Tuesday June 19, 2012




The 2008 Presidential Candidates and the Fourth Turning

by Bill Willis


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In Strauss and Howe’s books Generations and The Fourth Turning, they describe four generation types, each type associated with a “turning,” or period of about 20 years. The type of generation you belong to is based on year of birth. Thus, Ron Paul and Joe Biden are Artists, since they were born during a Crisis (1925-1942). Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton are Prophets because they were born during a High (1943-1960). Barrack Obama is a Nomad, since he was born during an Awakening (1961-1981).

While most traditional historians don’t agree with Strauss and Howe, the authors’ theories do provide for an interesting intellectual exercise – especially when considering the 2008 Presidential Candidates. For instance, if we assume the theories are correct, and then apply the generational types to the candidates, what will that tell us about the candidates themselves? And would it help us understand what type of administration they will lead?

The Theory

First, we’ll briefly describe the theory. Strauss and Howe divide Anglo-American history into seasonal cycles of about 80-100 years. Each cycle is further divided into turnings, each lasting about 20 years. The First Turning in each new cycle is always a High, or a period of cultural optimism and confident expansion, with cooperation between the major power holders and intolerance of any dissent. The last High was the period immediately after our great victory in WWII, 1947-1963.

The Second Turning in a cycle is called an Awakening, where existing institutions and values come into question, social bounds are loosened, and new concerns emerge. Examples of Awakenings include the Protestant Reformation (1517-1542) and – most recently – the Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984).

A Third Turning is called an Unraveling, a troubled era when individualism becomes paramount, institutions increasingly fragment and weaken, and culture deteriorates. The authors date the beginning of the latest Unraveling to the mid-1980’s, typified by a “Greed is good” Wall Street ethos, drug-fueled escapism, and cynical consumerism.

The Fourth Turning – the turning we are supposedly transitioning to now – is a Crisis. Fourth Turnings are precipitated by an event so shocking it jars the country, or even the world, into an era of upheaval, when the old institutions and orders are replaced, when society redefines itself, and when wars are waged with “apocalyptic finality.” Fourth Turnings are represented by the American Revolution (1773-1794), the American Civil War (1860-1865), and the double-crisis of the Great Depression and WWII (1929-1945).

Now, let’s describe the generational types.

Prophet: Moralistic, focused on self, indulged as children, willing to fight for their beliefs. Few see combat in uniform, later in life they become known for their words, not their deeds. The Baby Boomers are an example of a Prophet generation.

Nomad: Tough, diverse, under protected, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They are astute, realists, and reserved warriors who prefer to meet problems head-on. Gen X is an example of a Nomad generation.

Hero: Conventional, powerful, overprotected, institutionally driven, trust greatly in authority. The G.I. Generation that fought WWII is an example of a Hero generation.

Artist: Subtle, emotional, cooperative. Artistic leaders are advocates of fairness and inclusion, and demonstrate a laissez-faire attitude towards personal freedom and economic questions.

A Few Candidates

Now, to the point of this exercise. Let’s look at a few candidates and compare their records and stance on issues within the framework of Strauss and Howe’s generational types.


Giuliani, Romney, and Clinton are all Prophets – ego-driven and moralistic; at least in terms of wanting to impose their moral standards on others. They believe they inhabit moral high ground, and will do whatever is necessary to impose their will on the people. When you look at their records, this prophet trait immediately becomes apparent.

Whether you look at Hillary Clinton’s failed attempt to force national health care on the nation, Giuliani’s absolute embrace of Neocon “spread democracy through any means necessary” philosophy, or Romney’s attempt to reintroduce capital punishment during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts, it becomes obvious these “prophets” will take an active role in imposing their moralities through policy.


Joe Biden and Ron Paul are both Artists – emotional, fair, and inclusive. This is readily seen in Biden’s stand on the Iraq problem – withdraw the troops, give each ethnic group their own autonomous region subject to a central government. Aligning with the artist ethos, his plan is an inclusive attempt to be fair to all concerned parties.

Ron Paul, the most libertarian of the candidates, is a great example of the Artist. His campaign is so inclusive as to be alarming to the established parties – Democratic liberals, Republican conservatives, Libertarians, non-affiliateds, young, old, cynical, hopeful…. Ron Paul welcomes and embraces them all. His domestic policies – as indicated by his Congressional record – would be the most “hands-off” this nation has seen since its founding, and his foreign policy would epitomize Thomas Jefferson’s call to avoid “entangling alliances” with no nation.


Barrack Obama’s Nomadic tendencies can be seen in his attempt to cast himself as a Washington outsider, an adventurous but realistic young candidate who wants to “change the system” that he seems to distrust. He definitely hasn’t been shy about attacking issues, as evidenced by his sponsorship and/or cosponsorship of a whopping 579 bills during the 109th Congress.

Food for Thought

If, as Strauss and Howe have posited, we are currently entering (or have already entered) a Fourth Turning, who will be best suited to lead the country through this Crisis? I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to take this intellectual exercise as far as you want. Review each Presidential candidate’s record and their stance on the issues that matter to you – then compare that to their generational type. Imagine how their Presidency would look like as understood in the framework of Strauss and Howe’s theory. While not everyone agrees with Strauss and Howe, their theory certainly makes for an interesting intellectual exercise.


For a deeper explanation of Strauss and Howe’s theory, buy their books and read them. Or, for a quick overview, visit the link below. The more you learn about the theory, the more rewarding this intellectual exercise can be.


To learn about where each Presidential candidate stands on the issues, visit the following link. Then, see if their generational type matches up with their records. Go crazy!




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