3. How the South Rose Again
Events are spinning out quickly as we move through the Fourth Turning. In the last chapter I debunked Steve Bannon’s theory that the catalyst of the era was the mortgage meltdown of 2008, then critiqued his warmongering vision for American global hegemony, and finally asserted that his raison la guerre was to become president himself. Since that time Bannon was toppled from his crumbling pedestal, and lost the backing of his biggest sugar momma precisely because his presidential ambitions were revealed. This clears the field for a lucid look at how the crisis of the Fourth Turning will unfold, pivoting correctly on the catalyst as the 9/11 attack of 2001.
Thus the peak of the crisis is getting pretty damn close. For the last century and a half the average length of each of the four stages of the saecular cycle has been nineteen years. This takes us to 2020, with a benchmark presidential election. How does it compare to the pattern of events in the last Fourth Turning? At the same benchmark the USA and its allies were on the cusp of victory in World War II. This was the glorious climax Bannon was seeking to replay, obviously a science fiction thriller with an exclusive screening in his circle of fans. In that earlier crisis, the popular sentiment of Americans was a solidly unified bloc of support for the war effort; but this time, even if Trump and his loyal legions had fallen in with Bannon’s plan for a new Imperium, the fact would remain that a majority of the electorate had already voted against it.
The Saecular Cycle:
These “red and blue” masses are still ranged against each other on opposite sides of an impassable chasm. Is there anything in the saecular record that foreshadows such an ominous development? Let’s cast back two full cycles to the Fourth Turning that preceded the one that climaxed in world-scale victory. And eureka, we have a match: the Civil War.
A century before the end of World War II the mood of the USA was in a very similar state: unified and euphoric after its triumph in the Mexican War in 1848. But subsequent events followed a different path, for that was an Unraveling stage of the cycle rather than a Crisis; and sure enough, the sociopolitical consensus quickly unraveled. The abolitionist movement was at the center of a larger circle of partisans pursuing liberal and radical causes. They ramped up a moral crusade against slavery, its evils grotesquely exaggerated in propaganda pieces like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This sparked a secessionist movement in some Southern states, encouraged by shadowy foreign figures who did not have the best interests of America at heart; thus the country steadily polarized into irreconcilable camps.
Hostilities were continually averted by a series of compromises up until the 1860 Presidential election. The established political parties foundered in the tumultuous current of events, enabling Abraham Lincoln to lead the newly-minted Republicans to victory with only 40% of the vote, defeating a hodge-podge of other candidates including the negro Frederick Douglass. Despite Lincoln’s efforts to assume a moderate stance, Southern leaders saw him as their implacable adversary, and as soon as he took office the states seceded like dominoes, the Confederacy was formed, the war began, and the rest is history.The biggest difference between that crisis era and our present one hinges on the only apparent anomaly in the whole saecular hypothesis. As meticulously charted in their historical analysis going back to the fifteenth century, Strauss & Howe showed that the average length of a complete saecular cycle was a hundred years ~ up until the Civil War, after which it shrank to eighty years. The conclusion they drew was that “the Fourth Turning morphology admits to acceleration.” They presented the Civil War Crisis Era as the pivot of the shift, lasting only five years, from Lincoln’s election to his assassination. Further, they speculated that unfortunate choices by key players may have caused the crisis to ignite too soon, and that if cooler heads could only have prevailed for a few more years, the whole bloody mess could have been averted.
As it stands, the authors evidently found the tragedy so grievous that they declared that there was no Hero generation in the short crisis era. This conveniently segued the generational pattern to fit the newly shortened saeculum. Thus in describing postwar events they passed over the missing Heroes to the Artist Generation that came of age after the war, which they label “Progressive”. Like the Silent Generation after World War II, this cohort was “well-behaved” and dutifully filled establishment niches in the Gilded Age (1865-1886). This happened “in the shadow of Reconstruction”, and I note that this nondescript phrase is Strauss & Howe’s only nod to what was going on at the same time in the South.
The assassination of Lincoln in a conspiracy by forces hostile to the South set up a campaign of postwar vengeance unmatched in barbarity until the end of World War II. Lincoln had already drawn up a program of brotherly repatriation, offering a legal and moral olive branch to all who had fought against the union, and giving former slaves the option to continue working for their former masters as paid laborers. The notions of confiscating plantations, imprisoning Confederates, and giving negroes the immediate right to vote were abhorrent to Lincoln, whose cherished ideal from the beginning was to preserve America as a unified whole. After his death, however, all these Draconian measures were cruelly enacted as an unholy alliance bent on plunder and power took over the U.S. government. The carpetbaggers swarmed like a horde of locusts on the prostrate South, profiteering on people unable to obtain the basic necessities of life. The political branch of the same tribe sponsored illiterate negroes for the highest public offices, and got them elected by herding their penniless fellows to the polls with promises of glory and payoffs of pocket change. The whites, meanwhile, were not only disenfranchised but terrorized by savage gangs of black brutes, unconstrained by local lawmen who were often in the gangs themselves or under the thumb of the carpetbaggers.
Thus the Civil War continued in the South long after Appomattox, and its Hero Generation arose just as predicted by the model of the Fourth Turning. It was a classic situation spawning guerrilla warfare, which can be deadly or futile depending on whether there is effective leadership. In deepest secrecy a handful of Confederate veterans formed a league dedicated to fight relentlessly until the safety, rights, and power of white Southerners were restored. In a founding ritual they joined hands in a circle and named themselves the Ku Klux Klan.
It took the Klan twelve years of relentless warfare on the front lines and in the Statehouses, maintaining their secret identities like superheroes, ably abetted at home by their wives, elders, and even their children, and finally emerging victorious. The true story of this epic struggle is told in The Reconstruction Trilogy by Thomas Dixon Jr. and the original Birth of a Nation which the filmmaker D.W. Griffith adapted from the second book of the trilogy. The movie was so popular that it sparked a revival of the Klan amongst respectable middle class Americans, and charted a course for a pro-white Hollywood which was soon crushed by the Jews who dominated the industry.
The peace and prosperity which the Klan and its allies brought to the South was based on separation of the races, the only principle that can accomplish this in a biracial polity. This was demonstrated later by Apartheid in South Africa, partially modeled on the American South. Despite their even-handed treatment of general issues, it’s not surprising that Strauss & Howe bought into the prevailing liberal view that the South had enacted “Jim Crow laws”.
Next we’ll explore how this model of an extended Civil War carries over from that past Crisis Era to the one still unfolding around us.