Linette Lopez in Business Insider is disturbed by TIME magazine’s explication of Steve Bannon’s ideological reliance upon a (highly US/Anglo-centric focussed) book about cycles of history, where every 80-100 years there is a cataclysmic event (a “Fourth Turning”) necessitating a trial by fire resulting in a new order.
According to the book, the last two Fourth Turnings America experienced were The Civil War and Reconstruction, and then The Great Depression and World War II. Before that, it was the Revolutionary War.
All of these periods were marked by periods of dread and decay in which the American people were forced to unite to rebuild a new future, but only after a massive conflict in which many lives were lost. It all starts with a catalyst event, then there’s a period of regeneracy, after that there is a defining climax in which a war for the old order is fought, and then finally there is a resolution in which a new world order is stabilised.
This is where Bannon’s obsession with this book should cause some concern. He believes that, for the new world order to rise, there must be a massive reckoning. That we will soon reach our climax conflict.
Bannon is portrayed as believing that a “global existential war” with radical jihadis (and maybe China as well) is inevitable, and that authoritarian politics in the USA is the only way to prepare the nation for victory.
This conviction is central to the Breitbart mission, he explained in November 2015: ‘Our big belief, one of our central organising principles at the site, is that we’re at war.’
Lopez sees Bannon’s advice to the Trump administration on policies that seem intended to foment chaos as actively trying to accelerate a Fourth Turning, because he is convinced that the 2008 financial crisis was this cycle’s catalyst event, and the national response to that event was not what he expected/wanted.
It is the response, not the initial event, which defines an era according to the theory. (Wikipedia article on Strauss/Howes work)
Bannon, by these accounts, seems intent on forcing the arc of history into the pattern he has convinced himself exists, which leads neatly into Lopez’ summation of some of the criticisms of the Strauss/Howe “theory”:
Ultimately, the danger of writing about the past at the same time one writes about the future, is that it can be hard for an author to separate the two. The steps and missteps of the past seem so easily repeatable that the future seems to march in lock step. But this is not what history has shown us. The catastrophes of every era have always materialised in their own unique ways.
It is here where Strauss and Howe fail in their work, and here where Bannon gets caught in their failure.
There’s quite a lot to read there about how the Great Depression of 1929 and the GFC of 2008 are demonstrably and in multiple ways not nearly so alike as Bannon appears to believe, and Lopez points out many more differences between the Strauss/Howe theory and what we see in the USA now, especially with regard to social unity, which is supposed to be the defining feature of a Regeneracy that allows Crisis Leaders to implement their authoritarian rebuilding of society.
“The Fourth Turning” envisioned by Howe and Strauss requires a return to an agreed upon set of values, but millennials and the GOP (or Bannon for that matter) couldn’t be farther away from one another. For one, millennials are the most diverse group in US history — 43% of them are nonwhite. Most do not share Bannon’s vision for ethnic conflict.
Summarising Lopez’ concluding paragraphs: Bannon is not responding to any clear and present danger of an outside threat, he’s creating new enemies that Americans mostly do not want to have. Bannon is dividing his nation, not uniting it. This is not a natural course of history falling into place – this is uncharted territory.
I need to emphasise here that I believe that the passing of generations affecting the decisions being made today is not a totally flawed hypothesis. The grandparents who told our parents about the way they saw the world descend into war are mostly likely deceased, and their recountings have descended into family myths rather than a direct personal testimony of warning signs. It becomes easier to not take very much notice of their stories, and thus we repeat the errors of their forebears.
But that doesn’t mean that there are solid predictors of historical cycles, or even that cycles are an accurate way to describe certain historical patterns of repetition. There are always competing interests in the corridors of power, and the way they jostle for power is psychologically predictable up to a point, but there are too many possible disruptors to ever be exactly sure what events will precipitate an existential conflict.
In other news, apparently Trump finds Saturday Night Live’s choice to cast Melissa McCarthy in their parody of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer upsetting mostly because of the cross-gender aspect. I second everyone who is calling for them to cast Rosie O’Donnell in their next parody of #PresidentBannon.