I am a collector of political models. The Fourth Turnings cyclical / generation model is one I certainly appreciate. I concur that an idealistic prophet generation is on the verge of taking political power. A young civic / hero generation is plausibly coming of age, ready to take on any tasks called for. Western Civilization is thus ready to perform some mighty task, whether there is a task worthy of doing or not. A near future crisis is thus plausible. What is properly required is a task worthy of the youngs energy and their elders ideals.
However, other models are worth reading as well. In particular, while the generation based model seems good at determining when a crisis might occur, or at least how a society is apt to respond to a challenge at a given time, other perspectives might be better for identifying the nature of the crisis.
One such model is Alvin Tofflers The Third Wave. It is an interesting model, though I am doubtful the Third Wave of its title exists as a separate entity. It makes sense to talk about First Wave agricultural civilization and Zeroth Wave hunter-gatherer pre-civilization. Both existed for millennia in fairly stable forms. Second Wave industrial and Tofflers proposed Third Wave information driven civilizations have not had millennia of stability. Technology driven change makes them interwoven. The Industrial Revolution is still underway. Technology and science have not paused. Societies will continue changing as long as scientific discovery continues to fuel engineering and economic shifts. A few centuries after science stonewalls, if it ever stonewalls, perhaps we can see what a stable and complete Second Wave industrial - information based civilization looks like. Until then, change will be the norm.
Thus, current conflicts are between a classical Agricultural era pattern and a yet to be perfected Industrial - Information era pattern. Focusing on political and cultural aspects - while Toffler is more concerned with industrial, transport, communications and trade aspects - the conflict might be summarized as follows.
Agricultural civilizations were in general ruled by dictator/kings. They ruled for life. There was no peaceful procedure for removing them. Their powers were absolute, often derived from the gods. Their power often included censoring ideas they did not like, or terminating individuals they opposed. There was an often hereditary military, religious and/or land owning privileged ruling class. War was cost effective. Expansion by force of one's culture or religion was expected. Intolerance or exploitation of different ethnic groups was the norm. Laborers were often bound to the soil as serfs or slaves.
The opposite - on the rare occasion when it is at it's best - is the industrial civilization. The executive has limited terms in office, and can be removed for abusing power. The chief executive's power is limited by the purse being held by the independent legislative, and the laws being interpreted by an independent judicial. Ideas are supposed to be freely expressed. Individual can be tried for criminal acts, but not political. Aggressor nations generally get stomped by defensive alliances. Forcing one's culture or religion on an unwilling other is considered impolite. While prejudice against ethnic, religious, or gender groups is common, it is not backed by law, nor something to be proud of. Laborers are paid, free to change jobs, and may use collective bargaining.
The major issues of the last three American fourth turning conflicts may be found in the above two paragraphs. The Revolution promoted democracy over royalty, and rejected colonial imperialism. The Civil War ended a racist slave / serf labor system, common in the Agricultural age. World War Two was, with the major exception of the Soviet Union, a war between democracies and racist dictatorships. The Soviet Union can be viewed as an Agricultural Age nation, attempting to adapt Industrial Age technology while continuing with Agricultural Age political systems and philosophies. The Communist Party was a thinly disguised nobility, controlling the land and the means of production. Labor was bound to the party.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, we may have a major shift. At the moment, I see no major First Wave Agricultural Age power apt to attempt imposing its culture on others using force. China is a possibility - a First Wave culture with the size and potential strength to force expansion - but China traditionally assimilates outside influence rather than imposing her culture on others.
There has traditionally been one Western country at any given time willing to use force against all comers. Examples are the Spain of the armada, the France of Louis XIV and Napoleon, the Germany of Bismarck and Hitler. Such traditions end hard, with defeats costly enough that the glory of offensive war is stained. If there is an heir to this tradition, it is the United States, which has grown accustomed to using force wherever in the world her policies are threatened. Thus, a Fourth Turning war seems more likely to be an aggressive enforcement of Second Wave values on unwilling First Wave victim cultures. The pattern is set by the North American Civil War (the War of Northern Aggression) which ended slavery. A defensive protection of democratic values and ethnic groups from a major First Wave aggressor, as in the Second World War, seems less likely. The system of democratic defensive alliances seems too formidable. With the proverbial exception of a land war in Asia, what country would dare?
Sumuel Huntingtons The Clash of Civilizations provides a third model, complementing The Fourth Turning and The Third Wave. If The Third Wave is based on three patterns of human civilization, and The Fourth Turning is based on four generations and four turnings, The Clash of Civilizations is based on seven civilizations: Western, Latin American, Islamic, African, Hindu, Sinic, and Japanese. If T4T is a cyclic model that predicts cyclic behavior, if The Third Wave tracks fundamental shifts in civilization patterns and thus predicts a fundamental change in civilization, it is hardly surprising that Clash of Civilizations anticipates any major crisis will develop along the boundaries of the seven civilizations. The structure of the model determines the nature of the prediction. The merit of the model is thus in the data provided to support a match between the model and the real world.
While there is much I like about what The Third Wave says about First and Second Wave civilizations, I tend to throw away much of what Toffler says about the Third Wave. Similarly, while Clash of Civilizations is a book that should be read, I have serious doubts about its conclusions. In addressing The Fourth Turning web site, I have the correct audience for the first perceived bias and flaw.
The author extrapolates linearly - assumes trends will continue - rather than watching for cyclical patterns. He does an excellent job of comparing the recent Islamic Resurgence with the Protestant Reformation. Yes, the Islamic Civilization is in an awakening. He provides evidence which supports Western Civilizations work patterns and morals are in a decline. Yes, the West is in an unraveling. A conclusion that these shifts are permanent, that Islamic Civilizations position in the world has shifted long term, is, shall we say, questionable. Anyone familiar with The Fourth Turning will not trust Clash of Civilizations observations and predictions beyond the next generation boundary. Still, his snapshots of how he views each civilization might be interesting to those trying to peg various parts of the world to turning stages.
The second perceived flaw, or bias, is that the author seems to be a conservative religious thinker who likes conservative religious values, and sees them on the upsurge worldwide. He even perceives this as a good thing. My bias is the opposite, that First Wave rigid religious ethics, ethnic hostilities and class privilege must be replaced by Second Wave democratic and scientific values. If his data is accepted at face value, the conflict might be described using terminology from all three models as follows.
The Cold War ended with Western Civilization in an unraveling. No one in their right minds would imitate a culture in an unraveling. The other major competing modern value system, Communism, was and is also unfashionable. Lacking an original thinker, the only alternative values available are traditional religious and cultural models. Clash of Civilizations documents the revival of traditional and religious values world wide, with a mild trend towards fundamentalism, all at the expense of secular western values. While I am not in position to verify his data, it makes sense.
Accepting this perceived worldwide religious resurgence as real, it does not follow that any upcoming conflict can be best understood by focusing on civilization boundaries. First Wave fundamentalist and traditionalist forces are currently digging into positions of power. Western Civilization - the lead civilization for Second Wave industrial, ethical and political systems - is due for a crisis. The conflict will not be on civilization boundaries, but, as usual over the last few centuries, will be between First and Second Wave values.
Second Wave values are to a great extent in place within Western Civilization. Rather than an internal crisis focused primarily within Western Civilization, the next crisis may have significant themes playing between the West and the older six civilizations. Meanwhile, the older civilizations are modernizing, have to some degree already assimilated Western technology and politics. However, class privilege, ethnic conflict and the practical economic aspects of limiting corruption remain problems, even in the West.
Some possible focal points for a First Wave / Second Wave crisis follow.
Some fundamentalist ethics, based on religious documents written during the agricultural era, make birth control and abortion immoral. Objective scientific analysis suggests over population will stress many parts of the world. This very basic issue, on whether and how to stabilize population, puts religious and scientific perspectives on morality into conflict.
Overpopulation leads to two other ecological problems, lack of resources, and pollution.
Overpopulation, lack of resources and pollution result in economic and life style problems. The pursuit of happiness becomes difficult.
Economic difficulties in an Agricultural Era mind pattern lead to ethnic troubles. Ethnic or religious groups traditionally repressed are repressed more.
Ethnic problems lead to violence. The extreme First Wave form is ethnic cleansing. War is also a common result.
There is still an imbalance of wealth between the old colonial imperialist powers and their former colonies, between Western Civilization and the older six, between Second and First Wave nations. Correction of this imbalance could be considered justice. While cheap labor is moving manufacturing jobs into the older civilizations, what is cheap labor but another form of exploitation? If the cheap labor were to strike for higher wages, would the multinationals simply move the jobs?
AIDs adds another factor. In many parts of the world, about the time T4Ts crisis is due to hit, HIV infection rates will become critical. While treatments are available in richer areas of the world, they may not be affordable where they are needed most. This could easily lead to First Wave resentment of the Second Wave nations.
Weapons of mass destruction are available. Strategic air power is an established practice, rather than the abstract theory it was at the start of the last crisis. Once control of the air is lost, it is very difficult to manufacture the means to regain airborne presence, and operations on the ground take place at a significant disadvantage. While in the past, Western Civilization could afford to spend a few years mobilizing and training, air superiority is decided in days. While industrial output and large numbers of intense hero generation infantry and armor have dominated prior Fourth Turning conflicts, upcoming conflicts could be of an entirely new shape. Guerilla / terrorist tactics using weapons of mass destruction could call for a different generation of heroes.
The United States budget problems will also make empowering a generation of civic heroes difficult. Once, we could allocate a huge chunk of budget to defense. Much of these funds are now tied up in interest payments. Our unraveled politicians seem content not to see the debt increase, and are making no serious attempt to reduce the principle in time to solve a hypothetical upcoming crisis. If a need arises for full mobilization for either military or civic tasks, the government may have to inflate the currency, which will be tricky given the boomers are approaching a fixed income retirement.
Meanwhile, even in the West, democracy is dysfunctional. The campaign finance systems in the US and elsewhere are legalized systems for bribing politicians. With the exception of one or perhaps two litmus test issues at any given time, the voters cannot force their representatives to act in the peoples interests. The special interest groups and rule as certainly as the nobility during the time of kings.
The Fourth Turnings model suggests looking for the seeds of the solution to the crisis in the ideals of the prior awakening. If this is true, where would one look for a vision to counter ethnic violence, poverty, and runaway governments owned by the rich?
Warning, speed bump ahead. It is one thing to abstractly talk about values, crisis, cultures, heroes, prophets, and renewal. It is another to encounter a prophet head on, to appreciate that major and real world wide problems are to be solved by a change of mood. This has to be one heck of a mood swing. It is thus time to switch from intellect to feelings.
Do you remember?
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
There is the possibility that the Second Wave Western Civilization may attempt to impose its values upon those who wish to continue First Wave traditions of prejudice, ethnic violence, aggressive warfare, and privilege.
On another thread on the Fourth Turning web page, there is talk that Timothy McVeigh may be playing a role similar to John Brown, the martyr who opened the Civil War crisis through personal example. If the crisis does take shape along First / Second Wave lines, Ill instead nominate Audrey Hepburn for her UNICEF work, for bringing Western aid into Somalia, which in turn set a pattern for Bosnia. It is early days yet. The crisis has not come close to its full potential. However, a pattern may already be set.
Personally, Id rather follow Martin Luther King and Audrey Hepburn than Timothy McVeigh.