The Generations of Men

This morning I read one of the most fascinating blog posts I’ve come across in a really long time. I just read it a second time — this time aloud to my wife. I’m still processing and deciding what I think about it, but wanted to share it with you.

The post comes from one of my favorite blogs (The Art of Manliness), and is entitled The Generations of Men: How the Cycles of History Shape Your Values, Your Idea of Manhood, and Your Future.

Basically, the post is a summary of something called the “Strauss-Howe Generational Theory”, laid out in two books published in the 1990’s (Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy — What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny) and kept current on Neil Howe’s Lifecourse Blog. Before today I’d never heard of this theory, which provides a framework for viewing history as occurring in a regular cycle, like the changing of the seasons. I will say, though, that it is quite compelling! I don’t know nearly enough to accept or reject the theory, but at the very least found reading it through to be a fascinating thought experiment.

Here’s a quick preview:

Strauss and Howe argue that the last five centuries of Anglo-American history can be explained by the existence of four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially in a fixed pattern every 80-100 years, the length of a long human life, or what the ancients called a “saeculum.” These generational archetypes are: Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Each generation consists of those born during a roughly 20 year period. As each generation moves up the ladder of age and takes a different place in society, the mood of the culture greatly changes…

A generation reaches it apex of influence when it moves into midlife and begins to take leadership positions of power within society. Thus every 20 years as a new generation fills the midlife rung of the age ladder, and the generation that previously occupied that rung moves into less influential elderhood, the mood of the culture shifts. As each generation type is born, matures, comes to influence in the culture, and then declines and dies, it plays a role in propeling society through a cycle of growth, maturation, entropy, destruction, and then regrowth. Just as in nature, this cycle of death and rebirth is necessary to maintain the health of the ecosystem or society.

The entire post is well worth your time to read closely, so set aside a half hour or so when you can devote some attention to it, and then let me know what you think. I may have some more reflections on this after I mull it over for a day or two, so stay tuned…

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