While studying history back in the 1990s, Neil Howe and the late William Strauss noticed something: there seemed to be a pattern to history that repeated itself again and again. Howe and Strauss developed a theory that history moves in 80-100-year cycles divided into four 20-25-year “turnings”: the High, Awakening, Unraveling, and Crisis.
Neil Howe argues that we are currently living through a Fourth Turning, and today on the show, we unpack what that means. Neil is a historian, demographer, and economist, and his latest book is The Fourth Turning Is Here. The crisis of the Fourth Turning isn’t a historical event — it’s a generation-long era that sometimes seems to be getting better, sometimes seems to be getting worse, and moves through several phases before reaching a climax and resolution. Neil explains what these phases look like, which ones we’ve already been through and which are still to come, and when he thinks our Fourth Turning will end and the cycle of history will start over. In the second part of our conversation, Neil talks about what cultural changes he thinks we’ll experience as the Fourth Turning progresses, including how he thinks gender roles will shift. We also discuss what happens if the crisis ends in disaster, and the most important thing to do to successfully navigate a Fourth Turning.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM article: The Generations of Men — How the Cycles of History Shape Your Values and Your Future
- Neil’s last appearance on the show: Episode #256
Connect With Neil Howe
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. While studying history back in the 1990s, Neil Howe and the late William Strauss noticed something. There seemed to be a pattern to history that repeated itself again and again. Howe and Straus developed a theory that history moves in 80-100 year cycles divided into four 20-25 year turnings, the high, awakening, unraveling and crisis. Neil Howe argues that we are currently living through a Fourth Turning. And today on the show we unpack what that means. Neil is a historian, demographer and economist, and his latest book is The Fourth Turning is here. The Crisis of the Fourth Turning isn’t a historical event, it’s a generation long era that sometimes seems to be getting better, sometimes seems to be getting worse, and moves through several phases before reaching a Climax and Resolution.
Neil explains what these phases look like, which ones we’ve already been through, and which are still to come, and when he thinks our Fourth Turning will end and the cycle of history will start over. In the second part of our conversation, Neil talks about what cultural changes he thinks we’ll experience as the Fourth Turning progresses, including how he thinks gender roles will shift. We also discuss what happens if the crisis ends in disaster, and the most important thing to do to successfully navigate a Fourth Turning. After the show is over, check out our show notes @aom.is/Fourth Turning.
Alright, Neil Howe, welcome back to the show.
Neil Howe: Great to be here, Brett.
Brett McKay: So back in the ’90s, you and William Strauss developed this generational cyclical theory of history and you got a new book out that is sort of a summary and synthesis of all your previous work. It’s called The Fourth Turning is here, and we had you on the show back in 2016 to talk about that work. We also wrote an article back in 2012 that I think offers a really accessible overview of your theory, but for those listeners who aren’t familiar with your cyclical theory of history, I’ll try to kick things off with a thumbnail sketch of it. So basically you say that history repeats itself in a certain pattern. There’s this 80-100 year cycle that repeats itself. You call it a Saeculum. And that Saeculum is divided into four periods or turnings which can be compared to the seasons of the year. And each turning is 20-25 years long.
And I think it’s really easiest to help people understand this, to look at the last turning in a cycle, right? It’s first, the Fourth Turning, which is sort of like the historical winter. The Fourth Turning is a crisis period. A country faces some big threat. It’s often a war. Our last Fourth Turning started with the Great Depression and ended with World War II, and then the cycle starts over again with the first turning, which is a high period like spring. In the first turning, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. It’s kind of conformist, but people are able to work together and get big things done. And our last first turning was after World War II during the late ’40s and into the early ’60s. The second turning is a time of spiritual awakening. This is the summer season in history. People start getting tired of the conformity of the first turning, and there’s more emphasis on individualism and the inner life.
And this was in the mid 1960s to the mid ’80s. And then there’s the third turning, which is like fall. This is a period of unraveling when the individualism of the second turning kind of catches up with society and trust in institutions bottoms out and societal systems become dysfunctional. People are divided and they can’t get things done. Things just feel really worn out. And this was from the mid ’80s to the mid ’00s. And then the crisis happens again, and we’re back to the Fourth Turning. So that’s it. And then there’s also four generational archetypes that are part of this 80-year cycle that are really interesting and they repeat themselves too. But we’re gonna concentrate on the turnings today, particularly the turning you say we are in now, which is the Fourth Turning. So let’s talk about this current Fourth Turning. ‘Cause a lot of people look around at the news, they’re looking at their social media feeds, and it just seems like everything is falling apart and nothing works and that we’re on the verge of just something… Feels like something bad is gonna happen.
So let’s dig into to this Fourth Turning and what you talk about in the book, in this current crisis that we’re in. One of the things about Fourth Turning is that they have their own chronology as well. There’s these phases that we go through that you’ve noticed throughout history. So what are the different phases of a Fourth Turning? And maybe it might be helpful to use the previous Fourth Turning, right? The World War II great depression crisis as a way to walk people through these phases.
Neil Howe: Yeah, I point out a number of these phases, and these always occur in a certain order, although they can occur at any time during the crisis era. And remember, the crisis is not an event, it’s an era, right? It’s a whole generation long period of time. And so there can be many crises I guess so to speak. Many, many great dire events within a Fourth Turning era. So typically the first thing you notice is, is that sometime during the unraveling, there’s what we usually call a precursor event. Not always, but usually. And this is event, which sort of foreshadows the Fourth Turning to come. It’s sort of its indicator of a sudden mood of public mobilization and urgency about some great danger, right? And the country rallies briefly, but only briefly. And then it kind of goes back into its third turning mood of sort of lassitude, individualism sort of on we and kind of waiting.
And for the Great Depression, World War II, this was World War I, which kind of appeared out of nowhere, right? And typically these periods do, these events, these precursors. You kind of have in the middle of an unraveling era, which was certainly that era at the very early 20th century was a period of a lot of individualism, a lot of aimlessness. And suddenly at World War I kind of come out of nowhere. Everyone just thought, “Well, we had detained this permanent period of peace kind of came outta nowhere.” And I think the similar parallel recently was 9/11, which kind of again came outta nowhere. I think shocked everyone. Remember the big book that was so influential over that 1990s decade, which was Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End Of History. Government was sort of fading away, markets were taking over, globalization was everywhere. Where did this come from, right?
So and these happened periodically, we gone talk about earlier ones in history. And then eventually the generations kind of mature. You get into the correct alignment and we sort of have a catalyst where we actually enter the Fourth Turning. And for the Great Depression World War II, that was Black Thursday in 1929. That was the great crash. And more recently, that was August of September 2007 and then even more the fall of 2008, where we really entered, in fact, the stock market was plunging at the time of the… I don’t know if you recall this, but the time of the Obama-McCain debates. During that presidential election, if you recall, the major banking houses were beginning to go under and so forth. And suddenly we had to declare a national emergency and run these enormous deficits and guarantee bailout hundreds of businesses.
So that was that event, that was the catalyst event. And every Fourth Turning has a catalyst. For the American Revolution it was the Tea Party, Boston Tea Party. And the American Civil War it was the election of Lincoln. And going further back, the whole period of the glorious revolution and the wars in Virginia and New England, it was probably the massive violence that started Bacon’s Rebellion and King Phillips War. This was in 1675, and it really initiated that quarter century of rebellion and revolution during the American colonial period. And again, you can go back. Now, typically as you move forward, it sort of awakens everyone, right? That they’re in a new mood. And typically as we go forward, you encounter these periods we call Regenesis. When the public mood begins to regenerate after a long period of sort of… Well, this, this is worse than anything, right?
I mean, we’re now in this crisis. We don’t know what to do. We’re completely unprepared for this. And then finally, you begin to regenerate a sense of new public direction, a new sense of public mobilization. And we begin to rally around certain kinds of communities, around some new agenda. And everyone becomes more interested in the public, in the nation and where things are going. And certainly in the Great Depression that happened with the election of FDR some years into the Great Depression, we finally had FDR and The New Deal, First New Deal, Second New Deal, who was reelected in a landslide in 1936. And I think you’d have to say that in our current Fourth Turning, the Regeneracy was really the election of 2016 with Trump versus Hillary Clinton. And what that did was it suddenly changed America’s involvement in politics.
One of the greatest things we worried about, throughout the ’80s and ’90s and going into the ’00s and so on was the fact that no… Americans didn’t care about politics anymore. Well, in the election of 2016, suddenly American participation in voting hugely shot up. And again in 2018 and 2020, we’ve seen the highest voter participation rates in a century in these elections. And suddenly America becomes completely galvanized around these big political tribes we see today, right? Red Zone and Blue Zone. And in recent years, we see worries about Civil War, we see worries about civil crack up. And I think this is scary to people. We may feel pretty good about our own lives in a sense and how things are working in our families and so on. But we wonder if there’s this tremendous vacuum, complete lack of leadership at the national level, sometimes whether we’re leaderless or sometimes whether we’re breaking up into two separate national communities.
And this is a very common feeling. I think that a lot of people felt that way during the 1930s. Certainly people literally felt that way during the Civil War, and people felt that way during this 1770s and ’80s, so. And we go on from there. Basically what that leads to is a period of creative destruction of the public sector, often in the midst of organized conflict. And that takes us into the last phases of the Fourth Turning, which is the Consolidation and possibly further Regeneracy. But ultimately into a Consolidation, a Climax and a Resolution. And very often that’s could be a large, when I talk about organized conflict, of course, we’re often talking about war. And typically in Fourth Turning, these have been negotiated or carried out during periods of total war. Every Fourth Turning in Anglo-American history, going back six, seven centuries has featured at least one episode of total war. And every total war has occurred in a Fourth Turning.
Brett McKay: Okay. So lot to recap there. There’s a lot to unpack there. Okay. So the four phases, there’s a precursor that happens in the Third Turning, the unraveling. It’s an emergency that temporarily galvanizes a society. So if you look at the depression era crisis, that was World War I. And then today you’re saying the 9/11 attack was one that temporarily galvanized us. I think everyone remembers after what happened, 9/11 and we got, everyone was all for going back and trying to get back at the Taliban, right? I think people remember that period. If you were alive then.
Neil Howe: Yeah. And for a brief period of time, everyone felt patriotic, there’s this tremendous galvanism. World War I was very much the same. And by the way, the memory of both instantly became very bad afterwards.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Neil Howe: I think it was Robert Kagan who once said that, we all recall after the Afghanistan and Iraq War, the whole mantra, “Bush lied, people died,” right? But I think it was Kagan who said that after World War I, the Mantra was, Wilson lied, people died.
Brett McKay: Right.
Neil Howe: I mean, it was sort of the same thing. Suddenly we wanted to turn our back and in response to both of them, we became a more isolationist nation and wanted to turn ourselves away from these global obligations that seemed to have gone awry.
Brett McKay: Okay. Then after the precursor, there’s a catalyst, which kickstarts the actual crisis period. The Fourth Turning for The Depression World War II era. That was Black Thursday, the stock market crash. And for us, that was the… You are saying about 2008 is when the Fourth Turning started for us. That’s…
Neil Howe: Yeah, the fall of 2008 was when it really went crazy.
Brett McKay: Right. With the great financial crash that we had then. But then after the catalyst, people are feeling everything is kind of run amuck. So people start trying to reunify community and regenerize civic life with a Regeneracy. And this Regeneracy, you hear Regeneracy, that… It sounds positive. It sounds like Regeneracy can be… It’s going to be a lot of conflicts. What’s happening is like our culture is trying to figure out how we’re going to solve this crisis era that we’re in. So in the depression, as you said, the Regeneracy there was FDR being elected and him implementing all the new deal legislation. But I think people forget that was very controversial. There was a lot of debate in our country.
Neil Howe: And in fact, it was the equivalent of Red Zone, Blue Zone today. Remember that the popular front and the new deal supporters thought about the 1930s as the fascist decade. So they were already fighting the good fight against the rise of fascism around the world, whether it was the Spanish Civil War or the Japanese invading China and the rise of Hitler and so on. But to conservatives, it was the red decade, right? So you have these two completely different interpretations. And many Americans not even wanting to talk to each other during that period, a very divisive period in our history. And it’s kind of astounding when you think about that, that given this schism in the way people in sort of the high income world. The West was interpreting the events of the ’30s that ultimately the nation was able to galvanize around a single objective, which was to defeat fascism. And this is a point I make throughout the book, that the conflict that characterizes the Climax could be mainly internal or it could be mainly external, right? It could be the nation against external enemies.
And it can be anywhere along the spectrum of that. But the nature of that cannot be determined in advance. You would have no way of knowing in the mid ’30s or even the late ’30s that America wouldn’t go to civil war before it would ever galvanize together to defend the world against authoritarian aggressors. And I think that that’s a repeated theme that I come back to. Some things are predictable, some things aren’t. What is predictable is the searching for a new definition of community. What’s unpredictable is what form that’s going to take.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Okay. So you say our current Regeneracy was the 2016, 2018, 2020 elections where people in America are suddenly interested in public life again after…
Neil Howe: Yeah. That was the first Regeneracy.
Brett McKay: Okay. There could be another one.
Neil Howe: Which really started in 2016. The Republican party went populist. The Democratic party in many ways went the other way and Trump was elected and the Democrats kind of an extraordinary move declared that they were in resistance. You remember there’s the resistance kind of again, taking from the 1930s, right? They were going to be the resistance party. Like an enemy army was occupying Washington. So Trump and all the Republicans were suddenly these occupying invaders. And then of course, you had multiple impeachment attempts [chuckle] and trials and just unprecedented things in American history. And then finally Trump losing the election and trying a push to retake the Capitol Hill extraordinary events in the midst of a global pandemic, which of course this nation managed very badly. And I say this as a demographer. I mean, [chuckle] I know the figures. We did not manage it very well, right? In terms of deaths.
And so this combination of galvanizing people who think that politics is extremely important together with this continued demoralization of the fact that nothing works, right? And the nation remains leaderless. Now there could be another Regeneracy. And in fact, many of our Fourth Turning have more than one Regeneracy. The first Regeneracy in the 1930s was obviously the enthusiasm around FDR and obviously the kind of galvanizing of the Republicans to oppose him. But then what happened in the late 1930s was the enthusiasm around FDR sort of declined particularly after 1936. We went into another big recession, the recession of ’37, ’38, horrible recession.
And it made most people convinced that by 1939, 1940, we were still in the Great Depression. The New Deal hadn’t really worked. And what happened at that time was the constituencies shifted, and mainly the New Deal shifted away from some of its reforms, which would have imposed themselves on the South. And the South in turn came on board. Not on FDR’s domestic agenda, but came on board FDR’s foreign policy agenda, which tended to be in favor of an active foreign policy abroad to prevent the rise of fascism. And it was really around that refashioned constituency defining the two sides that we finally went to war and were ready to go to war. Really, about a year before Pearl Harbor, the nation began arming again at a frantic rate. Really in the spring or even at the very beginning of 1941, we were already running huge deficits on the way galvanizing the economy to sort of re-arm. And We had already reintroduced the draft and so on. And then, of course, came Pearl Harbor, and that just simply galvanized. That’s when we went into what I call the Consolidation, the time when we are aware that the fate of the country is at stake. And I think extraordinary public mobilization is required and every Fourth Turning enters that phase.
Brett McKay: Okay. So in a Fourth Turning, you first have a catalyst. And in this Fourth Turning, you’re saying that was the 2008 financial crisis. Then you have a Regeneracy and this is where the public gets energized to try to figure out how to solve the country’s problems. And that was the huge surge in political interest that we’ve experienced since the 2016 election. Then there’s a Consolidation and that’s when people sense that there’s a real threat facing it. And there needs to be a public mobilization towards solidarity to overcome it. And then that leads into the Climax. And I think a lot of people thought the Consolidation was gonna happen during the pandemic, right? At first, it seemed people like we’re going to come together, but then it became very politicized and then it just divided people even more. You say that’s not surprising because you never know how these things are gonna play out and when the time is ripe for one phase of the Fourth Turning to segue to the next. So we’re due an event that brings a Consolidation. And I think if people think about things that could possibly consolidate this crisis, there’s stuff going on in Ukraine, there’s things going on in the Pacific with China. So wars have typically been parts of the Fourth Turning. Any other things that could be like the Consolidation of this crisis besides these great power wars that we’ve had in previous Turnings?
Neil Howe: Well, again, it’s external or internal. So the other one is the internal threat, right? What if there were a kind of a catastrophic impeachment or the absolute refusal of the two parties to cooperate any longer in Congress? Or what if certain states simply decided to refuse to go along with something that was legislated at the national level? Well, what would be the reaction? And it’s interesting. I do a lot of work for the military. I’ve advised them on recruiting millennials and inviting, looking at millennials, both for the army and the Navy and the Marine Corps. And I’ve had officers, high level people ask me, when things have been breaking out in some of the West Coast states, “What do we do if California suddenly decides to not follow federal authority?” We’ve got huge bases in Coronado and various other places. And as I hear those complaints more than once, it takes me right back to Fort Sumter. But these issues recur and initially you don’t know how it’s gonna end.
Brett McKay: So could be great war with another power, could be a civil breakup or civil crisis. Also, it could be another, say just another financial crash, like something just even bigger happens than the great recession.
Neil Howe: Yes. And that’s kind of what I do in my day job, we talk a lot about that and looking forward right now, we’re trying to do this great disinflation without going through another recession. And I think Americans have been relieved to the extent that which we’ve been able to get this far, but the economy is still chugging ahead. But then again as an economist, when I look at all the long-term indicators of going into another recession, they’re all flashing red. You know what I mean? Everything from the money supply to the yield curve to national income, sort of exceeding our full employment equilibrium. And all of these long-term indicators are indicating we’re going back into recession land again. And each one of these ratchets up the tension, right?
I mean, I think about a generation of children, born since the early ’00s, who just can’t even remember a time when America was not either in a recession, going into recession, or worried about going back into recession, right? So this is a time of sort of hunkered down, constricted horizons of hope in terms of living standards, particularly catastrophic for younger generations today. And I will say that younger generations are the most negative about democracy, which they see not just in America, but around the world. Younger generations see democracy as a way of ensuring stasis, talking about everything, but always inventing some procedure for making sure that change never happens.
Brett McKay: Okay. So there’s the Consolidation. And after the Consolidation is the Climax. What was the Climax in World War II depression crisis?
Neil Howe: The Climax was really the simultaneous invasion of Europe on D-Day in June of 1944. And the invasion of the Mariana Island chain and the battle of the Japanese Sea and at the same time in June of 1944, it was amazing. We’re actually organizing simultaneous invasions in two different oceans and both of them ended up as victories. About six weeks later, we were breaking out in Northern France and we had completely defeated the battle of the Japanese Sea. We had absolutely decisive defeat over the Japanese Navy. And that was really the Climax. That’s when we knew that the end of the war was a matter of time. And that’s the Climax. The Climax is when you can start really to see the end.
Brett McKay: And you’ve said the Climax for this Fourth Turning is on schedule for around 2030. Is that right?
Neil Howe: Yeah. Something like that.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Neil Howe: It’s going to occur sometime probably it’s around the edge of and the end of the decade. And then again, there’s an estimate, I mean, my God, this is not, I’m predicting tides here. We’re not predicting when the individual waves are gonna break. Right? So we’re kind of doing bands of dates…
Brett McKay: Sure.
Neil Howe: But I do think if there was any single moment, which was most likely it would be sometime right around the very end of the decade.
Brett McKay: And after the Climax comes the Resolution, and this is where you have, you separate the winners from the losers, treaties are drawn up, national boundaries are redrawn, political parties are redefined, and the saeculum comes to an end. And you think our Fourth Turning that we’re in right now will end in the early to mid 2030s. We’re going to gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. So you also talk about with these Fourth Turning, like the mood and how society starts organizing itself starts changing. Are you seeing that right now in the current crisis?
Neil Howe: Well, I think we see the great desire to move back toward community, just a greater sense of community, which is a desire, which is embodied really in, I’d say even less the political agenda, but more even just the lifestyle of the millennial generation. Being that if you ask people, what should government do? Should government reinforce the principle of individualism or should reinforce the principle of community in American life today? People under 40 today overwhelmingly say community. And people over 40 tend to say, well, individualism, right? But we’ve never seen that degree of sort of inversion and difference. And again, to come back to sort of archetypal difference, that’s sort of the opposite of what you would’ve seen back in the 1970s, or probably would have been inverted. Had we asked that question, would have been inverted the opposite direction.
And so that movement toward community, which by the end of the Fourth Turning will be a sort of culminating event is accompanied by other changes. One is a movement toward greater equality that happens in every Fourth Turning and subsequent First Turning, income and wealth become more equal. Another is toward the movement from defiance toward authority, institutions which govern life with greater authority than before the crisis. I think another we talk about is the movement toward deferring long-term decisions, toward instituting powerful long-term institutions, which actually invest in the future rather than borrow from the future.
So a movement toward deferring long-term decisions to making long-term decisions and actually moving resources from the present toward the future. And one of the great ironies about Fourth Turning in American history is that even at the time when the country feels endangered and in urgent peril of its existence is exactly the time when we construct these amazing long-term institutions. I mean, it was when the country felt like it was baking to pieces in the 1780s that we wrote this very powerful American constitution, right? Which we’ve sort of venerated ever since as this building blocks of sort of the American form of government. It was during the civil war when we instituted for the first time a national income tax, a national monetary system. We legislated the intercontinental railway state colleges and a state educational system, nationalized weights and measures.
We just did all this stuff, right? At a time when even Washington was under fear of attack. And think of all the things we did during the New Deal, long-term decisions. The social security act of 1935, which most of the legislation is planning was done in 1934, which is the cornerstone of the modern social welfare system in America today not just pension programs, but also all of the state federal programs like TANF and SSI and all those programs that are sort of the bedrock of social insurance in America today, unemployment insurance and all the rest. We legislated them, Brad, at a time when GDP was in Freefall. Unemployment was near 20%. We had no idea how long this country was going to stay around.
Countries in Europe were falling to fascism. This was the darkest period you can imagine. No one knew what was going to happen for the next couple of years back then, right? When FDR took over in the spring of 33, the banks had closed in about half the states. Even the markets had closed down for about two weeks before his inauguration. This was a nation in total panic, and much of the world was in panic. And yet, that was the time when we were planning these long-term changes. We were doing these massive new regulatory edifice, which remained in place for the next seven or eight decades. And I guess my point is, this is kind of paradoxical, isn’t it? You’d think that we would design these long-term institutions on sunny days when we all feel great. We can have plenty of time to think about it.
That’s not how history works. And it’s fascinating to me that usually when times are great, we don’t do anything for the future. When times are down, at times of crisis, is when we think about the future. And finally, I talk about a transformation of our culture from a culture of irony to a culture of convention. And I think there is a sense of exhaustion in the culture today. And I do think there’s a sense of people looking for something new. But it’s out of the, again, out of the stress and urgency of crisis, that culture moves back to a certain kind of simplicity, almost necessarily toward that, and simply clarifies basic fundamentals.
Brett McKay: People become more earnest.
Neil Howe: That’s happened in every crisis.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You also talk about how just our culture will change because of how the generations are lining up in this crisis cycle. And one thing you’ve noted throughout all your books is that in a crisis period, gender roles become more distinct and separate, particularly in a Fourth Turning. But I was curious, today you’re seeing a lot of this gender fluidity in our culture today. What do you think is going on there? How do you square the gender fluidity that we’re seeing with this idea that you’ve seen in other Fourth Turning where gender roles become more distinct and separate?
I think we’re seeing gender fluidity, but we’re also seeing a certain kind of gender role exhaustion, right? In that when gender can mean anything, then people begin to insist that, well, it must mean something, right? I don’t see a lot of, a tremendous amount of passion about the limitations of gender roles as there was 40 years ago, and in fact, I see a lot of young people just wondering how they could make their lives work more simply again, through roles that just make everyone’s life easier. Right? I see a lot of that. Not really having to do with my wanting to express myself more fully, because I want sort of a different kind of gender role that’s suited for me personally, but rather how can we make basic roles work so that we can all just get stuff done again, right? And just live more peacefully. There’s, I think there’s a tremendous sense of exhaustion when it comes to having to think about gender roles all the time.
Brett McKay: I think the last time we had you on, we talked about the male, female dynamic. Your hunch was that you were noticing with women, millennial women in particular, was that they were looking for more of a traditional kind of guy, I think is what you were saying. They were looking for a guy who was stepped up the plate, who was, wanted to do well with his life, and you thought that was sort of an indicator that we’re transitioning to this more Fourth Turning type gender relation. Does that sound right?
Neil Howe: I think that’s right and I think that what women want usually is followed with a lag by what men become. I really do believe that. And it’s interesting if you look at the National Values survey where they actually ask questions about what do you think is wrong with people? And one of the questions they used to ask is, I wish men were more likely to be less workaholic and talk more about their feelings, loosen up and sort of mellow out, right? You found a very positive response in questions taken when boomers were young adults and moving into midlife back in the 1970s and ’80s and ’90s, right? And it’s really changed. Those questions are now getting much more negative responses, particularly by women, [chuckle] who don’t particularly want that, right? What they want is, because you can imagine with the silent generation, with boomers, you had all these workaholics and so on, and everyone said, why don’t you lighten up? You don’t need to work so hard just to… Just be a real person, right?
But I think now with millennials, it’s more, and you know this, you know this from so many surveys. Women want guys who will be there for them, who will provide them with security, who are in control of their lives, and who actually want to do something with their lives and in the community and actually be something. So they’ll provide them with some security. And that is one of the reasons why marriage rates are down and fertility is down so much. And a lot of it is because it’s true. Some of it is because married couples today, young married couples don’t feel they can afford to do as much, but a lot of it is that women just don’t find guys that they can depend upon, single biggest complaint.
And it’s the bigger complaint as you go down this socio-economic scale, right? And so for the first time, now this actually kind of switched over about 10 or 15 years ago, but for a long time back in the late 20th century, it was non-college Americans were getting married before college educated Americans and getting married more frequently. And now it’s completely moved the other direction. It’s people with degrees and with income now who are getting married and other people aren’t. And I think that is where women aren’t finding men that they can count on. They would like a family, they would like to have kids, they would like to participate in, I guess what you could call, a traditional gender role future for themselves. They just don’t see it happening. And so they have to do other things. They have to get college degrees. They gotta make other arrangements for stability in their own lives. I don’t know, Brett, how do you see it?
Brett McKay: I don’t know. It’s true that fewer men are going to college and they’re dropping out the workforce more. But I also think if you talk to men, some men would say, well, I just can’t find women who want to have a family. Or they’ll say like, well, I just can’t find any good women who are worth sort of shaping up for. So maybe men and women, they want similar things but they’re waiting for the other sex to move towards it first, right? So it’s like this catch-22 or a stalemate could the crisis shake that up? So right now you make the case that because of the affluence that we’ve experienced for the past, since the post-war World War II period, 70 years, you’re able to have men who just like opted out and not do anything. Could the crisis kind of be like, well, no, you can’t do this anymore because this lifestyle…
Neil Howe: It does.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Neil Howe: It does. And it also provides huge opportunity for guys to suddenly serve and get public respect actually serving the country because the country actually needs them. I think one thing that we find today with our definitions of citizenship is that we tend to think of it as it comes with all these rights that we have, but what are the real obligations, right? And of course, there’s time of crisis when people discover the obligations, but these things are often energizing to young men. I mean, if there’s any, if anything we’ve discovered during a crisis, it’s when we’re reshaping public institutions in a way that designing them for the future and designing it for the future automatically means more for young people, right? ‘Cause we’re investing in their future. We’re reshaping institutions for them.
And young people get to get in on the ground floor of that. And inevitably, when you’re talking about extraordinary efforts to redesign big public institutions, you’re often talking about mobilizing young men to do something. And that does become a slingshot for them over the rest of their lives. It certainly was for the GI generation, particularly the last wave GIs that were born in the 1910s and the early 1920s. And I do think that late wave millennials, people who are today in their 20s, early 30s, it will serve the same purpose.
Brett McKay: Any other things you’re seeing in our current Fourth Turning crisis and sort of the cultures changing and kind of lining up with what you would expect?
Neil Howe: Well there’s a recent survey and it was done by the Southern Poverty Legal Center. You may know, which often does surveys on various kinds of violent prone groups, certainly a progressive organization if there ever was one. They did a very large survey. And they found, interestingly that when it comes to the issue of what feminism has done to the country, and I pointed it out because it seems so counterintuitive to me. It pointed out that younger people, people under age 40 were significantly more likely, and this is true both among Democrats and Republicans. Men and women were much more likely than older people to say feminism has done more harm than good. Now, that’s interesting to me, talk about a difference again, in inversion from what you would have seen, 40, 50 years ago. Where obviously young people would’ve said feminism is really important, and older people would’ve opposed it. And that’s that sense of exhaustion. And so, Brett, if you’re talking about what are we seeing today that is a precursor to this, to what will be more of a reality as we move into the rest of this fourth turning, I would point to those signs.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So this is the first Fourth Turning where people are aware of the idea that a Fourth Turning exists. So can being aware of the Fourth Turning change the way the Fourth Turning plays out? Could people theoretically start trying to pull levers to manipulate the crisis?
Neil Howe: Well, I don’t know. It’d take a lot of hubris from me to be able to see that that would actually change things. I do think that at some very basic level, people are aware. I’m hardly the only person who has drawn attention to the parallels today, who we see today to the parallels of what we saw during the 1930s. Many others have done that too. And certainly these simply arise naturally. When the North and the South finally parted ways in 1861. And the war got underway, both the Southern Confederacy and then the Union both likened their struggle to America’s, they both called it America’s second revolution, America’s second Declaration of Independence. We were going through it again. They were aware of the parallel that the battles that they were gonna fight were exactly on par with the original fight to part with Britain and actually define the nation.
And the same thing occurred again in the 1930s. People came back to that parallel, “Why are we fighting the war? Was it a war to rid the world of slavery?” That’s how FTI announced it in his inaugural address. And after his reelection in 1944, he said that we’re engaged once again in a war to rid the world of slavery, just like we did in the Civil War. I guess what I’m saying is these things come back naturally in these Fourth Turning events. The parallels, once you move toward the crisis, arise naturally. And as we move toward the Climax of this crisis, the parallels to World War II and the Great Depression to the Civil War to the American Revolution will arise naturally. And I guarantee you that political leaders and civic leaders of all kinds will instinctively reach toward them. Whether or not they knew about what I wrote about or not.
Brett McKay: All right. So these things are probably too big for any one person to be, well, I’m gonna control this thing.
Neil Howe: Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is that these obviously are very long-term movements, but more importantly, that once we’re in them, we understand the parallel. We might not understand them quite until we’re actually in the midst of it. But once we’re in the midst of it, we do understand the parallel.
Brett McKay: So could a crisis end in disaster? So the previous things we’ve been talking about, World War II, the Revolutionary War, it was terrible, but then things turned out great. We had this high period afterwards, but what happens when there’s a crisis? There’s no Resolution, and it just sort of ends in… It ends in disaster.
Neil Howe: Well, it could well be a Resolution, and the Resolution could be terrible [laughter]
Brett McKay: Okay.
Neil Howe: You could lose a war.
Brett McKay: Oh yeah. So its like, I guess for in, for in World War II.
Neil Howe: Well, let’s take the example of the Confederate South. There was a Resolution. It was Appomattox and it was abject defeat. And it was poverty for the area of the country for the next many, many decades. In fact, even by the mid 1960s, the South was barely above, two thirds of the average income level of the rest of the United States. So there you have, what you’d have to say was a pretty disastrous outcome, for a region anyway. And if you look at other countries, you can see that Fourth Turning don’t necessarily have good outcomes. And so it’s not, I like to say that a Fourth Turning with a good outcome, what follows is a first turning, which many people will liken to another golden age. Everything works again, everyone feels good. Well, they might not have a lot of individualism the way we define it today. So that’s kind of a downer. And a lot of people today might not like that aspect of it, but certainly everyone who lives through the crisis is going to see a good outcome is the beginning of another golden age when everything will work again.
Everyone can build big new institutions again. We can make huge new advances again, and technology, world peace of [laughter] discoveries, not only in this world, but of course today, maybe in other worlds as well. And I talk about that a lot, right in that chapter, sort of the good aspect of a Fourth Turning that ends well. But then there’s the possibility of ending badly. And it’s worth pointing out that we tend to use devastating technologies of mass destruction. What’s ever available? Look, if you have a bad night, Brett, you could imagine a lot of horrible scenarios, about how this thing would end. So I don’t mean to say that this is necessarily automatically positive, and that’s why it’s important what we do. I don’t believe in determinant history at all. It’s important how people play their roles and how we find our way out of this thing.
Brett McKay: Okay? So when things turn out positively, you have this high period, but if it turns out negatively, like… What does that first training look like? How does it…
Neil Howe: You still have some of the same archetype of reconstructions, and I think that’s actually why the Sacellum is such a powerful complex system. It’s always pushed back toward equilibrium, so to speak. Imagine what the American high would’ve been if we weren’t that prosperous and that’s successful. Imagine if we were just simply reconstructing from damage done during World War II. It would’ve had the same basic outline without the optimism, without the confidence perhaps, but it still would’ve been a period of strong institutions and solidarity. And with the tremendous amount of investment in the future, maybe just getting back to where we were before. And typically too, these societies have 20, 25 years later an awakening. The defeated nations in World War II had awakenings in the late ’60s and ’70s. There were every bit as acrimonious and explosive, even more so than the victorious nations.
Brett McKay: Okay. So there is still a high period, even when a Fourth Turning ends badly. Right. So using Germany as an example they lost the war during World War II, but then they still entered that first turning. It’s just that their first turning looked different than the one in the US. They still had rationing after the war. They still had some suffering to go through. So it wasn’t as hopeful and prosperous as the first turning in the US. But they did rebuild and they did experience that first turning pattern. And I guess too, I mean, in some cases the damage could be permanent, right? Like it’s permanent destruction that happens during the Fourth Turning that a country is never able to recover from, even though the cycle continues. So, as you said what we do matters during the fourth turning, right? The leadership we choose matters. The roles we play matter. So if people are feeling some unease during this fourth turning, what advice do you have for navigating this period like personally?
Neil Howe: One thing that becomes very important in Fourth Turning is that as public institutions begin to have to allocate all their resources toward the national survival, that many of the benefits from many of the safety nets become less generous, right? So it becomes very important I think, in these times to make sure that people solidify their network of friends and community and above all family when the chips are down, particularly in a Fourth Turning, when no other kind of safety nets may be available. Finding a way to be close to your family and knowing who you can count on and fortifying and reinforcing all of your kin networks and friendship networks is probably the most important thing you can do. And if you read accounts or just diaries of people in these crisis periods you know read the accounts of people having lived through the 30s and 40s, for example, or lived through the Civil War. And so much of it is close friends and family that helped them through, and that were there for them when the chips are down and they cared for them. So, and that’s part of the cultural shift. Of course, it occurs when family perhaps not being as important during the unraveling during the 1990s or the 1920s suddenly becomes a lot more important by the 1930s and ’40s. And by extension by the late 2020s.
Brett McKay: Well, Neil, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Neil Howe: The book is “The Fourth Turning is Here.” It’s available on any bookstore in Amazon or I don’t know, wherever you wanna look. It’s available in hardcover or Kindle or audio.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Neil Howe thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Neil Howe: Thank you very much, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today is Neil Howe. He’s the author of the book, “The Fourth Turning is Here.” It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Check it. Our show is @aom.is/Fourth Turning. We can find links to resources we delve deeper into this topic. Well, that wraps up another edition of the A one podcast. Make sure to check out our [email protected]. Find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to hear If View not the podcast or Spotify, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, it’s Brett McKay. Remind you trying to listen to Web podcast would put what you’ve heard into action.