|Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's|
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The following is an analysis of the last two saecula in United States history.
The inauguration of President James Buchanan, the economic Panic of 1857, and the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision all helped catalyze a premature Crisis mood, as regional rifts became so irreconcilable that civil war could not be averted. This abbreviated Crisis, coming after an abbreviated Unraveling, did not need time to pack a punch; it was short but incredibly destructive, possibly the most destructive Crisis in Anglo-American history. When the war ended in 1865, Reconstruction provided a model for recovery and healing, but the South was left thoroughly decimated.
Defining Leader: Abraham Lincoln
Child Generation: Some of the Progressive Generation (Artist) and some of the Missionary Generation (Prophet), due to the brevity of this turning.
While the South attempted to rise out of the ashes through Reconstruction, a new civic order was in place; one that, on a national scale, favored the Republican Party (even as the South remained almost unanimously Democratic), and one in which political power rested with the industrial North, where great technological progress was being made. Railroads, factories, and new institutions reflected a booming nation which was surging into Gilded Age industrialism and prosperity with confidence. At the same time, this was an unusually acrimonious Recovery, coming after an exceptionally painful Crisis.
Child Generation: The Missionary Generation (Prophet) was raised with the increasing looseness of a formerly war-torn society which was seeing remarkably rapid advances in science, technology, and the economy. They came of age as muckrakers, suffragists, religious activists, and intellectuals, and later in life became the moralists of the Prohibition era and the visionary elder statesmen of World War II.
As the Haymarket Riot rocked Chicago in 1886, a new mood was coming over society. Over the next two decades the nation pulsed with new ideas and ideals pioneered by Missionary youth, from anarchists (Emma Goldman) to socialists (Upton Sinclair) to evangelicals (Billy Sunday) to Chautauqua orators (William Jennings Bryan) to feminists (Jeannette Rankin). This Awakening, having more than exposed the ugly side of Gilded Age prosperity, was especially powerful in setting the stage for the ideological battles of the next Unraveling.
Child Generation: The Lost Generation (Nomad) was underprotected, even abandoned, as society saw a flood of substance abuse, crime, immigration, and urbanization. They came of age attacked as uneducated and “bad”, yet produced some of the 20th century’s greatest writers and lyricists – and, later in life, the generals who would lead World War II and politicians who would buck the old ways and stand for a new kind of “working man” populism.
The frenetic mood of the Third Great Awakening had expired by 1908, when what should have been a closely-watched presidential election turned into a light-on-substance affair seen with great apathy and complacency from the public. World War I, though victorious, was met with little fanfare, as demoralized “doughboy” troops returned home to vice squads and an increasingly cynical culture. The 1920s brimmed with celebrity circuses and ever-more vitriolic and shrill moral debates, as Prohibition, the Scopes Trial, women’s suffrage, and a perceived “breakdown of the family” all provided sufficient fodder for endless name-calling.
Child Generation: The GI Generation (Hero) was raised with the increasing protection of a society which was trying to save the next generation from its own supposed cultural pathologies. They came of age as optimistic and dedicated civil servants and soldiers, and later in life became the institution-builders of the American High and the beleaguered elder statesmen of the Consciousness Revolution.
The dramatic stock market crash on Black Tuesday in 1929 catalyzed a new Crisis mood, as the worst depression of all time leveled financial resources and brought the economy to its knees. President Franklin Roosevelt’s massive reforms of the New Deal radically reshaped the role of government in society and in the economy, but recovery was slow to come. Just as the Depression was coming to an end, it was finally killed in grand fashion with the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, which brought the United States into World War II, later to become the bloodiest conflict in human history. After the war ended victoriously in 1945, the U.S. found itself as one of two great superpowers for the first time, and was able to use its newfound leverage to craft a new world order.
Defining Leader: Franklin Roosevelt
Child Generation: The Silent Generation (Artist) was overprotected, even suffocated, as society engaged in painful civic overhauls and institutional rebirth. They came of age as “silent” and conformist helpmates, but later in life broke free to produce some of the 20th century’s greatest advocates of social justice, diplomacy, and due process.
As World War II came to its decisively victorious conclusion, the U.S. was now “leading the free world” as its great power, driven by the most equitable (and genuinely healthy) economy in memory, and with a rediscovered sense of optimism and ambition to accomplish great things, from curing diseases to building interstate highways and landing a man on the moon. As gleaming, comfy new suburbs housed young families in placid Rockwellian conformity, politicians claimed an end to ideology, science advanced, and America was said to be at an historic high point of group achievement and a low point of individual empowerment.
Child Generation: The Baby Boomer Generation (Prophet) was raised the increasing looseness of a society newly drenched in exceptional prosperity and technological superiority. Growing up on TV dinners and Dr. Spock parenting, they came of age as environmentalists, hippies, born-again Christians, second-wave feminists, antiwar activists, and latter-day utopists, later becoming the unrelenting culture warriors and spiritual seekers of our time.
The assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963 profoundly shook the American people; in one day, Camelot had been killed, and the “end to ideology” with it. Boomers – first students, and later popular icons – introduced a fiery new brand of youth which proudly challenged authority (Vietnam, Watergate) and refused to let society continue down its spiritually hollow and culturally bland path. Whether activists (Angela Davis), musicians (David Bowie), or visionaries (Bill Gates), the young adults of this Awakening thoroughly revolutionized American culture, utterly de-legitimizing the postwar order in the process.
Child Generation: Generation-X (Nomad) was underprotected, even abandoned, as society clamored to rediscover its soul and remake its inner workings, often through pathologies which saw drug use and crime rise to their highest levels since the 1920s. They came of age seen as nihilistic, alienated "reality bites" latchkey kids and grunger youth, yet have produced more than their share of pop culture pioneers and cutting-edge entrepreneurs.
The tumult of the Consciousness Revolution was gone by 1984, as “Morning in America” pride and “greed is good” individualism slowly swept over the country, while a stagflation-driven malaise was replaced by a new mood of profound complacency and fluffy celebrity-circus indulgence. As years wore on, pessimism, along with a revived apathy, returned with a vengeance, growing by the year as budget deficits soared, politics grew shriller and more partisan, media spectacles abounded, and worries about world affairs resurfaced. Angry moral arguments were fueled by debates over gay rights, abortion, guns, school prayer, and immigration, all while public trust in government leveled to its lowest nadir in generations.
Child Generation: Millennial Generation (Hero) was raised with the increasing protection of a society eager to spare its children from the bitter political environment of warring values camps, and eager to raise a generation of ambitious students and crime-free “good kids”. They are coming of age with high levels of civic and community activity and a possibly unprecedented reputation as overachievers.
-- Nathaniel Ament-Stone