Guest Post: The 40-Year Cycle of Cultural Change

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

The 40-Year Cycle of Cultural Change

The U.S. is due for another cultural revolution, led by the younger generations, perhaps including a fifth Great Awakening.

There seems to be a 40-year cycle of cultural change in American society. The classic exploration of generational types and cycles, The Fourth Turning, identified a four-generational, 80-year cycle of profound crisis and transformation:

1781 - end of the Revolution and establishment of the nation
1861 - Civil War
1941 - Global war and end of the Depression
2021 - end of the Savior State and debt-based "prosperity," Peak Everything and geopolitical conflict over resources

In terms of cultural revolutions, these seem to sweep through every 40 years or so, a two-generational cycle within the longer cycle. It's not an exact cycle, but consider these dates and eras:

1740: The First Great Awakening: The Protestant evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic concepts in the period of the American Revolution and helped foster a demand for the separation of church and state.

1776-1781: Revolutionary War, cultural shift away from the British Empire and toward an American identity.

1820: Second Great Awakening: sparks the rise of the Abolitionist movement which sets the cultural, social and spiritual stage for the Civil War.

1860: the Civil War

1890s: The Gay 90s, a period of American expansion and new freedoms of expression, clouded by the Panic of 1893 which sent the economy into a 6-year depression.

This era was the culmination of the Gilded Age, the industrialization of the U.S. economy between 1865 and 1900. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world, with per capita incomes double that of Germany or France, and 50% higher than Britain. Not coincidentally, the birth of the modern industrial labor union occurred around 1890.

1925-30: The Roaring Twenties, an era "marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity and a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, and as such the period is also known as the Jazz Age."

1967-1970: The Counterculture, which included the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement and the birth/expansion of the feminist movement, Eastern spirituality in the U.S., back-to-the-land self-sufficiency, rock music as a cultural force, the nonviolent anti-war movement, the anti-nuclear movement, experimentation with communal living and drugs, Futurist concepts, and a widespread expansion of freedom of self-expression and experimentation. Many observers believe this ear also launched a Fourth Awakening as evangelical denominations expanded and "Jesus freaks" found religious inspiration outside mainline churches.

The book What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer makes a strong case that this era set the stage for the ultimate technological medium of experimentation and self-expression, the personal computer, which then led irresistably to the World Wide Web (all the foundational technologies of the Internet were in place by 1969-- The first permanent ARPANET link was established on November 21, 1969, between UCLA and Stanford Research Institute.)

Which changed the world, of course. Those darn hippies!

1970 + 40 = 2010: That takes us to the present. Right now the nation is wallowing self-piteously in a fetid trough of denial and adolescent rage/magical thinking that the nation's bogus, debt-based "prosperity" has crashed and cannot be restored, though Ben Bernanke and the clueless "leaders" the citizenry has fecklessly elected keep trying to glue Humpty Dumpty back back together again.

Unfortunately, all they've accomplished is to glue their own fingers together.

The "too big to fail" banks and Corporate Cartels effectively own the Federal machinery of governance, the Savior State's fiefdoms are expanding their reach and power like uncontrollable cancers, and the "leadership"--mostly self-glorifying. grossly incompetent, self-absorbed, greedy Baby Boomers, but with a few equally clueless 40-somethings present just to prove that age is no protection against self-delusion and supreme greed-- has resolved to surrender to the Financial Power Elites and State fiefdoms, and fiddle around with "extend and pretend" strategies until they can exit the stage with bulging bags of swag.

Their only goal is to not be the one blamed when the whole corrupt contraption finally collapses under its own weight. If there was ever a more pathetic, corrupt, cowardly and incompetent set of "leaders" in the nation's history, they must have done their skimming during periods of relative prosperity. Now we need real leaders, not TV-ready simulacra spouting bloated slogans that contain the magic word "change."

Gen X and Gen Y, this is your "lights, camera, action!" call, if not for political power, then for a cultural revolution. I for one am ready for a Fifth Awakening, a Cultural Revolution, and a restoration of self-rule and the real, non-financialized economy.

Happy Bastille Day. It's time we tore down the Bank Bastille that's imprisoning us all.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Hard1's picture

Change bitchez!!!

Hugh G Rection's picture

Beware ZHers, the threads are rife with federal agent provocateur scumbags.


Latest culprit, HITMAN56, and his disappearing post on the Timmy thread.

SoNH80's picture

Freaky freaky freaky stuff indeed..... food for thought.... remember, kids, Peace Is The Way of The Jedi. 

Dr. Richard Head's picture

Thought grenades are the most effective indeed.

LFMayor's picture

The Jedi are a bunch of hippy dipshits, brought to you via plagarization by a stoned out peacenik boomer. 

There are no absolutes?  My ass.  Alderaan is a peaceful world...  now that entropy has set in.

SoNH80's picture

You are speaking in ellipses, what are you trying to say?  RE: the "I hate gringos" patter, you way want to apply for a Ford or Rockefeller Foundation grant, they are still really into that kind of thing.

Hugh G Rection's picture

I always thought of Star Wars as a biblical metaphor, good vs evil, light vs darkside.  Dunno if I would call the Jedi hippy, they settled a lot of conflicts with light sabers for a bunch of hippies.

CH1's picture

Yup, almost every suggestion to act badly is from a Fed nowadays.

Trying to justify their fetid, parasitic existence.

jeff montanye's picture

fetid trough of magical thinking.  points of original post seem cogent; the writing is unusually vivid for this joint.  like it.

Michael's picture

We also need to identify by name those brain damaged control freak individuals in the numerous bureaucracies of government and actively campaign to to get rid of them as well. 

Anyone in those bureaucracies with "Deputy" before their name should be targeted too.

jeff montanye's picture

no, no.  someday deputy county prosecutor.

Ident 7777 economy's picture

How about: Anyone over 45, cleancut, who is wearing a coat tie and enters the bldg before 8 AM ? That should get all the 'managers' ...



Fukushima Sam's picture

Did Chuck even read "The Fourth Turning" past reviews on websites?

The last Awakening was indeed the 60's and 70's period.  That was Summer.  Every 20 years (about) the seasons change (a "Turning") as the different generations move into new phases of life.  This makes the current or soon to be starting period Winter, or a Crisis.  This is the polar opposite of an Awakening.

The big question is what direction will the Crisis take?  Will we go to war internally?  Will we have a confrontation with China?

No Awakening, Chuck, sorry to say.  Get ready for two decades of creative destruction.

Ghordius's picture

I agree, Charles Hugh Smith has it the wrong way round. According to this theory the "Awakenings" are every 80 years.

That's when "Idealists" start to get new ideas, form new cultures, tells everybody to stop behaving like before and to do something different, argue and go on your nerves, etc. The theory calls them "Prophets", and they usually lead you like Moses to a desert. We call them Baby Boomers.

The crisis comes because they lose their ideals, become corrupt or, like Moses, they may not enter the Promised Land.

Meanwhile the new generation is "Conformist", "Realist" and does not care a shit about what ideology is right as long as it is the same for everyone. The theory calls them "Heroes" and they usually get into a lot of grief.

The poor guys between are called "Nomads", they have to follow their parents in the search of perfection and have the worst of all the problems, until the surviving "Heros" inherit the new world.

Need a drink now...

Fukushima Sam's picture

As Nomads we are pissed and cynical.  When we were kids our parents gave us a few bucks to go see movies like Star Wars and The Muppet Movie and we would hop theaters for hours, waiting for them to finally come pick us up.  In our childhood the propaganda told us there would be a happy ending, that when the rainbow on the set of The Muppet Movie came crashing down all would be okay because the real rainbow could stream through the hole in the roof.  Then as adults we realized that our parents didn't really seem to like us much and that there did not seem to be happy endings in the movie called reality.

But in our children we see the seeds of a new hope, and we will do what we can to create a new world for them, where happy endings may once again be possible.  If our generation only has fake rainbows that crash then perhaps our children can have the real deal due to our efforts.  This is our destiny in history, and we must embrace it now as we move into middle age.

Bolweevil's picture

Now I know why there are so many songs about rainbows.

Cleve Meater's picture

Great great great ... Exactly my nomadic thoughts. +1 times 27 equals -918

WSP's picture

Actually, in our children we see new ways to be selfish and to "take" from others.  Listen, all "progress" and "change" represent are buzzwords for new ways for one set of the population (the ones who had rough childhoods) to find ways to redefine society to benefit them.

In the end, not one single thing in man's so-called progressive history has every really made life better----all it has ever done is made us more and more controlled, watched, and manipulated.

In the end, we would all be much happier if just left alone----but no, there will always be a sect of humans that want to control others and steal from them.   This is really not a hard concept to understand, yet, so few people understand it.....I guess the harder it is for you to understand, the more likely it is you are "taker" rather than "mind your own business'er".

If ever there were a reason for one man to hate another, it certainly would be to hate those that tell us that we need to "change" to fit some idealistic idea they may have.   The true meaning of course, is for us to change to benefit them.  When you think about, most people really suck---absolute roaches and scum bags.  If everyone would just mind their own damn business----god, we could be so happy!

Fukushima Sam's picture

You are right; to help our children we must tear down the wrong bullshit created by our parents and grandparents.  These are the things that don't let people be free.

I do not agree we will be selfish.  I truly want the next two generations to succeed, even at the expense of my own success, and I do not think I am the only one.

The great thing about our kids is that they will love us back.

smore's picture

Right.  I never read CHS any more.  It's too annoying.  He never seems to grasp more than about a third of any subject before he starts typing.  Sloppy.

The "Heroes" are going to make perfect "just following orders" Nazis.  They have been training the boy scouts to arrest those dangerous vets.  They will be the ones explaining to you why it is good for the planet that you have to take that euthanasia pill.   You are just producing too much carbon dioxide.  That's what they have been taught since they were five years old.

Strauss and Howe are very clear about the fact that a Fourth Turning can end in total horror. 

The Heroines are good in bed though...


baby_BLYTHE's picture

Bangbros? lol. 

 Anyways, Don't ever forget the German army was the most powerful army (many times over) in the history of modern Western war.

Hitler was the fool and sewed the seeds of his own demise.

jeff montanye's picture

like sewed the seeds.  couldn't develop an atomic bomb because he was anti-jewish.

hamurobby's picture

 8mm Mauser is HEAVY, Der German infantry couldn't carry enough to the eastern front.

jeff montanye's picture

you had me until the last line.  icon almost evens it.  strange that.

smore's picture

Hmmf... I think you might have misunderestimated my superficiality.  Which generation would you prefer in your bed, then?  Heroines are at at their physical peak, and also incredibly slutty.  That's all I meant.  Glad you like the icon though.  

Further info on Millenials here:


Fukushima Sam's picture

You could be right about the Nazi aspect, but perhaps we can help provide the buffer between the Boomer radicals and the willing Millennials.  If Gen X does not involve itself then I fear you may be correct.  But if we do then perhaps we can temper the madness.

I don't agree that a Fourth Turning ends in horror.  The horror is right near the end, but the fourth Turning only ends in resolution.  Whether the resolution is to your liking is anyone's guess...

smore's picture

I only said that it CAN end in horror.  This is based on listening to two recent interviews with Strauss, who seems to be the "Penn" of the duo, in which he was definitely less sanguine about the prospects ahead than in the books.  He emphasized that there is nothing inevitable about the Heroes succeeding in their generational task.  Given the size of the problems ahead, I don't give a lot for their chances.  I think we are all doomed. 


Anonymau5's picture

Perhaps the terminology is wrong, but the theory is sound.  If cultural and civic changes oscillate on opposing spectrums, we should be crossing the threshold into directional change around the time the crisis is hitting.  

Essentailly, as I read the book, "falling" cultural change capitulates and reverses direction as the crisis hits, and moves opposite the borad civic destruction for this portion of the cycle.  A worsening economic and civic condition inspires individuals to pursue cultural development, or look at it the other way and beginning a positive change in develoiping a new cultural identiy inspires us to reevaluate our civic institutions.  Either way, this last twenty years and the next twenty years are the cyclically "down" period where we are learning the lessons of a worsening civic system and laying the foundation for a cultural shift which will allow the civic system to improve.

Compare to the post war period exiting the crisis and rising into the 90's and the reinforcement through the cultural maximum in the 60's.  Both were in uptrend, concantenated by a 20 year drift.  we get 1/4 cycle of double positives, 1/4 cycle of double negatives, and 2/4 cycles of rising culture and falling organization or rising organization and falling culture... right?

buzzsaw99's picture

2021-2101 zombie apocalypse.

Sudden Debt's picture

2070: Alien Invasion

2073: Alien Bank system forced upon Humans

2104: Alien Bank system defaults


Dabale arroz a la zorra el abad's picture

+1 That's how it always goes! xD

Anglo in Abitibi's picture

Thanks SD! I`ll be laughing the whole drive home ...

NuYawkFrankie's picture

Does this mean I can soon start wearing my '70s wide-lapel, powder-blue, figure-hugging, polyester lesiure-suit again?

Sudden Debt's picture

It never went out of style. Just go ahead. People we be jalous!


NuYawkFrankie's picture

Appreciate your vote of approval ;)

Hey - any idea where I can pick up  one of those "Sat Night Fever"style chest medallions ? Used is ok, as long as the fake gold leaf isnt flaking off. tia

NuYawkFrankie's picture

Appreciate your vote of approval ;)

Hey - any idea where I can pick up  one of those "Sat Night Fever"style chest medallions ? Used is ok, as long as the fake gold leaf isnt flaking off. tia

idea_hamster's picture

CHSmith: "Gen X and Gen Y, this is your 'lights, camera, action!' call"

Gen X: "Sorry, couldn't hear you over AmIdol & crack pipe"

Gen Y: "tl;dr"

Shameful's picture

You got it.  Summed it up rather nicely.  Anyone expecting the young to shape up and fix things might as well pray for Jesus or Superman to come and save them.  Think we are even more narcissistic and selfish than the Boomers, an epic feat I know, but we met the challenge. Anyone thinking that the Facebook generation will willing take on pain is in for a rude awakening.  Look at the mobs of youngsters robbing people, now imagine how bad it will get in a collapse.  Yeah the young will come together, to form gangs for looting.

It's every man for themselves, don't have to run faster than the bear, just faster than the people you are with.

Tenma13's picture


Gen y aka the ME generation, will be the ones answering the call to 'defend' the nation from the evil within, you know, the evil dowers who crashed the system and made it so you can't get an iPad- Chinese, Ira, the guy down the street who speaks funny and wears different cloths; but the worst, are the ones that look just like the rest of us.

Don't be fooled by the boundary breaking, all singing , all dancing internet. It has done wonders for fragmenting opinion. Most gen y use it to Facebook, twitter random shit, follow 'important people' like Paris Hilton, and play video games. They are less informed, , not more so, fragmented, and divided. 

 truth bitchez  McCarthyism 2.0

idea_hamster's picture

I note that someone junked me.  I wonder whether it was a GenX or GenY. 

Likely GenX: It must be someone who would read all the way into the notes (can't be GenY) and while junk rating a post without taking the time to type out why is very GenY, it could also just be a GenX-er who has no real motivation after 99 weeks of EUC.

Sudden Debt's picture

I'm impressed for a part. But what's the plan/goal?

It clearly needs some more structure, and communication.

Second: the registering?

tbone654's picture

40 year minor in an 80 year major cycle maybe ?

Fukushima Sam's picture

Every forty years polar opposites in the cycle appear.  The full cycle is about eighty years, about the productive life-span of a human.  Just as the length of each of the four seasons is determined by the constant length of the year, the length of each Turning is determined by the relatively fixed length of a human life, or "saeculum"

The concept of the saeculum has been around for a very long time, but in modern Western thinking a linear study of history has mostly obscured the cyclical nature of human history.

Lord Koos's picture

Want some cheese with your whine?

Quinvarius's picture

generation kill up to bat with nothing to lose.  how can this go bad?

Salah's picture


CHS has had diarrhea of the blog the last few weeks and it looks like he's getting his prunes from an outside source.  The guy was much more lucid when he only posted something once a week or so.