Directions for the Silent Generation

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) are leaving the stage in the upcoming crisis. Will their last act have a positive outcome?

In The Fourth Turning” the describe the roles of each generation during the various “Turnings“. At the end of the book there are “scripts” for each of the generation in the Crisis (aka “Fourth Turning”) that represents the next 10-15 years in American history. Each script describes how the generation in question should act for a positive outcome from the Crisis. I already posted the script for the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?),  Generation X (born 1961-1981) and the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960). The script for Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) is shown below (emphasis, items in italics and links mine). “Artist” refers to the archetype of the Silent Generation.

Having witnessed the last Crisis as an anxious child, the Artist will approach the next one as an anxious elder. He will see its catalyst and feel its mood shift but will probably pass away before learning how it turns out. In the Fourth Turning, therefore, the Artist must disengage and refrain from interfering as other archetypes do their necessary work. In an Unraveling (the Culture Wars from 1984-2005) , the old Artist sees little of his own empathic quality in the Nomad (Generation X in this case) who (he fears) will ignorantly shatter his own achievements. The Artist may even worry that refinement and sensitivity are themselves dying with him. He is unaware that a new Artist archetype is soon to be reborn in the Fourth Turning, nurtured by the Nomad to possess exactly the traits the old Artist wishes to preserve.
In the Fourth Turning, the Silent will be fading from power, with less chance to act than to veto (or, as always, to entangle) the actions of others. Their vestigial powers will reside mainly in courtrooms. If they block the Next New Deal, Silent jurists would follow in the Crisis-aggravating saecular footsteps of Roger Taney in the 1850’s and the “nine old men” in the 1930s. They should avoid intruding on the moral judgments of Boomer legislatures and avoid using detail, complexity, and delay to stifle the recrudescence of civic authority. Crisis-era antagonisms will not be amenable to being smoothed over, and warring sides will refuse mediation. Decisions will not be improved by adding new layers of procedure, and urgent problems will not await further study. The Silent should defer to the X’er view that experts can be dead wrong, that professional elites can stumble over simple choices, and that kind intentions do not always produce kind results. As the Crisis deepens, X’er-style survivalism will trump Silent-style procedural democracy every time.
Through the remainder of the Unraveling, however, a Silent dose of what the Progressive Generation’s Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “just the art of being kind” could usefully help America prepare for the challenges ahead. With measured checks and balances, the Silent can artfully deflect Boomer anger and challenge X’er apathy, preventing those two generations from imprudently plunging America into dangerous rapids before the Fourth Turning arrives. At the turn of the Millennium, the election of an empathic Silent president might stretch out the Unraveling era just long enough to restrain Boomers and X’ers from engaging their worst instincts until both have had a chance to mature further. Once the Crisis catalyzes, however, the time for Silent leadership will expire.
Though eager to mentor youth personally, the Silent should realize that Millennials are not like X’ers and are even less like Boomers. The rising generation will not want to expand the frontier of individualism and introspection. They will want the opposite—teamwork and construction. The child’s world is just now recovering from what Silent parents, educators, and pop-culture leaders did to it back in the Awakening in the name of reform. Millennial nurture depends on this change continuing. The kindest thing the Silent can do for Millennials is to be the helpmate. Perhaps, by dint of their smaller numbers, the Silent can sneak through unnoticed with a GI-style elder reward. Rut by acceding gracefully to requests that they relinquish some of their late-life public reward, the Silent could prove that good intentions can make a difference, that nice people can alter history.
If the Silent play their script badly, they will end their lives like Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, fearing that the national greatness hoisted by others in their childhood will pass away with them. If they apply their script well, however, they can go into history’s good night like those who reached their eighties in the Great Depression, old Progressives like Louis Brandeis and John Dewey, who (in the latter’s words) remained “committed to an end that is at once enduring and flexible.”

Silents are certainly stepping aside now (see my post on the makeup of the legislature). Unfortunately the Silent Generation did not get it’s president at the turn of the Millennium – we got another Boomer (George W. Bush), which did seem to push us further into crisis. And that last item I highlighted is why Generation X will always be cynical about the role of parents, educators and pop-culture leaders.

One thought on “Directions for the Silent Generation”

  1. Bush used Silents as "hidden" advisors. Imagine if instead we'd had a different Boomer president (Gore) surrounded by fellow Boomers, as 9/11 hit. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, Bush fell into liberal Boomer instincts especially vis a vis globalist utopianism and an approach to the WoT which did not overtly put the US on a general war footing (e.g. "go shopping!"). So, in the end, the Boomer, 1960s instinct ruled the roost from Jan 2001 to Jan 2009.

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