The theory is not based on the metaphor of a pendulum that swings back and forth between two extremes. It has had considerable influence on me.
I have not been able to figure out how to apply Strauss and Howe's theory to European history; the idea has problems. Nonetheless, it is interesting. Moreover, it produces a long range sense of the future that no other theory does for me as successfully.
I do not think that any of the various alternate theories are very good consider Kondratief. (I like him a great deal.) His ideas were good. But they now to have been superceded, more or less, by modern central bank management or else they are wrong. (It is possible that his ideas became well enough known that people running central banks learned about them and acted in the 1980s to prevent the kinds of disaster he predicted, such as the Depression of the 1930s. If he had been right, and nothing done about it, we would have suffered an 1870s style depression in the 1980s or 1990s.)
A deep religious belief in Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism provides a way to organize one's life. Or expressed differently, it provides a way to look at the future as well as the past. In English and similar societies, we `look to the future', we do not walk backwards into it. As it happens, we can see the past, but not the future. The metaphor is clearly wrong. We should think of ourselves as walking backwards into the future, not able to see it.
But we like to `look ahead'. I find the action irresistible. Perhaps by proposing an easily remembered model, Strauss and Howe have provided a service to Americans. A decade ago, they predicted that starting round about now, give or take a few years, and lasting for a generation or so, the United States would suffer a crisis whose outcome is unpredictable ahead of time. I see this as happening.
Strauss and Howe argued that after a `period of awakening', as in the United States and Europe in the 1960s, comes a `period of unraveling', an `X' or `Lost' generation; and then comes a `crisis'. Each of the periods lasts a couple of decades and is characterized by what might be called the stereotypical features of its leading elements.
Right now, the United States is entering into a crisis, a period of social and political upheaval. The outcome will be a set of decisions: how much to tax, whether to teach children a happy nonsense, how to teach,whether to depend on fossil fuel, whether to focus on chronic health treatments that require payments for years, or whether to focus on cures that require payments for a short time, whether to ration health care by payment or by membership in a group, such as being a legal citizen. These are all issues that are undecided at the moment; but will, over time, be decided.
I cannot predict the outcome not to me, much less, of course to you. But the theory suggests that current confusion and disagreements will last for a long time, that nothing will resolve itself quickly. We shall see whether that is true, or whether a quick resolution does occur. If everything is quiet by 2008, then we will know that Strauss and Howe were wrong.
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