Neil Howe, a celebrated historian and author of numerous books on generations, has penned an opinion editorial for the Washington Post about the fascinating and controversial White House link to his seminal work, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. The book, which was written with the late William Strauss in 1997, outlines a fascinating generational theory that American history, as well as the history of most modern societies, “unfolds in a recurring cycle of four generation-long eras.”
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is captivated by the book. The former filmmaker is also the former executive editor of the ultra conservative Breitbart News. In 2010, he produced the documentary Generation Zero, which highlights the source of today’s ongoing economic nightmares for Generations X, Y (Millennials) and Z. It was largely inspired by Strauss and Howe’s generational theory. This past February, Business Insider dismissed the theory as “dark” after learning about Bannon’s obsession with it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve pondered what the impact of Bannon’s “obsession” might be on Neil Howe’s reputation and brand. As an accredited public relations practitioner who has studied and worked a lot of different kinds of crises in my career (I don’t mean to sound so pompous, but the APR test was a tough one and all the crises were difficult), I saw the Business Insider story and several others like it, as a crisis with certain qualifiers:
- It was reputational
- It was non-violent
- It was man-made
- It was emerging
As such, I couldn’t help but celebrate in my mind the opportunities the “crisis” provided Howe. It was a chance for him to talk about a 20-year-old book (The Fourth Turning) and redistribute positive messages about his highly organic brand as historian, demographer and author. Still, it was disappointing to see his books and theory, which have meant so much to me, painted in such a negative light. I love Howe’s books. They have helped me so much and they are a big inspiration behind this blog.
So, you can imagine that I was so happy to read his op-ed in the Washington Post. I love that he hits the crisis head on with the title: Where Did Steve Bannon Get His Worldview? From My Book. It’s confident, cool and uncompromising, and lays the groundwork for another book, one that will probably be a best-seller.
Beyond all this, is the content in the editorial itself. Among other descriptors it is beautiful, intelligent:
We live in an increasingly volatile and primal era, in which history is speeding up and liberal democracy is weakening. As Vladimir Lenin wrote, ‘In some decades, nothing happens; in some weeks, decades happen.’ Get ready for the creative destruction of public institutions, something every society periodically requires to clear out what is obsolete, ossified and dysfunctional — and to tilt the playing field of wealth and power away from the old and back to the young. Forests need periodic fires; rivers need periodic floods. Societies, too. That’s the price we must pay for a new golden age.”
The article briefly outlines the four cycles including the Crisis era we’re in now and the High era, which will begin around 2030. It is during this era that most Gen-Xers will grow old and die. He writes this about that glorious time:
Young families will rejoice, fertility will rebound, economic equality will rise, a new middle class will emerge, public investment will grow into a new 21st-century infrastructure, and ordered prosperity will recommence.”
My kids have so much to look forward to and this is the best news ever for the child-focused Generation X. But, first, we all must survive the ultimate emerging crisis: World War III, which Howe warns of in the editorial.
Have you read The Fourth Turning? What did you think?