, slowly but surely, midlife Prophets begin to take on the mantle of leadership.  Unlike Hero leaders who put action over ideals, Prophet leaders put ideals ahead of action. Because of this, irreconcilable rifts occur between Prophet factions, which causes societal problems to come to a head during an Unraveling.

Prophets reach elderhood during a Crisis. By then, one of the competing Prophet factions from the Unraveling prevails which sets the agenda and tone for public action during the Crisis. During the Crisis, elder Prophets provide moral vision and values-oriented leadership to younger generations. They inspire younger generations to sacrifice, although during their own youths they were generally not “in the trenches,” themselves, and are thus ultimately remembered more for their words than their actions. They may lead society through the Crisis to the birth of a new High….or, if they do not lead well, to destruction.

The Prophet Generation’s main societal contributions are vision, values, and religion. They often produce America’s most notable preachers, activists, radicals, and writers. Prophet Generations include: Puritan Generation (1588–1617), Awakening Generation (1701–1723), Transcendental Generation (1792–1821), Missionary Generation (1860–1882), and Boomer Generation (1943-1960).


Nomad generations are born and nurtured during a spiritual Awakening and grow up as unprotected children. Often seen as a nuisance by Artist and Prophet adults,  Nomad children are left to find their own norms and are exposed to the world of adult dangers and anxieties at a young age. Consequently, Nomad children grow up fast and often engage in risky behavior.

Nomads come of age during an Unraveling as alienated and often cynical adults. However, their early exposure to the realities of adult life give them strong survival skills and a fierce independent streak that makes them well-suited to navigate the societal Unraveling that surrounds them.

In midlife, Nomads mellow into pragmatic and savvy leaders during a Crisis. Middle-aged Nomads make the personal sacrifices for the good of society that their elder Prophets weren’t willing to make during the Unraveling.  The Nomads’ cunning and survival instincts make them well-suited to lead during a Fourth Turning. Many of America’s most memorable military, government, and business leaders were scrappy midlife Nomads (e.g. Generals Patton and Grant).

Nomads reach elderhood during a High. To compensate for the excessively risky decisions they made as young adults, aging Nomads shun risk and demand conformism from their peer group and especially from younger generations.

The Nomad’s main societal contributions are liberty, survival, and honor. Nomad generations have produced America’s greatest entrepreneurs and industrialists (Andrew Carnegie, Jeff Bezos), satirists (Mark Twain, Jon Stewart), and generals (Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, George Washington). Nomad Generations include: Cavalier Generation (1618–1647), Liberty Generation (1724–1741), Gilded Generation (1822–1842), Lost Generation (1883–1900), Generation X (1961-1981).


Hero generations grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children. Prophet parents see their Hero children as instruments to fulfill their inner visions. Community and teamwork are instilled in Heroes at a young age. They are confident, ambitious, and optimistic about life, even in tough times.

Heroes enter young adulthood during a Crisis. Their youth, along with their orientation towards action and their ability to work well in teams, makes Heroes the go-to foot soldiers during a Crisis era. They are led by Nomads and revered by later generations for the sacrifices they make on the battlefield. Heroes enter midlife during a societal High, filled with confidence but also hubris from their early success during the Crisis; their penchant for taking on big projects can only be supported by the economic boom they experience during the High, which they naively believe will continue indefinitely. When the economy starts to sag during an Unraveling, younger generations are left holding the bag on faltering Hero-built programs and institutions.

Heroes are straightforward and polite; midlife Heroes become “defenders of a wholesome but conformist culture.” Technological advancement and institutional building are the main focuses of Hero leaders in Midlife, and they use this focus to create a well-ordered society. They eschew passionate and divisive ideology for a pragmatic approach to society and life, and when it comes to spirituality, either favor a pragmatic secularism or a non-charismatic, community-oriented mainline-type faith.

As they enter elderhood, Heroes begin receiving increasing scorn from younger Prophets for their lack of inner depth, spirituality, and passion. Consequently, Heroes “detach themselves from new cultural trends” while still maintaining an active role in public affairs.

The Hero generation’s main societal contributions are community, technology, and affluence. Hero generations have produced America’s greatest statesmen (James Madison, Thomas Jefferson) and societal builders (William Levitt). Throughout American history there have been three Hero Generations: The Glorious Generation (1648–1673), The Republican Generation (1742–1766), and the G.I. Generation (1901–1924).

Still Feeling Confused?

If you’re feeling confused about how this all goes together, let’s again take a look at how the turnings and generation types played out during out most recent cycle.

The Hero generation were young adults during our most recent Crisis: the Great Depression and WWII. Led by Nomads, they were the GIs who fought the war. After the war and the conclusion of the Fourth Turning, the Hero generation entered midlife and led society through a First Turning High. They led with a practical, civic-oriented, can-do spirit, and did big things like going to the moon. The Artist Generation (the Silent Generation) largely followed the Hero generation’s lead and acted as helpmates to it. These generations indulged their Prophet children, which made them a little self-absorbed. When the Prophet generation (the Baby Boomers) entered Young Adulthood, they led an Awakening (Second Turning), rebelling against the conformity and complacency of the Hero generation. As parents, the younger Boomer-Prophets and older Artist-Silents, raised a generation of latchkey kids, who became independent and cynical adults: the Nomad Gen X-ers. Because the Boomer-Prophet Awakening created a society that valued individualism and passionate ideology, the 80s and 90s were a time of Unraveling, with little consensus on shared values, fighting among interest groups, and stagnant civic progress. With a faltering economy, Hero-generated programs like LBJ’s Medicare have become difficult for the younger generations to sustain, while the Old Hero generation itself has largely passed on. Older Boomer and younger Gen X parents raised their kids in an over-protective way (helicopter parents), creating Millennial children, the next Hero generation.

Can Millennials Really Be the Next Hero Generation?

It’s difficult to identify prominent archetypal Millennials right now because they have not yet entered midlife, and thus most do not hold leadership positions. However, it is easy to find Millennials in sports, an arena in which their youth is not a barrier. Tim Tebow and Kevin Durant perfectly embody Millennials’ confidence and ambition, tempered with niceness, humility, and a good work ethic. And the OKC Thunder as a whole is a very Millennial team, filled with 20-something men who eschew indvidual glory to work together to win.

According to Strauss and Howe’s generational theory, the Millennial Generation (1982-2004) is our most recent Hero generation. They’ve gotten a lot of flack on this because, according to many columnists/opinion makers/sociologists, today’s young adult Millennials, aren’t displaying the qualities that you’d expect from a Hero generation. However, Howe would argue that it’s too early to judge whether Millennials will follow the Hero archetype; before the Depression/WWII Crisis, nobody thought the young G.I. generation was anything special either or had any idea that we’d later revere them as we do.

The more you look at it, the less of a stretch it becomes. The Millennial generation has weaknesses as every generation does, but they already display some classic Hero generation qualities: they’re very friendly, sensible, nice, and even-keeled, get along well with younger peers and older adults, are very peer and team-oriented, and prefer practical solutions over polarizing ideologies (more call themselves Independents than Republicans or Democrats).  Millennials are also confident and ambitious goal-setters, and remain optimistic despite the downbeat economy; although they’ve been hit hard by the downturn, 9 in 10 still say “they earn enough money now to lead the kind of life they want, or that they expect to earn enough in the future.” Other insights to the true nature of Millennials’ values can be seen in the graph below, which is based on a study done this year:

John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers. Survey was conducted online Feb. 15-28 by Knowledge Networks, and included (1) 431 current junior, senior or graduate students at a four-year college in the fall of 2011; (2) 807 millennial workers (ages 21-32) who graduated from a four-year college and who are currently employed full time; (3) 230 Generation X workers (ages 33-48) who graduated from a four-year college and are currently employed full time; (4) 258 baby-boomer workers (ages 49-65) who graduated from a four-year college and who are currently employed full time.

While it is often said that Millennials are “idealistic,” this is perhaps a projection from Boomer parents who tried to instill this value in their kids; while Millennials do want meaningful jobs, they value “being financially secure” higher than other generations. They also place more importance on getting married, having kids, and being a leader in their community than Boomers and Gen X-ers do.

What the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory Tells Us About Manhood in America

“Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers.”  -Lewis Mumford

What I found most fascinating about the Strauss-Howe generational cycle theory was its effect on America’s notions of manhood and gender. Many people today have the mistaken assumption that all the hand-wringing and discussion lately about the state of manliness in America is something new and unprecedented. The reality is that America has experienced a few of these “Crises of Masculinity” before. During Colonial times, Americans had a tug-of-war on how American manhood would be defined: would it embodied by the European Genteel Patriarch or the more rugged Heroic Artisan?

After the Civil War and into the early 20th century, society began debating what manliness would mean in an industrialized world. As we noted in our post, Graphing Manliness, the number of books and pamphlets written about “manhood” and “manliness” increased dramatically during these years and then tapered off after WWI. Starting in 2000, after a century’s lull–the length of a saeculum–we once again started seeing a big uptick in books, articles, etc., written about manliness and manhood.

Howe and Strauss argue in their books that these recurring discussions about manhood and gender are to be expected. Each generational archetype has a different view on the subject:

  • Prophet generations tend to feel more attached to their mothers and more distant from their fathers. When they come of age during an Awakening era, the feminine–associated with the resurgent emphasis on spirituality–is valued over the masculine, and distinctions between gender roles begin to narrow. Men become more “sensitive” and “in touch with their feminine side.”
  • When Nomads come of age during an Unraveling, gender role distinctions narrow to their thinnest point in the generational cycle (think of the bobbed, brassy flappers of the 20s and the “gender is only a cultural construct” meme of the 80s). Nomad generations often revolt from the Prophet generation’s veneration of the feminine and begin finding ways to encourage gender distinctions in an increasingly gender neutral world. The quest for manhood is often seen as a futile attempt to recover honor in a world that no longer values honor. For Nomads, the only way for men to distinguish themselves from women is for the world to return to a “state of nature” in which a man’s primal, and sometimes violent traits, are more useful.
  • Hero generations tend to feel more attached to their fathers than their mothers, as the masculine energies of war and civic involvement are revived during a Crisis, and gender roles begin to widen. The Crisis provides Hero men with the chance to perform distinctly masculine feats of courage and prove their manliness.
  • When Artist generations come of age during a High era, the gap between gender roles are at their widest: the cultural ideal–even if not lived by the majority–is for men to take care of the public sphere, while women take care of the home. The masculine is favored over the feminine. Dissatisfied with the social arrangement, some Artists take steps towards narrowing the gender gap.

As I’ve interacted with men of all ages and read books by men on what it means to be a man, I’ve noticed how these characteristics play out in our current generations and the marked distinctions between how different generations view manliness:


When you look at my grandfather’s G.I. generation, you see typical Hero views on gender. During the 1950s, when G.I.s entered midlife, distinctions between gender roles were at their widest compared to today. The cultural ideal consisted of a strong, authoritarian father who provided for his family, and a demure, feminine housewife who took care of the home.


Men in the Boomer generation generally live up to their Prophet archetype by viewing manliness in more spiritual terms…or as something not worth dwelling on at all. It’s interesting that the Mythopoetic men’s movement of the 80s and 90s–with its emphasis on the spiritual and emotional–was primarily a Boomer phenomenon. Men would go on retreats and bang on drums in the woods hoping to restore their “deep masculine,” while recognizing their “inner feminine.” Boomer authors like Sam Keene (Fire in the Belly) and Robert Millet (King, Magician, Warrior) published books that focused on helping men uncover and reconnect to their authentic and spiritual manhood. Some of the biggest Christian men’s ministries in America, like Promise Keepers, Men’s Fraternity, and Ransomed Heart Ministries, were started by Boomers as well.

Nomad-Gen X-ers

Gen X-ers generally approach manhood as consummate Nomads. Nomads often grew up as the products of divorce and as latchkey kids, and as a result they feel cynical about marriage and family. Many members of the “Men’s Rights Movement,” who often feel screwed by the system, particularly as it pertains to divorce court and child custody rulings, are Gen X-ers. In a very Nomadic move, there’s a small subset of Gen X men who have decided to “go their own way” and opt out of what they see as an unjust marriage system altogether.

Gen X Nomads are also sometimes pessimistic/angry about the future of men in general. Nihilism is not uncommon. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is a perfect example of Gen X masculinity: in order for manliness to mean anything, the world needs to go to pot first so men can use their innate masculine traits again. It’s very reminiscent of the works by fellow Nomad and manliness paragon, Ernest Hemingway.

This philosophy also shows up in the many popular blogs in the “Manosphere” that are written by Gen X men. Jack Donovan’s writings on manhood are a good example of the Nomad/Gen X view of manhood. Donovan doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about manhood. It’s raw and very Nietzschean. He, along with other Gen X men’s writers, argue that the only way to end the misandry and gender neutrality that we see in modern Western society is for society to collapse, as the tactical virtues of manliness are best demonstrated in a chaotic world. Of course, if the Strauss-Howe theory holds true, and we have already entered a Fourth Turning, they just might get their wish.


When it comes to the Millennial Generation, they are in many ways taking their cues on manhood from their grandfather’s generation. Growing up, I always felt an affinity for my grandfather’s generation–whenever I could I wrote school papers on World War II and the Great Depression. One of the things Kate and I connected on when we first met, was that she had always felt drawn to that time period too (although she’s actually a year shy of being a true Millennial).

I held up my grandfather as the kind of man I wanted to be, and he was part of what inspired me to start the Art of Manliness. I wanted to create a men’s magazine with the kind of things I was interested in. The men’s magazines that were available didn’t resonate with me–they felt very 80s and 90s, very Generation X. No one has been more surprised than me that AoM has become such a large and popular blog. I didn’t know if any other guys my age felt the same way…but apparently, at least some do. This actually should not be that surprising in light of the Strauss-Howe generational theory, which says that each generation will most identify with the generation a full cycle distant from them–in the case of Millennials that’s the Hero-G.I.

What I see this mean for Millennial men is a desire to return to a simple, straightforward, non-angsty approach to being a man; they’re not so concerned about gender roles and manhood as something they need to get in touch with or analyze or are angry about; rather, it’s more like, “Yeah, I’m a man, and I like being a man. So how does a man live a good life?” Millennial men see being a man as their grandfathers did: don’t make a fuss about it, just be responsible, do the right thing, be competent, and get the job done. They want to live their life right and want practical advice on how to do that.

The recent reboot of Spiderman offers an interesting contrast between Gen X Spiderman (Tobey Maguire) and Millennial Spiderman (Andrew Garfield). Maguire’s Spiderman is the complete loner/loser/wallflower at his school–alienated from everyone and bullied. Garfield is bullied too, but he steps in to stop a bully from picking on someone else. And even that bully ends up showing he is a nice guy too deep down. And while Maguire has to wrestle with the responsibility of being a hero (at least in the second movie), Garfield has an easier time embracing his new role as one, perhaps because he already saw himself as having a duty to help others.

What’s really interesting is that Garfield embodies the Hero generational archetype off screen as well. While at Comic-Con before the film was released, he unmasked himself to a surprised crowd and gave a heartfelt speech of guileless sincerity about how much heroes really do matter, how Spiderman had taught him the importance of using one’s power for good, and that “doing the right thing,” is worth it,” “worth the struggle…worth the pain:”

While Millennials do not want to go back to the strict gender roles of the 40s and 50s, they do seem to be questioning the more dogmatic ideas about gender neutrality they heard growing up, and searching for a way to honestly acknowledge the differences between men and  women; they’re looking for a way for men and women to be seen as equal but not exactly the same. And they’re dipping their toes into traditionally gender-segregated activities more–at least playfully. Men have become interested in things like craftsmanship and woodworking, mustaches and beards, suits and ties, and DIY and survival skills, while more women have been getting into the DIY hobbies their grandmothers enjoyed like sewing, canning, and cooking.

As the graph above showed, because Millennials were often raised in a more nurturing environment than their Gen X brethren, they are more optimistic about getting married and having kids. An embrace of commitment is a distinct Hero generation quality, and Millennials seem to approach relationships a little more traditionally than Gen X-ers did. For example, less teenage girls and boys are having sex (oral included), and the drop has been most pronounced in boys:

While in 1988, 60.4% of boys had had sex by the time they were 19, in 2010 that number was 42%. Why the large drop? While the number one reason boys give for abstaining has always been “morals and religion,” the second most popular reason had in previous surveys been “fear of getting a girl pregnant.” But in 2010, the second most common reason given by boys, was that they had not yet found the right person.

And when Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls offers up commentary like, “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal. There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do. It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles,” pundits take to wondering if such comments foretell a new direction for feminism.

Where will these trends lead? It’s hard to say. If the Strauss-Howe theory holds true, and the next decade foretells a deepening Crisis where masculine traits may once again be needed in an acute way, more traditional ideals of manhood may again take hold and the gap between the genders will widen once more….at least until the next generation of Prophets comes of age and rebels against their stodgy, sexist Millennial parents.

Regardless of what the future holds, the Strauss-Howe generational theory does explain that while each generation often feels passionate that they are “right” about what it means to be a man, their ideas of manhood have been shaped by other generations and the cycle of history. Which explains why many Nomad men don’t identify with the Mythopoetic idea of manhood championed by Boomers and can’t see themselves doing something like “Promise Keepers,” and why many Millennial men don’t identify with the cynical angst about manhood espoused by Gen X-ers. Of course, as aforementioned, in every generation there are those who lead the mood of that generation, those who follow it, and those who don’t identify with it at all and instead feel more of an affinity for the values of other generations.

In Conclusion

Despite the length of this post, there is still a ton more that could be covered about the Strauss-Howe generational theory of history. Generations and The Fourth Turning each weigh in at around 500 pages each. In attempting to give a brief-ish overview of the theory, much was left out, and what was left out may answer various questions that arose in your mind as you read this post.

Nevertheless, even if you take the time to plow through both books, you will still discover that the theory is far from airtight. There are plenty of holes to be found and objections to be raised. Furthermore, looking to it strictly as a guide to life and history, soon turns it into more of a squidgy horoscope chart than a historical/sociological theory. Those caveats aside, it is one of those things where taking the time to think through it, regardless of whether you end up embracing the theory completely, find truth in parts of it while rejecting others, or dismiss the theory wholesale, will very likely give you some fresh insights on life, history, and your place in it; it’s a fascinating prism through which to view the world.

So what do you think? Is there merit to the Strauss-Howe theory? If so, do you think that means that our current cultural/political funk will become a full on Crisis as we get deeper into a Fourth Turning?  Or do you reject the idea of a historical/generational cycle? Did it provide any insight on how you and  your friends and family view manhood? Lots to chew on here and I look forward to hearing your comments!

{ 136 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Alice Ann Laplante July 21, 2012 at 5:03 pm

There is a just-so quality to the reasoning used by so-called generational theorists.

They leave unaddressed the fundamental difficulty that arises with their theorizing: that our birth patterns are continuous, not discrete.

A generation isn’t produced in one lump and disgorged into society as a cohort of equally-aged individuals. Rather, we are born, one at a time, year after year, and have an affinity for those older than us and those younger than us in a gradient that decays as the age differences grow larger.

The starting and stopping dates which are used to gather and label a generation are just convenient markers for the insubstantial contemplation employed by generational theorists. They do not signify the beginning or end of anything.

Thus there is little by way of science, and even less by way of reasoning, that can usefully be shown to be true about these theorists obsessions.

102 Jared Petersen July 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm

@Alice Ann Laplante, True, but people tend to most interact with people nearest their own age. So while exact year numbers are convenient markers, it helps in reality to see it as more of a sliding scale, like a color scale. One color fades while a new one emerges. Now true, social sciences is not hard science by any means, but there undoubtedly is a degree of reason and rhyme to how we interact. There is definitely something there to study, though we can’t be as precise as hard science (although I wonder if advances in neuroscience will one day start to mesh with social sciences as we find the actual science behind why we act in certain ways. Interesting stuff.)

103 ShanFred July 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm

1. Posted with a link to this, fascinating, interesting, and thank you.
2. Millennial here, but raised by nomads and heros, lots of interesting theories explained here that I’ve lived through. It is quite fun to confirm in my own head what I read with my own very real experience.
3. I hafta share because it made me smile and laugh, I remember a teacher in high school, nomad type with artist tendencies, who explained this theory to us one day in class pawning it off as a pre-history lesson. Even then I thought it was awesome.
And last but not least. Been living literally the nomad survivalist lifestyle for many years now, the crisis is coming, it really is.
Thank you for the enlightening and in depth article. It is obvious you worked on it a great deal. Thank you.

104 Brooks July 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I’m like you, Brett. I grew up knowing my grandfather who was also a WWII veteran. He took part in some major stuff, including the berlin airlift. Anyhow, I knew I wanted to be like him. Whether or not there are generational cycles, I think it’s enough to see that men look back on history as an example of what it can mean to be good. That’s all you need. Someone in the past you want to be like, and strive to follow their character.

Amazing article.

105 Tony July 25, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I never liked the Baby Boomer Generation (Prophets) especially the females of that generation. They are so full of themselves, arrogant, and especially rude to young people. What have they done to contribute to this society? Absolutely nothing, like the article said, they have ideas but they are unwilling to put them into action, instead, they expect other generations to do all the work.

106 Ryan July 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Again, I was born in 1991. I joined the National Guard at 18 trying to find a way to pay for college. I went to basic and AIT and then 6 months later deployed. A lot more people my age are joining the miilitary, but still only 10% serve in the military. We have to keep up things like the American Legion and the VFW since the older guys are starting to die off and it seems like the Baby Boomers and Gen X don’t care. I think if you put me and my brothers and sisters in arms in power, we can turn the country around and make it great again.

107 Ben July 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

A little late to the game, but I wanted to add my heartfelt appreciation for what you two do! This is truly fascinating! I share a great affinity with my grandfathers and great uncles who in my mind were great men. This explains a great deal for the unconscious nostalgia I feel for that era.

Working in a 100 year old cultural institution (Art Museum), the generation’s differing views on institutions is very intriguing and seems to be quite accurate. I’m optimistic about my generation’s role in restoring them, having seen decades of decline.

To the point that we are born along a spectrum and the impossibility of classifying generations with beginning and end dates, I would point to the fact that world events do not occur along a similarly nebulous range. As a Millennial (b.87), being an adolescent during Y2K, sitting in a freshman classroom watching the events of 9/11 (my class having occasionally been referred to as “The Class of 9/11”), and graduating college at the peak of the financial crisis defiantly makes for a united group of people. Not to mention my relationship with computers and the Internet (starting out with MS Dos and 2D videogames). Those people 10-20 years older or younger will have a totally different relationship with these world events and thus bonds them with others of similar ages.

Thanks again for a thought provoking article!!

108 Jon August 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm

As a history teacher, I like this theory as it does seem to follow actual historic patterns. I also agree that it does have some gaps but over all I think the authors are on to something. I think it is also important to remember when it comes to “history repeating itself” that we are all Homo Sapiens, and that we are all thinking with the same brains. Our species showed up about 150,000 years ago and we have not changed in any significant way since then. As a result, we will react to situations, whether the crisis be an oncoming ice age or a financial collapse, with similar thought processes. This would lend itself to creating repetitious patterns that would shape people in similar fashions over and over again. History seems to back this view and so again, I think the authors may be on to something here.

109 Nick Healy August 4, 2012 at 8:57 am

Interesting article. Its funny too that we each see this from our own generation. I too noticed the generational difference between the two spider-man’s but as a GenXer, my synopsis was different from yours. I liked my fellow Xer Toby because Toby was used to being the ignored wallflower and struggled with his new power. The Millennial Andrew annoyed me because he acted the emo loner (while obviously still knowing he wasn’t a reject like Toby) and when he gets his power (which, not a freak accident like Toby but the fulfilment of some greater preordained process) he accepted it without question as if he already knew he deserved it. I couldn’t identify with this. The Nomad Xer never wanted the power and struggled with the responsibility once he had it while the hero Mil secretly knew he was meant for greatness and stepped up to the bat naturally when it came his way. If we wrote a Boomer Spiderman he would probably take his powers and then use them to discover his place in the world as a spider-man in a world of men (making it better for future spider-men but probably not kicking as much bad guy butt as the others). I’m now thinking that maybe spider-man was meant to be a hero. For although he was read by prophet children in the 60s, he was created and popularized by Stan Lee, a hero. Actually, technically he was co-created. Interestingly, Lee turned down the original concept by fellow hero generation Jack Kirby because he felt the character was “too heroic” and instead went with another artist who created the image we now all associate with spider-man. This other artist, who gave Lee the visual image we all love, was Steve Ditko, who is now largely forgotten (relative to Lee) and was a bit younger and therefore of the Artist generation. Cool beans Brett and Kate. Enjoyed reading this one.

110 Nick Healy August 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

I wonder if just like how we identify with our own cycle (I agree. Just started reading some work by Hemingway and after a life of boring Boomer authors I feel I finally found a writer “who gets it”), I wonder if there is certain generations we detest. The GI generation didn’t get their kids (Boomers) but they seem to complete detest my Xer generation as a generation of wasters while seeming to have hope for you Millenniums. Meanwhile, whereas I feel the Boomers mostly ignored us Xers, they seem to have a downright hatred for you Millenniums. Think of Boomer Jeff Daniels’ speech in the first episode of the newsroom calling you guys the “worst. generation. ever.” Bit much considering his generation are still running the show and yours is just one president away from still wearing short pants.

111 Taylor Seger August 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Could you do a more in depth series of this article? To get into each of the areas a bit deeper?

112 Donavan August 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

I would just like to say that this is probably one of the greatest articles I’ve read on here. Given the length of the piece, it’s obviously something that resonated with you. Being a millennial myself, I could easily confirm many of the overarching characteristics they include in their study. On the same coin, I could also easily distance myself from the other group types and periods. Perhaps one of the most glaring affirmations of this falls in regards to the politics of today’s society.

I have been involved in politics for about 5 years now as one of the typical young aides that doesn’t ever really ask the questions, but rather, just gets the job done. And, not to come off pompous, but it has been in meaningful environments. In other words, I not only rammed signs in the ground and passed out voter registrations, but actually sat in the ante rooms and did the 2am nail-biters in the leader’s office.

All said, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming pessimism at the polarization of politics in today’s society. It’s as if we abandoned any and all concepts of what it means to be leaders in favor of the image of showhorses and pundits. What ever happened to respectfully channeling your concerns on issues of personal importance, but when all the dust settles, coming to a gentleman’s compromise in order to get the job done? Instead, we see grandstanding in its finest display coupled with enflamed rhetoric in an effort to see who can grace the cover of Drudge Report or the Huffington first. It’s quite sickening.

As a young boy, the men who ran our state legislature were well-respected men who, while they had their obvious, human drawbacks, did not forget what their responsibilities were to the greater populace that anointed them with that honor of statesman. Now, I fear that the current officeholders have all but dashed any reality of that ideal cast by the previous generation in an effort to “one-up” the other guy.

While it may come off as a bit of tangent, the point I’m attempting to drive home here is the notion of suffocating individualism at the detriment of the whole. This article does a good job of highlighting the cyclical nature of generational attitudes toward accomplishing the goals and livelihoods of its respective era. I, for one, am ready for our leaders to lay down their arms and start extending some courtesy to the other side in favor showing the public how business gets done. If anything else, they should set examples of how real men find a way to make progress no matter our differences. In truth, it is how all of our greatest societal institutions have been created and strengthened for the benefit of the whole.

To cap this off with an obligatory reference to history, Aristotle was known to favor conciliatory politics dominated by the centre rather than the extremes of great wealth and poverty or the special interests of oligarchs and tyrants. To that end, I agree wholeheartedly.

113 Alan Henley October 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Yes I completely agree with this post and theory. Yes I am a millenial and you can’t tell me this isn’t a crisis.

114 Erin October 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm

As a Nomad mother (b. 78) raising two little Hero girls (b. 03 & 07) in a just turned Crisis, this article brings me some peace. I want to prepare them the “best I can” and now I have a better idea of what that might mean. This is the only blog I have found worthy of following. Thanks for all your hard work!

115 Guo Jia October 24, 2012 at 8:44 pm

From the way things are looking, and also based on what happened to the Rome Empire and Han Empire, I predict that when the Mother of Crisis begins, the Millennials will stand up and each declare themselves a warlord of their territory OR they serve under the Prophets and Artists as advisors. Those Millennials that are strong, those Millennials that are intelligent, those Millennials that are diplomatic, those Millennials that have been enlightened in some way during this “grace” period will survive. But after that time, there will be much bloodshed throughout America and the world.

116 Wes Roberts December 22, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Great post! Would encourage you to read Roy Williams “Pendulum.” He picks up where Strauss and Howe leave off, in some ways. Roy brings some “next steps” to this thinking.

As a leadership mentor (70yo and going strong), I have long recognized that we need to be thinking in generations. My own work looks at the Three Thirds of Life, and living life (all of us do…) in 8 Dimensions, no matter our age and culture. Would welcome talking that over with you some time.

Blessings abundant to you two during this holiday season. And, do keep up your good work…most refreshing, important and thought-filled.

117 Benjamin December 22, 2012 at 11:24 pm

What a great post. So glad this was on your 2012 recap, because I missed it first time around.

Really fascinating stuff. I think the Strauss-Howe theory definitely holds water and looking at history from a generational standpoint can teach us a lot – even if it’s not air-tight.

A very happy new year to you, from a fellow Hero-Millenial awaiting our call-to-action!

118 Doug December 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

Talk to people born 1978-1982. Much of these theories ring true but what’s interesting are the people in between. Born in 1978 I have many of GenX qualities but also Millenials.

119 Brandon December 24, 2012 at 8:48 am

Thanks for putting this in the 2012 recap! I missed it the first time around.

Definitely an interesting read and I’m with Doug about being somewhere in the middle between Gen-X and Millenial. I was born in 77 and seem to carry traits/ideals from both nomad and hero categories.

Merry Christmas everyone!

120 Bobby G. December 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

I don’t know how I missed this article but I am glad y’all included it in the 2012 recap.
At first, I wasn’t sure how much stock I was going to put into this, but, you got me. When you described the Gen-X folks (born in ’64), you described my attitude exactly. I feel the whole thing needs to collapse and be rebuilt from scratch.
In my thinking, the time of unraveling has lasted too long and I find myself waiting for the proverbial “other shoe”. It needs to be done with already. I guess I really fear that I will not be around to see it turn around to the High.
Thanks so much both of you!

121 Sean O January 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm

When you see extreme economic behavior and worthless media commercialism, you learn (sometimes the hard way) that the basics work and always will…Life is unpredictable but being a man is simple – handle your responsibilities, keep things simple, and get it done…Don’t let the world distract you from the point of it all…Millenial Born (1986)

122 Justin Torresdal January 5, 2013 at 1:37 am

I wonder if we could consciously change the cycle. As in, instead of the Millenial Heroes (Love the sound of that, lol) alienating their children by their return to more simplistic, community driven lifestyles, we could impart the importance of individuality to them, but also teach them how important it is to find our place in the whole of our community. Isn’t there something to be said for social progression and knowledge? I do find it very strange and uncanny that growing up I’ve mindlessly been serving my own individuality, and have only recently become altogether disgusted by it. However, I am not naive enough to believe that individuality and personal ideals have no place.

Perhaps we should add another type to your “three types of people” (trend maker, trend follower, trend rebel). Perhaps we should add a fourth type called “trend observer/consciously balanced individual”. Haha.

123 Vicki January 10, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I’m glad i found this article and i love this site. I find it very interesting and i approve what it says (even though i’m not a guy)

I’m part of the next Hero (Millennial) generation (’92) and i was surprised over the doubts that some people have had that my generation would be the next hero generation. From the perspective of a college student, i’d say the Millennial generation is very well aware of the shit that’s been piling up that we’ll have to deal with, and we’re very aware that we won’t be as well off as our parents. We’re resigned to the fact that medicare and social security are just going to be giant money sinks. We grew up watching the Unraveling, watching the economy go down the drain. Now as we begin to enter the adult world, we know how difficult it is to get a job and we expect that. We know this mistreatment of the environment is going to bite us in the butt soon and we’ll be the generation that has to turn the public and economy away from destroying it before it’s too late.
But we grew up knowing this. We learned to see the world as adults knowing that we were going to have to fix this.
We’ve begun studying the other generations to figure out how this happened and how to change it, and we’ve already begun planning how we’re going to fix it. (point of note, the Boomer generation is generally disliked and seen as useless/entitled/inconsiderate of others’ needs)
We were also raised by the Gen-X generation with overprotective parents and the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ team spirit. Even though we look at the future and see a big pile of dung, we’re confident and determined that we’ll manage it somehow. Each of us may also be even slightly optimistic that ‘yeah its going to suck, but I will work hard and become successful at whatever i decide to do, and i will be content with my ability to come out on top’.
I also understand the part about technological advancement and institutional building. We grew up with technological advancement, and will continue to expect it to grow, and will work hard to keep it growing. We also grew up seeing the old institution breaking down, and we see a need to renew it. I expect that assuming we all weather this storm and come out alive, the next Hero generation will be all about technology and ‘setting the systems up right’.

124 Someone January 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I find it interesting to notice that even *Anonymous*, who seem to be millenials’ attempt at Sticking It To The Man, take time out from their schedule to oppose Internet censorship and help a rape victim see justice.

Heroes, eh?

125 Someone else January 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

This is a fascinating theory and I believe it is quite accurate. I am a 22 year old American- lately I have been disgusted by all the gifts and all the hedonism and the complete lack of clarity in our society, and started cutting down on computer use, dressing better, and getting back down to basics.

When I get married (and I will), I intend to do it with a very feminine woman because that is what is attractive, and I plan to have multiple children.

I have thought about building things for a long time- new movie studios, a new analogue music studio, bringing back orchestral music, starting a chain of posh nightclubs/cafes/restaurants/movie theaters with really hot waitresses and company uniforms and lots of class. We need new organization and structure in our society, and I can help bring it about.

I have always been drawn to my grandfather’s generation and while I used to sympathize with the Boomers, I am increasingly disgusted with their failure to take any responsibility and get anything done.

I’ve always been a fan of 35mm photography and recently really started getting into LPs- my avatar on an online forum is Dean Martin, I go to church, and I bought a straight razor several months ago….

And I have always been friendly with Generation X, though I think they share the Boomers’ problem of hopelessness and cynicism. It’s paralyzing. A Boomer relative thought I was “very brave” to move to a new place, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. It is what it is. I was just talking to my Boomer mother about my plans (orchestral album, bring back 35mm film, etc.) and she didn’t think I should do it because she didn’t know “how popular it would be” and “Things have changed” and all of this other defeatist, irritating talk. It’s not the point how popular it would be- if people are listening or watching or buying, and all participating in the experience, it becomes more than popular- it’s a way of life. That’s the ideal. We need to build institutions that WORK and not reject the lessons learned in the past because it doesn’t “feel right”, including gender roles. Men are men and women are women. Period.

It is a little frightening to think how well this article has me pegged, but I feel a little more confident now, knowing that my behavior is really not so unique and unusual, but is par for the course according to my generation’s archetype.

And I believe that even if my fellow Millenials do not currently see things the way I do from a social/moral perspective, the longer this unraveling/crisis goes on, the more people are going to get sick of it and say, “Screw it. Let’s go back to what actually works rather than stupid theories.” And I am looking forward to participate in our national return to sanity during and after this inevitable crisis.

-b. 1990

126 Someone else January 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I should also reiterate that I don’t get along with the Boomers that well. I have worn a coat and tie to a handful of social functions, and I was getting the dirtiest looks from the older people. They acted like it was a personal affront to them, as if I was rejecting their casual, sloppy culture! Which, if I really thought about it, I probably was…

127 Gunnar February 7, 2013 at 5:56 am

Interesting theory and looks like it holds true to some extent. The first border for the generations and periods mentioned is that it’s probably contained within the US or the bigger sphere of influence the American culture has. Thinking of many European countries following American culture since WWII I’m guessing our generations will be similar but might be off some years as certain trends will only come here several years later. Looking further back we are perhaps following another rhythm. I’m also certain that within Europe there are very different generations within different countries. Some countries’ generations have been greatly influenced by WWI and WWII, while others haven’t at all. For example Sweden hasn’t been engaged in a war or severe crisis since Napoleon. So people from different nationalities could keep this carefully laid out article in the back of their head, and try to adjust it to their culture’s milestones to make sense of these cycles of time.

Looking at Belgium it seems more likely that the state of crisis lasted from 1910-1918 and than from 1929-1944 with the booming twenties in between. Or do you suggest WOI is only an unraveling? Nevertheless there’s a big difference between countries. I’m sure there are some countries where they lack such distinct differences between generations. In Belgium WWI and WWII were terrible but the loss of life of it’s own population was rather small. Suggesting that there were far fewer Belgians willing to give up their life for ideals than Americans, British, French or Germans. Perhaps this is showing a lack of culture, being a country following the trends of these bigger nations. Watching the world’s movements from the sideline. This would mean that generations can never live the way they’d like to. The ones willing to be heroes are held down and subjected to normality.

128 gerishnakov April 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

It’s interesting, if you follow Howe’s notion that European generations are now 5-10 years behind America’s, which I do, to note that unlike the States, we in Britain did have a period of ‘Silent Generation’ rule.

Between late 1990 (when I believe the UK’s Third Turning began) and 1997, Britain was governed by a clique of quietly competent, economic sound, ‘middle-manager’ politicians; the likes of John Major and Ken Clarke; politically inoffensive, even ineffectual, they quietly guided Britain out of the early nineties recession and into a modest recovery.

It’s a shame the British Boomers then took over and ruined everything for us British Gen-Xers.

129 Fred June 8, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I think cause and effect “generational” history it is pretty accurate, except that the lines between the generations are grey not black and white. There are no crisp year to year dates between generation or the challenges or crises they face.

The big question is will my generation of prophets and the nomad provide the inspiration and leadership to allow the Hero-Millennials to succeed and save the day/century? The divisiveness of the Civil war bolted out one hero/great generation. Hope extremes in ideology do not stop the Millennials from achieving their rightful place in history.

Millennials please reduce status of all prophets to consultants and the nomad leaders to advisors, this may help. Wishing you all success.


130 Alexander June 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

It does smack of astrology , but an interesting theory and discussion none the less.

131 Klobes July 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Very interesting perspective. Most accepted theories started out as imaginative perspectives, so while this isn’t ‘hard science,’ it may contain verity nonetheless. I tend to agree that a crisis is coming, though my own role (former military, born 1982, between Nomad and Hero) within this structure is unclear.

This unraveling of the United States has often been compared to that of Rome, or France, or other historical powers. Perhaps the Fourth Turning of those societies (the crisis turning) resulted more in destruction than rebirth? It would be interesting to bounce this perspective off other historical events besides America’s.

Better if there were no crisis, of course. But if it’s coming, then I hope (and will work so that) it ends with a high!

132 Mark R July 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

An interesting theory, but clearly lacking any empirical proof.

133 jerry July 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I , born in 1947 am my own man made up from finding my way with the guidance and support of men lost and found in their own generations.
To find men that are not only unique but accountable find those that defy the poseurs and the “look at me’s” We need only the appreciation of the weak the brave and mostly ourselves when we look into our true reflection from the mirror of reality. Semper Fidelis

134 Tracey July 16, 2013 at 9:14 pm

This theory also seems to support the popularity (and my own affinity) for distopian and post-apocalyptic television and film. Since the Gen-Xers are of the age that they are writing so much of the popular entertainment, you can see a real yearning for the basic human nature that emerges when the world collapses. When we are overrun by zombies or end up on an island, or a plague hits; we can stop being nomadic navel gazers and each of us becomes our true selves and this is a relief.

135 Stan September 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

To Jason, who says that this theory may not fit many people:
Yes, I also think that there would be (a lot of) people who do not fit the SH model, however, that does not necessarily mean that Millenials (like me) cannot work to become the next Heroes.
My opinion here is that, we Millenials do not belong to one single type mentioned here. We are a mix of people who struggle to find a set of values to believe in AND ones who are fed up with the mess caused by the previous generations, and hence decide to do something to rebuild this society from the bottom. Millenials, are, in effect, a mix of mostly Heroes and Nomads, but there are also … more than just a few Artists and Prophets among us.

136 justis October 28, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Awesome article. I thought you did a great job giving people a view of the theory.

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