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Where Did Steve Bannon Get His Worldview? From My Book.

by Neil Howe, The Burning Platform:

The headlines this month have been alarming. “Steve Bannon’s obsession with a dark theory of history should be worrisome” (Business Insider). “Steve Bannon Believes The Apocalypse Is Coming And War Is Inevitable” (the Huffington Post). “Steve Bannon Wants To Start World War III” (the Nation). A common thread in these media reports is that President Trump’s chief strategist is an avid reader and that the book that most inspires his worldview is “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy.”

I wrote that book with William Strauss back in 1997. It is true that Bannon is enthralled by it. In 2010, he released a documentary, “Generation Zero,” that is structured around our theory that history in America (and by extension, most other modern societies) unfolds in a recurring cycle of four-generation-long eras. While this cycle does include a time of civic and political crisis — a Fourth Turning, in our parlance — the reporting on the book has been absurdly apocalyptic.

I don’t know Bannon well. I have worked with him on several film projects, including “Generation Zero,” over the years. I’ve been impressed by his cultural savvy. His politics, while unusual, never struck me as offensive. I was surprised when he took over the leadership of Breitbart and promoted the views espoused on that site. Like many people, I first learned about the alt-right (a far-right movement with links to Breitbart and a loosely defined white-nationalist agenda) from the mainstream media. Strauss, who died in 2007, and I never told Bannon what to say or think. But we did perhaps provide him with an insight — that populism, nationalism and state-run authoritarianism would soon be on the rise, not just in America but around the world.

Because we never attempted to write a political manifesto, we were surprised by the book’s popularity among certain crusaders on both the left and the right. When “The Fourth Turning” came out, our biggest partisan fans were Democrats, who saw in our description of an emerging “Millennial generation” (a term we coined) the sort of community-minded optimists who would pull America toward progressive ideals. Yet we’ve also had conservative fans, who were drawn to another lesson: that the new era would probably see the successful joining of left-wing economics with right-wing social values.

Beyond ideology, I think there’s another reason for the rising interest in our book. We reject the deep premise of modern Western historians that social time is either linear (continuous progress or decline) or chaotic (too complex to reveal any direction). Instead we adopt the insight of nearly all traditional societies: that social time is a recurring cycle in which events become meaningful only to the extent that they are what philosopher Mircea Eliade calls “reenactments.” In cyclical space, once you strip away the extraneous accidents and technology, you are left with only a limited number of social moods, which tend to recur in a fixed order.

Along this cycle, we can identify four “turnings” that each last about 20 years — the length of a generation. Think of these as recurring seasons, starting with spring and ending with winter. In every turning, a new generation is born and each older generation ages into its next phase of life.

The cycle begins with the First Turning, a “High” which comes after a crisis era. In a High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, even if many feel stifled by the prevailing conformity. Many Americans alive today can recall the post-World War II American High (historian William O’Neill’s term), coinciding with the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies. Earlier examples are the post-Civil War Victorian High of industrial growth and stable families, and the post-Constitution High of Democratic Republicanism and Era of Good Feelings.

The Second Turning is an “Awakening,” when institutions are attacked in the name of higher principles and deeper values. Just when society is hitting its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of all the social discipline and want to recapture a sense of personal authenticity. Salvation by faith, not works, is the youth rallying cry. One such era was the Consciousness Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s. Some historians call this America’s Fourth or Fifth Great Awakening, depending on whether they start the count in the 17th century with John Winthrop or the 18th century with Jonathan Edwards.

The Third Turning is an “Unraveling,” in many ways the opposite of the High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Third Turning decades such as the 1990s, the 1920s and the 1850s are notorious for their cynicism, bad manners and weak civic authority. Government typically shrinks, and speculative manias, when they occur, are delirious.

Finally, the Fourth Turning is a “Crisis” period. This is when our institutional life is reconstructed from the ground up, always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. If history does not produce such an urgent threat, Fourth Turning leaders will invariably find one — and may even fabricate one — to mobilize collective action. Civic authority revives, and people and groups begin to pitch in as participants in a larger community. As these Promethean bursts of civic effort reach their resolution, Fourth Turnings refresh and redefine our national identity. The years 1945, 1865 and 1794 all capped eras constituting new “founding moments” in American history.

Just as a Second Turning reshapes our inner world (of values, culture and religion), a Fourth Turning reshapes our outer world (of politics, economy and empire).

In our paradigm, one can look ahead and suggest that a coming time period — say, a certain decade — will resemble, in its essential human dynamic, a time period in the past. In “The Fourth Turning,” we predicted that, starting around 2005, America would probably experience a “Great Devaluation” in financial markets, a catalyst that would mark America’s entry into an era whose first decade would likely parallel the 1930s.

Reflecting on the decade we’ve just lived through, we can probably agree that the 1930s parallel works well. In the economy, both decades played out in the shadow of a global financial crash, and were characterized by slow and disappointing economic growth and chronic underemployment of labor and capital. Both saw tepid investment, deflation fears, growing inequality and the inability of central bankers to rekindle consumption.

In geopolitics, we’ve witnessed the rise of isolationism, nationalism and right-wing populism across the globe. Geostrategist Ian Bremmer says we now live in a “G-Zero” world, where it’s every nation for itself. This story echoes the 1930s, which witnessed the waning authority of great-power alliances and a new willingness by authoritarian regimes to act with terrifying impunity.

In social trends, the two decades also show parallels: falling rates of fertility and homeownership, the rise of multi-generational households, the spread of localism and community identification, a dramatic decline in youth violence (a fact that apparently has eluded the president), and a blanding of pop youth culture. Above all, we sense a growing desire among voters around the world for leaders to assert greater authority and deliver deeds rather than process, results rather than abstractions.

We live in an increasingly volatile and primal era, in which history is speeding up and liberal democracy is weakening. As Vladimir Lenin wrote, “In some decades, nothing happens; in some weeks, decades happen.” Get ready for the creative destruction of public institutions, something every society periodically requires to clear out what is obsolete, ossified and dysfunctional — and to tilt the playing field of wealth and power away from the old and back to the young. Forests need periodic fires; rivers need periodic floods. Societies, too. That’s the price we must pay for a new golden age.

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3 comments to Where Did Steve Bannon Get His Worldview? From My Book.

  • Ed_B

    “While this cycle does include a time of civic and political crisis — a Fourth Turning, in our parlance — the reporting on the book has been absurdly apocalyptic.”

    People see what they want to see and right now, the leftist media in the US wants to see Trump fail in every aspect of his presidency, regardless of the consequences to the nation. I find that kind of view to be reprehensible and disgusting. A great many conservatives hoped that Obama would succeed because that meant that the nation would succeed. It is the ability of those on the right to see the big picture that defines us, while the reverse defines the left. This is why they are on the ropes politically and will remain there until they either become more centrist / less hard core left or disappear entirely as a viable national political party. I am OK with them destroying themselves, however. Better them than the nation.

    • anon

      The “Left” and “Right” paradigm, just plays into the hands of the “elites” of the West. These same “elites” OWN the Western (and largely, GLOBAL) FINANCIAL SYSTEM, which funds BOTH sides. The ‘Deep State’ or SHADOW GOVERNMENT which remains the same through every Presidential Administration (comprised of CFR, Trilateral, and Bilderberg types) serves these “elites”. What is necessary, is REFORM of the FINANCIAL SYSTEM, itself. This is what BOTH THE “LEFT” AND THE “RIGHT” always seem to conveniently gloss over ~ whether it be under the ‘leader-ship’ of a ‘Democrat’ Clinton, or a ‘Republican’ Bush (both of whom, by the way, serve the interests of the CIA, part of the ‘Deep State’ or SHADOW GOVERNMENT, which serves the interests of the Western Int’l Central Bankers BEHIND the so-called “Federal” “Reserve”).

  • Joy

    Soon all comments or many of them will be CIA…g spot.
    And some analysis on Zero will be from secret deep state operatives!

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