March 27th, 2010 // 1:28 pm @ Oliver DeMille
If you listen to conservative leaders or Fox News, the passage of the Health Care bill that President Obama signed into law is, and I quote, “the apocalypse.”
Democrats and MSNBC, on the other hand, are hailing it as everything from the greatest legislative accomplishment since Civil Rights to a modest first step in a long line of needed government interventions in our society.
Pundits from the right are calling it the advent of a new era of worsened socialism, while liberal icons like Al Sharpton say that if it is socialism, then we voted for socialism in the last election—because the Obama Administration is simply delivering what Candidate Obama promised.
The sides are as furiously divided as when Jefferson and Hamilton laid into one another or when Nixon left office.
Liberals announce that Republicans hate children and families (or they would have supported the Health Care Bill) while Tea Parties urge their supporters, “Don’t Retreat; Reload!” Weekly network and cable news shows are full of experts heatedly or rapturously speaking in extreme terms—depending on which party they support.
As for the official political parties, they are vocally gearing up for the 2010 mid-term elections. One side claims the momentum of victory, while the other promises to “Repeal and Replace” the new Health Care law—and both provide long anecdotal lists of offenses as they protest the lack of civility.
But what does this all mean for the regular people, citizens, families, entrepreneurs, small businesses and workers of America? News reports, periodicals and websites from both sides of the aisle and numerous other organizations give answers to this question. Again, those that lean left tend to expound the great benefits of the new law while those that tend right outline its failures and even perils.
A Different Viewpoint
I’m coming at this from a totally different outlook. I’m hoping that all of us, whatever our political views, will realize that the passing of the Health Care law signals something much bigger than political parties. It is even bigger than the future of our economy, or of liberalism or conservatism.
It isn’t Armageddon, and it’s not the end of our challenges and time to wildly celebrate. It’s something different, something very real, and something every American should know about.
One of the great imperatives of a classical leadership education is innoculation against the political or expedient fury of the moment, to acclimatize the individual to a broader view in the context of history and principle—because as important as any event may be, it is best understood in the larger perspective of broad historical flows, patterns, waves and cycles. The passage of Health Care is no exception.
Indeed, the one thing that both sides and pretty much all independents and moderates agree upon is that passage of the Health Care law is incredibly important. This is true. It becomes even more significant to us when we see its real place in the patterns of history. So, what are the broader patterns and trends that point to the real significance of this law?
The Fourth Turning
For well over a decade I have been recommending a modern classic by the name of The Fourth Turning. If you’re familiar with it, feel free to skip down to the next section.
For those who have never read it: authors William Strauss and Neil Howe describe a historical cycle where periods of Crisis are followed by a new Founding, then an Awakening where people challenge the principles of the Founding, then an Unraveling where two sides engage in culture wars, and finally another Crisis.
Then the pattern repeats—again and again for centuries of recorded history, and likely before.
Strauss and Howe call each phase of the cycle a “turning,” with Founding eras as first turning, Awakening and then Unraveling periods as second and third turnings, and Crisis eras as fourth turnings. Each era, as they documented, typically lasts about 15 – 25 years.
Thus the Civil War crisis was followed by Reconstruction (first turning), the Progressive era (second turning), the Roaring Twenties (third turning), and then the crisis-era fourth turning of the 1929 stock market crash, the descent into the Great Depression, and World War II.
Then (as cycles do), the pattern repeated: first-turning founding in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, second-turning awakening in the 1960s and 1970s, third-turning culture wars of the 1980s and Roaring Nineties, and an impending crisis. The pattern is quite persuasively established, and offers insight into our present circumstances.
The Fifty Steps of Crisis Eras
Strauss and Howe’s book, written before 9/11, was a warning that a new fourth turning was imminent. They predicted that it would start with a major catalyst event that would shock everyone—just like Pearl Harbor, the election of Lincoln, and the Boston Tea Party started the last several fourth turnings in American history.
They went so far as to predict the kind of catalyst events that could start a new crisis era—one of which was a global terrorist group using an airplane as a weapon.
Remember, they wrote this in 1996.
In 2008 I taught a three-day seminar at on the Fifty Steps of Crisis Periods—from the catalyst event (like Pearl Harbor or 9/11) all the way through 15 – 25 years of challenges, and up to the new legal structures which always signal the end of crisis and the start of a new founding period (e.g. the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, or the establishment of the IMF, World Bank, GATT, and United Nations in 1944-1945).
These broad historical patterns teach us a lot about current political developments and challenges. Those who focus solely on the (admittedly important) issues can tend to miss the forest for the trees.
For example, many of today’s Democrats blame the economic crisis on President Bush’s deficient leadership, while many Republicans point to Clinton Administration pressure on banks and lenders to lower mortgage standards so the lower income buyers could buy homes.
Actually: a larger historical perspective clarifies that a major economic downturn—whichever policies and presidents followed patterns and contributed to the progression—was probably unavoidable, given the societal and historical factors that were in play.
One definition of modernism is the arrogance to believe that we can control everything in our world—that economists, bankers and Presidents can control the economy, fix its problems, and keep everything always growing without waves, cycles or economic recession. We want the economic graphs of history to be up, up, up—never down.
Put simply, this has never happened in history and likely never will.
Indeed, the greatest advances of history come during founding eras; and founding eras only come after crisis periods have reshaped the economic, philosophical and institutional landscape so that the people are prepared to accept and work toward real, positive change.
The delight of summer is sweeter after winter and spring; regions with nothing but cloudless, warm and sunny days are called deserts with good reason.
In that 2008 seminar, I outlined and discussed the fifty predictable steps of crisis eras one-by-one. This dry approach admittedly didn’t drastically alter the way our national leaders responded to events; though, hopefully, it was valuable to those who attended and deeply considered the content.
They were less surprised by the advent of the Great Recession, bailouts, election results and subsequent path pursued by the Obama Administration. Events are closely, almost exactly, following the steps.
I believe we would be following the steps no matter who had won the election. Perhaps we would have varied in the details, but I do not think we would have disrupted the pattern.
Most importantly, those who understand the steps know what to expect in the decade ahead, and how it differs from party-line predictions.
For example, we have arrived at steps 15 – 19:
15. Increased regulation of business (supply your own examples here)
16. Many foreign conflicts (again—these are obvious)
17. Many government scandals (cynicism is so high on this point that these are hardly news anymore)
18. Widely increased stress among citizens across the nation
19. An economic downturn which looks bad, but seems to bounce back for a brief time
Steps 25, 26 and 43 are still ahead, along with many others:
25. Major economic downturn (likely to reach depression levels as in the 1780s, 1860s and 1930s)
26. A major war begins (replacing smaller conflicts with a war against a truly dangerous enemy like the British in the 1780s, the North and South in the 1860s, and Germany and Japan in the 1940s)
43. Leaders establish a new social contract (with a mixture of government and private institutions such as schools, health care, insurance, technology, arts, etc.)
Whatever the specifics, clearly great challenges and opportunities are still ahead in the next fifteen years—give or take. (You can get a pdf download of this article, including a complete list of The Fifty Steps of Crisis Eras, by completing the request form on the right.)
Health Care is the New New Deal
In short, whatever your political views, there is at least one non-partisan way to analyze the Health Care law: The passage of Health Care is the New Deal of our time.
If you tend to celebrate the legacy of the Roosevelt’s New Deal, you are probably glad Health Care passed.
If you dislike the New Deal, you probably object to the Health Care law.
In either case, it gives us a correlative benchmark in the pattern of history, and may indicate our place in the cycles or turnings.
If you are happy for the new law, note that history suggests that major changes are ahead and that the whole system will be revisited and revised in the next fifteen years. And by “the whole system,” I mean The Whole System, not just health care. A major remodeling of the economy, politics, views on morals, and general societal goals takes place by the end of a crisis era.
Now: for those who are frustrated, scared, or even downright furious about the new law, note that major changes are ahead and The Whole System will be revisited and revised in the next fifteen years.
Whatever your feelings about the current political climate and issues, the real battle is ahead. Indeed, as far as the steps of crisis periods go, the passage of the Health Care law signals the beginning, not the end, of the major domestic debates and internal conflicts of our time.
With the assumption that 9/11 was the catalyst event to a present fourth turning, we are only 9 years into a 15 – 25 year period of crisis.
Of course, I do have strong opinions about the Health Care law. But I hope that in the name of such sentiments I do not fail to recognize and illustrate the bigger picture.
From here on, the stakes will continue to rise and the challenges will increase. The battles ahead are much bigger than those we’ve just witnessed.
The patterns of history are belligerent on this point.
Those who care about the future of freedom would do well not to burn bridges by depending too much on the current two-party monopoly. As the challenges increase, the parties will scream louder and louder but the solutions will become less and less party affairs.
There will probably come a point when anti-partisan cooperation will be essential and even critical to the outcomes for our future.
Freedom Shift Needed!
From medical professionals to skilled laborers, much of our society’s most important work is done in shifts; these shifts often also represent a considered, organized division of labor.
In a broader perspective, the cycles of history, or turnings, are also “work shifts,” and a society’s choices and response to their current events and historical trends represent the labor of a generation in building that society’s future. In America today, a Freedom Shift—with a double entendre implied—is needed in this moment of history.
Citizens, families, communities, entrepreneurs, small businesses and leaders will have to solve things more and more in non-governmental ways. We are reaching the point where the government is overwhelming itself, and if major war arrives during the next decade (as it has virtually every other time in recorded history), government will have its hands more than full.
It will be up to us “regular people” to lead out in reforming societal views and ideas and creating and staffing a powerful and desperately needed FreedomShift.
In each major era of history (each first, second, third and fourth turning), there is a general leaning either away from freedom or toward it. And during fourth turnings, the freedomshift or forceshift, whichever wins out, drastically impacts the focus of the next sixty years. Right now we need a FreedomShift to ensure that the 21st century leans toward freedom instead of force. That decision will be made in the next fifteen-or-so years.
It will be made by you and me and others like us. It will be made by the regular people in our nation. Are we ready for such a choice?
If it were made today, I fear many of us would select any government-compelled program that promised to take care of all our needs—without consideration of the cost to freedom.
As our crises deepen and escalate, the world, our society and our minds will change, and we will have the chance to rethink this view.
Leaders are needed—thoughtful, articulate, visionary and prepared—to make sure our generation shows up for its Freedom Shift, and that a FreedomShift occurs.
If we are indeed following the historical pattern, as have thirty generations before us, we are at a banner point in history: We have now adopted our “New Deal.” This means it is time to prepare for leadership in the depression, war and societal reformation ahead in the next fifteen years.
These predictions may sound as extreme right now as predicting a 9/11 catalyst or a major economic recession did in 1999 or 2005. But the pattern predicted both; and depression, pandemic or war, and a significant societal restructure are coming.
What remains to be seen is whether we will turn these events into a Forceshift or a FreedomShift. It is up to us, and our future hangs in the balance.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
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