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.

Directions for the Boomer Generation

The Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) have a critical role to play in the upcoming crisis. Are they up to it?

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?) and Generation X (born 1961-1981). The script for Baby Boomers (born 1961-1981)  is shown below (emphasis and links mine). “Prophet” refers to the archetype of the Baby Boomers.

The Fourth Turning brings special meaning to the Prophet, because the seasons of the saeculum exactly match those of his own life. From spring to winter, history’s seasons are those of his life cycle as well. Where the Prophet’s shadow (the Hero) had his greatest trial young, the Prophet will find his in old age. To achieve late-life glory, the Prophet must harness the civic duty and skill of the old Hero (The GI Generation, born 1901-1924, whom he rewards but does not honor) and child Hero (The Millennial Generation, born 1982-200?, whose temperament he nurtures but does not understand). In the current Unraveling, though, the Prophet is damaging the civic culture created by the old Hero, thereby making it harder for the child Hero to thrive and pursue his destiny. It is the Prophet’s challenge to confront his shadow, offer the old Hero respect as well as reward, and instill the old Hero’s virtue in the child.
As the next Gray Champion, the Boom Generation will lead at a time of maximum danger—and opportunity. From here on, Boomers will face the unfamiliar challenge of self-restraint. Having grown up feeling that GI Generation could always step in and fix everything if trouble arose, Boomers have thus far pursued their crusades with a careless intensity. In the Fourth Turning, GI’s will no longer be around as a backstop, and the young Millennials will follow the Gray Champion off a cliff. If Boomers make a wrong choice, history will be unforgiving.
The continued maturation of Boomers is vital for the Crisis to end in triumph. These one-time worshipers of youth must relinquish it entirely before they can demand from Millennials the civic virtue they themselves did not display during the Awakening. This will require a rectitude that will strike some as hypocritical, yet it will be no more than a natural progression of the Prophet’s life-cycle persona. When the Crisis hits, Boomers will need to defuse the Culture Wars at once. Their pro-choice secularists and pro-life evangelicals will need to move beyond their Unraveling-era skirmishes and unite around an agenda of national survival, much as Missionary elders did during depression and war.
Boomers must also display a forbearance others have never associated with them. By nature, they will always tend toward self-indulgence in their personal lives—but if they allow this to overflow into public life and demand generous public benefits, they will bankrupt their children financially, themselves morally. Unlike the Silent, sneaking through unnoticed will not be an option. Worse, if Boomers become pointlessly argumentative and let their values back them into a corner, their current talk-show hyperbole about annihilating enemies could translate into orders to use real doomsday machines.
Come the Crisis, Boomers will face the utterly un-yuppielike task of presiding over an era of public authority and personal sacrifice. This generation must squarely face the threat its unyielding moralism could pose to its own children, to the nation, indeed to the entire world. “When people repeat the slogan ‘Make love not war,’ ” historian David McClelland has warned, “they should realize that love for others often sets the process in motion that ends in war” But if aging Boomers can control the dark side of their collective persona, they can look back on their role in the Fourth Turning the way old Ben Franklin looked back on his. When asked what image belonged on the national seal of the United States, the old man replied: the inspiring image of Moses, hands extended to heaven, parting the waters for his people.

Directions for Generation X

In Strauss and Howe’s book “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?) a few days ago. The script for Generation X (born 1961-1981)  is shown below (emphasis and links mine). “Nomad” refers to the archetype of Generation X.

Survival skills are what a society needs most in a Fourth Turning, and those are precisely what the most criticized archetype—the Nomad—possesses in abundance. Through the natural corrective force of the saeculum, the Nomad was raised to excel in exactly those skills that history will require from him in midlife at a time of real public danger. His challenge will be to stop dispersing these skills for scattered purposes and start gathering them for one larger purpose. Through the Unraveling, the Nomad has been able to withdraw from civic life, but come the Crisis he cannot. It will be his duty to ensure that whatever choices society makes will work as intended. In public life, the Nomad must cut through the paralytic residue once built by his shadow, the old Artist. In private life, he must rebuild the family and community rituals once discarded by the old Artist. As he does this, the Nomad will nurture the new child Artist.
The Fourth Turning will find other generations with lives either mostly in the past or mostly in the future, but it will catch X’ers in “prime time,” right at the midpoint of their adult years. They must step forward as the saeculum’s repair generation, the one stuck with fixing the messes and cleaning up the debris left by others. Every tool X’ers acquired during a hardened childhood and individualist youth will be put to maximum test. If X’ers apply these tools for community purpose, they will become antidotes to pathologies remembered from their own Awakening-era childhood— from divorce and latchkeys to public debt and cultural decay.
The X’ers gravest Fourth Tuning duty will be their society’s most important pre-seasonal task: to ensure that there can indeed be a new High, a new golden age of hope and prosperity. For the Crisis to end well, X’ers must keep Boomers from wreaking needless destruction and Millennials from marching too mindlessly under their elders’ banner. They will not find it easy to restrain an older generation that will consider itself far wiser than they, and a younger one that will consider itself more deserving. For this, X’ers will require a keen eye, a deft touch, and a rejection of the wild risk taking associated with their youth.
From now through the end of the Fourth Turning, X’ers will constantly rise in power. From 1998 until around the Crisis climax, they will be America’s largest potential generational voting block. As the years pass, their civic contributions will become increasingly essential to their nation’s survival. They will have to vote more and participate more, if they want to contain the Boomers’ zealotry. They will have that chance. Their own elected officials will surge into Congress as the Crisis catalyzes, eclipse Boomers around its climax, and totally dominate them by the time it resolves.
As they go one-on-one with history, X’ers should remember that history is counting on them to do whatever hard jobs may be necessary. If X’ers play their script weakly, old Boomers could wreak a horrible apocalypse, and X’ers demagogues could impose a mind-numbing authoritarianism—or both. If X’ers play their script cleverly but safely, however, a new golden age will be their hard-won reward. As they age, X’ers should remember Hemingway’s words: “Old men do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

This was written in 1997 and I am personally amazed at how true it holds today. Us X’ers have a tough and thankless job ahead of us (just like our tough and thankless childhood/young adulthood). But perhaps knowing how critical our role is in this transition will bolster our morale.