The Fourth Turning
The book puts forth a thesis about American history and a repeating series of cycles driving American politics and social trends.
According to the authors, generations repeat in a sequence of four types of generations:
- Hero generations, such as the Great Depression and World War II generation
- Artist generations, such as the Silent Generation which came of age from the late 1940s-early 1960s
- Prophet generations, such as the Baby Boomers
- Nomad generations, such as Generation X
Per the authors, the generation born since 1982, which they name the Millennial Generation, is another Hero type generation following this sequence.
These four generational types, in turn, drive a repeating series of "turnings", or eras in American history:
- First turning, or "High" - the period following a Crisis. America during 1946-1963 is an example. Marked by social conservatism, and by the economic order established during the Crisis becoming settled consensus.
- Second turning, or "Awakening", such as America during 1964-1983. New religious movements and social movements emerge.
- Third turning, or "Unraveling", such as America during 1984 to the present. The new movements that first appeared during the Awakening clash with the social norms of the High, leading to culture wars. At the same time, economic libertarianism gains popularity. The consensus of the High breaks down.
- Fourth turning, or "Crisis". The old norms broken down, the nation must confront a new crisis, which unites the nation and establishes the norms of the next High.
The last Fourth Turning was the Great Depression and World War II era (1929-1945). Previous Crises were the Civil War and the American Revolution. The authors argue that due to the current lineup of generational types and turnings, the nation is on the verge of entering another Crisis period. Since the book was published, many people including the authors have speculated that this period may have begun with 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.