Guest Post: The Fourth American Revolution

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Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

The Fourth American Revolution

The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new
millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a
sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social
order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real
hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve
questions of class, race, nation and empire. The very survival of the
nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will
pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American
Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and
World War II.
The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997


   Harpers Ferry – 1859                     Tucson – 2011

The mass murder in Tucson is another brick in the wall of this Fourth
Turning Crisis. The importance of this tragic event is not what
happened in that Safeway parking lot, but the reaction in the aftermath
of the shooting. Turnings are not about specific events, but how
generations react to the events based on their stages of life. A turning
is an era with a characteristic social mood, a new twist on how people
feel about themselves and their nation.  It results from the aging of
the generational constellation.  A society enters a turning once every
twenty years or so, when all living generations begin to enter their
next phases of life. We entered this Fourth Turning between 2005 and
2008, with the collapse of the housing market and subsequent financial
system implosion.

We have crossed the threshold into a decisive era of secular
upheaval, when the values regime will propel the replacement of the old
civic order with a new one.  The Silent Generation (1925-1942) is dying
off, Baby Boomers (1943-1960) are entering elder hood, Generation X
is entering midlife, Millenials are entering young adulthood—and a new
generation of child Artists are being born. Strauss & Howe have
documented that a long human life of 80 to 100 years makes up a social
cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, and death (and rebirth) known as a
Saeculum. Within each cycle, four generations proceed through their
four stages of life. Every 15 to 25 years a new Turning surprises those
who only think of history in a linear way. Strauss & Howe are historians who have been able to document this generational cycle going back to the 1400s.

The Anglo-American saeculum dates back to the waning of the Middle
Ages in the middle of the fifteenth century.  In this lineage, there
have been seven saecula:

  • Late Medieval (1435-1487)
  • Reformation (1487-1594)
  • New World (1594-1704)
  • Revolutionary (1704-1794)
  • Civil War (1794-1865)
  • Great Power (1866-1946)
  • Millennial (1946-2026?)

The Turnings of history are like the seasons of nature. Seasons
cannot be rearranged, seasons cannot be avoided, but humans and nations
can prepare for the challenges presented by each season. Winter has
descended upon our nation.

We are still in the early stages of this Fourth Turning and
the mood of the country continues to darken like the sky before an
approaching blizzard. Generational theory does not predict the specific
events that will happen during a Turning. The events, personalities, and
policies that become the chapters in history books are not what drive a
Turning, it is how each generation reacts to the events, personalities
and policies. Someone who is 60 years old will react differently to an
event than they would have reacted at 20 years old. The issues that are
driving this Fourth Turning (un-payable
entitlement obligations, Wall Street greed & power, globalization
gutting the middle class, increasing government control, wealth
distribution) were all known and understood in 1997. It took the spark
of a housing market collapse and the generations being in proper
alignment to catalyze the mood of the country.

Chapter one of this Fourth Turning is approaching its end. Chapter two guarantees to be more intense, with more violence, and periods of great danger. Strauss & Howe envisioned this chapter based upon their analysis of the issues looming back in 1997:

The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt
into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or
succumb to authoritarian rule. If there is a war, it is likely to be one
of maximum risk and effort – in other words, a total war. Every Fourth
Turning has registered an upward ratchet in the technology of
destruction, and in mankind’s willingness to use it. Thus, might the
next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse – or glory. The nation could be
ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or
killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying
shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do
not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis; all they suggest is the
timing and dimension. The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997

American Revolutions

“A Fourth Turning is a solstice era of maximum darkness, in which
the supply of social order is still falling but the demand for order is
now rising. As the community instinct regenerates, people resolve to do
more than just relieve the symptoms of pending traumas. Intent on
addressing root causes, they rediscover the value of unity, teamwork,
and social discipline. Far more than before, people comply with
authority, accept the need for public sacrifice, and shed anything
extraneous to the survival needs of their community. This is a critical
threshold: People either coalesce as a nation and culture – or rip
hopelessly and permanently apart.”
The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997



There have been three prior Fourth Turnings in U.S. history: the
American Revolution, Civil War and Great Depression/World War II. The
American Revolution preceded the Civil War by 87 years. The Great
Depression followed the Civil War by 69 years and this Millenial Crisis
arrived 76 years after the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Essentially, each prior Fourth Turning has represented a Revolution in
American history.

The First American Revolution began in 1773 when Parliament’s
response to the Boston Tea Party ignited a colonial tinderbox—leading
directly to the first Continental Congress, the battle of Concord, and
the Declaration of Independence. History always seems easy to predict in
retrospect. This is another of the many faults in human thinking. There
was very little talk or thought of the colonies breaking away from the
mother country during the 1760s. Up until the Boston Tea Party catalyst
event, no one could have predicted the events which would occur in a
chain reaction over the next 21 years. There were dark cold bitter days
during this Crisis winter. In the end, George Washington’s honor,
courage and fortitude symbolized the character of a new nation.  

Historians Charles and Mary Beard described the Civil War as the
Second American Revolution.  The Civil War Crisis began with a
presidential election that southerners interpreted as an invitation to
secede. The attack on Fort Sumter triggered the most violent conflict
ever fought on New World soil. The war reached its climax with the
Emancipation Proclamation and Battle of Gettysburg (in 1863). The epic
conflagration redefined America. The slavery issue was settled for good,
signed in the blood of 600,000 men. The industrial might of the North
was rechanneled toward progress as a world industrial powerhouse. In
retrospect many will say the Civil War was entirely predictable, but
that is completely untrue.

The great compromise generation (Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel
Webster) of the 1850s passed from the scene, leaving the country in the
hands of firebrands on both sides. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry
and subsequent execution served to increase the brooding mood of the
country. The bloodiest war in the history of mankind was not predictable
even one year before it began. The aristocracy of Washington DC
actually took carriages in their Sunday best to watch the First Battle
of Bull Run. Shortly thereafter Lincoln mobilized 500,000 men and
unleashed a catastrophic spiral of butchery over the next four years
that exhausted itself with the assassination of Lincoln and the
surrender at Appomattox in the same week. The resolution of this Crisis
felt more like defeat than victory.

Renowned American historian Carl Degler called FDR’s New Deal the
“Third American Revolution”. The Crisis began suddenly with the Black
Tuesday stock-market crash in 1929.  After a three-year economic free
fall, the Great Depression triggered the New Deal Revolution, a vast
expansion of government, and hopes for a renewal of national community. 
After Pearl Harbor, America planned, mobilized, and produced for world
war on a scale never seen in the history of the mankind, making possible
complete victory over the Nazis and Fascists. In 1928 did anyone
foresee an 89% stock market crash, worldwide depression, vast expansion
of government power, a world war more devastating than the prior war,
and the usage of an atomic weapon of mass destruction? Not a chance.
Only in retrospect do people convince themselves that it was

Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929 marked the abrupt unforeseen end of
the Roaring Twenties. The bewilderingly rapid collapse of the worldwide
financial system in the space of three years left the American people
shaken and desperate. With their wealth destroyed and unemployment
exceeding 20%, the American public turned to Franklin Delano Roosevelt
and his New Deal promises of government social and work programs. He
declared “nationwide thinking, nationwide planning, and nationwide
action, the three essentials of public life”. This was truly a Third
American Revolution. FDR’s policies changed the course of American
history. The renewed spirit of American youth during the 1930s was
essential in preparing them for the trials that awaited from 1941
through 1945. It is somewhat ironic that FDR’s revolutionary social
programs, begun during the last Crisis, will be a major factor in the
current Crisis – the Fourth American Revolution.  

Fourth American Revolution

“The US government is on a “burning platform” of unsustainable
policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare
underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a
crisis if action is not taken soon.” –
David M. Walker



No one knows exactly what events will transpire over the next 15 to
20 years as this Fourth Turning morphs from regeneracy to climax and
finally to resolution. The mainstream media, most politicians, and self
proclaimed progressives are blind to the cyclicality of history. They
believe history proceeds in a linear upwards path. These are the people
you see on TV talking about toning down the rhetoric, false gestures of
bipartisanship, and soothing words about the financial crisis being a
thing of the past. They fail to understand that once the mood of the
country is catalyzed by a trigger event or events, there is no turning
back the clock. Winter must be dealt with head on. Very few, if any,
“financial experts” anticipated a housing collapse, followed by a deep
recession, a 50% stock market crash, and a financial system which came
within hours of total implosion on September 18, 2008 (as detailed in
the documentary Generation Zero).
Absolutely no one anticipated the extreme measures taken by the U.S.
government and Federal Reserve to “Save” the country from a 2nd Great
Depression. These measures have added $5 trillion to the National Debt
in the last 40 months. It took 205 years to accumulate the 1st $5
trillion of debt.

While it is impossible to predict the exact trials and tribulations
that will confront America over the next decade, the issues that will
drive this Fourth Turning were clearly visible to anyone with their eyes
open, many years in advance of the Crisis.  Strauss & Howe clearly
detailed the easily observable issues that led to the current Crisis
back in 1997. Their book is not prophecy, but historically provable
interactions between generations based upon the circumstances
confronting society at the time.

“Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or
after, America will enter the Fourth Turning. A spark will ignite a new
mood. It will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as
ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as
trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events
in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial are commingled.” – The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997

The authors use their common sense, based upon known trends, to posit potential catalyst scenarios such as:

  • A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses nuclear weapons.
  • Beset by a fiscal crisis, states begin to balk at Federal mandates
    leading to secession actions, militia violence, cyber attacks on the
    IRS, and demands for a new Constitutional Convention.
  • An impasse over the federal budget reaches a stalemate. The
    government shuts down. The President declares emergency powers. Congress
    rescinds his authority. Financial markets spiral out of control.
    Default looms.

These “theoretical” scenarios were put forth in 1997. The authors
concluded that these were unlikely, but that no matter what the
catalyst, the response by the generations would be predictable. It seems
this Fourth Turning is being driven by a succession of smaller
triggers, rather than one large trigger. The housing collapse, which
began in 2005, ultimately led to the world financial system collapse in
2008. The overreach by government in attempting to repair the damage
done by Wall Street and K Street led to the Rick Santelli Tea Party Rant
heard round the world in February 2009. The Tea Party movement has
since taken the country by storm, surprising the linear thinkers and
stunning the ruling elite. Last week a congresswoman and a dozen
bystanders were gunned down, further darkening the mood of the country
and inflaming passions among competing political ideologies. So what
happens next?

 Strauss & Howe postulated on the possible path of this Crisis and I see nothing to doubt their analysis:

“An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding
responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios
(debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details,
which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way. It
is unlikely that the catalyst will worsen into a full fledged
catastrophe, since the nation will probably find a way to avert the
initial danger and stabilize the situation for a while.” - 
The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997

The CNBC talking heads, mainstream media pundits, clueless Washington
politicians, corrupt Wall Street shysters, and non-thinking robotic
masses have been convinced that the actions taken by Ben Bernanke,
Barack Obama, Tim Geithner and Congress have averted a financial
disaster and saved the world. One hundred years from now when Chinese
historians look back on the period from 2000 until 2025 they will ask
themselves, “what the hell were they thinking?” The causes of this
Crisis are as clear as day to anyone willing to see. A small group of
Wall Street bankers and corporate interests through their proxy, the
Federal Reserve, created the largest housing bubble in the history of
the world generating hundreds of billions in obscene undeserved profits,
while destroying the wealth and futures of millions of middle class
Americans. Once the fraudulent nature of the bankers’ pillaging of the
nation’s wealth came to light, the entire ponzi scheme collapsed, as
they always do. On a parallel track, the Federal government, knowing
full well that its un-payable social welfare commitments could never be
fulfilled, decided to engage in two wars of choice, made additional
un-payable social welfare commitments, and created new bloated
bureaucratic agencies in the name of security and safety.

What will truly amaze future historians is the “solutions” that our
leaders chose to save the country. Despite already being the largest
debtor the planet has ever seen, with a National Debt of $8 trillion in
2005, the President and Congress have added an additional $6 trillion of
debt, with plans to increase that debt at a rate of $1.5 trillion per
year for the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that the housing boom
was created by loose monetary policy and non-enforcement of existing
laws and regulations by the Federal Reserve, our leaders have allowed
this bank owned entity to reduce interest rates to 0%, buy $1.5 trillion
of toxic mortgages from the Wall Street banks that caused the crisis,
suspend requirements for banks to report their assets at their FMV,
monetize the debt spending by the Federal Government, and create
inflation through the printing of money out of this air. The Federal
government’s response to the crisis was to create a mandated healthcare
benefit for 35 million more Americans with no means to pay the untold
trillions in future costs. Our leaders’ solution to a crisis caused by
excessive debt has been to create twice as much debt. A passage from the
Book of Matthew which Abraham Lincoln utilized during a prior Fourth
Turning Crisis is a fitting description of where we stand today:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation;
and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” -
Matthew 12:25

The country is deeply divided. There is a vast swath of America that
has chosen ignorance over knowledge. With 50% of Americans paying no
income taxes, they will vote for anyone who promises them more. The rest
of America is split between those who believe the answer lies in
increased Federal government coordination and control and those who want
a return to liberty, individual responsibility and a vastly reduced
Federal government footprint. As I have tried to figure out the most
likely path of this Fourth Turning I was focused on an external conflict
in the Middle East or an incident on the Korean Peninsula providing the
next spark. After the shooting in Tucson, this Fourth Turning is
beginning to crystallize.

What I realized was that the three previous American Revolutions all
occurred on U.S. soil. The First American Revolution was fought on
American soil by a loose confederation of autonomous states against
the overbearing control of a great European empire. The Second American
Revolution was fought by Americans against Americans and resulted in a
vast expansion of Federal government power and diminishment of state
power. The Third American Revolution took place under the auspices of
saving America from the depths of Depression with government social
programs and the birth of the Nanny State. Each Revolution has further
expanded the power and control of the Federal government. I believe
the Fourth American Revolution will ultimately come down to a battle
between the Liberty movement and the ruling oligarchy of Wall Street,
Mega-corporations and supporters of the Military Nanny State.

I trust that Strauss & Howe correctly assessed the main factor that will drive the next phase of this Crisis – the Great Devaluation:

“It could be a series of downward ratchets linked to political
events that sequentially knock the supports out from under the residual
popular trust in the system. As assets devalue, trust will further
disintegrate, which will cause assets to devalue further, and so on.
Every slide in asset prices, employment, and production will give every
generation cause to grow more alarmed. With savings worth less, the new
elders will become more dependent on government, just as government
becomes less able to pay benefits to them. Before long, America’s old
civic order will seem ruined beyond repair.” -  The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997

There is no doubt in my mind that the next downward ratchet in this
Crisis will be caused by Ben Bernanke and his attempt to generate just
enough inflation to make our un-payable debt load less burdensome. His
track record regarding economic forecasting, assessment of housing
prices and anticipation of economic distress is flawless. He hasn’t been
right once. With the top 1% richest Americans controlling 42% of the
financial wealth in the country, an all-time high, the next leg down
will boil over into class warfare. The middle class has been devastated
thus far. Another stock market collapse and more job losses would push
them over the edge. The evident failure of government solutions will
invigorate the Liberty Movement to become even more strident in their
anti-government message. The subsequent battle between the Haves and
Have Nots is likely to flair into protests, riots and increasing
violence. There will be no compromises. The 2012 Presidential election
could incite reactions on par with the election of Lincoln in 1860.
While the country convulsively flails about, foreign adversaries will
take advantage of our weakness. Peak oil will throw a further wrench
into the downward spiral. Out of this tempest, the country will either
turn to a strong leader and more government control or move back toward a
smaller Federal government footprint and a return to rule by the people
and for the people. The outcome is unknown, but the path
is foreseeable. Let’s hope that Ben Franklin was right.  

All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed
frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that
kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on
the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now
forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need
his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live,
the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the
affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his
Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?” –
Benjamin Franklin, To Colleagues at the Constitutional Convention


“History offers no guarantees. If America plunges into an era of
depression or violence which by then has not lifted, we will likely look
back on the 1990s as the decade when we valued all the wrong things and
made all the wrong choices.” 
 - The Fourth Turning - Strauss & Howe -1997