Chapter 9 - Fourth Turnings in History


Part 3 - Preparations




A Fourth Turning

Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning.

In the middle Oh-Ohs, America will be a very different society than in the late 1920s, when the last Crisis catalyzed. The nation will be more affluent, enjoy better health, possess more technology, encompass a larger and more diverse population, and command more powerful weapons—but the same could be said about every other Unraveling era society compared to its predecessor. They were not exempt from the saeculum; nor will we be.

A spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-era mind-set. This time, though, 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.

Recall that a Crisis catalyst involves scenarios distinctly imaginable eight or ten years in advance. Based on recent Unraveling-era trends, the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible:

  • Beset by a fiscal crisis, a state lays claim to its residents' federal tax monies. Declaring this an act of secession, the president obtains a federal injunction. The governor refuses to back down. Federal marshals enforce the court order. Similar tax rebellions spring up in other states. Treasury bill auctions are suspended. Militia violence breaks out. Cyberterrorists destroy IRS databases. U.S. special forces are put on alert. Demands issue for a new Constitutional Convention.
  • A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces 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. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S.
  • 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus. The disease reaches densely populated areas, killing some. Congress enacts mandatory quarantine measures. The president orders the National Guard to throw prophylactic cordons around unsafe neighborhoods. Mayors resist. Urban gangs battle suburban militias. Calls mount for the president to declare martial law.
  • Growing anarchy throughout the former Soviet republics prompts Russia to conduct training exercises around its borders. Lithuania erupts in civil war. Negotiations break down. U.S. diplomats are captured and publicly taunted. The president airlifts troops to rescue them and orders ships into the Black Sea. Iran declares its alliance with Russia. Gold and oil prices soar. Congress debates restoring the draft.

It's highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen. What is likely, however, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crisis dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: 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. If foreign societies are also entering a Fourth Turning, this could accelerate the chain reaction.

At home and abroad, these events will reflect the tearing of the civic fabric at points of extreme vulnerability—problem areas where, during the Unraveling, America will have neglected, denied, or delayed needed action. Anger at “mistakes we made” will translate into calls for action, regardless of the heightened public risk. 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 local rebellions will probably be quelled, terrorists foiled, fiscal crisis averted, disease halted, or war fever cooled. Yet even if dire consequences are temporarily averted, America will have entered the Fourth Turning.

The new mood and its jarring new problems will provide a natural end point for the Unraveling-era decline in civic confidence. In the pre-Crisis years, fears about the flimsiness of the social contract will have been subliminal but rising. As the Crisis catalyzes, these fears will rush to the surface, jagged and exposed. Distrustful of some things, individuals will feel that their survival requires them to distrust more things. This behavior could cascade into a sudden downward spiral, an implosion of societal trust.

If so, this implosion will strike financial markets—and, with that, the economy. Aggressive individualism, institutional decay, and long-term pessimism can proceed only so far before a society loses the level of dependability needed to sustain the division of labor and long-term promises on which a market economy must rest. Through the Unraveling, people will have preferred (or, at least, tolerated) the exciting if bewildering trend toward social complexity. But as the Crisis mood congeals, people will come to the jarring realization that they have grown helplessly dependent on a teetering edifice of anonymous transactions and paper guarantees. Many Americans won't know where their savings are, who their employer is, what their pension is, or how their government works. The era will have left the financial world arbitraged and tentacled: Debtors won't know who holds their notes, homeowners who owns their mortgages, and shareholders who runs their equities—and vice versa.

At about the same time, each generation's approach to its new phase of life will set off loud economic alarms, reminding people how weakly their Unraveling-era nation prepared for the future. The Boomers' old age will loom, exposing the thinness in private savings and the unsustainability of public promises. The 13ers will reach their make-or-break peak earning years, realizing at last that they can't all be lucky exceptions to their stagnating average income. Millennials will come of age facing debts, tax burdens, and two-tier wage structures that older generations will now declare intolerable. As all these generations enter their Crisis constellation, the Unraveling will have left the government so fiscally overcommitted to sustaining everyone's expectations that initial official responses to these new concerns will lack credibility. Subliminal fears will now become urgent. The Unraveling era's wry acceptance that people might never get much back from Social Security will crystallize into a jolting new fear that everything from Treasury bills to remortgage instruments to mutual funds could become just as suspect.

At some point, America's short-term Crisis psychology will catch up to the long-term post-Unraveling fundamentals. This might result in a Great Devaluation, a severe drop in the market price of most financial and real assets. This devaluation could be a short but horrific panic, a free-falling price in a market with no buyers. Or 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. With taxes hiked, the new midlifers will get to pocket even less of their peak-year incomes. With job offers dwindling, the new youth will face even taller barricades against their future.

Before long, America's old civic order will seem ruined beyond repair. People will feel like a magnet has passed over society's disk drive, blanking out the social contract, wiping out old deals, clearing the books of vast unpayable promises to which people had once felt entitled. The economy could reach a trough that may look to be the start of a depression. With American weaknesses newly exposed, foreign dangers could erupt.

From this trough and from these dangers, the makings of a new social contract and new civic order will arise. In the initial, jerry-built stages, people will not be entitled, but authorized to receive whatever they get from government. This will lead to conflict, as people do battle to establish where, how, and by whom this authority is to be exercised. This battle could be peaceful, involving political processes—or violent, involving public and private militias. Public needs will assume a new shape and urgency. Old political alliances will be broken and new ones forged, and debates will commence on laws that radically shift the balance between individual rights and duties. National issues will break clear of the Unraveling-era circus and cast a clear and immediate shadow over the everyday shape of American life. The Unraveling-era culture warriors will no longer be attacking national institutions mostly from the outside. Come the Fourth Turning, they will be fully in charge.

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 had 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. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation's attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.

In foreign affairs, America's initial Fourth Turning instinct will be to look away from other countries and focus total energy on the domestic birth of a new order. Later, provoked by real or imagined outside provocations, the society will turn newly martial. America will become more isolationist than today in its unwillingness to coordinate its affairs with other countries but less isolationist in its insistence that vital national interests not be compromised. The Crisis mood will dim expectations that multilateral diplomacy and expanding global democracy can keep the world out of trouble. Even before any conflicts arise, people will feel less anxiety over the prospect of casualties. Old Unraveling-era strategies (flexibility, stealth, elite expertise, stand-off weaponry, and surgical goals) will all be replaced by new Crisis-era strategies (mass, intimidation, universal conscription, frontal assault, and total victory) more suitable to a fight for civic survival. By then, people will look back on the Unraveling as the time when America evolved from a postwar to a prewar era.

The economy will in time recover from its early and vertiginous reversals. Late in the Crisis, with trust and hope and urgency growing fast, it may even achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and production. But, by then, the economy will have changed fundamentally. Compared to today, it will be less globally dependent, with smaller cross-border trade and capital flows. Its businesses will be more cartelized and its workers more unionized, perhaps under the shadow of overt government direction. And it will devote a much larger share of its income to saving and investing. Fourth Turning America will begin to lay out the next saeculum's infrastructure grid—some higher-tech facsimile of turnpikes, railroads, or highways. The economic role of government will shift toward far more spending on survival and future promises (defense, public works) and far less on amenities and past promises (elder care, debt service). The organization of both business and government will be simpler and more centralized, with fewer administrative layers, fewer job titles, and fewer types of goods and services transacted.

Meanwhile, Americans will correct the Unraveling's social and cultural fragmentation by demanding the choice that era never offered: the choice not to be burdened by choice. As people again begin to trust institutional authority, they will expect that authority to simplify the options of daily life—at the store (with more standardized products), on TV (with fewer media channels), at the office (with one pay scale and benefit package), and in the voting booth (with one dominant party). Institutions will be increasingly bossy, limiting personal freedoms, chastising bad manners, and cleansing the culture. Powerful new civic organizations will make judgments about which individual rights deserve respect and which do not. Criminal justice will become swift and rough, trampling on some innocents to protect an endangered and desperate society from those feared to be guilty. Vagrants will be rounded up, the mentally ill recommitted, criminal appeals short-circuited, executions hastened.

Time will pass, perhaps another decade, before the surging mood propels America to the Fourth Turning's grave moment of opportunity and danger: the climax of the Crisis. What will this be? Recall from Chapter 9 that a climax takes a form wholly unforeseeable from the advance distance of twenty-five years. Imagine some national (and probably global) volcanic eruption, initially flowing along channels of distress that were created during the Unraveling era and further widened by the catalyst. Trying to foresee where the eruption will go once it bursts free of the channels is like trying to predict the exact fault line of an earthquake. All you know in advance is something about the molten ingredients of the climax, which could include the following:

  • Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation)
  • Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities
  • Cultural distress, with the media plunging into a dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship
  • Technological distress, with cryptoanarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos
  • Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases
  • Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, one-party hegemony, major constitutional change, secessionism, authoritarianism, and altered national borders
  • Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction

During the coming Fourth Turning, some of these climax ingredients will play little or no role at all; others will shoot along channels that swell, diverge, and reconnect in wholly unforeseeable ways. Eventually, all of America's lesser problems will combine into one giant problem. The very survival of the society will feel at stake, as leaders lead and people follow. Public issues will be newly simple, fitting within the contours of crisp yes-no choices. People will leave niches to join interlocking teams, each team dependent on (and trusting of) work done by other teams. People will share similar hopes and sacrifices—and a new sense of social equality. The splinterings, complexities, and cynicisms of the Unraveling will be but distant memories. The first glimpses of a new golden age will appear beyond: if only this one big problem can be fixed.

Decisive events will occur—events so vast, powerful, and unique that they lie beyond today's wildest hypotheses. 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.

Emerging in this Crisis climax will be a great entropy reversal, that miracle of human history in which trust is reborn. Through the Fourth Turning, the old order will die, but only after having produced the seed containing the new civic order within it. In the moment of maximum danger, that seed will implant, and a new social contract will take root. For a brief time, the American firmament will be malleable in ways that would stagger the today's Un-raveling-era mindset. “Everything is new and yielding,” enthused Benjamin Rush to his friends at the climax of the American Revolution. So will everything be again.

The prospect for great civic achievement—or disintegration—will be high. New secessionist movements could spring from nowhere and achieve their ends with surprising speed. Even if the nation stays together, its geography could be fundamentally changed, its party structure altered, its Constitution and Bill of Rights amended beyond recognition. History offers even 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.

With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different. The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains its Framers' visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.

The Crisis resolution will establish the political, economic, and social institutions with which our children and heirs will live for decades thereafter. Fresh from the press of history, the new civic order will rigidify around all the new authorities, rules, boundaries, treaties, empires, and alliances. The Crisis climax will recede into the public memory—a heart-pounding memory to all who will recall it personally, a pivot point for those born in its aftermath, the stuff of myth and legend for later generations. And, for better or worse, everyone who survives will be left to live with the outcome.

What will propel these events? As the saeculum turns, each of today's generations will enter a new phase of life, producing a Crisis constellation of Boomer elders, midlife 13ers, young adult Millennials, and children from the New Silent Generation. Every generational transition will contribute to the shift in mood from Unraveling to Crisis.

As each archetype asserts its new social role, American society will reach its peak of potency. The natural order givers will be elder Prophets, the natural order takers young Heroes. The no-nonsense bosses will be midlife Nomads, the sensitive souls the child Artists. No archetypal constellation can match the gravitational capacity of this one—nor its power to congeal the natural dynamic of human history into new civic purpose. And none can match its potential power to condense countless arguments, anxieties, cynicisms, and pessimisms into one apocalyptic storm.

Think of all the Boomers, 13ers, and Millennials you know (or know about) today. Picture them ten to thirty years older, pursuing the archetypal paths of ancestral generations during prior Fourth Turnings. This will be America's next Crisis constellation, capable of propelling America into and through the next great gate in history.

Boomers Entering Elderhood: Gray Champions

Back in 1886, “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation” had been the motto of America's post-Civil War youth. From youth into midlife, the Missionary Generation peers of FDR muckraked, preached an ascetic Social Gospel, proclaimed a spiritual Brotherhood of Man, and slapped prohibitions on the wayward in the culture wars of the 1920s. Nearing old age, they looked up at an elder Progressive Generation whose abiding trust was in expertise, complexity, and what Louis Brandeis called “the process of trial and error.” Old Progressives battled constantly against the tolls of aging, G. Stanley Hall noting how his peers' “faculties and impulses which are denied legitimate expression during their nascent period … break out well into adult life—falsetto notes mingling with manly bass as strange puerilities.”

As the Missionary Generation supplanted Progressives in old age, the persona of American old age shifted from friendly and yielding to stern and resolute. Following the Crash of 1929, the new elders dressed dark, filled churches and libraries, and sought by example to persuade the young, in Vachel Lindsay's words, that “a nation can be born in a day if the ideals of the people can be changed.” As graying poets and novelists entered political life, elder Missionary presidents became stalwarts of first principles. Young people began looking to elders not for warmth and understanding, but for wisdom and guidance. Physically weak but cerebrally strong, Franklin Roosevelt became the leader whom “young men followed,” writes historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., “as they had followed no American since Lincoln.” “God, God,” remembered Lyndon Johnson. “How he could take it for us all.” As the Crisis climaxed, this generation tried to deliver what the octogenarian art critic Bernard Berenson described, just after World War II, as “that humanistic society which under the name of Paradise, Elysium, Heaven, City of God, Millennium, has been the craving of all good men these last four thousand years or more.”

This was the last time the Prophet archetype entered a Fourth Turning.

Picture veterans at a holiday parade in the late 2010s marking the Vietnam War's various fiftieth-year observances. Almost forgotten will be the Awakening era's crisp formations of Shriners in bright-colored scooters. Gone too will be the Unraveling era's personable Korean War vets with their modest We Fought Too buttons. In their place will be bearded old Aquarians in tattered camouflage, their step defiantly out of sync, their eyes piercing the crowd with moral rectitude.

“You and I are on our way to an unexpected harvest festival,” says Craig Karpel to his fellow Boomers. In The Retirement Myth, he likens his generation's coming elderhood to a journey to “Owl Mountain,” a “primordial sanctuary… preserved since the most ancient times,” sustaining wisdom passed down from “villages in the middle of nowhere speaking to us across the millennia.”

The bulk of today's gerontologists and demographers do not yet grasp what's coming. Ken Dychtwald's Age Wave and Cheryl Russell's Master Trend create the impression that Boomers will be much like today's busy senior citizens—except better-educated, more selfish, and (an easy prediction) much more numerous. This kind of forecast leads to the conclusion that early next century, younger generations will be overwhelmed by extravagantly doctored, expansively lobbying, age-denying old people. To support their consumptive Sharper Image lifestyles through old age, Boomers would have to impose confiscatory taxes on younger people. This would be an enormous dead weight, if it ever happens. It won't.

Clues of what old Boomers will be like can be glimpsed in the “conscious aging” movement. Cutting-edge books like From Ageing to Sageing speak of new “spiritual eldering institutes” teaching people to engage in “vision quests.” These new “elders of the tribe” see themselves as “wisdom keepers” who must apply “their dormant powers of intuition … [to] become seers who feed wisdom back into society and who guide the long-term reclamation project of healing our beleaguered planet.” Boomer gerontologist Harry Moody sees a twenty-first-century shift to a “contemplative old age” that eliminates today's focus on activity and instead “transcends doing, in favor of being.” Elders will be defined as spiritually gifted over their juniors who “are too busy to cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible.” Pain and bodily decline will be accepted, even honored as the necessary burning off of worldly dross for the purpose of acquiring higher insights. In sharp contrast to the youth-emulating “uninhibited octogenarians” of Gail Sheehy's Silent Generation, these new earth sages will want to be authentically old people, critical links in human civilization, without whose guidance the young might sink into Philistinism—but with whom the young can craft what gerontologist David Gut-mann terms “the new myths on which reculturation can be based.”

A New Age gerontology is similarly rediscovering the spiritualism of female aging. In Goddesses in Everywoman, Jean Bolen describes gatherings where postmenopausal women enter underground ritual caves. Sitting in a sacred circle in the “nourishing dark,” they light candles to enable each participant to claim the traditional “wise woman” as her new self. There is talk of stripping negative connotations away from words like crone or witch, as though a withered female body (like Grandmother Willow's in Pocahontas) were a sign of magical knowledge.

Boomer evangelicals will join the search for a spiritual old age. Elder conservative Christians will sharpen their sermonizings about good and evil, implant God and prayer in public life, and demand more divine order in civic ritual. They will view as sacrilegious many of the Unraveling era's new pro-choice life-cycle laws, from genetically engineered births to nontraditional marriages to assisted suicides. They will desecularize birth, marriage, and death to reauthenticate the core transitions of human life.

Boomer-led niche cultures will cease much of their Unraveling-era quarreling and find new communitarian ground. Ethnocentrics will reveal new civic virtue in racial essences. The Fatherhood movement will become patriarchal (and feminism matriarchal), demanding and enforcing family and community standards. Active members of these cadres will comprise just a small minority of old Boomers, but like the hippies and yuppies of the Second and Third Turnings they will command the attention and set the tone for the Fourth. Those who dislike them—and there will be many—will be unable to avoid seeing and hearing their message.

At the onset of old age, Boomers will do what they have done with every earlier step of the aging process: They will resist it for a while, then dabble in it, and ultimately glorify it. Like old Transcendental men (who sprouted long beards as badges of wisdom), Boomers will establish elegant new insignia of advanced age—flaunting, not avoiding, the natural imprints of time. Rather than trying to impress the young with G.I.-style energy or Silent-style cool, old Boomers will do so with a Zen-like serenity, a heightened consciousness of time. Slow talking, walking, and driving will become badges of contemplation, not decline. The ideal of an advanced age will not be the active and leisured G.I. or the empathic and expert Silent, but rather the inner elder who thinks deeply, recalling Emerson's view that “As we grow old,… the beauty steals inward.”

The very word retirement will acquire a new negative meaning, connoting selfish consumption and cultural irrelevance. The elder goal will not be to retire, but to replenish or reflect or pray. The very concept of any retirement will fade, as elders pursue new late-life careers, often in high-prestige but low- (or non-) paying emeritus positions. In academe, Boomers will become part professor and part spiritual guide in a reinvention of the university. In church, elders will deliver the fierce homilies while younger adults collect the money, the reverse of what is common today. Talk radio will be a bastion of elder reflection.

Aging Boomers will be drawn to the classic. Their late-life cultural questing will not evoke juvenescence, as it did in the Awakening era, but rather a preservation of values that will increasingly seem antiquated to others. Boomers will rail against pop culture detritus left over from the Unraveling: violent films, shopping malls, convenience stores, packaged throwaways. Under their stewardship, Hollywood will establish standards of taste while making definitive films of great literature, biography, and history. Old travelers will seek self-discovery and wisdom, preferring monastic retreats over cheery cruises, tai chi over shuffleboard. Elder enclaves will resemble Se-dona more than Sun City, rural hamlets more than condo minicities. The gray elite will cluster in areas long associated with this generation: Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, New Mexico, New England.

Boomer elders will still make heavy demands of the young, but the nature of those demands will differ greatly from those imposed by today's elders. Where the Awakening-era G.I.s burdened the young fiscally, Crisis-era Boomers will burden the young culturally. They will reverse the coin of el-derhood from what they will remember of the Awakening: Where G.I. elders once obtained secular reward in return for ceding moral authority, Boomers will seek the reverse. Accordingly, grandchildren will not look to them for financial advice (as per G.I. seniors) or emotional support (as per Silent seniors), but rather for guidance in the realm of ideals and values. To young eyes, old Boomers will appear highly eccentric. What Boomers feel as inner warmth will feel cold to others, and what they see as ethical perfectionism will sometimes strike others as hypocrisy.

In the Fourth Turning, Boomers are likely to occupy the vortex of a downward economic spiral. This will happen partly because of their numbers but mainly because of their location in history and collective persona. As financial expert David Barker observes, “the generation born in a K-Wave advance and inevitably spoiled by the wealth created by their parents' generation is sure to drive the system over the edge, without the experience of the past decline to provide financial and economic sobriety.” Born to the High's new cornucopia, come of age with the Awakening's fiscal levers at full throttle, the national economy in the Boomers' old age will provide them with a very different end game. Consequently, this elder generation will get a comeuppance for a lifelong habit of preaching virtues its members have not themselves displayed—of talking more than doing. There will be a payback for the Boomers' tendency to graze on a problem until they finally decide to focus fully, at which point their sudden discovery becomes as much the issue as the original problem. Sooner or later, the truth will dawn on old Boomers that the money simply won't be there to support their accustomed consumption habits in old age. Neither they nor their nation will have saved enough.

From this sudden realization could issue the end game of Boomer lifecycle consumption and savings habits: the Great Devaluation. At long last, aging Boomers will focus on the hard fact that a newly endangered America truly cannot (and younger generations will not) make their old-age subsidies a top public priority. This realization will render Boomers jittery about preserving their remaining assets. Some unforeseeable happenstance could spark a precipitous market selloff, as old investors will want to liquidate their equities to a shrinking universe of buyers. The main domestic buyers would be 13ers, who will have lower incomes and far fewer assets than Boomers and who will be of no mind to take risks with wobbling markets. Foreigners will be hesitant to acquire more U.S. assets in a time of pending fiscal crisis, especially since so many of their own societies will be facing similar demographic problems. A brief but precipitous panic could ensue. Years of savings could vanish in a matter of days—or hours.

The Great Devaluation is likely to hit Boomers just as their first cohorts are reaching the official ages of retirement, long before Social Security is now projected to go into official bankruptcy. Indeed, the panic could be triggered in part by the crystallizing financial anxieties of leading-edge Boomers. The flash point may well occur when the new elder mindset (of the 1943 “victory baby” cohort) combines with the new demographic realities (of the large 1946 “baby boom” cohort) to reach a critical mass. This could occur a few years before or after 2005—perhaps between 2002 (when the 1943 cohort reaches the IRA distribution age of fifty-nine and a half) and 2008 (when the 1946 cohort reaches the initial Social Security eligibility age of sixty-two, the age at which over two-thirds of Americans now start receiving benefits).

Unlike their predecessors, Boomers will consider their old-age finances to be more a private than public concern. For G.I.s, Social Security has been a generational bond running through government, its monthly checks a standard-issue badge of senior-citizen equality. For the Silent, Social Security will have been a play-by-the-rules annuity, offering a mixture of delight (for sneaking through just in time) and guilt (for burdening their kids). For Boomers, Social Security will be the object of fatalism and sarcasm. Some will get it, and some won't. The typical Boomer will live on bits and pieces of SEP-IRAs, Keoghs, 401Ks, federal benefits, and assorted corporate pension scraps that will vary enormously from person to person. For many, this will add up to a lot; for many others, nearly nothing.

When the market hits bottom, millions of Boomers will find themselves at the brink of old age with far smaller nest eggs than they ever expected. They will immediately have to make do with steeply diminished material consumption. Many will have no choice but to live communally or with their adult children, while groping for ways to preserve a meaningful life on very little money. Some without kin will form “intentional families,” while others who shunned neighbors all their lives will form “intentional communities.”

Following the Great Devaluation, Boomers will find new ethical purpose in low consumption because, with America in Crisis, they will have no other choice. If the Crisis has not catalyzed before, it will now. With other urgent problems facing the nation, public spending on elder benefits will necessarily decline. All the old Unraveling-era promises about Social Security will now be known to be false, just as most Boomers had always presumed. This will create a moral rubric for breaking those promises. A debate will begin about which (if any) of the old promises should still be honored, and what new ones made, in a Next New Deal among the generations. Where Unraveling-era Congresses debated over one or two percentage point differences in rates of increase, Crisis-era Congresses will debate massive cuts. To maintain G.I.-style elder dependence on the young, Boomers would have to wage political war on their coming-of-age Millennial children. It is a war they will not wage—and would not win if they did.

Instead of political battles with other generations, Boomers will engage in moral battles among themselves. Those who retain assets will accuse those who don't of irresponsibility and lack of thrift. Those who don't have assets will accuse those who do of having battened off the corrupt old order. Younger generations will agree with both accusations. In the end, the Next New Deal will find all Boomers, rich and poor, paying a price. Many who spent a lifetime paying steep Social Security and Medicare taxes will be substantially excluded from benefits by an affluence test. Those who still qualify for public aid will receive a much worse deal than their G.I. parents did. The debate will rip apart whatever remains of the old senior citizen lobby built by G.I.s back in the Awakening. The AARP will survive only by reinventing itself as a council of elders committed to advancing the needs of posterity. Modern Maturity magazine will shift its style from Silent hip to Boomer classic and change its title to refer to aging in more traditional and less euphemistic terms.

The Next New Deal will render the Boomers' old-age health-care subsidies a tightly regulated social decision. Crafting necessity into virtue, Boomers will deem the postponement of death as not a public entitlement.

Many elders will eschew high-tech hospital care for homeopathy, minimalist self care, and the mind-body techniques Deepak Chopra calls “quantum healing.” The G.I.-era of extended care facilities (with bodies kept busy but minds at rest) will be replaced by less expensive elder sanctuaries (with bodies at rest but minds kept busy). Despite the Boomers' larger numbers and longer life spans—and the costly end-of-life technologies that medicine might then offer—the share of Fourth Turning national income that will be spent on federally subsidized elder health care could fall below what it was in the Unraveling.

Old Boomers will construct a new social ethic of decline and death, much like they did in youth with sex and procreation. Where their youthful ethos hinged on self-indulgence, their elder ethos will hinge on self-denial. As they experience their own bodies coping naturally with decline and death, they will expect government to do the same. Old age will be seen as a time of transition and preparation for dying. With the same psychic energy with which they once probed eros, Boomers will now explore thanatos, the end-time, what the book Aging As a Spiritual Journey heralds as “the final night-sea journey” that lends an elder “the courage and insight to be profoundly wise for others.” Their last Big Chills will not so much mourn journeyed friends as celebrate the after-death teaching their departed souls can still offer the young. Funeral homes will help predecedents prepare posthumous books and CD-ROMs to communicate with heirs in perpetuity.

As they fill the upper age brackets, Boomers will believe themselves to be elders who, in the words of anthropologist Joan Halifax, “function like old cobblers and dressmakers, sewing us back into the fabric of creation.” They will feel a new transformative dimension of time, enabling them to craft myths and models that can resacralize the national community, heal its dysfunctions, and grant moral authority for the next Golden Age. The very other-worldliness that Boomers will regard so highly in themselves will strike younger generations as evidence of incompetence. Elder contempt for this world will strike younger people as dangerous. Yet regardless what youth think of these old messengers, they will respect their message and march to their banner.

Thus will the Gray Champion ride once more.

Eight or nine decades after his last appearance, America will be visited by the “figure of an ancient man … combining the leader and the saint (to) show the spirit of their sires.” Again will appear the heir to the righteous Puritan who stood his ground against Governor Andros, the old colonial governors of the American Revolution who broke from England, the aging radicals of the Civil War who pitted brother against brother with a “fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel,” and “the New Deal Isaiahs” who achieved their rendezvous with destiny.

Whence will come the Gray Champion? Picture the Boomer Overclass of the Unraveling, aged another twenty years. Picture William Bennett's “Consequence and Confrontation” missives; Al Gore predicting an environmental cataclysm; James Webb's summoning a “ruthless and overpowering” retaliation against foreign enemies; James Fallows rooting for a “7.0 magnitude diplo-economic shock”; “Apocalypse Darman” and “Default Newt” with their budget train wrecks; Earth First saboteurs, willing to sacrifice other people's lives to save trees; and Army of God antiabortionists summoning the terminally ill to “use your final months to torch clinics.” Picture Boomers like these, older and harsher, uncalmed by anyone more senior, feeling their last full measure of strength, sensing their pending mortality, mounting their final crusade—all at a time of maximum public peril.

The full dimension of the Boomer persona will only emerge when today's better-known 1940s birth cohorts (whose youth was marked by relatively few social pathologies) are joined in public life by the tougher-willed, more evangelical 1950s cohorts (whose youth was marked by many more pathologies). That is the mix that will beget this generation's elder priest-warrior persona, vindicating the early Unraveling-era warning of Peter Collier and David Horowitz that Boomers are “a destructive generation whose work is not over yet.”

As the Crisis deepens, Boomers will confront the end result of their lifelong absorption with values. They will have laid a long trail of Unraveling-era rhetoric, much of it symbol and gesture, but now the words will matter. When James Redfield (or his elder equivalent) describes his peers as “a generation whose intuitions would help lead humanity toward a … great transformation,” the summons will no longer be for pensive spiritual reflection but for decisive civic action. Boomers will comply with Cornel West's suggestion that “the mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage—come what may.” Their habitual tendency to enunciate unyielding principles will now carry the duty of enforcement.

The final Boomer leaders—authoritarian, severe, unyielding—will command broad support from younger people who will see in them a wisdom beyond the reckoning of youth. In domestic matters, old Boomers will recast the old arguments of the Culture Wars into a new context of community needs. They will redefine and reauthenticate a civic expansion—crafted from some mix of Unraveling-era cultural conservatism and public-sector liberalism. In foreign matters, they will narrowly define the acceptable behavior of other nations and broadly define the appropriate use of American arms.

The same Boomers who in youth chanted “Hell no, we won't go!” will emerge as America's most martial elder generation in living memory. Whatever the elements of Crisis, old Boomer leaders will up the moral ante beyond the point of possible retreat or compromise. The same Boomers who once chanted “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win!” will demand not just an enemy's defeat, but its utter destruction. They will risk enormous pain and consequence to command youth to fight and die in ways they themselves never would have tolerated in their own youth. They will believe, as did Cicero, that this moment in history assigns “young men for action, old men for counsel.”

Old Boomers will find transcendence in the Crisis climax. As they battle time and nature to win their release from history, they will feel themselves in position to steward the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds. It is easy to envision old Aquarians as pillars of fire leading to the Promised Land—but just as easy to see them as Charonlike monsters abducting doomed souls across the Styx to Hades. Either is possible.

As the Crisis resolves, elder Boomers will have not the last word, but the deep word. If they triumph, they will collectively deserve the eulogy Winston Churchill offered to Franklin Roosevelt: to die “an enviable death.” If they fail, their misdeeds will cast a dark shadow over the entire twenty-first century, perhaps beyond. Whatever the outcome, posterity will remember the Boomers' Gray Champion persona long after the hippie and yuppie images have been forgotten to all but the historian.

13ers Entering Midlife: Doom Players

“Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said after the crash that hit his peers at the cusp of what should have been their highest-earning years. “A generation with no second acts,” he called his Lost peers—but they proved him wrong. They ended their frenzy and settled down, thus helping to unjangle the American mood. Where their Missionary predecessors had entered midlife believing in vast crusades, the post-Crash Lost skipped the moralisms and returned directly to the basics of life. “What is moral is what you feel good after,” declared Ernest Hemingway, “what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” “Everything depends on the use to which it is put,” explained Reinhold Niebuhr on behalf of a generation that did useful things regardless of faith—a role the Missionaries chose not to play.

This “no second act” generation lent America the grit to survive dark global emergencies and, in the end, to triumph over them. In the Great Depression, the Lost were hard-hit but refused to ask for public favors. In World War II, they manned the draft boards, handed out the ration coupons, mapped the invasions, and dispatched the bomber fleets. They gave the orders that killed thousands but saved millions. From “blood and guts” generals to “give ‘em hell” presidents, the Lost knew how to prevail over long odds and harsh criticism.

This was the last time the Nomad archetype entered a Fourth Turning.

In a recent genre of action films (from War Games and Back to the Future to Terminator and Independence Day), a stock drama unfolds. A young protagonist—alone, unprepared, and immersed in a junky culture—is chosen by chance to decide the fate of humanity. The situation looks dicey. The protagonist, too, has slim expectations of success. But at a pivotal moment, this lonely wayfarer challenges destiny, deals with the stress, zeroes in on what matters, does what is required, and comes out on top. The most popular video games, following the same script, stress one-on-one action and deft timing: Find a treasure, grab the tools, rescue a princess, save the kingdom, slay the enemy, and get out alive. Everything is yes-no, full of code words and secret places—in a style one TV executive calls “Indiana Jones meets a game show.”

“I've glimpsed our future,” warns a high school valedictorian in the film Say Anything, “and all I can say is—go back.” The message to her classmates is understandable, because Nomad generations—what Christian Slater refers to as “a long list of dead, famous wild people”—have always been the ones who lose ground in wealth, education, security, longevity, and other measures of progress. Yet they have also been the generations who lay at the fulcrum between triumph and tragedy, the ones who hoist their society through the darkest days of Crisis.

The onset of the Fourth Turning will find 13ers retaining their troubled reputation, the only change being that America's troubled age bracket will then be perceived as more fortyish than twentyish. They will carry the reputation for having come of age at a time when good manners and civic habits were not emphasized in homes and schools. With their arrival, midlife will lose moral authority and gain toughness. Their culture will be a hodgepodge of unblending styles and polyethnic currents that will reflect the centrifugal impulse from which many Americans (including 13ers) will now be eager to escape.

In the economy, 13ers will fare significantly worse than Boomers did at like age back in the mid-1980s. They will fan out across an unusually wide range of money and career outcomes. A few will be wildly successful, a larger number will be destitute, while most will be losing ground but doing tolerably. The Crisis era's image of a middle-aged worker will be a modest-wage job hopper who retains the flexibility to change life directions at a snap. The prototype midlife success story will be the entrepreneur who excels at cunning, flexibility, and high-tech ingenuity. The prototype failure will be the ruined gambler, broke but still trying. The high-risk harbors where 13ers will have bet their stray cash during the Unraveling (from lottos to Indian casinos to derivative markets) will, like this generation, be stigmatized and left to rot.

As they confront their money problems amid a mood of deepening Crisis, 13ers will take pride in their ability to “have a life” and wall off their families from financial woes. Their divorce rate will be well below that of midlife Silent and Boomers. They will clamp down on children. In exchange for financial help, many will invite their better-off parents to live with them.

Surveying the Crisis-era detritus of the Unraveling, 13ers will see the opposite of what the midlife Silent saw in the Awakening-era wreckage of the High. Where the Silent felt claustrophobic, yearning to break free in a world that felt too closed, 13ers will feel agoraphobic, yearning to root in a world that feels too open. Where the Silent were torn between the socially necessary and the personally desirable, 13ers will be torn between the personally necessary and the socially desirable.

Gripped with deeply felt family obligations, 13ers will resist the idea of relaxing their survival instincts—yet will sense the need to restore a sense of community. They will widen the continuing dispersions of technology and culture—yet will vote for politicians who promise to reverse it. Middle-aged Hispanic-, Asian-, and Arab-Americans (among others) will embrace their racial or ethnic identities—yet will yearn for new ties to the communal core.

The Unraveling's initial 13er pop elite will lose influence as their peers tire of the old ways and seek something simpler and less frenzied. Those who persist in the discarded culturama will be chastised and perhaps even quarantined in the newly wholesome Millennial youth culture. A few aging outcasts will scatter around the world, feeling like those whom Doug Coup-land calls “a White Russian aristocracy, exiled in Paris cafes, never to get what is due to us.” Replacing them as the cutting edge of their generation will be a Revenge of the Nerds, slow-but-steady plodders (many of them ethnics) who will overtake the quick strikers who took one risk too many.

The 13er mind-set will be hardboiled and avuncular, the risk taking now mellowed by a Crisis-era need for security. Middle-aged people will mentor youth movements, lend stylishness to hard times, and add nuts-and-bolts workmanship to the resolute new mood. They will be begrudgingly respected for their proficiency in multimedia and various untutored skills to which old Boomers will be blind and young Millennials dismissive. Throughout the economy, 13ers will be associated with risk and dirty jobs. They will seek workable outcomes more than inner truths. “We won't have a bad backlash against our lost idealism,” predicts Slacker filmmaker Richard Linklater, since his generation “never had that to begin with.” Like Hemingway, their moral judgments will be situational, based on how everybody feels afterward.

As the Crisis deepens, 13ers will feel little stake in the old order, little sense that their names and signatures are on the social contract. They will have reached full adult maturity without ever having believed in either the American Dream or American exceptionalism. They will never have known a time when America felt good about itself, when its civic and cultural life didn't seem to be decaying. From childhood into midlife, they will have always sensed that the nation's core institutions mainly served the interests of people other than themselves. Not many of their classmates and friends will have built public-sector careers, apart from teaching and police work. Most 13ers will have oriented their lives around self-help networks of friends and other ersatz institutions that have nothing to do with government.

The “we're not worthy” 13er streak of weak collective esteem will define and enhance their new civic role. Where the Boomers' Unraveling-era narcissism interfered with America's ability to exact even minor sacrifice for the public good, the 13ers' ironic self-deprecation will render their claims unusually selfless. “We may not get what we want. We may not get what we need,” chanted the young adults in True Colors. “Just so we don't get what we deserve.” They will vote against their own short-term interests if persuaded that the community's long-term survival requires it. Where the Silent once agonized over procedural braking mechanisms, where Boomers had huge arguments over gesture and symbolism, 13er voters will disregard motive and ideology, and will simply ask if public programs get results that are worth the money.

In the Fourth Turning's Next New Deal, 13ers will be strategically located between moralistic old Boomers and cherished young Millennials. With 13ers occupying the margins of political choice, no intergenerational bargain will be enacted without their approval. In The Breakfast Club, a Boomer teacher despaired of “the thought that makes me get up in the middle of the night: That when I get older, these kids are gonna take care of me.” As elder benefits hit the fiscal wall, Boomers and 13ers will, like siblings, half-remember and half-forget how they behaved toward each other in earlier decades. There will be some talk of ethnogenerational war, as non-Anglo 13ers attack Boomer benefits as what former Social Security Commissioner Dorcas Hardy has called “a mechanism by which the government robs their children of a better future, in order to support a group of elderly white people.” Led by ethnic populists, 13ers will strike a hard bargain with elders they will collectively perceive as lifelong hypocrites with a weak claim on the public purse. So long as the Next New Deal hits Boomers hard, 13ers won't mind if it's projected to hit themselves even harder.

As the Crisis rages on, the era's stark new communitarianism will require 13ers to rivet new grids in place. New-breed mayors and governors will abandon old labels and alliances, patch together people and technology, and rekindle public support for community purpose. Having grown up in a time when walls were being dismantled, families dissolved, and loyalties discarded, 13er power brokers will reconstruct the social barriers that produce civic order. They will connive first to get the people behind them, next to bribe (or threaten) people into doing what's needed, and then to solidify those arrangements into something functional. They won't worry about the obviously insoluble and won't fuss over the merely annoying. Their politicians won't brim with compassion or nuance, and won't care if they have to win ugly. To them, the outcome will matter more than democracy's ritual aesthetics. Their hand strengthened by the demands of Crisis, 13ers will sweep aside procedural legalisms and promises legislated by old regimes, much to the anguish of the octogenarian Silent. They won't mind uttering—and listening to—the sound bite that seems to sum up a situation with eloquent efficiency. To critics, the new style of 13er urban leadership will appear unlearned, poorly rooted in values, even corrupt, but it will work.

This generation's institutional rootlessness will make its leaders and electorates highly volatile, capable of extreme crosscurrents. Lacking much stake in the old order, many 13ers might impulsively welcome the notion of watching it break into pieces. They won't regard the traditional safety nets as important to their lives. The real-life experience of their own circles will reinforce their view that when people lose jobs or money, they can find a way to cope, deal with it, and move on. Looking back on their own lives, they will conclude that many of the Awakening- and Unraveling-era trends that may have felt good to older generations didn't work so well for them—or for the nation. Come the Crisis, many 13ers will feel that emergency action is necessary to re-create the kind of secure world they will feel was denied them in childhood.

In this environment, 13ers could emerge as the leaders of a Crisis-era populism based on the notion of taking raw action now and justifying it later. A charismatic anti-intellectual demagogue could convert the ad slogans of the Third Turning into the political slogans of the Fourth: “No excuses.” “Why ask why?” “Just do it.” Start with a winner-take-all ethos that believes in action for action's sake, exalts strength, elevates impulse, and holds weakness and compassion in contempt. Add class desperation, antirationalism, and perceptions of national decline. The product, at its most extreme, could be a new American fascism.

The core feature of the 13ers' midlife will be the Crisis itself. Early in the era, the Great Devaluation could quash many a midlife career and cause real hardships to families under their protection. Like the Lost Generation in the 1920s, 13ers will have bought into the Unraveling-era boom market late and high—only to sell out late and low. At the same time, urgent necessity will lend new meaning to their lives. Many of the traits that were criticized for decades—their survivalism, realism, lack of affect—will now be recognized as vital national resources. The emergency will melt away much of the Unraveling era's old fuss about political correctness. Now 13ers will hear far less complaint about their soldiers being too much the warrior, their entrepreneurs too much the operator, their opinion leaders too much the blunt talker. As the Crisis catalyzes, they will recall the old Jesus Jones lyric, feel themselves “Right here, right now / Watching the world wake up from history,” and know they are the generation on the spot. Though 13ers will have little ability to influence the elements and timing of the Boomer-propelled Crisis, they will provide the on-site tacticians and behind-the-scenes bosses whose decisions will determine its day-to-day course.

Middle-aged 13ers will be the only ones capable of deflecting the more dangerous Boomer tendencies. The Boomers won't check themselves, nor will Millennials, so the task will fall to 13ers to force the Boomer priest-warriors to give it a rest when the fervor gets too deep, to get real when the sacrifices outweigh the future reward. A 13er may indeed be the intrepid statesman, general, or presidential adviser who prevents some righteous old Aquarian from loosing the fateful lightning and turning the world's lights out.

At or just after the Crisis climax, 13ers will supplant Boomers in national leadership. History warns that they could quickly find themselves playing a real-world Sim City, facing quick triage choices about who and what to sacrifice, and when and how. They will need every bit of those old Doom player joystick skills—the deft timing, the instinctive sense of what counts and what doesn't, the ability always to move on from one problem to the next. Whatever they do, they will get more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit.

As the Crisis resolves, the society will be fully in 13er hands. If all ends well, their security-minded leadership will usher the society away from urgent crusades and into the next High. If not, 13ers will be left with no choice but to yank younger generations by the collar, appraise what's left of their society, and start anew.

Millennials Entering Young Adulthood: Power Rangers

“I promise as a good American to do my part,” one hundred thousand young people chanted on Boston Commons in 1933. “I will help President Roosevelt bring back good times.” These young G.I.s were touted by Malcolm Cowley as “brilliant college graduates” who “pictured a future in which everyone would be made secure by collective planning and social discipline”—whereas, at the same age, Cowley's own Lost peers had grown “disillusioned and weary” from hearing so much pessimism about their future. During the Lost's peak coming-of-age years, the youth suicide rate rose by half and the homicide rate by 700 percent, while American youth showed precious little improvement in rates of illiteracy or college entry.

A few years before the Crash of 1929, youth took the most dramatically positive change ever recorded. All of a sudden, young Americans turned away from cynicism, suicide, and crime and toward optimism, education, and civic fealty. A new vernacular spoke of trust and geometric order, of “level-headed” and “regular guys” who were “on the square,” “fit in,” and could be “counted on.” “Underneath, we really thought we were all right,” Gene Shuford recalled. If the souring economy dampened many a career and marriage plan, that only steeled the G.I. determination to act on the 4-H motto: Make the Best Better. Older people lent them direction and help. America “cannot always build the future for our youth,” said FDR on the eve of World War II, “but we can build our youth for the future.” Having received 80 percent of a huge youth vote in 1932 and 85 percent in 1936, by far the largest such mandates ever recorded, FDR proclaimed that “the very objectives of young people have changed” away from “the dream of the golden ladder—each individual for himself” and toward the dream of “a broad highway on which thousands of your fellow men and women are advancing with you.” Before long, the highways and seaways were full of a generation now fully in uniform, heralded by General Marshall as “the best damn kids in the world”—a world they proceeded to conquer. “The difficult we do at once,” their Seabees famously proclaimed. “The impossible takes a little longer.”

This was the last time the Hero archetype entered a Fourth Turning.

Power Rangers are wholesome kid-soldiers in bright, primary-color uniforms. No relation to the junk-fed mutant turtles of the 13er child era, Power Rangers have provided the Unraveling's leading toy role models for children. When summoned, these ordinary youths transform themselves into thunderbolting evil fighters. Cheerful, confident, and energetic, Power Rangers are nurtured to succeed in the face of great odds. Whatever they do—from displaying martial arts to piloting high-tech weaponry—they do as a choreographed group. Their very motto, The Power of Teamwork Overcomes All, speaks of strength in cooperation, energy in conformity, virtue in duty. Their missions are not chosen by themselves, but by an incorporeal elder in whose vision and wisdom they have total trust. Come the Fourth Turning, coming-of-age Millennials will have a lot in common with these action toys.

In the next Crisis, Millennials will prove false the supposition, born of the recent Awakening and Unraveling eras, that youth is ever the age for rebellion, alienation, or cynicism. As they break into their twenties, Millennials will already be accustomed to meeting and beating adult expectations. Basking in praise, they will revive the ideal of the common man, whose virtue is defined less by self than from a collegial center of gravity. Rather than argue with elders, Millennials will seek out their advice—about the ought-to-dos from old Boomers and about the want-to-dos from 13ers. But their style will be distinct from either generation. From the youth perspective, most Boomers will seem too unworldly and most 13ers too undisciplined to be emulated.

New pop culture trends will be big, bland, and friendly. In film, young stars will be linked with positive themes, display more modesty in sex and language, and link new civic purpose to screen violence. In sports, players will become more coachable, more loyal to teams and fans, and less drawn to trash talk, in-your-face slam dunks, and end-zone taunts. In pop music, Millennials will resurrect the old ritual of happy group singing, from old campfire favorites to new tunes with simple melodies and upbeat lyrics. Whether in film, sports, or music, the first Millennial celebrities will win praise as good role models for children.

Every youth domain will become more mannerly, civic-spirited, and emotionally placid. In college, Millennials will lead a renaissance in student decorum and appearance, making profanity as out of date as the backward cap. On urban streets, young adults will begin sensing that their best path to prosperity is to follow their peers, not their families. In technology, they will carve out fresh concepts of public space—by designing fewer and more centralized paths of communication and by using information to empower groups rather than individuals. In social movements, they will (initially) seem pacifist, hard to ruffle, their civic power as yet untapped. The media will miss no opportunity to celebrate good deeds they do.

On the job, Millennials will be seekers of order and harmony. They will delight employers with their skills, work habits, and institutional loyalties. They will have a knack for organization and hierarchy more than creative entrepreneurship. Young workers will revitalize trade unions and treat co-workers as partners more than rivals. The Millennials' entry into the workforce, combined with the Boomers' exit, will produce a sudden surge in productivity—quite the opposite of the stagnation that arose from the Awakening's Boomer entry and G.I. exit.

The Great Devaluation may occur right around the time Millennials fill the twenties age bracket, just as they are emerging as a truly national generation, the pride of their elders. Whatever their new economic hardships (and they could be severe), Millennials will not rebel, but will instead mobilize for public purpose. Older people will be anguished to see these good kids suffer for the mistakes of others. Boomers and 13ers will together urgently resist the prospect that a second consecutive generation might be denied access to the American Dream. No matter how shattered the economy, no matter how fiscally stretched the government, places will be found for the rising generation. To accomplish this, the status of young workers will be standardized, their job titles shortened, and pay gaps narrowed. Millennials will respond with a cheerful patience reminiscent of Depression-era G.I.s. Government will play an important role in their lives, as people of all ages jointly resolve to remove any barrier to a bright Millennial future.

With youth coming of age so willing and energized, older leaders will be inspired to enlist them for public actions that in the Unraveling would have felt hopeless. Young adults will see politics as a tool for turning collegial purpose into civic progress. Millennial voters will confound pundits with huge youth turnouts, massing on behalf of favored candidates—especially elders who, like Lincoln or FDR, can translate spiritual resolve into public authority. They will reject the negativism and cloying affect of the political campaigning they witnessed as children. When young adults encounter leaders who cling to the old regime (and who keep propping up senior benefit programs that will by then be busting the budget), they will not tune out, 13er-style. Instead, they will get busy working to defeat or overcome their adversaries. Their success will lead some older critics to perceive real danger in a rising generation perceived as capable but naive.

This youthful hunger for social discipline and centralized authority could lead Millennial youth brigades to lend mass to dangerous demagogues. The risk of class warfare will be especially grave if the 20 percent of Millennials who were poor as children (50 percent in inner cities) come of age seeing their peer-bonded paths to generational progress blocked by elder inertia. Unraveling-era adults who are today chilled by school uniforms will be truly frightened by the Millennials' Crisis-era collectivism. As Sinclair Lewis warned of G.I.s in the 1930s, older Americans will look abroad at rigidly ordered societies and wonder whether, among youth with so much power and so little doubt, It Can't Happen Here.

Wherever their politics lead, Millennials will become identified with a new American mainstream, a fledgling middle class just waiting to assert itself. They will vex Hollywood's Unraveling-era elite with their cool rationalism. They will vex feminists by accepting a new mystique between the sexes. They will vex free marketeers with their demands for trade barriers, government regulation, labor standards, and public works.

Just as the Unraveling's political agenda centered around children, the agenda of the Next New Deal will center around young adults. In exchange, old Boomers will impose a new duty of compulsory service, notwithstanding those elders' own youthful draft resistance. Millennials will not oppose this because they will see in it a path to public achievement. If inducted for war, Millennials will cast aside any earlier pacifism and march to duty. Like Power Rangers, they will not be averse to militarized mass violence, just to uncontrolled personal violence—quite the opposite of Boomer youths back in the Awakening. National leaders will not hesitate to mobilize and deploy them in huge armies. Where Boomer youths once screamed against duty and discipline, Boomer elders will demand and receive both from Millennial troops.

Near the climax of Crisis, the full power of this rising generation will assert itself, providing their society with a highly effective instrument for imposing order on an unruly world. They will appear capable of glorious collective deeds, of conquering distant lands, of potently executing any command that may be issued. Quite the opposite of the Boomers' Awakening-era casualties in Vietnam, which weakened the public will to fight, the Millennials' heroic sacrifices will only add to the national resolve. As a Crisis-era president commits the society to clear a path for a bright future, the political juggernaut of Millennial youth will stand squarely with their beloved commander-in-chief. This generation of young heroes will follow wherever the Gray Champion leads, whether to triumph or disaster.

New Silent Entering Childhood: Sweet Innocents

“Overprotective was a word first used to describe our parents,” Benita Eisler recalls of her Silent peers' Depression-era youth, when adults ruled the child's world with a stern hand. Back in the G.I. childhood years, no one spoke of overprotection, because the crusade to protect the child's world was then just getting started. As the Literary Digest demanded a “reassertion of parental authority,” parents injected what historian Daniel Rodgers describes as “a new, explicit insistence on conformity into child life.” Thus raised, G.I.s passed through childhood showing America's largest measurable one-generation improvement in health, size, and education—along with big reductions in youth crime and suicide.

By the time the Silent entered school, however, clean-cut behavior was taken for granted. The leading parenting books suggested a no-nonsense total situation parenting with behavioral rules that critics likened to the house-breaking of puppies. Whenever movie kids like Alfalfa or Shirley Temple encountered adults, they would “mind their manners.” During the war years, America had perhaps the best-behaved teenagers in its history, but controversy simmered about whether the long absence of soldiering fathers would cause them to grow up a little uncertain of themselves. Times were indeed fearful for children, since any day could bring devastating news. Frank Conroy recalls having asked, as a boy, “what was in the newspapers when there wasn't a war going on.”

This was the last time the Artist archetype entered a Fourth Turning.

“Many of the social conditions we think of as black problems are merely white problems a generation later,” William Raspberry has observed. Early in the Awakening, the children in America's urban cores were the harbingers of new trends that afflicted the whole society by the start of the Unraveling: disintegrating families, absentee fathers, teen mothers, rising crime, falling performance in school. In today's Unraveling, America's urban children are once again bearing signposts. They have became shut-ins, tucked behind walls, sleeping in bulletproof bathtubs, escorted to school by anxious adults and swept off late-night streets by police curfews, even though the actual risk of violence, in many inner cities, is beginning to recede. Come the Fourth Turning, variants of these 1990s-era inner-city child swaddling trends will be visible all across America, from downtown to suburb to small town.

Imagine being a child living in a world surrounded by a concrete wall originally raised to ward off dangerous neighbors. The danger has receded (the enemies are now more distant), but the concrete remains. Adults don't bother to remove the wall because they're busy and find it an easy way to keep track of their kids. Come the Fourth Turning, the rules a child must follow will begin outlasting the original reasons for those rules. Picture high-rise children still barricaded behind walls in a time of reduced crime on the streets below. Picture compulsory kindergarten uniforms in a time of wholesome new trends in young-adult fashion. Picture a vigorous police presence in a time of generally compliant teenagers. What in the Unraveling felt like sensible protections will now, in the Crisis, reach a state of stifling suffocation at the hands of parents and governments alike.

The babies of the Oh-Ohs will be America's next Artist archetype, the New Silent Generation. Their link to Crisis will be as the vulnerable seeds of society's future that must be saved while the emergency is overcome and the enemy defeated. They will be the Crisis era's fearful watchers, tiny helpers, and (if all goes well) lucky inheritors. Tethered close to home, they will do helpful little deeds like recycling, keyboarding, or tending to elders, the circa-2020 equivalents of planting World War II victory gardens or collecting scrap metal. The New Silent will look on adults as competent and in control. Crisp rights and wrongs will be a common adult message, unquestioning compliance the expected response. New Silent kids will not be encouraged to take chances or do things on their own. Na'iveto and sweet innocence will be presumed to flow from those of tender age. In a reverse from the Unraveling, deviancy will be redefined upwards. Youth sex, abortion, and substance abuse will remain at low levels. Parental divorce will be restigmatized, and public talk about private matters will be newly taboo in the media. Unlike today, the bulk of the family disruptions will be involuntary, the result not of personal choice or dysfunction but of Crisis-era forces utterly beyond the family's control.

Child welfare will be a settled priority, no longer anyone's crusade. Protective nurture will be on autopilot. Few adults will dispute that children must be taught community norms, often by rote. Children who fall below standards will be warned that the community has ways of remembering, that a young person's reputation can be easy to harm but hard to repair. Good child behavior, academics, and civic deeds will win few kudos because all this will simply be expected.

Children's activities that felt new for Millennials will now feel well established. The child's world will be altered only to meet urgent community needs, not any new inklings of children's needs. In an America locked in Crisis, no one will be particularly interested in the teen culture, except to chastise anything that offends. As nativism runs its course, the New Silent will be the least immigrant, most English-speaking generation in living memory. Growing up in a time of adult sacrifice and narrowing cultural horizons, the New Silent will develop an earnest and affective temperament, yet feel stuck in a stiflingly parochial social environment.

The New Silent will be treated this way because that will be how middle-aged 13ers will prefer it—and they will be America's dominant Crisis-era nurturers of children. As parents, teachers, and community leaders, 13ers will look back on their Awakening-era childhoods as chaotic, hurried, insecure, and underprotected. While 13ers take pride in the firmer, more reliable family life they will establish, New Silent kids will eventually look back on it as a smothering overcorrection. Later in life, they will recall their Crisis-era child's world as having been oversimple, overslowed, overprotected, too grounded in moral cement—and, like the Silent, they will loosen parental authority accordingly.

Like history's other inheritor or postheroic generations, the New Silent will endure constant reminders of what great sacrifices are being made on their behalf. As the Crisis rolls toward its resolution, they will cope with anxiety, fear, and powerlessness. For the rest of their lives, they will never forget these feelings.

Toward the First Turning

In 1781, as the British troops surrendered at Yorktown, American pipers played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.” That was indeed how history appeared to the patriot army phalanxed nearby—and, in later saec-ula, to forces massed at the McLean House in Appomattox or on the deck of the Missouri. Having witnessed incredible convulsions of history, these troops presented themselves for one final confirmation of a new dawn. Then it was over. Their society remained mobilized for Crisis, still bristling with war materiel, but now the troops were on their way home to chart different roles in what they hoped would be a calmer new era.

When final treaties were crafted, reparations assessed, punishments meted out, or regencies managed, elders remained to close out the era. Benjamin Franklin did this in Philadelphia and Paris, the radical Republicans in Richmond and Washington, Douglas MacArthur in Asia, and George Marshall in Europe. That much was expected—but if the old priest-warriors kept crusading (as Thaddeus Stevens tried to do with the impeachment of Andrew Johnson), they were ceremoniously but firmly nudged aside. It's an old story: Moses was not allowed to accompany Joshua into the Promised Land.

“No winter lasts forever,” Hal Borland has written. “No Spring skips its turn.” So is it with the final season of the saeculum. Of the four turnings, none spends its energy more completely than a Crisis, and none has its end more welcomed. In nature, the frigid darkness serves a vital purpose, but only to enable what follows. “Cold is agreeable,” said Pascal, “that we may get warm.”

If the Crisis catalyst comes on schedule, around the year 2005, then the climax will be due around 2020, the resolution around 2026.

What will America be like as it exits the Fourth Turning?

History offers no guarantees. Obviously, things could go horribly wrong—the possibilities ranging from a nuclear exchange to incurable plagues, from terrorist anarchy to high-tech dictatorship. We should not assume that Providence will always exempt our nation from the irreversible tragedies that have overtaken so many others: not just temporary hardship, but debasement and total ruin. Since Vietnam, many Americans suppose they know what it means to lose a war. Losing in the next Fourth Turning, however, could mean something incomparably worse. It could mean a lasting defeat from which our national innocence—and perhaps even our nation—might never recover. As many Americans know from their own ancestral backgrounds, history provides numerous examples of societies that have been wiped off the map, ground into submission, or beaten so badly they revert to barbarism.

The outcome of the next Fourth Turning will determine the enduring reputation of the Unraveling era in which we now live. In the 1930s, the 1920s were blamed for everything that had gone wrong. After World War II was won, however, Americans began to look back more fondly on those roaring good times. Imagine how the 1920s would have looked in 1950 had the Great Depression never lifted, the Axis prevailed, or both. Now imagine the pre-Crisis 1990s—all its O. J. Simpsons and Michigan militias, its Beavises and Buttheads and Crips and Bloods, its low voter turnouts and anguish over tiny cuts in Medicare's growth—all from the vantage point of America in the year 2030.

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. If the Fourth Turning goes well, however, memories of the Unraveling will be laced with nostalgic fun. More important, a good ending will probably mean that America has taken individual freedoms that now seem socially corrosive and embedded them constructively in a new social order. After the next Fourth Turning has solved the historical problems of our saeculum, many of today's Unraveling-era social problems will be recognizable as worsening symptoms of what had to be—and was—fixed.

In every saeculum, the Awakening gives birth to a variety of individual and social ideals that are mutually incompatible within the framework of the old institutional order. In the Unraveling, the tension between wants and shoulds widens, sours, and polarizes. In the Crisis, a new social contract reconciles these competing principles on a new and potentially higher level of civilization. In the following High, this contract provides the secure platform on which a new social infrastructure can be hoisted. In the parlance of its time, each of the past three Crises resolved aggravating values struggles that had been building up over the prior saeculum. The American Revolution resolved the eighteenth-century struggle between commerce and citizenship. The Civil War resolved the early-nineteenth-century struggle between liberty and equality. The New Deal resolved the industrial-era struggle between capitalism and socialism.

What present-day tensions will the next Fourth Turning resolve? Most likely, they will be Culture Wars updates of the perennial struggle between the individual and the collective—with new labels dating back to our recent Consciousness Revolution. This time, the individual ideal goes under the rubric of “choice”: from marketplace choice to lifestyle choice; from choice about manners, appearance, or association to the choice of expression and entertainment. The social ideal goes under the rubric of “community” and points to where all of the various choices must be curtailed if we wish to preserve strong families, secure borders, rising living standards, a healthy environment, and all the other building blocks of a sustainable civilization.

In today's Unraveling, with its mood of pessimism, a reconciliation between these opposing principles seems (and probably is) impossible. But come the Fourth Turning, in the white heat of society's ekpyrosis and rebirth, a grand solution may suddenly snap into place. Once a new social contract is written and a new civic order established, it could eradicate (or, at least, narrow) many of the today's seemingly insoluble contradictions—for example, between no-fault divorce and dependable families, poverty assistance and the work ethic, or gun control and personal defense. If the next Fourth Turning concludes successfully, some great leader may be credited with saving individual empowerment by making it compatible with higher ideals of social responsibility—much as FDR was credited with saving capitalism while forging the New Deal and Lincoln with extending liberty while redefining America's nationhood.

This is how a triumphant Fourth Turning can establish a new High, a new golden age, a new plane of American civilization, a workable twenty-first-century redefinition of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However sober we must be about the dark possibilities of Crisis, the record of prior Fourth Turnings gives cause for optimism. With five of the past six Crises, it is hard to imagine more uplifting finales. Even after the Civil War, the American faith in progress returned with new robustness. As a people, we have always done best when challenged. The New World still stands as a beacon of hope and virtue for the Old, and we have every reason to believe this can continue.

Whatever the outcome of the Fourth Turning, whatever its ekpyrosis and new social contract, by its end the mood of grim determination will feel unshakable. People will worry about what will happen once the storm clouds pass. As in the months after V-J Day, people will fear that their society might revert to its pre-Crisis chaos—that it could again become like the 1990s, with all that would then entail. But, on the brink of the new turning, they will be amazed at how ingrained their new civic habits have become.

By the mid-2020s, the generational archetypes will be ready for something new. The Fourth Turning will be ready to expire when old Prophets weaken, Nomads tire of public urgency, and Heroes feel hubris. This occurs around the time each archetype stands on the brink of a new life phase:

  • The elder Prophets, still leading the culture while vacating institutions, now worry about a society whose new materialism they find alien.
  • The midlife Nomads, sensing that the old crusades have run their course, now plan to fortify community discipline and narrow the scope of personal choice.
  • The young-adult Heroes, energized by the success of collective action, now want to change society from the outside in.
  • The child Artists, credulous youths in a world of powerful adults, learn to trust conventions and prepare for ways to help others.

By the middle 2020s, the archetypal constellation will change, as each generation begins entering a new phase of life.

Once the Gray Champion recedes yet again into history, younger people may still respect but will no longer heed the old moral imperatives, having wearied of the cost of principle. If the Crisis ends badly, very old Boomers could be truly despised. If it ends well, they will bask in grand encomia in a new golden era that will resemble the very kind of ordered society in which they were raised as children. Many will seclude themselves deep in the woods or in dusty libraries, exploring ways to bequeath to posterity their final states of consciousness. Like the “four old men” (Holmes, Longfellow, Whittier, and Lowell) whose portraits graced countless Gilded Era schoolrooms, the all-seeing eyes of old Boomer titans will stare down on yet another child generation. Recalling what old Susan B. Anthony did for the turn-of-the-century women's movement, a few Boomer antiques will exhort the young to rise against the post-Crisis order and launch another 1960s-style Awakening. Around the year 2050, to the delight of a few lingering ex-flower children straddling age 100, Pepperland will finally recur.

Come the next High, at long last freed of the weight of Boomers, 13ers will be America's new old fogeys, widely perceived as old-fashioned, the only generation still rooted in the mostly forgotten pre-Crisis past. If the Crisis ends badly, they might provide the demagogues, authoritarians, even the tribal warlords who try to pick up the pieces. If the Crisis goes well, its 13er generals may well become the U.S. presidents of the next high. Crusty conservatives, they will warn younger generations of the danger of rushing too swiftly in a world rigged with pitfalls. They will force the nation to produce more than it consumes, perhaps through stiff taxes and budget surpluses—exactly the opposite choices from the ones elders made in their own Unrav-eling-era youth. Under 13er leadership, America will concentrate on building infrastructure and institutions, not on cultural depth or spiritual fervor. In the High, a stingier public treatment of old people will be taken for granted. Despite a rough and neglected elderhood, 13ers will find solace in seeing their children shoot past them in affluence and education.

Of all today's generations, the Millennials probably have the most at stake in the coming Crisis. If it ends badly, they would bear the full burden of its consequence throughout their adult lives. If they come of age traumatized, like the Progressive youths of the Civil War, Millennials will thereafter attend to the details of suffering and healing as heirs to the Artist archetype. Yet if the Crisis ends well, Millennials will gain a triumphant reputation for virtue, valor, and competence. People of all ages will steer them vast fiscal rewards and build them grand monuments. Like the world-conquering G.I.s in midlife, Millennials will feel intensely modern in science and taste. They will construct large new things, establish a powerful social regimen, and indulge their children. When a new Awakening later erupts, the Millennials will for the first time discover a generation that refuses to celebrate them: their own kids, freshly come of age.

A positive ending to the Crisis will craft the New Silent into the romantics, technicians, and aesthetes of an exultant new order. Feeling the emotional strains of their cloistered childhood and postheroic youth, they will sing plaintive songs and tell ironic jokes about the brittle inequities of the new order. Though unable to match the Millennial standard, they will be their able helpmates. If a prosperous new High thrusts mankind deeper into space, the New Silent could well be the first to reach other planets in a rocket fleet launched by the next John Kennedys and piloted by the next Neil Armstrongs.

And if the Crisis ends in triumph, what will come of the splendid new Victory Generation born just after it ends? As children, they will be indulged. As youths, they will revolt against the Millennial-built world. In midlife, they will protect their children from civic decay. As elders, sometime around the year 2100, the Gray Champion will appear yet again among them.

History is seasonal, but its outcomes are not foreordained. Much will depend on how tall we stand in the trials to come. But there is more to do than just wait for that time to come. The course of our national and personal destinies will depend in large measure on what we do now, as a society and as individuals, to prepare.