Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


President George Bush talks about a "Third Awakening," but he has his history wrong

It was America's 1960s Awakening that united Protestants, Catholics and Jews, and cemented our support for Israel. (19-Sep-2006)
Summary William G. McLoughlin and other historians have long recognized America's "Great Awakenings" as times of great social turmoil and religious revival. Each Awakening resolved the turmoil by setting new priorities for the nation, and the most recent awakening solidified our support for Israel. Awakenings are a pillar of Generational Dynamics, and they occur in every nation and society throughout history. The most recent Awakenings among Muslim nations have solidified their desire to eliminate Israel.

Contents - This page
The First Great Awakening in American history
McLoughlin's five Anglo-American Awakenings
Anthony Wallace and Revitalization Movements
Hannah Arendt: Dread and austerity in late 1940s
Truman Doctrine: America becomes world policeman
Evangelical Christians, Catholics and Jews
Muslim Awakenings and the link to Israel

When President Bush talked about the "Second Awakening" in American history, he was talking about the same "Awakenings" that are part of the foundation of Generational Dynamics.

Bush's remarks were to a group of conservative journalists. They weren't published publicly, but they're summarized on the National Review blog, in an entry by Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne:

Now, those of you who read this web site regularly know that America was in a generational awakening era in the 1960s and 1970s, and is in a generational crisis period today. There is absolutely no chance whatsoever of entering an awakening period now. As I've also said repeatedly, Iraq is currently in a generational awakening era, one generation past the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, and that's why a civil war in Iraq is impossible today, just as a civil war couldn't have occurred in the America in the 1960s.

However, Bush's reference is to exactly the same "Second Awakening" that forms one of the pillars of Generational Dynamics.

Historians have long recognized three Great Awakenings in American history, in the 1730s-40s, 1820s-30s, and 1890s-1900s, respectively. These have been periods of tremendous social turmoil, as well as religious revival among the public.

Many people believe that the social turmoil of the 1960s and 70s, with the antiwar movement, the environmental movement, the women's lib movement, and so forth, was unique in American history. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was actually America's fourth Awakening era.

The First Great Awakening in American history

The social turmoil that occurred in the 1730s and 40s was so great, history has given it a name, "The Great Awakening in American history."

The First Great Awakening (1730s-1740s) occurred at a time when the American colonies were beginning to strongly condemn British control of the colonies. Part of that was the official church, the Church of England, called the Anglican Church in the colonies.

The Revolutionary War came in 1776, but the cultural revolution against England occurred with the Great Awakening.

Starting in the 1730s, something brand new came about -- something we recognize today in the form of "televangelists." Various preachers went from city to city, telling thousands of rapt listeners that they would be punished for their sinfulness, but could be saved by the mercy of an all-powerful God. To take one example, John Wesley, born in 1703, created the Methodist religion, and traveled on horseback throughout the country for years, stopping along the way to preach three or four sermons each day.

The Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s was not just a religious revival; it was also an act of rebellion against the older generation that favored control by the British in return for protection. By rejecting the Anglican Church, the colonists were symbolically rejecting British control.

The Second Great Awakening was so named because of the social turmoil of the 1820s and 1830s.

Women's rights began to be seriously addressed at this time. And, as with the previous awakening, there were heavy religious overtones, with many evangelists holding "revivals," telling people how to revive their sinful souls from damnation.

However, the greatest turmoil arose out of the slavery issue. Slave rebellions began to develop, especially in those parts of the South where blacks outnumbered whites. The fiercest was the 1831 revolt led by black slave Nat Turner, who had been born in 1800. Turner's rebellion resulted in the deaths or massacres of dozens of whites and blacks, until Turner himself was hanged several weeks later.

This is the period that George Bush was talking about in his remarks. The Civil War began in 1861, and many of the ideas about the evil nature of slavery were born in during the Second Great Awakening, 30-40 years earlier.

Awakenings are crucial to Generational Dynamics. Awakening eras occur in every society and nation, and they always occur midway between two crisis wars. It often happens that great ideas (like new religions) are born during Awakening eras, and are either actualized or killed off during the next crisis era.

McLoughlin's five Anglo-American Awakenings

In his 1978 book, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform, senior history professor William G. McLoughlin identifies five awakenings in Anglo-American history. He started with England's Puritan Awakening (1610-40), that began midway between the Spanish Armada crisis war and the English civil war. He then describes America's First, Second and Third Great Awakenings, and also includes a Fourth Awakening -- beginning in the 1960s.

In the 1980s, when historians William Strauss and Neil Howe did their research on Anglo-American generational patterns for their books Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, they drew heavily on McLoughlin's work and filled in the detailed generational changes that lead from an awakening to a crisis war to another awakening to another crisis war.

Generational Dynamics in turn draws on Strauss and Howe's work, and extends the concepts of crisis wars and awakenings to all nations, societies and tribes at all times in history.

McLoughlin summarized America's Awakenings as follows:

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Awakening eras occur in every nation and society throughout history.

Anthony Wallace and Revitalization Movements

In 1956, Anthony F. C. Wallace published a paper called "Revitalization Movements" to describe how cultures change themselves. A revitalization movement is a "deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a group to create a new culture," and Wallace describes at length the processes by which a revitalization movement takes place.

Wallace derived his theory from studies of so-called primitive peoples (preliterate and homogeneous), with particular attention to the Iroquois revitalization movement led by Seneca religious leader and "prophet" whose name was Handsome Lake (1735-1815). Wallace believed that his revitalization model applies to movements as broad and complex as the rise of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Wesleyan Methodism.

In his 1978 book, McLoughlin took Wallace's work on Revitalization Movements and extended it to "the complex, pluralistic, and highly literate people of the United States."

In doing so, McLoughlin provided the roadmap for extending the concept of Revitalization / Awakening eras so that they apply to any nation or society in history:

McLoughlin thus laid the groundwork for understanding that Awakening eras are essential to any society, for they redefine the cultural norms that will carry the society into and through the next crisis war.

Hannah Arendt: Dread and austerity in late 1940s

The late 1940s were a time of great dread and austerity for Americans. True, Americans were in a kind of emotional "high," having just beaten the Depression and beaten the Nazis. But after two world wars, and a new world war against Communism apparently on the horizon, it was felt that SOMETHING must be done to try to prevent that. This gave rise to the Truman Doctrine.

Before proceeding to that, however, let's quote from the Preface to Hannah Arendt's 1950 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, to show the mood of the time:

Arendt's book proceeds to deconstruct the elements of Naziism and Communism, with the purpose of trying to find ways to keep them from happening again.

Truman Doctrine: America becomes world policeman

For President Harry Truman, this was more than just a philosophical discussion. America had historically had an "isolationist" policy of remaining aloof from foreign affairs, and hadn't even joined the League of Nations when it was formed after World War I.

However, many people believed that this isolationist policy was one of the causes of World War II, that the United State could (somehow) have prevented WW II, perhaps by assassinating Hitler in 1935. (From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, WW II would have occurred with or without Hitler; furthermore, a proposal to assassinate Hitler in 1935 would have met the same political and public fury that a proposal to assassinate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be met with today. Nonetheless, the erroneous belief that Hitler caused WW II was widespread in the late 1940s.)

In 1947, a crisis between Turkey and Greece led President Truman the formulate the "Truman Doctrine," which essentially made America the Policemen of the World. Here's an excerpt from President Truman's speech to a joint session of Congress:

President Truman made the additional point that, no matter how much it cost the United States to provide this help, the cost would be far less than the cost of World War II.

The Truman Doctrine led us into a series of difficult situations that quickly went far beyond just financial help. When Russia began to occupy North Korea, we fought the Korean War to a stalemate. When China's allies in North Vietnam made it a goal to convert Southeast Asia to Communism, we began sending troops into Vietnam. When Cuba became a Communist country in 1960, we tried a pre-emptive invasion to overthrow the government; the invasion failed, as it was based on faulty CIA data, and became known as the "Bay of Pigs disaster."

The social turmoil began in earnest in the 1960s, as we tried to answer the question: Exactly what IS our duty as "Policemen of the World"?

Let's return to George Bush's remarks, referring to Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters in the Civil war as religious people from the Second Awakening “who saw life in terms of good and evil” and who agreed [with] Lincoln that slavery was evil, and the Union soldiers who Lincoln had “great affection and admiration for.”

Evangelical Christians, Catholics and Jews

The question that this article is addressing is this: How did the 1960s Awakening resolve the social turmoil of the 1960s, and what people from this era are going to be George Bush's strongest supporters today in the war against terror?

McLoughlin's book, published almost 30 years ago, provides guidance. McLoughlin identifies two major cultural issues in America in the 1950s: the fear of Communism, which we've just discussed; and the long-held feeling that America was not just a religious nation, but was in fact a Protestant nation. In particular, Fundamentalist Protestants believed that, as the millennium approached, God would work through America to redeem mankind.

In the first half of the century, this created a cultural contradiction with the ideal of religious equality because "many of the poor, and many members of the working class, were recent immigrants," and were Catholic or Jewish, according to McLoughlin. Many native-born Americans supported restrictions on immigration because "Catholic and Jewish immigrants needed to be 'uplifted' from their 'backward' and 'superstitious' ignorance."

The Bolshevik (Communist) Revolution in 1917 caused these three groups -- conservative Fundamentalists, Catholics and Jews -- to begin to unite against a common enemy. McLoughlin adds:

This, from McLoughlin's 1978 book, is the central spiritual concept that America's most recent Awakening era has brought us: Protestants are united with Catholics and Jews, and the country is committed to religious equality, and to the defense of religious liberty around the world.

Muslim Awakenings and the link to Israel

As I said before, it's a principle of Generational Dynamics that great ideas are born during Awakening eras and then actualized (or killed) during Crisis eras.

We're now entering a generational Crisis era, and it's fair to ask this question: What form will this new spiritual concept take in its actualization?

There are many ways to approach this question, but none is more important than the defense of Israel.

Religious equality is the norm in Western nations, but is NOT the norm in Muslim nations. America's defense of democracy around the world, a commitment adopted by President Truman after World War II, also now implies defense of religious liberty around the world. By contrast, Muslim nations may tolerate religious liberty, but their commitment is to a Muslim world.

Muslim nations have also had their Awakening eras. For most of them, this was in the 1930s-1940s, following the destruction of the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The destruction of the of the Ottoman Empire also meant the destruction of the Sunni Muslim Caliphate in Istanbul, Turkey. Thus, during the Awakening era, a primary cultural goal became a resurgence of Sunni Islam and the restoration of the Caliphate.

(This is a subject for another time, but an apparent element of the objective of Sunni resurgence has been a substantial increase in the birth rate. This is evident by the fact that, in the last few decades, the birth in Sunni Muslim countries has been roughly twice as great as other countries. However, although I've asked a number of Muslims to confirm that a high birth rate has been a Muslim objective related to the restoration of the Caliphate, none have been able to do so.)

During the 1930s-1940s, right in the Sunni Muslim awakening eras, the European Jews flocked to the Palestine region, and were in conflict with the Palestinians. When the size of the Jewish Holocaust in Germany became known, a horrified world agreed to partition Palestine and create the state of Israel on May 15, 1948. Since then, Palestinians call this day Al Naqba - Catastrophe Day.

Even though George Bush didn't get his history exactly right, he is right to emphasize the importance of Awakenings. It's during Awakenings that powerful attitudes and goals are adopted by large masses of people. The Awakening era is like the societal earthquake that launches the tsunami that arrives 30-40 years later in the form of a crisis war. That tsunami is almost at our shores today, and can't be stopped.

Conflict risk level for next 6-12 months as of: 9-Feb-2006
W. Europe 1 Arab Israeli 3
Russia Caucasus 2 Kashmir 2
China 2 North Korea 2
Financial 3 Bird flu 3
Key: 1=green 1=Low risk 2=yellow 2=Med 3=red 3=High 4=black 4=Active

Generational Dynamics predicts that there'll be a "clash of civilizations" world war, pitting the Muslim world (with China as an ally) against the Western World (with Russia and India as allies). This war was launched by events and social changes that occurred decades ago (and, some would say, centuries ago). Nothing can be done to prevent it today.

Although we can't predict the scenario leading up to that war, current events make it clear that Palestine and Israel will be the epicenter (or at least AN epicenter) of that war. This really shouldn't be surprising, since Palestine and Jerusalem have been the epicenter of many "world wars" for millennia.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that Israel is the only issue leading to a world war. America actually has signed a large number of mutual defense treaties with other countries as well. These include agreements with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the ANZUS agreement with Australia and New Zealand, and the NATO agreement with all of Europe, as well as with Israel.

More and more, I've been telling people lately the following: Treasure the time you have left, and use it to prepare yourself, your family, your community and your nation.

We can't predict the time frame for this war, but with the aggressiveness of Iran in its intent to eliminate Israel, with China's increasing economic instability, with Russia's increasing social instability, and with the the world population's increasing anxiety and fear over violence and terrorism, the time cannot be too far off.

Copyright © 2002-2016 by John J. Xenakis.