And you begin to have these enormous social fissures– rich and poor, young and old, ideological
fissures, identity politics, all the rest.
Until finally, society becomes ungovernable and becomes ripe and vulnerable for the next
Whether it’s the GFC, or whether it’s I think next time around, I’ll be even worse– particularly
given kind of the demographic and debt stresses we now face.
But at that point, suddenly then, the real key point of the fourth turning, and in the
middle of the fourth turning, is when one side just takes over, right?
That’s when everyone re-establishes community again.
And you know, the losers are just pushed out to one side.
I mean, look at the Civil War– that was a fourth turning.
GRANT WILLIAMS: Right.
NEIL HOWE: We’re sitting here right at the divide of the Civil War right here.
You know, that was– these are Yankees are on this side, these are confederates on this
Well, what happened?
I mean, the South was a pariah for two generations.
I mean, the South suffered an enormous decline in wealth and income.
I mean, it took the south many, many decades to ever recover.
The generation that actually is in the most difficult position is the generation in mid-life
during the fourth turning.
That’s you, Grant.
That’s Generation X. GRANT WILLIAMS: Listen, I feel that already.
NEIL HOWE: Because you guys are already invested in the old regime.
You see, when you’re young, you either already have joined the new regime, or you can quickly
But you guys already invested.
This is why John Adams, and George Washington, and all of these what we call Liberty generation
Americans who are in mid-life during the American Revolution.
Had such a existential sense of risking everything, because they couldn’t go back, right?
All of their lives, their property, their sacred honor– it was all on the line.
And the younger generation– like millennials today– incredibly optimistic.
I mean, all the younger generation of Jefferson, and Hamilton, and Monroe, and Madison, and
Jay, and all those guys– they knew the American Revolution was going to win.
But you know, John Adams is sitting there fearful.
You know, my god, this is never going to stick together.
Because the younger generation– because again, they’re young, right?
They’re going to adapt.
They can still change.
They can fit into whatever happens.
GRANT WILLIAMS: So what happens to that?
I mean, let’s use the millennial generation as an example.
That younger generation comes through full of hope, full of optimism, who happen to be
at the center of this fourth turning with all the chaos, and destruction, and turmoil–
what tends to happen to them?
How does that optimism– does it save them?
Does it get changed?
NEIL HOWE: Oh, it saves them, because it’s combined with a couple of other things.
One is community and risk aversion.
So there’s belief you don’t trust the individual, you trust the group.
GRANT WILLIAMS: Which we’re seeing everywhere.
NEIL HOWE: Which we’re seeing everywhere.
And risk aversion, because you risk it.
Remember- – millennials, have been told they’re special since the time they were born.
And that means especially take care of yourself, because everyone expects great things from
And everyone– you know, your parents, and teachers, and public officials all love you,
and really care about you.
And so why take risks with yourself?
Fourth turnings are so often seen as destructive.
I mean, wars, financial panics is one.
GRANT WILLIAMS: That’s how I think of it.
NEIL HOWE: Well, yeah.
Of course it’s destructive.
You know, all this wealth is being uncreated, being torn away.
All of this just obvious destruction of the old order.
But it makes room for the new order.
It makes room for the young.
And one lesson about history is that one of the things that winter does, is it kills everything
back so new things can grow.
That’s why we have forest fires- – so new plants have space to grow up.
That’s why it suddenly floods down here.
It does the same thing through the Rio Grande.
So that clearing out all the junk.
So I think that’s one very important point to remember.
Forth turnings, although obviously painful for everyone, painful for everyone who particularly
is invested in the old order, serve a very necessary, almost biological function.
GRANT WILLIAMS: That’s the word.
We talk about institutions, and we’re going to go to a place that is filled with not just
American institutions, but global institutions, a lot of which were set up after the war.
NEIL HOWE: Absolutely.
GRANT WILLIAMS: So let’s head into town, because there’s a lot more stuff to see and talk about,
NEIL HOWE: Let’s go to the nation’s capitol.
GRANT WILLIAMS: All right, let’s do it.
In the next episode, Neil and I traveled to Washington DC to look at some previous fourth
turning, and try to understand what lessons history has to teach us about how these momentous
events changed the world.
NEIL HOWE: Look at this monument, you say, this is the birth of a golden age.
But there’s one thing we forget.
All the golden ages of history always start with a huge crisis.
GRANT WILLIAMS: And along the way, we’ll talk with a man who’s been at the very center of
previous generational change in Washington, Dr. Harald Malmgren.
HARALD MALMGREN: It’s not something WE think about, but we are edging towards highly concentrated
power in the hands of few.
For me, it’s oligarchies.
I mean, we’re looking a lot like Russia.