100. Progress (III)
Now would be a good time to look forward by looking back. We rarely look back far enough; we are, as a civilisation, not orientated to the deep. The Chinese often speak of their 5,000 years of civilisation, the Jews can boast of a similar pedigree, and the Hindoos—most ancient—think in terms of 4.2M years or so. We, by contrast, are young; it is only in the natural sciences that Westerners are comfortable thinking in terms of millions of years. In America, the youngest country of the West, a building is old if it has stood for fifty years. In Britain, a building is old if it can be dated back to the 1300s. For the Roman, a building is old if it can be dated from before the time of the caesars. Even Spengler, the deepest of Western historians, only extends his timeframe to 1,000-year intervals—and that is not so very long.
It has become almost a cliché that when Zhou Enlai was asked, on its 200-year anniversary, about the significance of the French Revolution that he replied, “It is too soon to tell.” This remark is much more perceptive than it would first appear; from the long drag of history, the Revolution may yet be regarded as the fatal wound to France; everything else—Napoleon, the Commune, Indochina—was just a long blood slick from a dying animal.
So, yes, we think, particularly Anglo-Saxons, in short time increments. For the moment, there is great consternation around Trump and the scandals come and go every five minutes—the usual mixture of half-truths and half-lies. Let us pull back to the longest view the Anglo-Saxons have of themselves, the view taken by Strauss and Howe in The Fourth Turning. This book sees human life as composed of four repeating generational patterns, with a generation being about 15-20 years. The cycle roughly runs, using my own terminology: growth, awakening, unravelling, and, finally, crisis.
These patterns have been played out again and again in Anglo-America, the hegemonic cultural bloc on the North American continent. During the 19th century, the awakening was associated with anti-slavery proselytism and Transcendentalism; it matured into the Civil War. In the last century, the awakening occurred in the 1960s. The current iteration of the left was formulated in this age: Boomer activist-proselytes birthed political correctness; the children converted and brought up in the faith are “woke”—it is the same religious awakening, merely tracking different generations. The pattern is well established, the new faith replaces the old: reactionaries cannot prevail against the woke—the change really took place in the 1960s. They will be rolled. Unfortunately, Anglo-American religion since at least the 19th century awakening has taken on a particularly pernicious egalitarian form. The period from roughly 1977 to 2020 has been an unravelling: the family and old institutions have collapsed—few trust the media. The final crisis event, according to Strauss and Howe, will take place between 2020 and 2025. They suggest various forms this event could take, including plague and civil war.
What is different during this generational cycle is that the polity containing the generational cycle, the America of 1776, is exhausted. The generational cycle is contained within this polity, but predates it—indeed, it probably goes back to the England that the Anglo-American core originated from. Glubb Pasha, a British soldier and historian, identified 250 years as the lifetime of a successful political unit; at that point, it collapses in decadence—singers and sportsmen become heroes, not soldiers and explorers. For 1776 America, this date falls around 2025; in other words, the moment Glubb would have predicted this polity to collapse coincides exactly with the crisis of the Fourth Turning—an interesting correlation between two very different approaches to history. It follows that this generational crisis could well be the end of 1776 America. The generational cycles will churn on, as they have for aeons, but the cycles will be contained within a new polity—or polities.