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Terms like “Generation X” or “Lost Generation ” are quite popular, but may be not everyone is aware of the theory they originated from.
The Generations theory was introduced 1991 by William Straus and Neil How in their book Generations. Their bold theory is that each generation belongs to one of four types, and that these types repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern. Although the studies and observations were based on the American History, later on lots of parallels were found in other cultures. The theory suggests the following intervals:
- Lost Generation (1883–1900)
- Greatest Generation (1901–1924)
- Silent Generation (1925–1942)
- Baby Boomer (1943–1960)
- Generation X (1961–1981)
- Generation Y (1982–2001)
- Generation Z (2001–)
The repeating pattern:
Awakening. During an Awakening, rising adults are driven by inner zeal to become philosophers, religious pundits, and hippies, alienating children (who see the adult world becoming more chaotic each day) and older generations alike. Civil order comes under attack from a new values regime. Examples of Awakening eras include the Protestant Reformation (1517-1542), the Puritan Awakening (1621-1649), the Great Awakening (1727-1746), the Second Great Awakening (1822-1844), the Third Great Awakening (1886-1908), and the Consciousness Revolution (1964-1984). Seen as a tumultuous time, somewhat echoing a “Crisis”.
Unraveling. An Unraveling is an era of relative peace and prosperity between an Awakening and a Crisis. The most recent Unraveling was seen between The Consciousness Revolution and the time just before September 11th (1985-2001?), a time of paradigm shifting. Seen as a positive time, somewhat echoing a “High”.
Crisis. A Crisis is a decisive era of secular upheaval. The values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. Wars are waged with apocalyptic finality. Examples of Crisis eras include the Wars of the Roses (1459-1487), the Spanish Armada Crisis (1569-1594), the colonial Glorious Revolution (1675-1704), the American Revolution (1773-1794), the American Civil War (1860-1865), and the twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II (1932-1945), and now speculatively the present time from September 11th, 2001.
High. A High is an era between a Crisis and an Awakening. The most recent High was seen between World War II and the Consciousness Revolution.
Strauss and Howe state that Generations last the length of time of one phase of life–the same length of time as a turning. Like turnings, generations come in four different archetypes, defined in “The Fourth Turning” as Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.
Prophets are values-driven, moralistic, focused on self, and willing to (see other people) fight to the death for what they believe in. They grow up as the increasingly indulged children of a High, come of age as the young crusaders of an Awakening, enter midlife as moralistic leaders during an Unraveling and are the wise, elder leaders of the next Crisis. The Boomers are an example of a Prophet generation.
Nomads are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They grow up as the underprotected children of an Awakening, come of age as the alienated young adults of an Unraveling, become the pragmatic, midlife leaders of a Crisis and age into tough, post-crisis elders during a High. Generation X and the Lost Generation are examples of Nomad generations.
Heroes are conventional, powerful, and institutionally driven, with a profound trust in authority. They grow up as the increasingly protected children of an Unraveling, come of age as the Heroic, team-working youth of a Crisis, become energetic and hubristic mid-lifers during a High and become the powerful elders who are attacked in the next Awakening. The G.I. Generation that fought World War II is an example of a Hero generation. Millennials are expected to emerge as the next generation of this example.
Artists are subtle, indecisive, emotional and compromising, often having to deal with feelings of repression and inner conflict. They grow up as the over-protected children of a Crisis, come of age as the sensitive young adults of a High, rebel as indecisive midlife leaders during an Awakening, and become the empathic elders of an Unraveling. The Silent Generation is an example of an Artist generation.
The Homeland Generation is expected to emerge as the next generation of this example.
Each of the four turnings is composed of a unique constellation of generational archetypes. During an Awakening, for example, the children are always a Nomad generation, the young adults a Prophet generation, the mid-lifers an Artist generation, and the elders a Hero generation. During a Crisis, by contrast, the children are always Artists, the young adults are Heroes, the mid-lifers are Nomads, and the elders are Prophets. In “The Fourth Turning”, Strauss and Howe state that this has held true with remarkable consistency over 500 years of Anglo-American history, since the birth of modernity.
Strauss and Howe believe that history shapes each generation depending on what phase of life it occupies as it encounters key historical events–a period of crisis will leave an impression on children that is different from the one it leaves on midlife leaders. The boundaries of each generation and the characteristics of its members emerge because they share a common age-location in history. For instance, Strauss and Howe define the Boomer generation as anyone who doesn’t personally remember World War II. They are different from the Silent Generation, who share the formative experience of childhood during the war. Thus history creates the generations–and these in turn reproduce the cycle of history. As the protected children of a High who never personally experienced Crisis, and as the moralistic, uncompromising crusaders of an awakening, the Prophet-Boomers are most likely to provoke a new crisis when they grow to control the nation’s institutions. As the overachieving children of an Unraveling who never personally experienced an Awakening, and as the team-working, conformist civics of a crisis, the Heroes are most likely to provoke a new awakening when they get control.
P.S. As any theory, this one has to be taken with a grain of salt… And I wonder how does the rise of Spirituality fits into all that?
But anway, I really like the theory 🙂