Guest Post: Years Of The Modern
Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform
Years Of The Modern
Is humanity forming en-masse? for lo, tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim,
The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war,
No one knows what will happen next, such portents fill the days and
Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to
pierce it, is full of phantoms,
Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me,
This incredible rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams
O years! – Years of the Modern- Walt Whitman
The great American poet Walt Whitman wrote these words in 1859.
Whitman was trying to peer into a future of uncertainty. He was sure the
future would be bleak. He had visions of phantoms. Maybe he saw the
600,000 souls who would lose their lives in the next six years. Whitman
had captured the mood of a country entering the Fourth Turning.
He didn’t know what would happen, but he felt the beat of war drums in
the distance. Whitman did not have the benefit of historical perspective
that we have today.
There have been three Fourth Turnings in American History.
The American Revolution Fourth Turning ended in 1794 with the Crisis
mood easing with the presidency of George Washington. Whitman didn’t
realize that, 64 years after the previous Fourth Turning, the mood of
the country was ripe for revolution and the sweeping away of the old
order. When the stock market crashed in 1929, 64 years after the
exhausting conclusion to the Civil War Fourth Turning, Americans didn’t
realize the generational constellation was propelling them toward a new
social order and a horrific world war. It is now 66 years since the
conclusion of the Depression/WWII Fourth Turning. All indications are
that the current Fourth Turning began in the 2007 – 2009, with the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing financial system implosion.
I find myself vainly trying to pierce the veil of events yet to be.
The future is filled with haunting phantoms of unborn deeds which could
lead to renewed glory, untold death and destruction, or the possibly the
end of the great American experiment. Walt Whitman captured the change
of mood in the country with his poem. History books are filled
with dates and descriptions of events, battles, speeches and
assassinations. What most people don’t understand is Fourth Turnings
aren’t about events, but about the citizens’ reaction to the events.
The Boston Massacre did not start the American Revolution Fourth
Turning, but the Boston Tea Party did. John Brown’s attack on Harper’s
Ferry did not start the Civil War Fourth Turning, but the election of
Abraham Lincoln did. World War I did not start the Great
Depression/World War II Fourth Turning, but the 1929 Stock Market Crash
did. The 9/11 terrorist attack did not start latest Fourth Turning, but
the Wall Street induced housing/financial system collapse did. In each
instance, the generations were aligned in a manner that would lead to a
sweeping away of the old civic order and a regeneracy with the
institution of a new order. Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter
elder hood, Nomads enter midlife, Heroes enter young adulthood—and a new
generation of child Artists is born.
One hundred and fifty years ago this week Fort Sumter was bombarded
by upstart revolutionaries attempting to break away from an overbearing
Federal government based in Washington D.C. Exactly four years later the
butchery and death concluded dramatically with Robert E. Lee
surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox and the assassination of
Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre. For the next
four years we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of various battles
that marked the Civil War. What people will not consider are the
similarities between that tumultuous period in our history and the
period we are in today. Fourth Turnings are marked by different events
but the same mood of upheaval, anger and fury.
As Strauss & Howe note in their book, the morphology of a Fourth Turning follows a predictable pattern:
- A Crisis era begins with a catalyst – a starting event (or sequence of events) that produces a sudden shift in mood.
- Once catalyzed, a society achieves a regeneracy – a new counter entropy that reunifies and reenergizes civic life.
- The regenerated society propels toward a climax – a crucial moment that confirms the death of the old order and birth of the new.
- The climax culminates in a resolution – a triumphant or
tragic conclusion that separates the winners from losers, resolves the
big public questions, and establishes the new order.
Strauss & Howe describe the normal sequence:
This Crisis morphology occurs over the span of one turning, which
(except for the U.S. Civil War) means that around fifteen to
twenty-five years elapse between the catalyst and the resolution. The
regeneracy usually occurs one to five years after the era begins, the
climax one to five years before it ends.
The catalysts are relatively easy to identify, but the point of regeneracy is more subtle and harder to grasp.
Fiery Moment of Death & Discontinuity
“Like nature, history is full of processes that cannot happen in
reverse. Just as the laws of entropy do not allow a bird to fly
backward, or droplets to regroup at the top of a waterfall, history has
no rewind button. Like the seasons of nature, it moves only forward.
Saecular entropy cannot be reversed. An Unraveling cannot lead back to
an Awakening, or forward to a High, without a Crisis in between. The
spirit of America comes once a saeculum, only through what the ancients
called ekpyrosis, nature’s fiery moment of death and discontinuity.
History’s periodic eras of Crisis combust the old social order and give
birth to a new.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning
The catalyst for the American Revolution was the Boston Tea Party.
The catalyst for the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln. The
catalyst for the Great Depression was the 1929 Stock market crash. The
catalyst for the current Crisis was the housing/financial system
collapse. The catalyst is an event that terminates the brooding mood of
the Unraveling and unleashes the fury of a Crisis. The three previous
Crisis periods in American history were driven by different events, but
similar generational dynamics. By closely examining the dynamics and
threats that were facing the country during these previous Crisis
periods, we may be able to peer into the murky fog of the future and
make out the phantoms of events to come. What we know for sure is every
previous Crisis had an economic and fairness dimension that provided the
initial spark, triggering a series of events that eventually led to an
all encompassing war for survival.
American Revolution - The economic dimension that
led to the onset of the American Revolution can be summed up in the
rallying cry of the colonists, “No Taxation, Without
Representation.” The British felt that the colonies were created to be
used in the way that best suited the crown and parliament. The French
& Indian War left the British Empire deeply in debt. They responded
by demanding more revenue from the colonies. The British Parliament
continued to pass taxation Acts which became increasingly onerous to the
independent minded American colonists:
- Sugar Act – 1764
- Currency Act – 1765
- Stamp Act – 1765
- Townshend Acts – 1767
- Tea Act – 1773
The increasing levels of taxation and control resulted in the
formation of Committees of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty.
Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine and the other firebrands led the movement for
independence. The colonists grew increasingly angry with the heavy
handedness and harshness of the British Monarchy. These incidents and
actions solidified the mood for independence:
- Quartering Act – 1765
- Boston Massacre – 1770
- Intolerable Acts – 1774
As you can see there were years of economic and political turmoil
before the Boston Tea Party catalyst event ignited the revolution. The
mood of enough citizens had shifted as the generational alignment no
longer allowed for compromise. In the end, the increase of economic
restrictions and limiting of freedom led to the revolution. As a side
note, a Fourth Turning does not need a majority to be initiated. Only
one-third of the colonists actively supported the rebellion.
American Civil War - The economic dimension that
drove the dynamics of the Civil War related to the Southern agrarian
society based upon growing cotton and the rapidly industrializing North
with its cities and manufacturing prowess. The invention of the cotton
gin led to many more plantations in the South depending solely on cotton
to support their way of life. Cotton farming required vast amounts of
cheap human labor, and slaves fit the bill. Abolitionists in the North
had the moral high ground as Southern plantation owners treated human
beings as property. Attitudes became more intense after the publication
of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
the Dred Scott Decision, and the John Brown raid on Harper’s Ferry. The
issue of slavery had been boiling beneath the surface since the
adoption of the US Constitution. Various compromises had been struck
over the years to keep the issue at bay:
- Missouri Compromise
- Compromise of 1850
- Kansas – Nebraska Act
These economic and human rights issues became wrapped in the mantle
of states’ rights and the struggle between the Federal government and
State governments. The battle reached back to the earliest days of the
Republic between Jefferson and Hamilton. Many felt that the new
constitution ignored the rights of states to continue to act
independently. They felt the states should still have the right to
decide if they were willing to accept certain federal acts. This
resulted in the idea of nullification, whereby the states would have the
right to rule federal acts unconstitutional. The federal government
denied states this right. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, the
Southern states saw a man who was against slavery, believed in a strong
Federal government, and supporter of the industrial North. The years of
compromise were over. The firebrand prophet generation took control in
Washington DC and Richmond Virginia. A fight to the finish was
Great Depression/World War II – The economic
dimension that drove the onset of this Crisis was the unbridled greed
and speculation of Wall Street banks. The easy money policies of the
Federal Reserve, formed in secret and voted into existence on Christmas
Eve with many members of Congress not present created the Roaring 20′s.
While farmers struggled to survive on the drought stricken plains and
the average person lived a hard scrabble existence, the banking elite
reaped obscene profits, with the top 1% sucking 23.9% of all the
national income – the highest level in U.S. history.
The 1920′s were a time of cultural decay, decadence and disillusionment. This mood was reflected in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
As we know too well, every boom eventually goes bust. The bust came in
October 1929, with a stock market crash. Stockholders lost $40 billion.
The market dropped 89% over a two year period. By 1933, 11,000 of the
25,000 banks in the US had failed. These were mostly small regional
banks. The major NY banks such as JP Morgan and Mellon became more
powerful. The artificial interference in the economy by the Federal
government and Federal Reserve was a disaster prior to the Depression,
and government efforts to prop up the economy after the crash of 1929
only made things worse. Passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs spread the
depression around the world. The economic hardship in Germany led to the
election of Adolf Hitler and set the stage for a future war that would
kill 65 million people. FDR’s New Deal programs crowded out private
industry and resulted in unemployment staying at levels exceeding 15%
for an entire decade. Keynesian government spending prolonged the
depression and put into place social programs that set in motion the
debt bomb that threatens the country today.
Force Advancing with Irresistible Power
I see not America only, not only Liberty’s nation but other nations
I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the solidarity
I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world’s stage,
(Have the old forces, the old wars, played their parts? are the acts
suitable to them closed?)
I see Freedom, completely arm’d and victorious and very haughty,
with Law on one side and Peace on the other,
A stupendous trio all issuing forth against the idea of caste;
What historic denouements are these we so rapidly approach?
I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions,
I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken,
I see the landmarks of European kings removed,
I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give
Never were such sharp questions ask’d as this day,
Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God,
Years of the Modern- Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman foresaw vast armies on the march and old orders being
swept away by the historic denouements that were rapidly approaching.
But even he couldn’t have foreseen the butchery and tragic deaths of
over 600,000 men in the next four bloody years. The economic dimensions
of the current Crisis were foreseeable at least a decade before the
Crisis arrived. The Federal Reserve, under the “wise” supervision of
former Ayn Rand disciple Alan Greenspan, progressively blew one bubble
after another through its easy money policies. The Greenspan Put allowed
the Wall Street vampire squids to suck the life out of the American
economic system without fear of being harpooned for taking financial
system endangering leveraged bets. The financial oligarchs used their
influence, power and vast wealth to repeal Glass-Steagall, capture and
buy off the rating agencies, neuter the SEC and other regulatory
agencies and place their executives in high level government positions.
The ruling wealthy elite again matched their peak take of the national
income, just as they did in 1928.
The debt, fraud and lack of financial regulation that catalyzed the
near collapse of the worldwide financial system in 2008, 63 years after
the end of the last Fourth Turning, have not been purged from the
system. In fact, those in power have decided more debt, accounting fraud
and financial ignorance is the path to recovery for America. The issues
which will be the driving forces during this Crisis are clear to anyone
with their eyes open:
- A National Debt the will approach $20 trillion by 2015 and has already surpassed 90% of GDP, the point of no return.
- Annual deficits exceeding $1.5 trillion and equal to over 10% of GDP.
- The unfunded promises made by slimy politicians over decades for
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security exceeds $100 trillion and can
never be paid.
- A military industrial complex that controls Congress, is fighting
three wars, occupies hundreds of bases throughout the world and spends
$1 trillion per year, seven times more than any other country in the
- A financial industry debt peddling complex that has gained control
over the government and media to such an extent they have been able to
rape and pillage the American people for three decades, convincing
regulatory agencies to allow them 40 to 1 leverage, crashing the
financial system through a massive mortgage/derivatives fraudulent ponzi
scheme, threatening the American people into giving them $4 trillion of
taxpayer money, paying themselves hundreds of billions in bonuses for a
job well done, and then insisting on lower taxes for their corporations
and the rich oligarchs who inhabit these towers of evil in downtown
- Wealthy elite who use their existing wealth to control Congress, the
media and the financial debt peddling industry, abscond with 25% of the
national income and control 42% of the financial wealth in the country.
At the same time real wages of middle class Americans have been
stagnant for 4 decades, real unemployment exceeds 20%, 45 million people
need food stamps to make ends meet, and real inflation on the things
middle class Americans need hovers around 10%. The gap between the Haves
and Have Nots has never been greater.
- The Federal Reserve has boxed itself into a corner and will be
unable to extricate itself with its only weapon – the printing press. It
has tripled the size of its balance sheet to $2.7 trillion, with at
least half of the “assets” consisting of toxic worthless mortgages
bought from their Wall Street masters. 0% interest rates for two and a
half years, QE1 and QE2, and allowing banks to fraudulently report the
value of their loans have failed to jumpstart the economy. Come June of
2011 they will be faced with a dilemma – PRINT or DIE. If they stop
buying U.S. Treasury debt, interest rates will go up dramatically. If
they keep printing to buy U.S. Treasury debt, the dollar will continue
to fall and inflation will accelerate from its already high level.
- The biggest wildcard among the Fourth Turning catalysts is Peak Oil.
The modern industrial world is completely dependent upon cheap
accessible oil. Globalization, consumerism, suburban sprawl, food
production and distribution, and all means of transportation are
dependent upon cheap abundant oil. Peak world oil production has
occurred. Demand will outstrip supply going forward at an ever
increasing rate. Various levels of chaos will ensue as the realization
of this fact becomes evident to everyone.
- The peak oil scenario will mix with the toxic brew of religion. The
centuries old war between Christianity and Islam has been gaining
strength over the last three decades. The revolutions spreading across
the Middle East will not die down. They will intensify and create havoc
for the existing despotic regimes. The new regimes will not be friendly
towards the U.S. The combination of peak oil, with the fact that 56% of
the world’s oil reserves are controlled by Muslim countries in the
Middle East provides an unsettling backdrop for the U.S., which controls
less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves.
- The technological complexity and interconnectedness of people across
the world is a danger and a possible boon to civilization. Our entire
world is dependent upon computers and networks to run our
infrastructure, defense, commerce, and everyday lives. Armies, naval
ships, and massed confrontation will be made obsolete by cyber warfare.
Computer hackers will be able to do more damage to a country in minutes
than armies could do in years of traditional warfare. The trillions the
US spends on aircraft carriers, fighter jets and tanks will be wasted.
The positive side of technology has been realized in its ability to
organize people to fight oppression and government propaganda.
Likeminded people have been able to use technology to seek and reveal
The initial stage of this Fourth Turning has run its course. The
catalyst was easy to recognize. The issues that confront the nation over
the next twenty years are clear. What is completely unclear to me is
how our fractured society achieves a regeneracy – a new
counterentropy that reunifies and reenergizes civic life. The regeneracy
usually occurs one to five years after the Crisis era begins. This
means that the country would need to reunify and begin to confront our
challenges by 2013. Regeneracy began with the Declaration of
Independence during the American Revolution. Regeneracy began with
Abraham Lincoln demanding the enlistment of 500,000 men after the Battle
of Bull Run. Regeneracy began with FDR’s New Deal programs in 1933
during the Great Depression. What will begin the Regeneracy this time?
Something Wicked This Way Comes
“Decisive events will occur – events so vast, powerful, and
unique that they lie beyond today’s wildest hypothesis. These events
will inspire great documents and speeches, visions of a new political
order being framed. People will discover a hitherto unimagined capacity
to fight and die, and to let their children fight and die, for a
communal cause. The Spirit of America will return, because there will be
no other choice. Thus will Americans reenact the great ancient myth of
the ekpyrosis. Thus will we achieve our next rendezvous with destiny.” - Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning
The storyline promulgated by the mainstream linear thinking opinion
leaders is the economy is recovering, the banking system is sound, the
stock market is booming, buying a house is a great investment, inflation
is below 2%, jobs are being created, and consumers have regained their
confidence and spending power. This message is hammered home on a daily
basis by the corporate run mainstream media. It is patently false and
the thinking members of the American public know it. The economic
condition of the country is rapidly deteriorating. While politicians
posture and lie to the citizens, the fissures in our financial system
grow wider. As of today, regeneracy and unification behind one common
national purpose seems light years away. Strauss & Howe speculated
in 1997 about potential events that could spur events during the next
Fourth Turning. One of their possible scenarios looms in the near
- An impasse over the federal budget reaches a stalemate. The
president and Congress both refuse to back down, triggering a near-total
government shutdown. The president declares emergency powers. Congress
rescinds his authority. Dollar and bond prices plummet. The president
threatens to stop Social Security checks. Congress refuses to raise the
debt ceiling. Default looms. Wall Street panics.
The event necessary to cause a regeneracy in this country will need
to be on an epic scale. Based upon a review of the foreseeable issues
confronting our society it is clear to me that a worse financial
implosion will strike before the 2012 presidential election. It may be
triggered by a debt ceiling confrontation, the ending of QE2, a panic
out of the USD, hyperinflation, a surge in oil prices, or some
combination of these possibilities. The ensuing collapse of the stock
and bond markets will remove the last vestiges of trust in the existing
financial system and the government bureaucrats who have taken taxpayer
dollars and funneled them to these Wall Street oligarchs.
The economic chaos will likely lead to a Republican landslide in the
2012 election. A Boomer Prophet with a reputation for fixing financial
disasters (aka Mitt Romney) would be given a mandate to fix the economic
system. All generations will realize that generational promises made
cannot be fulfilled. People of a libertarian mindset, like me, will not
be happy with the turn of events. In a chaotic scenario, the Federal
government is likely to assume even more power than they have today. The
American people will be fearful and angry. If the financial criminals
on Wall Street are brought to justice, the chances of a unified populace
will increase. A drop in everyone’s standard of living would be
acceptable, as long as the rich shared equally in the burden. If the
super wealthy oligarchs retain their power, a fracturing along class
lines would become a distinct possibility. Social unrest, riots, and
violent protests along the lines of the current situation in the Middle
East could develop. Then a question of military use against the civilian
population becomes paramount to what would happen next.
Amidst the financial chaos will be the ever present peak oil issue.
The increasingly high prices and imminent shortages of supply will
exacerbate the pain for the American people. The current War on Terror
is really a cover for keeping American troops in the Middle East as a
forward vanguard to keep the oil flowing. The U.S. consumes 7 billion
barrels of oil per year and will use all means necessary to keep it
flowing. With a Boomer Prophet leader invoking American manifest
destiny, it is likely we will intervene to protect Saudi Arabia, Iraq,
and Kuwait in the name of democracy. A terrorist incident in the U.S.
would provide convenient cover for further intervention in the Middle
East. As with most wars the unintended consequences will overwhelm the
best laid plans of politicians and generals. Further U.S. intervention
into an already exploding Middle East will likely spur a larger conflict
between Islam and Christianity. Ground zero could shift to Europe as
millions of Muslims have settled there and will not react positively to
western powers siphoning oil from Islamic countries in the name of
Christianity. History has taught us that Fourth Turnings end in all out
war. The outcome of wars is always in doubt.
“History offers more sobering warnings: Armed confrontation
usually occurs around the climax of Crisis. If there is confrontation,
it is likely to lead to war. This could be any kind of war – class war,
sectional war, war against global anarchists or terrorists, or
superpower war. If there is war, it is likely to culminate in total war,
fought until the losing side has been rendered nil – its will broken,
territory taken, and leaders captured. And if there is total war, it is
likely that the most destructive weapons available will be deployed.” - Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning
“Each of the last three American Crises produced moments of
extreme danger: In the Revolution, the very birth of the republic hung
by a thread in more than one battle. In the Civil War, the union barely
survived a four-year slaughter that in its own time was reagrded as the
most lethal war in history. In World War II, the nation destroyed an
enemy of democracy that for a time was winning; had the enemy won,
America might have itself been destroyed. In all likelihood, the next
Crisis will present the nation with a threat and a consequence on a
similar scale.” - Strauss and Howe – The Fourth Turning
It may be 150 years since Walt Whitman foresaw the imminent march of
armies, visions of unborn deeds, and a sweeping away of the old order,
but history has brought us right back to where we started. Immense
challenges and threats await our nation. Will we face them with the
courage and fortitude of our forefathers? Or will we shrink from our
responsibility to future unborn generations? The drumbeat of history
grows louder. Our rendezvous with destiny beckons.
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