The power of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crises comes from its lack of a specific ideology. My own interpretation of it is that the death of an old political, economic and social order creates an opportunity for any determined movement or leader to put a new vision in place. To use the most striking example, both the United States and Germany were in the midst of a terrible economic and political crisis in 1933. The United States turned to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal; Germany turned to Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.Yes, in The Fourth Turning, the saecular Crisis exposes enough flaws with the old values regime that a new values regime emerges. Ekpyrosis is Greek for "now the new phoenix arises from the ashes." But the new values regime is a response to the contradictions inherent in the old values regime, and in the Strauss and Howe approach, there is no remorseless Hegelian dialectic under which all the contradictions can be ground out for once and for all, and no Vanguard to Lead the People to The Glorious Future. (In Strauss and Howe, that's actually desirable, as the Inexorable March of Progress inevitably sacrifices all generations before the Glorious Future becomes the Glorious Present on the Altar of Progress. Never mind that the Romans had the saeculum but they didn't have steam locomotives or smart 'phones.)
In 2009, when Bannon and I met, I hoped that Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress would use the economic crisis of our own age to revive the values of the New Deal. Bannon obviously had other ideas about where the crisis would lead.
Mr Bannon, however, gives Mr Kaiser the impression that he's going to be the spiritual guide to Mr Trump's Gray Champion.
Trump, Bannon and the rest of the Trump campaign have already managed to destroy the old political order. Trump wiped out a slate of traditional Republican candidates and has won the White House, despite losing the popular vote. Meanwhile, a ceaseless Republican political offensive at various levels of government has given Trump an entrenched majority in the House of Representatives and a small majority in the Senate. Soon the conservatives will have a majority on the Supreme Court.Let's keep in mind that Social Security and Medicare are large unfunded liabilities, and Medicaid and the Interstate Highways and the Great Society more generally are life-expired, and Venezuela is there as a cautionary tale.
What will they do? Their rhetoric and personalities, viewed in the context of Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, suggest that they will not be bound by existing precedents and that they will rely on their own view of the heroes and villains of our time.
Generation Zero [a movie Mr Bannon produced -- ed.] slanted the story of the economic crisis rather cleverly. On the one hand, plenty of contributors pointed out that greed and shoddy banking practices had brought about the economic collapse, but the ultimate blame is placed on liberals, bureaucrats and established politicians. And just as Republican politicians and commentators have done for the last seven years, many of the contributors—speaking at the dawn of the Obama administration—pictured a horrible fate under Barack Obama, featuring economic catastrophe and attempts to impose socialism.
This, however, is one of the terrible things about crisis periods: many people will believe almost anything. The United States faces a terrible crisis right now even though our economy is much improved from eight years ago and we are not involved in a large war. And the Republican Party and Donald Trump are poised to take advantage of it. In my opinion, Trump, Bannon, Gingrich, Ryan and the rest will use their opportunity during the next year or two to undo as much of the Democratic legacy as they can—not only the Obama legacy, but that of FDR and LBJ as well.
But it is beyond the powers of Mr Trump, with or without Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, with or without a lot of bellicose guys named Stephen smacking the palace guard media around and otherwise fostering disruption, to channel an emergent phenomenon.
It's only after the ekpyrosis that the emergence of a new consensus happens. Sorry, David Brooks.
Now and after Trump, the great project is rebinding: rebinding the social fabric, rebinding the government to its people, and most of all, rebinding the heaping piles of wreckage that Trump will leave in his wake in Washington. Somebody will have to restore the party structures, rebuild Congress, revive a demoralized Civil Service.Yeah, I'd like to live long enough to see a new America that Works(TM). The party structures, the governing class, all the rest? Perhaps one of the lessons we've learned after fifty years of social change and the accretion of power by Wise Experts is that the Wise Experts don't control as much as they think they control. It's not so much a new establishment, as a chastened and less hubristic one.
These tasks aren’t magic. They are for experienced professionals. The baby boomer establishment polarized politics, lost touch with the voters and paved the way for Trump. We need a new establishment, one that works again.
Peter Lawler comes closer to getting the social dynamics right. "I will stop here by keeping hope alive that [Mr Trump] will find the mean between nationalism and cosmopolitanism that keeps 'Americanism' from degenerating into tribalism. And if he does not find that mean, then let us hope the country as a whole finds it for itself in time." That's his concluding argument, read it all first. Keep in mind that an emergent mean, reflecting the distributed strategies of multiple people, is likely to be more robust than anything pushed by a president. That's something Mr Kaiser noted about Mr Obama. "Presidents could not, in fact, remake American society, and that that was a good thing." Nor can business interests, although a writer for Breitbart Unmasked hopes that under some circumstances they do take the reins.
There's a long Business Insider essay by Linette Lopez that also takes on the Bannon-manages-Fourth-Turning idea. She deals with a number of topics. I limit my remarks to these.
Strauss and Howe fail to recognize that difference in their description of the Fourth Turning to come. They forget that no two Turnings are alike; instead, they get trapped thinking that the last catalyst — the Great Depression, a financial crisis — was the next one as well, and Bannon does too.There's something ad hoc about the identification of the onset of any saecular Crisis. I recall some discussion boards debating whether or not the hanging chads of Florida were the catalyst. Or the September 11 terrorist attacks. Or the failure of the levees in New Orleans. Or the popping of the financial bubble. There's been a lot going wrong. There's also a lack of anything resembling consensus as to a response, which sounds a lot like 1860. But in the Strauss and Howe taxonomy, the secession crisis and Civil War are an anomaly. Go figure. In the absence of a coherent set of testable implications, perhaps Ms Lopez is correct, and the Fourth Turning has not yet arrived. "So perhaps there is a Fourth Turning to come, but Bannon is not an architect of its initiation."
This is why he believes that the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 was the catalyst of our crisis, just as the Great Depression was the catalyst in the previous saeculum.