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 · 137 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!

{ 137 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew July 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

I had never heard of the Strauss-Howe theory before reading this post, but it sounds like something that I want to believe in. I do however worry that a lot of it is fitting the past into a mould where it may not go. I think a true (or perhaps scientific) theory would be able to accurately predict the future, not just mould the past into its theory. Of course that is the value of historical/sociological study and research. It is also fascinating the way it spans across generations and ages as well as people within specific eras. I think I am going to have to come back another day and re-read this post to properly understand it all.

2 Peter July 12, 2012 at 8:03 am

Outstanding. I taught US history to 9th graders and tried to hit home the idea that human behavior is cyclical. Good resource. Convincing argument. Keep ‘em coming!

3 Scott July 12, 2012 at 8:26 am

How timely! A good buddy of mine placed the book “Generations” in my hands just two weeks ago. I’m about 2/3 through and I’ve been enthralled by this theory. As a Gen-xer (born 1971) it brought a lot of light to my childhood seeing that ehile my parents were raised on “The Shaggy Dog” and my children on “Aladdin”, my peer group was stuck with “The Omen” and “The Exorcist”.

I am also encouraged to realize that my nomad peer group contain very great men: Washington, Patton, Truman. I prayerfully look forward to opportunities to sacrificially lead Millennials through the next crisis (which I personally don’t think has really started yet).

4 Drew July 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

First, how do you two do it? Brett, I am so glad you started this site. I too was sick of the men’s magazines out there and now AoM fills that need for me. But what I find so remarkable is that just the two of you manage to produce a magazine that is in my mind superior to the mags that have a huge staff! Kudos, guys, kudos.

Second, I thought this article was fascinating. I’m going to have to think about it some more and probably even read it again before I decide how much credence I give to the theory, but yeah, as you said, I found it engrossing from start to finish. Even if you strip away all the other stuff, I think the idea that young people rebel from their parents and become more like their grandparents is definitely true. It’s just human nature. You want to set yourself apart from your parents. As far as whether we’ve started down the road to a fourth turning….part of me really hopes that’s not true, and doesn’t feel very brave about going through a crisis, but part of me wants it to be true, because I find out current culture crap.

5 George July 12, 2012 at 8:46 am

That was a little confusing I’ll have to read it again but I’ll be interested to read more on the GI generation now

6 Jack Donovan July 12, 2012 at 8:48 am

Interesting piece. Thanks for the shout-out.

7 Richard Williams July 12, 2012 at 8:54 am

Great article. I need to read through it a couple of times to get the full thought (though I’ve read of Strauss’s theories before). But the first observation that struck centers around this comment:

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

Note that the Great Awakening’s foundation was Christianity and piety (self-control and selflessness). Compare that (and the results), to the ’60′s “awakening” whose foundation involved drug use, a rejection of traditional morality, “free love” (promiscuity and narcissism). Look at those results all around us.

I was born in the late ’50′s. I fear for my children and grandchildren.

8 Max July 12, 2012 at 8:56 am

Fantastic post, absolutely worth reading the whole thing. Finding a way to understand our place in history — even if that understanding is flawed — is absolutely vital, especially for us globalized, postmodern Millennials.

I’m totally with you on identifying with my WWII grandfather and his whole generational aesthetic. Even to the point where, when I changed my name a few years back, I chose his name as my middle name.

9 Rob July 12, 2012 at 8:59 am

This is absolutely amazing. Must print this off into a PDF! Absolutely brilliant.

Let me know if you would like to collaborate on a ‘print edition’. I do a lot Adobe InDesign and would love to convert this.

10 Matt July 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

Brett and Kate,

I’d just like to thank the two of you for writing the article. I stumbled upon Generational Theory a while back and was really turned on by it, it really seemed to click. Being part of the Millennial generation, I’ve always felt like I connected with the ideas of my grandparent’s generation more than any other. Good to know I’m not the first. While none of us want the next crisis to happen, I do think our generation will be more than eager to take the reins and head to the front lines.
Anyway, ramble aside, this was a fine article and something I plan on re-reading and sharing with my friends. Thanks.

11 Brandon July 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

This is pretty fantastic. Nothing like this is completely airtight, but it sounds plausible, and probably reflects something about the reality we live in. Real life is too complex an nuanced to fit into a simple model, so I don’t know that I’d ever rely on something like this as a predictor. But it’s certainly an interesting way of interpreting the past, and at the very least can give us insight into who we are. Thanks for the great article!

12 Mike C July 12, 2012 at 9:26 am

Excellent article. Interestingly, I would fit into the nomad category, and feel that the description fit me well right down to my nearly militant view on manhood – which views were partly aroused by this web-site – created by a millennial with a different viewpoint.

13 Justin M. July 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

It’s rather funny, I was about to say that I didn’t have much interest in World War 2, but then I remembered that some of my favorite heroes of history were members of the French or Warsaw Resistances and that my favorite movie is “The Great Escape”. Not what you usually think of when you imagine that time period, which probably explains my initial confusion.

I completely agree with that statement about the crumbling of the institutions set up by the last Hero Generation by the way. It will be interesting to see whether my generation will learn from what we’ve seen or if history really will repeat itself.

14 Jacob July 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

I agree with the general cylical nature of human advance and decline, however its relevance to todays cause and effects seem ripe for data-mining…while I personally see the baby boomer generation as destructive and spoiled (nomad) I have no doubt they see themselves as Heroes……your thoughts?

15 Ethan July 12, 2012 at 9:59 am

I, like Andrew, had never heard of Strauss-Howe theory. As a young (16) Millennial generation guy I can agree with the qualities given to my generation. I look up to my grandfather as what a man should be. Get the job done. Action over words. I am a very self-reliant minded person and want to do my best to be the best man I can be, helping others and supporting a family someday. I am a virgin because me and my girlfriend have been waiting for 3 years, and we plan to wait until we are married. This post was most excellent and really had given me the inspiration to even further my pursuit to be the man I know that I should be . Hopefully in doing that I can better the world as a whole.

16 Andrew T. July 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

Very good article. I was born in 1980 and have always been labeled as Generation X. Yet, I never really identified with those in that group. Though I do dig the “back to nature” manhood. But, I do love hearing the old stories of my grandparents like you and your wife. History is how we understand ourselves. This article really puts the cyclical nature of generations into focus. It helps to understand what is happening where we are in history now.

17 Matthew July 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

I have only been able to graze over the information since I am currently at work, but when I read over your part about being connected to your grandfathers generation. I am a Millennial as well and I have always seemed to have a sort of kinship with my grandfathers generation. My Grandfather is also someone I have always admired and looked up to as a role model. While my father wasn’t there for me, he helped teach me to become a man, and sadly left before all the lessons were through. To this day he remains forever present in my thoughts.

18 Moss July 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

Fascinating. I’m a bit overwhelmed at the truths that can be uncovered in this analysis and plan to pick up “Generations” and the “Fourth Turning.” Brett, your site never ceases to amaze me. I would encourage y’all to read “The Terrain of Comedy” by Louise Cowan. You will not be surprised to find that the 4 classical genres of tragedy, comedy, epic, and lyric also match this SEASONAL cycle as well. Most intentionally divined, this is the story of God’s Word. This is also a political road map — the tyranny/liberty cycle is really composed of 4 elements: revolution (liberty), complacency, dependence, and tyranny. Brett, thanks again for tackling such a complex and thought provoking topic. Now I need to get back to billing hours.

19 Kp July 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

I find this article very interesting and encouraging in a way that human actions can be somewhat orderly and cyclical. Interesting in that like Andrew, I’ve never heard of the Strauss-Howe theory but find it’s findings plausible. Encouraging and pleasantly surprised by Ethan’s comments and find common traits and actions in my 19 year old son. Great article.

20 Nomad July 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

I thought what was so awesome about this was my own personal reflection on my morals and values (born 74). Religion is a pillar in my life that rivals all hardship and provides a sense of stability despite my own feelings of being caught up in something that is simply too large to be stopped and as engrossing and terrifying as watching a car accident.

Still, manhood is something I seek to understand and define in satisfying ways and I’m always aloof to knew ideas for embracing what traditional manhood is.

The wisdom that I glean is the importance to reflect daily on what you (as a man, father, husband, worker, soldier, etc…) are doing and to constantly tune yourself into an ethos that you feel satisfied with.

Airtight? Who cares! The truth is less important than the personal reflection and trying to identify which generation truly is your contemporary.

My statistics. Have only had one sexual partner and I married her before exploring that side of our relationship. Sense of right and wrong is extremely black and white. Outspoken, convicted. No who I am with no uncertainty. Have a clear plan as a husband, father, son and worker. Again, born in 74.

Awesome stuff!!!!

21 Patrick July 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

Never heard of this theory. I think it is pretty accurate. I am a millenial (21) and look up to my grandfather –a WWII and Korea hero. Was born in the Great Depression, had 9 kids, worked 4 jobs to put his kids through school, etc. I have an affinity for the grit and hard work of his generation. I look up to him, his values, and his legacy more so than that of my father or men his age (born in 1960′s). I hope other men of my generation return to the mindset and lifestyle of “Hero” as you put it, in a natural and unforced manner. I think the movement is starting slowly around the country with sites like these, small entrepreneurial ventures popping up the emphasize old-fashioned quality over mass-marketed quantity etc. Lots to think about today from this post. Thanks Brett and Kate

22 David July 12, 2012 at 10:57 am

Interesting. Recently stumbled on AoM looking for info on wet-shaving. I would have to say as a Nomad I represent some of their points and can see Heros emerging in my children. The Old Testament does represent cyclical history, and the ancient Israelites did understand history as a spiral. Thank you for the article and insights.

23 David July 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

Is there merit to the Strauss-Howe theory? Absolutely. I picked up The Fourth Turning a few years ago and it really struck a chord with me. We have to remember that Strauss and Howe did not present this an a precisely predictive theory. If we look at it as being somewhat fluid it is very helpful in providing some context to the experiences of our day. It is helpful to realize that society has repeatedly come through circumstances similar to this before. Of course each round of the saeculum has its own unique circumstances but we have patterns to look at and learn from.

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? Yes. I thought our nation was headed toward a crisis before I ever read the book. While this theory helped me be even more confident that a crisis was on the horizon, I have come to appreciate that the precise nature of the crisis is not something we will anticipate and may not even recognize until well after the fact. On the other hand, I am confident that we will respond to the crisis and I’m hopeful that in the process we will actually fix many of the problems that have been building through the unraveling. Not only that, but I am confident that unless our crisis becomes an actual war I and my family will survive through whatever hardships attend this Fourth Turning.

I also have to say that I really like the way you brought the issue of how manliness is viewed into the context of generational theory. It really shed some light on how our view of manliness arrived in its current state.

24 Jason July 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

One thing I wanted to point out is that today’s Hero generation has a cause just like the last Hero generation: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a momentous occasion in America’s history as this is the first Hero generation in today’s volunteer military. The right generation in the right circumstances under a dire threat. That certainly sounds like our grandparent’s generations, I’d say.

25 Matt July 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

I think that Millenial (and many Gen X) men have affinity for their Grandfather’s generation and view of masculinity because for many of us they were the most consistent and positive male role model. That’s the case for me and many of my friends – our parents were divorced and our dads moved out and moved on…

26 Thomas Beyer July 12, 2012 at 11:24 am

As far as I can tell, the theory seems to be very, almost creepily accurate about the last century or so. As a “Millenial,” for example, I see a reclamation of tradition in all its forms by my generation all the time, and with ever-increasing intensity. Especially I’ve noticed how the recent generations treat religion differently:

The G.I. Generation simply went to whatever church they had grown up in, and probably did for the rest of their lives, not really questioning much about it. Like the war, they did their duty and went home.

The Silent Generation largely followed in the footsteps of the G.I.’s, not changing much, but became ever more disillusioned with the old system.

Which prepared the way for the Boomers, who completely rejected “that old-time religion,” subverting it for something radically new. Boomers, led by the Silent Artists, were responsible for the Second Vatican Council, and similar paradigm shifts in other religions.

Generation X, then, having inherited the revolution of their parents, becomes kind of bored with the whole thing and pretty much abandons religion altogether. Or, if they retain it, it’s in the form of a non-descript, non-denominational, megachurch, which is there to serve their interests, not the other way ’round.

But Millenials are returning to the old ways, leaving their parents’ megachurches in favor of more traditional, liturgical, historical religions. In the case of the Catholic Church, we can already see the shift away from some of the more liberal and radical elements of the Second Vatican Council back to older, more tried and true ideas. Bad Catholic is a very good example of a Millenial’s religious perspective.

This is not to say that Millenials want simply to recreate the G.I.’s religion. They’ve learned from the Boomers’ Revolution that religion can’t just be about “going through the motions,” you also have to mean it. But they do understand that “meaning it” doesn’t have to mean foregoing “going through the motions” altogether.

It’s analogous to the Millenials’ view of sexuality that you explained very well. Where the G.I.’s emphasized the masculine, and the Boomers stressed the feminine, Generation X having largely ignored sexual differance at all, Millenials want to recapture sexual difference, while leaving aside the mysogeny of the G.I. Generation.

Like Hegel, the G.I. thesis of religion and sexuality (amongst other things) was reacted against violently in the Boomer antithesis. Now it’s the Millenials’ task to take the best of both views and unite them into one harmonious synthesis. And I can already see progress being made, in places like this very blog.

27 Jack July 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

Interesting! I think this helps prove that the kids currently volunteering again and again to go and fight for this country (born 1982-2004) is the next “Greatest Generation”. My problem with the book of the same title was it’s author (a man who never spent a day in uniform) summed up every story with the premise that the WWII generation were all great and today’s kids are lazy and stupid.

28 Sara Beth July 12, 2012 at 11:48 am


29 John Gardner July 12, 2012 at 11:56 am

This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I’ve read in a while. Very compelling! On a first reading, it makes a lot of sense, but I’m going to have to mull this one over for a while.

The good news is that I know what we’ll be reading and discussing next in my Tuesday morning men’s reading group!

30 Kent Sanders July 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for posting this. I first heard about Strauss and Howe back in grad school and have always been fascinated with generational theory. I LOVE this site!

31 Thomas July 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

It’s not a perfect model (no such thing as that, really), but that part about today’s Unraveling is 100% spot-on. Except that I wouldn’t call it an “unraveling.” I’d call it a series of crises that require immediate action but are deemed to be less important than the lining of one’s pockets and the approval of one’s Jacobin peers.

32 Steven and Debra July 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm

The Fourth Turning is a challenging read and you two did a great job going over the high points. We read it a number of years ago and have recommended the book to many people. Although we don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions of the authors (Strauss-Howe), we do feel the overall concept is valid.

We feel it is important to note, however, that the individual doesn’t have to feel ‘predestined’ to play out a given role based on the generation to which they belong. There can be ‘contrarians’ and ‘countertrends’ within each generational cycle allowing one, on a personal level, a means to escape the less desirable conditions, outcomes, and consequences commonly associated with a particular generation. This is, in our view, the true value of the book. It opens up an awareness of generational trends, in a rather non-judgmental manner, so the reader can better cope with the realities of the times they find themselves in. The authors accomplish this by providing the reader a better understanding of the unique paradigms held by each age group and how these paradigms evolve from one generation to the next.

33 Ben July 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I agree with this. I have tried to make myself a man who pushes to his ideals. It’s not easy, but it seems worth it, in the end. Like I was born to be a Christian knight in a society that does not seem to want fighters or people who stick to their guns no matter what. I know that being authoritarian dictators is, bad, but can’t I be the Hero father? Can’t I push forward and live my life like the hero I want to be?

34 David Y July 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for another great article Brett & Kate. This one gives us much to think about which is usually a good thing.

As you noted, these are general arche-types. Not everyone is going to fit into their generations archetype, and not always into a single archetype. For instance, I was born into the baby-boom generation, Elderhood is staring me right in the face. But, I’ve never really fit the prophet-boomer stereotype. Would say that I am closer to the artist, but even that is not an exact fit.

I hope you are right about the millenials being the next heros. They will need a lot of heroism to deal with the mess my generation is leaving them. That’s not to say that everything the Boomers have done is bad, But I think we made more than our share of mistakes.

The gen-x & millenials will need to push the Boomers off the stage though , since they will not go quietly.

35 Austin Williams July 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful posts. This was beautiful insight. Well done.

36 Alex Tomazi July 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm

This is a very interesting article, and the “millennial” group fits me almost exactly (b 1994). I have always seen my grandpa as the person in my family I want to emulate most (Army corps of engineers, a bit of a clown, and an all around “Go out there and DO” kind of guy) Even at 78 he’s out on his sizable property doing work that would exhaust my peers.

However, the part that I’m worried about is the millennia’s disinclination to spirituality. I am a praying man and I don’t like the idea of “spiritually shallow” world up ahead (though I doubt it would be as worse as the one we’re in now).

Knowing this, I’ll make it a point to keep it on my sleeve.

37 Joshua July 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I am an early Millennial and I certainly see the qualities that are described here (with a splash of Gen X since I’m near so close to it). My wife even stated that is why I sound like a grandpa when I talk about issues on morality and behavior. It also highlighted how I tend to value my grandfather and his values more than my own parents. Interesting article for sure.

38 Zyll July 12, 2012 at 1:22 pm

I am a Gen-X (40) and while I do feel the Nomad in me, I also look up to my grandfather’s generation and admire the heroes. I love reading the Founding Fathers writings. I also love the gilded age with their Victorian steam-driven, polished brass machines lit with carbide lanterns. I am a 49er at heart; I love going into the Sierras and panning for gold. I love Knott’s Berry Farm (a Lost Generation creation) far above Disneyland. I love Hitchcock movies, or anything with Cary Grant, Lawrence Olivier, or Jimmy Stewart (all in the nomad/hero crossover). Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne are on my list to explore further.

My son is definitely a Millenial. He loves anything to do with heroes: Pokemon, Power Rangers, any superheroes, and he is a promising yellow belt in Karate and a very regimented cub scout. I am having fun introducing him to Indiana Jones (my favorite Lost Generation Hero) and Jules Verne books.

Thanks and keep up the good work!

39 CoachTurner July 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm

It’s fascinating to see the mid-boomers clinging to conformism that they themselves eschewed in their youth. The issue that the Nomads and Millennials will face next is one of longevity that past archetypes didn’t see. These Boomers are living longer than any generation in history and there are a lot of them. The Greatest and the Silent are passing on now and the Greatest handed the Boomers everything in a basket. They aren’t willing to share that basket with anyone and are very protective of it.

The Nomads will have to take control away from them during this crisis phase and then hand it to the Millennials because those Boomers aren’t stepping out of the way and have amassed incredible resources and power. It’s the Gen Jones (late Boomers and early X’ers) that will have to lead out of this crisis and they can’t do it if the Boomers won’t let go of the power or purse strings. There are simply too many of them.

The result of that mix for the Millenials to inherit isn’t pretty. It’s akin to 18th century colonial America and revolutionary France. I can hear the people sing and the beating of the drums but my parent’s generation (Silent and Boomers) can’t and that’s the real problem.

40 Justin July 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

As a history and document/records professional, I can say this is quite possibly the best synopsis on the topic I have ever read. I am extremely impressed–even to the point of being moved.

41 Dan July 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Amazingly insightful and well-done post.

CoachTurner has it exactly right. The problem we’re facing is that Boomers are holding onto power longer than they should, and because of this we’re not changing and turning like we’re supposed to. Nomads are well into midlife and we should see them in more leadership positions than we do. But they’re scarce, because Boomers won’t let go, and society will be the much worse for it.

42 Moss July 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Valid point, Coach Turner. I think that the cycle, while round, is not a perfect circle. Perhaps its more akin to a spring thats larger on one end than the other. Its also interesting to think of the role that the information age plays in this as well — life is moving faster but we’re also living longer…

43 Ari July 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I just wanted to comment because this is the most fascinating thing I’ve read in a long while. I posted it to Facebook because it was so interesting, but most of my friends are adverse to reading long articles (which frustrates me because I want to talk about this!). But I loved it. It made me look at my parents’ generation, and understand them using a larger legend. And it also made me think about my generation, as a Millenial, undergoing our current crisis as young adults. Fantastic.

44 Tom July 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm

A very interesting post. I’m a post-graduate history student in the UK, looking primarily at 18th- early 20th Century British foreign policy and politics and something that has always struck me, and guided where I am going in my research, is the idea of political generations. These generations, though they are not necessarily biological generations like in this model, are defined by a specific event that shapes how they view the world, for example the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars or later the Crimean War. When they come of age to leadership roles these events can have a large impact on how they perceive the world and how they need to address the particular problems facing themselves. Given all that I will definitely check out these books!

45 Sam July 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Very interesting! Thank you for yet another addition to my list, “Books I Need to Read.” Like some other commenters, I see a lot of cohesion to this theory, but I wonder if perhaps Howe and Strauss refer in their studies to other countries’ histories? For instance, the article starts with a quote from the Illiad; can we see these archetypes and historical turnings in Greek history? I know that you referenced the Hebrew Bible as a good example to this (especially seen in Judges, if I may point that out), but I’m just wondering if this theory applies to history as a whole, rather than just Anglo-American?

Haha, sorry to ask a lot in this comment. I’m just wondering if the books bring them up or if there’s just more research to be done.

Either way, fantastic and riveting article! Thank you!

46 Patrick July 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

RE: Dan , Moss, and Coach Turner’s points, I agree. There should be younger generations in leadership positions. Nomads and gen X’ers are ready and well -seasoned with experience. They are capable of taking over the reigns. The problem is: too many boomers, not enough jobs, too many mistakes, not enough financial security. I am a millenial, and from my point of view this IS the reason why so many of us have chosen Entrepreneurship as a means to an end (financial security and peace). We see overcrowded corporate hierarchies and bureacracy written up and down the business world, so we think why even bother entering into that mess? Start fresh, start new, etc. I think we’re coming into an age of the glorified American entrepreneur very shortly. With the mess our parents left us, it seems to many of us like we have to “fend for ourselves” . Gone are the days of big-time job security, a 30 year career on a pension fund, etc. I look forward to this challenge of becoming financially secure with great hopes in my and in my generation’s entrepreneurial abilities.

47 Gavin July 12, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I also think that how we are discussing the holding of the power by the boomer may be expanding the circle, so the cycles may increase in size as our lifespans increased so each sage of our lives is longer. Also Great Post Brett, these are the posts that make me love the site,

48 Chris July 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Great article! Really helps me identify myself and my generation. Maybe if we all read this it would help shape the Hero generation better?

Also, “partner” is misspelled Life Goal graphic. #fail <- Very Millennial of me.

49 Nick July 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Wow! As a millenial most of this stuff is dead on with me. I idolize my grandfather more than my father in many ways, am concerned with financial securuty… Very ineresting topic and discussion. Keep up the good work AofM!

50 BT July 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Good discussion points and a great read. I do wonder a little about data mining aspects of the theory. All in all a great reminder that things always change and bad times don’t last forever and the future won’t be the way most expect it to be.

51 Chris D. July 12, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Thank you for this article. It was very enlightening. Born in 1981, I was at the breaking point between Gen-X and Millenial but have always found myself aligned with the Millenial mindset and looking back to the G.I.’s.

In conjunction with this article you should do a simple poll on the site to see what age group your readers fall into.

52 Ed July 12, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Wow. What a great and insightful article. I’m a Millenial myself and I find that I share similar characteristics to the Millenials described. I know that it’s only a theory but I’m really fascinated by the Strauss-Howe theory. Thanks a bunch.

53 Patrick July 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm

This is a fascinating perspective, and it, oddly, explains my love of all things from at least 60-70 years ago (though my dad, who acts more like a Hero than a Prophet, might have something to do with that as well). I intend to get these books at some point and read them.

54 Michael M July 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm

One of the best AOM pieces to date. Excellent job.

55 Michael B. July 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm

A great article! (That might be my Millenial optimism speaking) It will be interesting to see how this model holds up as time goes on. I liked some of the points made by Dan, CoachTurner, Patrick, etc. above as more food for thought. I would be interested in seeing if this cycle applies to generations in other countries (ie UK, Japan) or in what degree? Maybe countries less affected by the wars of the 20th century follow a different pattern? One more thing, there’s been talk of that “Singularity” even set for about 2045; whether you believe it or not (I’m skeptical) I wonder if this period of time might correspond with the next Awakening?
For now, it looks like I have a lot more reading to do!

56 Jade @ Tasting Grace July 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Fascinating post! And thanks so much for taking the time to summarize and illustrate the theory for us. It reminds me a lot of a theory regarding presidential leadership that argues it is likewise cyclical. Political scientist Stephen Skowronek talks about “political time,” with 4 main parts of the cycle: disjunction (when things fall apart), reconstruction (a new order arises), articulation (the new order is upheld and flourishes), and pre-emption (the current order is challenged). There’s a fairly good summary here:

Given presidents’ unique position in society as both leader and representative, it would be interesting to look at these two theories side-by-side. Both do tend to predict that we’re in nadir but will be reborn. Although in terms of predictive power, I feel it’s hard to say exactly where Bush & Obama fit until after the fact because they can be seen in a couple of different ways…so this one isn’t entirely airtight either. Nevertheless, the view of both social and political history as being cyclical is certainly attractive. Thanks to you both for the interesting post!

57 Hunter July 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I wonder if this theory holds up when applied to non-Western and/or non-dominant cultures. Is this true for people of color in America? Is this true for Eastern, Middle-Eastern, or African cultures?

58 Erickson July 13, 2012 at 12:08 am

My late grandpa Lino had always been a true inspiration to me. He always told me that history repeats itself. I’m beginning to see the truth in that now. Thanks for this great article on this generational theory.

59 Levi July 13, 2012 at 12:12 am

I’m with Chris D. I was born in 1981, technically Gen X but served during the War on Terror, and my grandfather was the strongest influence in my life. He fought in World War II, but was born in 1925, technically an Artist. (He lied about his age). I think the years are decent guidelines, but there’s probably a gray area there. Overall, this whole theory is just danged fascinating, and something I’ve never seen but kicked around in my head as a history teacher. Thanks for another home run, Brett.

60 Joelus July 13, 2012 at 12:22 am

Absolutely right. My wife and I have always felt as though we belong in the Greatest Generation. I went to Promise Keepers once with my father, and sure enough, it was a lot of weeping men in a stadium. Powerful stuff, but weepy.
I especially enjoyed the comparison between the two Spider-Men.
Interestingly, I have found myself moving from more Gen-Xy in my thoughts about manhood toward a more, “Enough angst. We’re men. Let’s get it done” sort of mentality.

Great stuff. Not looking forward to the crisis (though I happen to believe that God is especially close to those who suffer and need help). Thanks for writing this! Thoroughly enjoy the blog.

61 Terry July 13, 2012 at 12:38 am

I enjoy the articles from this web site, which are usually great and I usually nostalgically agree with what they espouse. However, this time I am in passionate disagreement as regards putting that Facebook villain Zucker-whatever-his-name-is as a hero! That individual has almost single-handedly destroyed privacy, promoted a generation of mindless, robotic teens (and even adults) constantly spewing out moronic information about their dreary little lives (and other people’s personal information as well) for everyone to see. He is no hero in my eyes, nor should he be in anyone else’s. I can’t stand that little annoying creep!

62 Ray July 13, 2012 at 12:40 am

Born in 1990, I’m a millennial, but I pose this theory: consciousness and brainwashing has changed that. I think our roles and values are manipulated from TV and the Internet. Even if given the opportunity, I can’t see my contemporaries doing anything a Hero will have to do. They have ambitious words, but are lazy, complacent, and have no moral backbone nor role models.

63 Terry July 13, 2012 at 12:43 am

Ray, I completely agree with your comment. Words and action are not the same. I, too, see a lot of talk and no action from the younger generation. However, sometimes I see it in myself, too, even though I’m not a millennial. :)

64 Ethan G. Herrell July 13, 2012 at 12:45 am

This is really spiritual/trippy stuff, but I think it’s hitting the mark in a lot of ways. As a millennial myself, I can see everywhere how my generation fits the bill of the Heroes. I myself revered by GI-born Grandfather and Uncle Joe as the kind of men that I should imitate: hard-working, plain-spoken and family-oriented. I’ve seen boys my age even cry when their grandfathers died, something that they NEVER do. A lot of them talk about “finding a girl” and settling down, or “finding the right one.” I’m starting to get into crafts and carpentry. I feel, too, that a crisis is coming, and my generation will be on the ground trying to fight out way out of it.

65 Ryan July 13, 2012 at 1:30 am

I was born in 1991 so according to this model, I’m a Millenial. The Baby Boomers had everything practically handed to them. They were the beneficiaries of a booming economy from WW2, they had the upper hand on the USSR and so on and so forth. They always talk about how us kids nowadays are rotten, spoiled, thugs, undisciplined… These people and the Generation X’ers created things like Mario, MTV, all sorts of artificial sweetners, outsourcing our jobs overseas, and the strong anti-gov’t and not wanting to serve in the military. They rebelled a lot of things and that included the draft during Vietnam. They’re living longer because of the technology in medicine so that’s why they want to hold onto the power longer.

66 Jay July 13, 2012 at 2:05 am

Wow! Now these are the articles that I wait for from this site. Very well done.

I’ve actually heard of the Strauss-Howe theory but haven’t had it explained to me in such a thorough manner.

I’m 50 (born in ’62… a Gen-X Nomad) and probably spot on with your description.

And to Ray, who doesn’t think his generation has the moral backbone or models – you haven’t been tested yet. The time will come when you will be and I, for one, am confident that you and your generation will step up to the challenge. Don’t sell yourself short.

67 Cheryl July 13, 2012 at 2:16 am

Nice blog, and very interesting post. This is my first time hearing of the Strauss-Howe theory (which seems rooted in psychology). I agree — at worst, it comes across like a horoscope chart. At best, I think it helps put into perspective the affect historical events have on us as a society; which in turn compels us to examine ourselves. How will our current state of events influence our behavior and the way we raise our children? All in all… one thing holds true. History does indeed repeat itself. Likewise, there’s nothing new is under the sun. We simply find more ways to “reinvent the wheel”.

68 Eric July 13, 2012 at 4:14 am

This month, I was originally disappointed since the only articles to pop up before this were 2 illustrations (how to fold a flag and how to shuffle cards) and a guest post concerning fitness…
After plowing through what could be the longest article I have read on artofmanliness, I completely understand the delay. A fantastic and intriguing post Brett!

69 Rahul July 13, 2012 at 4:50 am

Very thought-provoking. There is no doubt about one of the main premises ie: how much a certain generations attitudes are determined by the dominant culture and events they experience growing up. Just one thing I’d like to mention is that this analysis is dependent on a particular culture or nation which experiences particular events which are individual to that country.

Reading through the article, I got the distinct feeling that my country India is about 30 years behind the US in terms of turning of the cycles.

This leads to a further interesting thought, how is the world shaped through the interaction of different countries led by leaders holding different generational values?

70 Jason July 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

Before you fall too much in love with Strauss & Howe, note that many people feel it does not fit them. For example, between the Boomers and Gen-X, you have “Generation Jones”, which is distinct from both, and does not fit the S&H model. (Obama is Generation Jones.) The time ranges for the their model tend to be overly long, lumping groups together who have very little in common. For example, they include everyone up to 2004 in Gen Y (aka Millennials) but most other generational models switch to Gen Z after 1996. According to Strauss & Howe, someone born in 1981 and 2004 are part of the same generation. That’s simply ludicrous. Someone born in 1981 could easily have a child in 2004!

I do believe their model is accurate in its broad strokes – the pattern does follow overall – but there are more generations in the cycle than the ones they talk about. Gen Y is not the hero generation, it’s actually one of those other interstitial generations.

Remember, by the time the GI generation fought WWII, they’d grown up through a 12 year long depression. For most 18-20 year old soldiers with rifles in their hands, good times were only a distant memory. Gen Y grew up during the internet and real estate bubbles. 9/11 was a crisis, but for most it was just images on a TV. So were the wars, because we had no draft. So the crisis that really affected America’s youth didn’t start until 2008. The Hero generation actually grows up during a crisis. If 2008 is our 1929, the next Greatest Generation will go through high school sometime in the 10-12 years following it. That’s mostly going to be the Gen-Z kids, born 1996+.

This actually does fit the pattern, as prior to the GI Generation, you had a generation of kids who grew up during the boom time of the Roaring ’20s. Strauss & Howe don’t have a name for them (lumping them in with the GI Generation) but they had a very different upbringing than the Depression Generation, and played a different role in WWII. (They were too old to do much fighting, and ended up mostly just paying taxes to support the war effort.) I call them the “George Bailey Generation”, as they’re the same age as the Jimmy Stewart character in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Gen Y, raised during the twin bubbles, is a re-run of the generation raised during the stock bubble of the 1920s. Gen Z, raised in the post-2008 recession, is a re-run of the generation raised during the Great Depression, and that is the generation that became the Hero GIs.

71 Cameron July 13, 2012 at 10:45 am

I really appreciated this article. My wife and I stayed up last night to read through it and see how it applies. We both loved it. Keep up the good work McKay’s.

72 Dominick July 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

Though, as you say, this theory not the gospel by any stretch, it is nonetheless very refreshing and insightful. I think a lot of men in the millennial generation, myself included, wonder where they fit into history and how we will leave our mark. In this seemingly cynical, hyper-technological society, living for grand ideals and finding opportunities for heroism seem to be things from a bygone era. Maybe they aren’t. I’m interested to see how our generation plays out.

73 Adam July 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

As a long time fan of Strauss-Howe generational theory, I must say that I am impressed at this post. Yet another reason why this blog is well worth the visit!

74 J. Delancy July 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Not to get all racial (racist) but this theory only seems new in the Western mind. The idea can be seen in Hinduism, Judaism, the lessons from some tribes of Native Americans and the Mayans (2012! *scream*). A sociological theory that spans multiple generations will be almost impossible to prove, but it explains so much about how I and my friends behave.
I’m an X (1967) and see that some of my ideas are being shaped by forces not under my control.
As far as manhood goes, I tell my peers and the Millenials, “First, you have to be a man for yourself.” This means define what you will do, define what you won’t do and live by the standards you set. As this post says, “Liberty, Survival, Honor.” all have to be worked on at the individual level.

P.S. Jack Donovan is one angry S.O.B. I hope my blog never sounds like his.

75 Jacob July 14, 2012 at 1:25 am

This article was fascinating. I’m not totally sure that I think the theory is correct, but it was definitely interesting to read about.
I’m a millennial and everything you described about us really rings true to me.
Really great read!

76 Danny Zawacki July 14, 2012 at 4:39 am

I think this article alone, by sheer length, proves that this blog is in no way reminiscent of men’s magazines of the 80s and 90s.

This was a great post and I think I learned a quite a bit. It feels like it was the perfect amount of the important points to take into consideration.

Thanks for this.

77 JS July 14, 2012 at 6:33 am

Interesting article — the cyclical nature of generations and attitudes make sense. But I have a hard time seeing how every generational cycle and turning/cultural cycle are cleanly syncopated across all regions, geographies, subcultures, or even dominant culture. There’s definitely something there, but I don’t agree that the patterns converge or are predictable. For one, the archetypes you include are not granular enough and I thing they have different behaviors in different subcultures.

Regardless, nice read. Thanks!

78 logan July 14, 2012 at 6:40 am

I was born (1991) and I think being in the hero generation means being a leader and calls for doing things differently, isn’t that what makes leaders/heroes of that generation? doing whats right for the times and working with your surroundings. maybe that’s why people of older generations don’t see the signs yet, I think of it more, like, were stepped back a little watching until were needed.

79 Lindsay July 14, 2012 at 9:04 am

This is absolutely fascinating. You should be writing a textbook, not a blog. But for publicity’s sake (and my own selfishness), keep writing the blog!

80 John July 14, 2012 at 9:10 am

I was just wondering if anyone knows the translation used for the quote from the Iliad at the start? I’m going crazy trying to work it out using Google.

81 caleb July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am

i have seen a lot of 20-somethings trying really hard to get out of debt and live within their means. could be the start of solving the current crises.

82 Ron July 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

I find the theory interesting and parts of it plausible but at the same time too forced as a structure to understanding history. As a historian I understand and appreciate the need to categorize and define historical eras but how does this theory hold up when applied to other cultures? Would one come to the same conclusions when applied to Mexico, India or China? All too often we as Americans get tunnel vision and to understand history we must see the whole world. Perspective is everything! Thank you for shedding some light on this theory. It gives us something to contemplate and the need to seek out and read other theories of history.

83 DJ July 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Very interesting essay. As someone born in 1979, I can definitely see both the Gen-X and millennial qualities in myself and my peers. I think the rise of mixed martial arts as a popular pastime is a result of this gray area between generations. While Gen-Xers relish the ubermensch idea, many are minimally equipped to actually to withstand the violence that’s at the core of the concept of masculinity. Yet, a growing number of young men roughly between the ages of 20 and 34 are literally training to be as dangerous as possible, but are some of the most humble, dedicated people you’ll meet. For the guys who idolize Fight Club but never actually got bloody, these young men are the perfect foot soldiers.

84 Christopher Poole July 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I am a millennial, and I despise baby boomers and everything they have done.

85 Josh July 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I was born in 1991 and I can’t tell you how much of this rings true from what I’ve observed. My parents are boomers (my mom being a half-breed born in ’62) and my sister (10 years older) from Gen X. I despise the ideals of my parents and love anything to do with the stories and people of WWII, as well as movies of the 20s-50s. I like the music of 80s hair metal bands and 90s punk rock bands but have never approved of their gender neutral appearances (think Brett Michaels and Green Day). While I despise social obsession with heroes (particularly religious ones) this could very well be a distaste for my parents’ heroes because I am a very big fan of John Wayne, Bob Marley and any movie with the “One man. One mission.” Type of movies. Any time my hiking backpack or favorite pair of jeans gets torn I can approach any number of my same-age girl friends and they will gladly sew it up for me. All of girlfriends in high school and college thus far have been good and cooking and sewing and have admitted that the notion of chasing a career sounds daunting and that they’d be surprisingly content with being an (educated) housewife. Lots of my male friends from high school have gone into the military or police force (although note I am from Texas). While most of those friends do not share my interest in older cinema, we all share an interest in being a strong man who shuts up and gets shit done”. Other great examples of the hero mindset returning to cinema are with the increasing number of war focused movies with fable-worthy heroes in them (from Act of Valor all the way to Transformers and the army rangers in the series) Dress UP fridays are becoming popular, guys where suits and top hats fit for their grandpas to class just because they want to. Even my most feministic girlfriend had a little black dress and a summer dress. Me and that same girlfriend waited to share our ‘first time’ until we were 20 just to make sure it was someone we wanted to share it with. I can personally attest to the huge number of guys my age interested in old fashioned skills and finding a hot rod to turn wrenches on on weekends. Interest in survival skills is what first drew me to AoM. there are of course outliers, some of my friends my age seem to better fit in with the GenX type (mostly my gay friends but I’m not sure whether sexual orientation should play a part in that..) and I feel like the great majority of people I know born ’94+ fit more as Artists that Heroes. But perhaps that’s simply because they’re still in and coming out of their teens. So for what its worth, I would like to submit myself as a firsthand example of this cycle ringing true as well as 30 or so friends as second hand examples.

86 Logan July 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm


87 Patrick July 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

@Josh I am born in 1992 and I can really agree with you in this case. I think my generation wishes more simplicity in their lives like “back in the days”, when there were the more simple but fulfillig tasks to get done.People can relate to these things by taking over the ways of their grandparents.

Anyway articles like this make me visit AoM atleast twice a week. Please keep up the good work while i spread the word of this page in germany

88 Nik Rice July 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

This is very thought-provoking stuff.
I, like Kate McKay, am born on the cusp of Nomad/Hero life. I find myself swaying between them.

My question is what of the millennials who have no courage? The ones who we need to fight who have no ambition to do so? I see a lot of that in our youth.

89 Nik Rice July 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

And with the rise of a “global community,” and hero’s communal traits, will our millennial youth stay a global community?

Is protecting America going to be the focus for these “heroes”?

90 T July 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Great post and great blog! My depression era “Artist” grandpa was very influential on me growing up, and I believe really shaped the worldview which I hold today. I am a Millennial and have always been fascinated by and felt a kinship with the G.I. generation. My grandpa gave the book Fourth Turning around 2000, and I quickly devoured it, always wondering what my location in history might hold for our country and my life specifically. It appears as though the Crisis has begun to unfold, and I hope and pray our generation has the grit and determination to do the nation proud as the G.I. generation who came before us. Anyway, great information, and I couldn’t agree with the sentiment more. Thanks!

91 Tanya July 17, 2012 at 10:00 am

SO glad I took the time to thoroughly read this post!! What a fascinating theory on the cycling of generations and the resulting sociological positioning of identity! I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write this. I’ve been convinced for some time that the rise and fall of aspects of society (and sometimes the societies themselves) is largely due to these sorts of shifts but didn’t have anymore than my layman’s observations to source from. Great article!

92 Ed Y. July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

This was a really interesting read. Thanks for putting it together.

93 Patrick July 17, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Interesting article. The deeper I got into the article the more I thought about the barnum or forer effect. The “In Conclusion” section addressed my initial thoughts reading through.

94 Nick July 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Millennial generation man here. Born in 1990. I completely agree with this theory. To me it makes a lot of sense. I am in the USMC and it gives me a lot of hope that things will better on the flip side of the fourth turning. (I also find it amusing that I am told that I come off a lot more mature for my age [22] than the generations before me.) I also look up to my grandparents with utmost respect and feel more like they were than anybody else. My grandfather was a WW2 Vet.

95 JJ July 18, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Fantastic read, but I couldn’t get through all of it at lunch….

I love how words can make you form a preconceived notion about who fits in what category. Jon Stewart a Nomad? Patton a Nomad? But when you look at how the word is being used, it makes more sense.

Thanks for all the work on this McKays!

96 Mike July 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Long, but worth the read! Really interesting stuff on millenials – totally agree 100%.

97 Brad July 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Another great article. I had to read it twice and think I shall go back for read number three right now.

98 James July 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

It took three days and four times through to fully duplicate this theory and I find that we are at the most pivotal point in my life. As a fifty-six year old man, I have lived among three of the four turnings and as I review my life, my parents and grandparents, I see more than just coincidences throughout these generations.
What stands out most though is the fact that we had a Socialist leaning president during the last fourth turning and we are saddled with bone crushing debt trying to pay for social programs. This should be an indication to us all as to what the next century will be like for this country if we fail to put patriotism above selfish interests. If this theory is right,the next ten to twelve years will set the direction of this country for a century. Are we going to double down on Socialism or raise ourselves up by our boot straps and return to the ideals of the Founders?

99 Paul July 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

For those who think that the millennials can’t be the next heros, check this vid: As they are just now becoming influential they are even already starting to build a better tomorrow by calling each other out to step up. How will you respond?

100 Eddie in INDY July 21, 2012 at 9:52 am


This would be an EXCELLENT synopsis for a dissertation and oral defense for a Doctorate. You have a great sense of writing and I would encourage you to continue on commenting on the state of man and knowing our past.

Simply an excellent post in every regard.

Eddie in INDY

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