Cycles in U.S. History

Remembering the Future




The 13 Original
American Colonies

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If you have not read Strauss and Howe's book " Generations " (or their later book " The Fourth Turning ") I'll try to summarize its main ideas. Strauss and Howe hypothesize that all of society is unfolding on a regular cyclic basis. Specifically, this cycle repeats itself every four generations (80 to 90 years) or so. They further contend that each of the four generations within each cycle has a very distinct personality. These personality types repeat, revealing apparent social similarities from one cycle to the next. S&H, in their books, use the United States as an example and trace several cycles of American Society from this perspective. While I don't believe it is a mathematically precise discipline, I think it is a fascinating concept and it may have real potential in helping to understand the tides of history. If you have read "Generations" I invite you to email me and share your thoughts. We may have the key, don't you think? Let's see what history may have in store for us.


The Generations of American History

  1. Colonial Cycle

    Era Era Type years* Generation Gen. Type
    Renaissance Outer Driven (1584-1614) Puritan Idealist
    Puritan Awakening Awakening (1615-1647) Cavalier Reactive
    Religious Intolerance Inner Driven (1648-1673) Glorious Civic
    Glorious Revolution Crisis (1674-1700) Enlightenment Adaptive

  2. Revolutionary Cycle

    Era Era Type years* Generation Gen. Type
    Age of Enlightenment Outer Driven (1701-1723) Awakening Idealist
    Great Awakening Awakening (1724-1741) Liberty Reactive
    French/Indian War Inner Driven (1742-1766) Republican Civic
    American Revolution Crisis (1767-1791) Compromise Adaptive

  3. Civil War Cycle

    Era Era Type years* Generation Gen. Type
    Era of Good Feeling Outer Driven (1792-1821) Transcendental Idealist
    Transcend. Awakening Awakening (1822-1842) Gilded Reactive
    Pre Civil War Inner Driven (1843-1843) _none_ ** civic
    Civil War Crisis (1843-1859) Progressive Adaptive

  4. World War Cycle

    Era Era Type years* Generation Gen. Type
    Reconstruction Outer Driven (1860-1882) Missionary Idealist
    Missionary Awakening Awakening (1883-1900) Lost Reactive
    World War I Inner Driven (1901-1924) G.I. Civic
    World War II Crisis (1925-1942) Silent Adaptive

  5. Present Cycle (Global Power?)

    Era Era Type years* Generation Gen. Type
    Superpower America Outer Driven (1943-1960) Boom Idealist
    Boom Awakening Awakening (1961-1981) Thirteenth*** Reactive
    Information Revolution Inner Driven (1982-2001?) Millennial Civic
    (Power Down?) Crisis (2001?-2222?) (Homeland?) Adaptive

* The years shown are the birth dates of the particular generational cohort group. Actual social timing of the eras are somewhat different and are used in the TimePage timelines (see the discussion page for Era types).

** The crisis that concluded with the Civil War drug on for eight years, decimated the population and took a mighty toll on the psyche of the country. Strauss and Howe believed the effect was enough to disrupt the normal flow of the generations and that the youth of those terrible years never developed the civic strength of their counterparts in other cycles in American history. Therefore they did not recognize this generational cohort for the Civil War Cycle

*** Also known as Generation X. Douglas Coupland 's use of this term was inspired by a book _Class_, by Paul Fussell. (Details, June 1995) Coupland wanted to describe his book's characters as being withdrawn from the traditional class struggle, not fully part of the dominant culture. Later his term was used by others to describe the age group roughly corresponding to Strauss and Howe's 13th Generation.

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  • The generations proceeding this time frame are mostly tied to other societies, primarily in Europe, and are only superficially covered.

  • The first item listed is the name of the Era followed by the era type or generational alignment of the Era (these are S&H's names as used in the book "Generations"). In Strauss & Howe's later book "The Fourth Turning" these constellational eras are called "Turnings" and the Outer-driven Eras are referred to as the Highs ; the Awakening Eras are the Awakenings; the Inner-driven Eras are the Unraveling and the Crisis Eras are the Crisis

  • To the right of the years is the name of the Generation being born during this time followed by the personality type of the Generation (these are S&H's names from "Generations" too). In Strauss & Howe's later book "The Fourth Turning" these personality types are called Generational Archetypes and the Idealists are referred to as the Prophets; the Reactives are the Nomads; the Civics are the Heroes and the Silents are the Artists.

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The key to this whole examination is that the Generational Types tend to be alike in many ways. But it takes a keen eye to recognize that similarity when they are separated by eight or nine decades of societal change. One would have to live into his eighties to watch a new generation of his type taking shape. Almost no one will ever see their counterparts in the next generation as adults. To get a glimpse of who you may become you must remember the very oldest around you when you were a child.

At the same time we need to understand that obviously not everyone born into these generations is the same. The personality type of each generation is an amalgam of all of it's members, molded by a shared set of experiences in their youth, and reflecting a world view of the group as a whole. S&H base their theory on a cycle of nurturing/parenting (or lack thereof) from generation to generation.

If the patterns we see here are even partly valid, we should be able to project into the future by looking back to a similar era in an earlier cycle. If they are not valid we are not likely to find anything helpful there. In any case, it should be a marvelous trip.


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GENERATIONS , William Strauss and Neil Howe, 1991, William Morrow Publisher, New York.

The Fourth Turning , William Strauss and Neil Howe, 1997, Broadway Books Publisher, New York.

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