The Fourth Turning Is Upon Us

Ted Millar
8 min readApr 29
Roger Bradshaw via Unsplash

I was born in 1974.

According to the alphabetical classification we ascribe to generations, I fall smack in the middle of “Gen X”.

Referring to historians William Strauss and Neil Howe’s generational theory chronicled in their iconic book The Fourth Turning, that means I am a “nomad,” someone who comes of age during an “awakening,” a time when long-established institutions come into question and people turn increasingly toward spirituality and individualism. Think of the tumultuous cultural milestones that occurred during the 1960s and 70s.

Awakenings precede “unravelings,” periods when things…well…begin to unravel. After 40 years of FDR New Deal programs that created the American middle class, we elected (twice) to the White House a man who proclaimed in his first inaugural address that government is not the solution to our problems — “government is the problem.”

If we look back at the past four decades with their massive tax cuts to the morbidly rich, rolling back of regulatory standards, off-shoring of manufacturing jobs, gutting of public education, reduction in union membership, crippling student loan debt, and workers’ wages unable to keep pace with productivity and CEO compensation, no wonder we find ourselves now facing the next turning — a crisis.

As Strauss and Howe theorized, each “turning” lasts about 20–22 years, with four turnings comprising a saeculum, Latin for “a long human life” or “a natural century.”

They are:

— A high

— An awakening

— An unraveling

— A crisis

Meticulously tracing historic events, Strauss and Howe delineate how the most consequential societal-shaping events have predictably adhered to this 80-year cycle.

For example, 80 years after the American Revolution the United States was gripped in the Civil War. 80 years after that saw the end of the second world war.

Within each saeculum lie archetypes, or templates, personality models passed down through generations.

Prophets are idealists. They enter childhood during “high” times, when communities center around a new social order. This can be seen in the…

Ted Millar

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for The Left Place blog on Substack: Twitter: @tedmillar