The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss

The Big Idea: Brace yourself. Winter is coming. The 2020’s will be a time of crisis and will remake America.

CHAPTER 1 – Winter Comes Again

The four turnings of the saeculum comprise history’s seasonal rhythm of growth, maturation, entropy, and destruction.

The First Turning is a High, an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism, when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays.

The Second Turning is an Awakening, a passionate era of spiritual upheaval, when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime.

The Third Turning is an Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions, when the old civic order decays and the new values regime implants.

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis, a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.

The 1760s were followed by the American Revolution, the 1850s by Civil War, the 1920s by the Great Depression and World War II. All these Unraveling eras were followed by bone-jarring Crises so monumental that, by their end, American society emerged in a wholly new form.

The Fourth Turning is history’s great discontinuity. It ends one epoch and begins another.

History is seasonal, and winter is coming.

Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood.

Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history.

The next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse — or glory.

Each time younger generations replace older ones in each phase of life, the composite life cycle becomes something altogether new, fundamentally changing the entire society’s mood and behavior.

The Lost Generation was born 1883-1900.

The G.I. Generation was born 1901-1924.

The Silent Generation was born 1925-1942.

The Boomer Generation was born 1943-1960.

The 13th Generation was born 1961-1981.

A Prophet generation is born during a High.

A Nomad generation is born during an Awakening.

A Hero generation is born during an Unraveling.

An Artist generation is born during a Crisis.

PART ONE – Seasons

CHAPTER 2 – Seasons of Time

Awakenings are the summers.

Crises are the winters.


  1. The Wars of the Roses Crisis (1459-1487; climax, 1485)
  2. The Armada Crisis (1569-1594; climax, 1588)
  3. The Glorious Revolution Crisis (1675-1704; climax, 1689)
  4. The American Revolution Crisis (1773-1794; climax, 1781)
  5. The Civil War Crisis (1860-1865; climax, 1863)
  6. The Great Depression and World War II Crisis (1929-1946; climax, 1944)


  1. The Protestant Reformation (1517-1542; climax, 1536)
  2. The Puritan Awakening (1621-1649; climax, 1640)
  3. The Great Awakening (1727-1746; climax, 1741)
  4. The Transcendental Awakening (1822-1844; climax 1831)
  5. The Third Great Awakening (1886-1908; climax, 1896)
  6. The Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984; climax, 1974)
  7. The next Crisis era will most likely extend roughly from the middle Oh-Ohs to the middle 2020s.

CHAPTER 3 – Seasons of Life

Childhood (pueritia, ages 0-20); social role: growth (receiving nurture, acquiring values)

Young Adulthood (iuventus, ages 21-41); social role: vitality (serving institutions, testing values)

Midlife (virilitas, ages 42-62); social role: power (managing institutions, applying values)

Elderhood (senectus, ages 63-83); social role: leadership (leading institutions, transferring values)

By the time the next generation arrives, World War II will be pure history.

Every generation has thus been shaped by either a Crisis or an Awakening during one of its first two phases of life.

Every forty years or so, the persona of each phase of life becomes nearly the opposite of that established by the generation that had once passed through.

The first birth year of each generation usually lies just a couple of years before the opening or closing year of a Crisis or Awakening.

Each of these four locations in history is associated with a generational archetype: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.

During a Crisis era, Prophets enter elderhood, Nomads midlife, Heroes young adulthood, and Artists childhood.

The Four Archetypes

So too must a functional modern society, immersed in directional time, experience the sequential unfolding of all four archetypes.

Jung saw this Hero Myth as perhaps the most potent expression of his archetypes.

Recall all the classic Western pairings of the young hero and the elder prophet.

Another popular type of myth — that of the young prophet and the old king.

In the Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo looks down the age ladder and sees the good Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia — and looks up and sees the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi and the evil Darth Vader.

The affinity between grandparent and grandchild is universal folk wisdom.

A generation’s dominance in national leadership posts typically peaks around the time its first cohorts reach age sixty-five.

At the heart of the saeculum: an oscillation between the overprotection and underprotection of children.

Four key characters in The Iliad and Odyssey are mythical personifications of the four generational archetypes: Nestor (Prophet), Agamemnon (Nomad), Odysseus (Hero), and Telemachus (Artist).

CHAPTER 4 – Cycles of History

The First Turning is a High. Old Prophets disappear, Nomads enter elderhood.

The Second Turning is an Awakening. Old Nomads disappear, Heroes enter elderhood.

The Third Turning is an Unraveling. Old Heroes disappear, Artists enter elderhood.

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter elderhood.

Spring High => summer Awakening => autumn Unraveling => winter Crisis

Highs promote income and class equality, and Awakenings change that. Unravelings promote inequality, and Crises change that.

In a High, people want to belong; in an Awakening, to defy; in an Unraveling, to separate; in a Crisis, to gather.

The onset of war causes birthrates to fall and the onset of peace causes birthrates to surge.

Rates of crime and worries about social disorder rise during Awakenings, reach a cyclical peak during Unravelings, and then fall sharply during Crises.

For the saeculum, what matters most are not the accidents themselves, but rather society’s response to them.

History always produces sparks. But some sparks flare and then vanish, while others touch off firestorms out of any proportion to the sparks themselves.

During a Fourth Turning, generational forces tend to funnel exogenous events toward a concerted national response.

Crisis-era wars were all large, deadly, and decisive.

History is not predetermined — the actions people take (and political choices they make) can fundamentally alter the course of history.


  1. Late Medieval (1435-1487)

The Retreat from France (Third Turning, 1435-1459)

The Wars of the Roses (Fourth Turning, 1459-1487)

The Arthurian Generation (Hero, born 1433-1460)

The Humanist Generation (Artist, born 1461-1482)

  1. Reformation (1487-1594)

The Tudor Renaissance (First Turning, 1487-1517)

The Protestant Reformation (Second Turning, 1517-1542)

Intolerance and Martyrdom (Third Turning, 1542-1569)

The Armada Crisis (Fourth Turning, 1569-1594)

The Reformation Generation (Prophet, born 1483-1511)

The Reprisal Generation (Nomad, born 1512-1540)

The Elizabethan Generation (Hero, born 1541-1565)

The Parliamentary Generation (Artist, born 1566-1587)

  1. New World (1594-1704)

Merrie England (First Turning, 1594-1621)

The Puritan Awakening (Second Turning, 1621-1649)

Reaction and Restoration (Third Turning, 1649-1675)

The colonial Glorious Revolution (Fourth Turning, 1675-1704)

The Puritan Generation (Prophet, born 1588-1617)

The Cavalier Generation (Nomad, born 1618-1647)

The Glorious Generation (Hero, born 1648-1673)

The Enlightenment Generation (Artist, born 1674-1700)

  1. Revolutionary (1704-1794)

The Augustan Age of Empire (First Turning, 1704-1727)

The Great Awakening (Second Turning, 1727-1746)

The French and Indian Wars (Third Turning, 1746-1773)

The American Revolution (Fourth Turning, 1773-1794)

The Awakening Generation (Prophet, born 1701-1723)

The Liberty Generation (Nomad, born 1724-1741)

The Republican Generation (Hero, born 1742-1766)

The Compromise Generation (Artist, born 1767-1791)

  1. Civil War (1794-1865)

The Era of Good Feelings (First Turning, 1794-1822)

The Transcendental Awakening (Second Turning, 1822-1844)

The Mexican War and Sectionalism (Third Turning, 1844-1860)

The Civil War (Fourth Turning, 1860-1865)

The Transcendental Generation (Prophet, born 1792-1821)

The Gilded Generation (Nomad, born 1822-1842)

The Progressive Generation (Artist, born 1843-1859)

  1. Great Power (1865-1946)

The Reconstruction and Gilded Age (First Turning, 1865-1886)

The Third Great Awakening (Second Turning, 1886-1908)

World War I and Prohibition (Third Turning, 1908-1929)

The Great Depression and World War II (Fourth Turning, 1929-1946)

The Missionary Generation (Prophet, born 1860-1882)

The Lost Generation (Nomad, born 1883-1900)

The G.I. Generation (Hero, born 1901-1924)

The Silent Generation (Artist, born 1925-1942)

  1. Millennial (1946-2026?)

The American High (First Turning, 1946-1964)

The Consciousness Revolution (Second Turning, 1964-1984)

The Culture Wars (Third Turning, 1984-2005?)

The Millennial Crisis (Fourth Turning, 2005?-2026?)

The Boom Generation (Prophet, born 1943-1960)

The 13th Generation (Nomad, born 1961-1981)

The Millennial Generation (Hero, born 1982-7)

(Artist?, born ?)

The First Turning is a High — an upbeat era of strengthening institutions and weakening individualism.

The Second Turning is an Awakening — a passionate era of spiritual upheaval.

The Third Turning is an Unraveling — a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions.

The Fourth Turning is a Crisis — a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.

CHAPTER 5 – Gray Champions

Each time the Gray Champion appeared marked the arrival of a moment of “darkness, and adversity, and peril,” the climax of the Fourth Turning of the saeculum.

PART TWO – Turnings

CHAPTER 6 – The First Turning: American High (1946-1964)

CHAPTER 7 – The Second Turning: Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984)

CHAPTER 8 – The Third Turning: Culture Wars (1984-2005?)

The best-known Unraveling decades (the 1550s, 1660s, 1760s, 1850s, and 1920s) bring to mind risk taking, bad manners, and a sobering of the social mood.

The Silent are well on the way to becoming the first generation in U.S. history never to produce a president.

Toward the end of an Unraveling…

The elder Artists, now appearing less flexible than indecisive, begin impeding the Prophets’ values agenda.

The midlife Prophets, now filled with righteousness of conviction, grow impatient to lead society toward ever-deeper spiritual conversion.

The young-adult Nomads, now tiring of an unrewarding self-sufficiency, yearn to settle down and shore up social barriers.

The child Heroes, protected by adults who are fearful of their future, begin sensing a dire secular challenge at the heart of the Prophets’ visions.

CHAPTER 9 – Fourth Turnings in History

History has no rewind button. Like the seasons of nature, it moves only forward.

A Fourth Turning is a solstice era of maximum darkness.

A Crisis era begins with a catalyst.

Once catalyzed, a society achieves a regeneracy.

The regenerated society propels toward a climax.

The climax culminates in a resolution.

Collective action is now seen as vital to solving the society’s most fundamental problems.

What makes a Crisis special is the public’s willingness to let leaders lead even when they falter and to let authorities be authoritative even when they make mistakes.

When society approaches the climax of a Crisis, it reaches a point of maximum civic power.

The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both.

A Crisis catalyst occurs shortly after the old Prophet archetype reaches its apex of societal leadership, when its inclinations are least checked by others.

A resolution comes, with the Prophet’s symbolic assistance, at a time when the Nomad is asserting full control.

As visionary Prophets replace Artists in elderhood, they push to resolve ever-deepening moral choices, setting the stage for the secular goals of the young.

As pragmatic Nomads replace Prophets in midlife, they apply toughness and resolution to defend society while safeguarding the interests of the young.

As teamworking Heroes replace Nomads in young adulthood, they challenge the political failure of elder-led crusades, fueling a societywide secular crisis.

As Artists replace the Heroes in childhood, they are overprotected at a time of political convulsion and adult self-sacrifice.

CHAPTER 10 – A Fourth Turning Prophecy

In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party.

This implosion will strike financial markets — and, with that, the economy.

America’s short-term Crisis psychology will catch up to the long-term post-Unraveling fundamentals. This might result in a Great Devaluation, a severe drop in the market price of most financial and real assets.

Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment.

Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug-of-war, ending the era of split government.

America’s initial Fourth Turning instinct will be to look away from other countries and focus total energy on the domestic.

The economy will in time recover.

Fourth Turning America will begin to lay out the next saeculum’s infrastructure grid.

Authority will simplify the options of daily life.

Criminal justice will become swift and rough.

Time will pass, perhaps another decade, before the surging mood propels America to the Fourth Turning’s grave moment of opportunity and danger: the climax.

Ingredients of the climax:

  1. Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation).
  2. Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities.
  3. Cultural distress, with the media plunging into a dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship.
  4. Technological distress, with cryptoanarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos.
  5. Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases.
  6. Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, one-party hegemony, major constitutional change, secessionism, authoritarianism, and altered national borders.
  7. Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

The Spirit of America will return, because there will be no other choice.

Trust is reborn.

With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different.

If the Crisis catalyst comes on schedule, around the year 2005, then the climax will be due around 2020, the resolution around 2026.

If America plunges into an era of depression or violence which by then has not lifted, we will likely look back on the 1990s as the decade when we valued all the wrong things and made all the wrong choices. If the Fourth Turning goes well, however, memories of the Unraveling will be laced with nostalgic fun.

If the Crisis ends badly, very old Boomers could be truly despised. If it ends well, they will bask in grand encomia


CHAPTER 11 – Preparing for the Fourth Turning

The proper plan for the saeculum is to move with, not against, the seasons.

We should avoid and control these excesses now, while realizing that society will address them more fundamentally in the Fourth Turning.

To be preseasonal, America should prepare now for the Fourth Turning.

Wise fifty-five-year-olds save money and preserve good health habits.

In autumn, wise farmers prepare against an early and hard winter. They protect their harvest, gather their seeds, and stock their fuel.

No single style of leadership or hero worship is suitable for every turning.

From liberalism and conservatism to socialism and libertarianism, all the popular ideologies are nonseasonal.

Yet the appeal of these ideologies is very cyclical. Nearly all political philosophies wax and wane with the saeculum.

America will need both personal sacrifice and public authority.

Prepare values: Forge the consensus and uplift the culture, but don’t expect near-term results.

Prepare institutions: Clear the debris and find out what works, but don’t try building anything big.

Prepare politics: Define challenges bluntly and stress duties over rights, but don’t attempt reforms that can’t now be accomplished.

Prepare society: Require community teamwork to solve local problems, but don’t try this on a national scale.

Prepare youth: Treat children as the nation’s highest priority, but don’t do their work for them.

Prepare elders: Tell future elders they will need to be more self-sufficient, but don’t attempt deep cuts in benefits to current elders.

Prepare the economy: Correct fundamentals, but don’t try to fine tune current performance.

Prepare the defense: Expect the worst and prepare to mobilize, but don’t precommit to any one response.

Classic virtues that didn’t necessarily pay off in an Unraveling (traits like trust, reliability, patience, perseverance, thrift, and selflessness) will become hard currency in a Crisis.

Rectify: Return to the classic virtues.

Converge: Heed emerging community norms.

Bond: Build personal relationships of all kinds.

Gather: Prepare yourself (and your children) for teamwork.

Root: Look to your family for support.

Brace: Gird for the weakening or collapse of public support mechanisms.

Hedge: Diversify everything you do.

CHAPTER 12 – The Eternal Return

This nation has endured for three saecula; Rome lasted twelve, Etruria ten, the Soviet Union (perhaps) only one.

Alternatively, the new saeculum could find America, and the world, a much better place.

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