(2010-09-01) Lewis Strauss Winter Turning

Nathan Lewis summarizes/applies William Strauss' and Neil Howe's now-popular book The Fourth Turning (written in 1997) (note same guys are responsible for the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory). In their view, U.S. history (going back to English history) consists of cycles of about eighty years, or four twenty-year seaons... The most recent Spring was the 1945-1964 period. (So we're currently in a Winter starting in 2005 (Credit Crisis 2008), set to last until 2024.) A Crisis emerges as previous issues that might have been ignored or deferred now become dire. The previous order, established in the Spring, crumbles and decays. The private sector no longer provides and adequate refuge from the decay of the civic and community sphere. A new order begins to emerge.

Obviously, we are in a winter period today. This is no mere "downturn," or even a "secular bear market." The last three Winter periods in American history, according to Strauss and Howe, were the Great Depression/World War II, the US Civil War, and the Revolutionary War (American Revolution).

During the Winter period, the existing institutions and structures crumble due to their internal decay. Like the annual winter, this period can be tolerable, and even viewed as enjoyable and necessary, if you recognize its basic characteristics. The basic characteristic of the Winter period is that activity that is appropriate for the Spring, Summer or Autumn is a complete failure during the Winter. You don't try to grow crops in February. Nothing will grow. It is a period where the corrupt and decaying institutions of the past finally disintegrate down to compost.

I don't think that any new institution could be established today. The decay is simply too great. Whatever system might be set up -- a healthcare system, a high-speed rail system, or what have you -- would simply end up being another channel by which 90%+ of the resources are stolen, while no meaningful services are provided. That is the present pattern for everything, and it is not until that pattern arrives at its natural conclusion (implosion) that people will begin to behave differently.

As it is, we still need to have a long discussion as to exactly what these new institutions -- a gold standard, some sort of healthcare system, perhaps another sort of retirement system, a solution to the problems of Suburban Hell -- should look like. We couldn't really accomplish any of that today, because there isn't a workable consensus on what to do. It will take another fifteen years or so of dealing with the Crisis for these ideas, which are now in their early stages, to ripen and spread.

I always say that you should imagine things that are different than they are today, and of course, much better. If we don't start imagining things that are worthwhile and successful, we might start imagining something that is rather more dangerous. Adolph Hitler got the whole German people to imagine conquering all of Europe.

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