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Fourth Turning: Neil Howe on Steve Bannon’s Obsession With His Groundbreaking Theory

According to Neil Howe, author of the Fourth Turning, American history occurs in four cycles that repeat themselves. We are currently in a Crisis Era. Around 2030, we will enter the High era.

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 DestinyThe 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.



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for the creative destruction of public institutions, something every society periodically requires to clear out what is obsolete, ossified and dysfunctional — and to tilt the playing field of wealth and power away from the old and back to the young.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?

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Brett

    Like some religious people who are jonesing for a front-row seat to the End Times, and possibly even wanting to precipitate it, Bannon’s desire to bring about the Fourth Turning Crisis is quite presumptuous, to put it mildly. Again, the 4T Crisis is too big and too powerful for someone (or a group of someones) to put it to personal ends. S&H have been clear that any political advantage to be gained is gained from tapping into the zeitgeist of the turning itself (this is true with any of the four turnings), not by molding the turning to one’s will. To put it another way, you can ride the wave, but you can’t make the wave, and the wave is going to take you where it goes, not where you necessarily want to go.

    The reason that some Crisis events become raging wildfires is due to their timing with regards to the cycle and turnings themselves, not because someone is setting them or fanning the flames.

    Lastly, FDR didn’t enjoy the unity he had at the end of his 3+ term presidency at the beginning. S&H have been clear that these turnings start messy and often get messier and more divisive before they gel into unity. The author of the Business Insider article seems to have a particular view of historical and current events, with some events being remembered more rosy or more dire than it was, and is letting them color his perception.

    • Jennifer

      Love your perspective, Brett. What a brilliant comment. Loved the lines about fanning the flames and making the wave vs. riding it. Do you think Bannon is forcing the hand of history upon us? I agree that the Business Insider piece was not very smart. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Jennifer

        I probably did forget. Thank you for reminding me. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Brett

    I’ve read all 4 of Strauss & Howe’s books, and love their theory and find it very useful. My favorite is 13th Gen (natch).

    Bannon’s interpretation of S&H generational theory bothered me as follows:

    1) There seems to be a certain group of people who think that they can “steer” or “ride” the turning cycle to their own ends, and Bannon is one of them. Except for not letting a good little-c crisis go to waste, this is about as possible as steering a hurricane. The forces involved are too big for anyone to control with any precision. It just happens. Still, it is tempting for partisans on both sides to lasso this force.

    2) Yes, each Crisis has involved a big war. No, they do not get progressively bigger, as Bannon and some of his fans (and detractors) have suggested. If there’s one thing that S&H generational theory teaches, it is that time is cyclical, not linear, like the progress of seasons. This is not a characteristic of something that would get progressively bigger, perhaps to apocalyptic scale. Some winters are colder, some are milder, and it’s probably more of a random walk as to which each cycle.

    More to follow…

    • Jennifer

      So many historians and futurists are predicting a big war. Do you agree with them? Why or why not? And, why is Bannon so committed to war? Or is he just committed to the theory that now guides his policies?


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