Readers Rush to Lap Up Chilling Prophecy

September 29, 2001 | By Louise Branson

Four years ago, two authors published a book called The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy: What Cycles Of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous With Destiny.

It contained the chilling forecast that, based on historical patterns, America would hit a once-in-a-century national crisis within the decade.

Like winter, the crisis—or “fourth turning”—could not be averted. It would last 20 years or so and bring hardship and upheaval similar to previous fourth turnings such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II.

And it would begin with a “sudden spark” to catalyse a crisis mood.

The book didn’t get a lot of attention at the time—it’s getting plenty now.

Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss have a website—www.fourthturning.com—full of comments now from people who believe 4T, shorthand for fourth turning, is already upon us.

Howe and Strauss have filed their own message.

The Sept 11 attacks, they said, were enough to spark a crisis mood.

But they are not yet sure whether America has entered 4T or is still at the end of its third turning—a time for the unravelling of institutions and old civic orders.

Whatever it may be, “the catalyst event is only a gateway, a prelude, not the main event,” they say.

“The climax of the fourth turning, the true history-bending moment, remains well in the future, its nature unknowable.”

Are they crazy or prophetic? As sales of their book climb, they are beginning to gain a reputation for being the latter.

Even when the book was first published they had their fans.

Naval war professor David Kaiser, for example, who said that he had finished the book with feelings of terror and excitement and that if its authors were right, their names would go down in history.

A New York Times reviewer, however, said the predictions were as vague as those of fortune cookies.

The authors said they first came up with their theory in 1991 when they identified characteristics of Americans, based on when they were born, for 18 generations.

They perceived a pattern of historical change which emerged every two decades or so.

In line with that theory, the post-World War II years of 1946 to 1964 comprised a first turning of American ascendancy.

The years of 1964 to 1984 marked a time of spiritual revival including the rise of feminism, environmentalism and black power.

A third-turning period of unravelling began in 1984 and the fourth could already be here.

“It’s like a winter—it can come early or late, it can be severe or mild but it’s going to come. The only way to get to spring is through it,” according to Mr Strauss.

A turn for all seasons

The four turnings are characterised thus:

The first is a high, when institutions are strengthened, new civic orders are planted and individualism is weakened. The second is an awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval in which the civic order is challenged by new values. The third is an unravelling, when individualism rises, institutions and civic orders weaken and new values are implanted. The fourth is a crisis, when there is widespread upheaval and civic orders are replaced.

Connections