I was wondering if any of you were familiar with the historical theory that Trump's Chief Strategist, Stephen Bannon, adheres to called the Forth Turning. Do historians in academia consider it a valid theory?
Basically the premise is that every 80 years or so there is some major crisis that creates a revolt destroying institutions and the old order and bring in a new one. The examples are the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Depression. WWII. (The timing seems a bit off, but oh well.)
Here is a link describing the concept, and some differences between Bannon's take and the original authors as well.
I also find Bannon's view of history kind of radical in his speech to the Vatican Conference. I don't dispute that capitalism and competition has been a creative and innovative force that has raised the standard of living of most people. But he seems to ignore the contribution of science and technology in fueling that process, as well as the effect of things like like labour unions, laws, and social programs that mitigate the more negative aspects of capitalism and I would argue stabilize it. Instead he argues that it was somehow religion that civilized capitalists. I don't think the word democracy is mentioned once.
I think Bannon is a nut job who has managed to use his extreme views and sociopathic tendencies to rise to power... He's practically president and Trump his puppet.
As for his views on this 80 year cycle, that seems a bit too woo and wishy washy for me. It sounds more like astrology than reason.
Humans can find patterns nearly anywhere. We often see what we want to see and cling only to evidence that supports our preconceptions, ignoring that which is contrary. My guess is that's what Bannon is doing here.
As for how historians feel, my guess is that most agree with me that this is a load of unabashed horseshit, but I cannot be certain. Perhaps we have some folks here who follow these things more closely than me who can comment...
"[Time] is one of those concepts that is profoundly resistant to a simple definition." ~C. Sagan
The Fourth Turning can't fit reality. WWII wasn't created by the world to satisfy America's need for pattern, anymore than her civil war was put on for the benefit of China's. It's just another expression of American narcissism. Nothing new.
The conference was supposed to be about poverty. What was that drunk guy talking about?
INow and Pong - yeah, that's what one of the things I found sort of annoying about this theory, is it's just so... I don't know, unscientific or too general or statistically flimsy. In science you get crucified for any study that, say, only involves four or five patients taking a drug or undergoing a procedure. Science and statistics have infiltrated all areas of inquiry - so I have a heard time believing that actual historians or real political scientists would take such broad generalizations seriously,
I do share a basic premise: that the character of a generation is twisted by actions of the previous one, so besides continuing some traits they also develop contradictory ones. For example the generation raised by hippies - in a hippy environment - adapted differently then those raised in a post-war boom. More specifically (and empirically testable) if a generation practicing free love causes an AIDS scare in the 80's then 15-year-olds in the 80's must adapt new shared values regarding sex; not a simple progression from their parents', nor a simple rejection.
The theory inspires strategists like Bannon because it helps predict trends in attitude. For example he could mark a year when the first generation that's perfectly adapted to living in the back seat of an SUV, will want automated vehicles for themselves.
But Fourth Turning theory tries too hard. It neverminds the details - that are actually empirical and consequential - to construct a pseudo-astrological system of four eternal archetypes, which a given people are supposed to rotate though. Welcome to the year of the Rooster. Moreover it fails in the worse way - I think - when trying to relate the subject group with others. For example Strauss & Howe theory might predict the generation of Germans who enabled fascism, as an internal function of German society rotating through its own private cycle, if only we discount Germany's situation in the world had anything to do with it!
Thus, Bannon's application of the theory expects the world must accommodate America treading its inevitable clockwork of ascendancy, crisis, war, etc. nevermind other countries or global situation. When the cycle calls for heroics, some monster should rise to the occasion. When the cycle calls for ascendancy, Canada and China should settle down to grant the honour. As on outside observer I'll keep this in mind. That said, the sentiment that everything on Earth exists only in its relation to America, is not new. Bannon buys a written theory articulating it.
We might predict Bannon's performance if he sticks to the theory. He should ignore relationships between other countries, for example. Like, assuming the administration does "tear up" the NAFTA agreement, Bannon shouldn't foresee direct bilateral agreements between Mexico and Canada. So much for the "strategist".
On a side note, I'm currently reading "The Signal and the Noise - why so many predictions fail" by Nate Silver. An one thing he discusses is predictions made based on: "Big Ideas" - "governing principles about how the world should behave as if they were physical laws that undergrid every interaction in society". As opposed to predictions based on: "Lot's of little ideas, from many different disciplines, regardless of where they originate on the political spectrum," which can be revised or adjusted in light of new information, and lend themselves to a more probabilistic analysis.
Bannon once quipped to a journalist that he was a Leninist in that he wanted to destroy the State and bring everything tumbling down (he since says he doesn't recall the remark.) But he definitely is a "big idea" kind of guy. The thing with guys like him, I'm never quite sure if he genuinely believes everything he says, or it's more of an attempt to persuade people to act a certain way, regardless of veracity of his facts or assumptions.