Posted by: danielfee | September 12, 2011

2012: Will be a Watershed Year – Part 1

 Part 1: Historical Cycles

The elections of 2012 will be a pivotal turning point in the history of America and will set the direction of the country for several generations. It seems that you hear this type of statement in every presidential election year. But based on where we are today within the cycles of history, the 2012 elections will most likely be a transitional election like the elections of 1932 and 1860. We are all familiar with the cliché that history repeats itself. But it is more than just a cliché; history does move in generational cycles and, even though it does not repeat exactly, it is similar enough for everyone to sense that we have been here before.

Before we explore the impacts of the decision that we will confront in 2012, we need to look back at what the historical cycles tell us about where we are heading. In 1997, William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book titled “The Fourth Turning; What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny”. For a more in-depth understanding of history’s cycles, everyone should read this book. However to briefly summarize, the book’s premise is that western cultures turn in a unit of time defined as a “saeculum”, an ancient term that meant a long human lifetime of roughly 80 to 100 years. Each saeculum consists of four turnings that are described as follows: the First Turning is a High, the Second Turning is an Awakening, the Third Turning is an Unraveling and the Fourth Turning is a Crisis. Every person who lives a long life will experience each turning once in their life and a few that live into their 90’s will re-experience the turning of their early childhood. Each generation is born into one of these turnings and each generation has an associated archetype. While archetypes are ordinarily applied to individual personalities, they can also be associated with generations. Like individuals, generations are also shaped by the nurture they receive as children and the challenges they face as they come of age. The four generational archetypes are: hero, artist, prophet and nomad.

The Greek philosophers recognized the four sidedness of nature and personalities as early as the sixth century B.C. Like the four seasons they are defined as two pairs of opposites, summer-winter and spring-fall. While they have been given different names throughout history, the same archetypical ordering arises over and over again and are referred to as the generational constellation. These archetypes also have a recurring pattern within each saeculum. Due to this recurring pattern, America has always had the same archetypical line-up entering each of the four turnings. Because each generation is shaped by history as they come of age, they will shape history as they move forward through the saeculum. Each of western history’s saeculums, beginning with the late medieval period of the 1400’s, end with the Fourth Turning, the Crisis period.

In their book, Strauss and Howell explained that every Crisis starts with a catalyst, a startling event that produces a sudden shift in the social mood. Following the catalyzing event, society achieves a regeneracy that reunifies and reenergizes civic life and propels society towards a climax. The climax event will culminate in a resolution, which can be either triumphant or tragic, resolving the big public questions and establishing the new order as society moves into the next First Turning, the spring of the new saeculum. The last time America experienced the Fourth Turning it began in 1929 with the stock market crash and ended in 1946 with the resolution of World War II. Based on their study of history and generational cycles, in 1997 they predicted that America was approaching the Fourth Turning and that the catalyst event would occur sometime around 2005, perhaps a few years before or after. The Crisis catalyst event involves scenarios that are imaginable 8 to 10 years in advance based on trends that are occurring during the Unraveling Third Turning. Based on what was occurring in the 1990’s they prophesied a few potential scenarios:

A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces that it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to- house searches. Opponents charge that the President concocted the emergency for political purposes.


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.

While these scenarios did not play out exactly as they predicted, they were close enough. Unquestionably September 11, 2001 was the catalyst event that began the Fourth Turning we are now living through in this Millennial Saeculum. They went on to state “that soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug-of-war, ending the era of split government that has lasted through four decades of Awakening and Unraveling. The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned. This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis.”

The 2012 elections are set up to be the decisive election that will propel us through the rest of this Fourth Turning and lay the groundwork for next saeculum. The last time we saw an election of this magnitude in a Crisis period was 1932. In addition to electing Franklin D. Roosevelt, the congressional elections swung heavily to the Democrats. They won 313 seats in the House plus 59 Senate seats, giving them clear majorities and a mandate from the public to implement their policies to address the economic depression. As a result, the New Deal was implemented, which included programs like Social Security, Works Progress Administration, Housing Authority, Farm Security Administration and the Wagner Act to promote labor unions. These New Deal programs enacted between 1933 and 1936 established the basis for growth that occurred in this saeculum’s First Turning between 1946-1964. Democrats continued and expanded with programs like Medicare and Medicaid during the Second Turning between 1964-1984 but then those programs came under increased attacks by Republicans during the Third Turning Unraveling. During the current Crisis period, we see the New Deal and other social programs under a full assault and the most ideological on the right are pushing for a complete restructuring if not outright elimination of the programs.

Likewise, the 1860 election was the critical election in the Civil War Saeculum. As a result of Lincoln’s election, the south seceded from the union and the attack on Fort Sumter triggered the Civil War. After five years of war, 625,000 Americans were dead and another 412,200 wounded before the end of the war concluded that Crisis period. This was the only time that the Crisis period was truncated and did not run for a full generation. When you go back one more saeculum in history, its Crisis period ends with the Revolutionary War and sets the colonies on a new path of self governance and the greatest democracy experiment in history.

So what we can learn from historical cycles is that the Fourth Turning Crisis periods end with historic events and set the direction for the First and Second Turnings in the next saeculum before they start to Unravel and lead to the next Crisis.

From the perspective of the fiscal impacts on America, the tax redistribution that began with the Reagan Administration policies in the 1980’s ranks with the major historical shifts that occurred including: the Hamiltonian plan of 1789-92 with the assumption of state debts and funding through internal taxes, the Civil War upheaval with its North-South realignment of power and capital from the agrarian South to the industrial North, and the FDR New Deal tax and fiscal changes that undercut the pre-1929 financial elite and elevated the middle class. However, these other shifts all occurred at or near the end of the Crisis period and set the course for the following First Turning High period. The 1980’s tax policy shift started at the beginning of the Third Turning Unraveling and has returned America to the pre-1929 divide between the financial elites and the rest of society. Based on the financial upheaval we are experiencing today, the 2012 elections are likely to be the pivotal event in the realignment of power and capital, which will carry forward for the next 50 years.

With the cycles of history in mind, and realizing that we are heading for the climax event of this saeculum’s Crisis period, we should look much more closely at what agendas the two political parties are proposing because we will be living with the winner’s agenda for the next couple of generations. If the voters, particularly those voters who don’t typically pay attention to politics until it is a presidential election year, can cut through the nonsense that passes as cable TV chatter and the barrage of political commercials that are coming their way, they will find that they will have two very different agendas to choose between. On one side they will be confronted with a Republican party that has taken to heart the Ronald Reagan quote, “The government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” and made it a core value of the parties platform. On the other side, they will have a Democratic party that believes that government can still solve problems by protecting or instituting new governmental programs. The Republicans will call the Democrat’s agenda “socialism” and the Democrats will call the Republican’s agenda “fascism.” To a degree, they are both right.

During the First and Second Turnings, FDR and other Democratic administrations put programs in place to benefit the middle class that are socialist, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, which according to recent polls over 80% of Americans still support and don‘t want dismantled. During the Third and early part of the Fourth Turnings, from the Reagan through G.W Bush administrations, the influence of corporate lobbyists and special interests rose dramatically and led to significant deregulation of numerous industries and the rise of corporate power and control over government, which is often equated with the original definition of fascism, meaning the merger of corporate and state interests. Today we are more likely to call this crony capitalism.

With this historical perspective in mind, the agendas of each political party will be addressed in the next two parts of this series. Part four will summarize the choice voters will face in the 2012 elections.


  1. I very much agree. Moreover, it will be a referendum on Obama’s Left wing politics of the last 4 years.

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