Anatomy of a Crisis

Anatomy of a Crisis


As William Strauss and Neil Howe laid out in their book The Fourth Turning, the current crisis unfolds in 4-parts. This is the pattern of the last 6 crisis periods that have unfolded since just after the death of Joan of Arc in 1432.

As Neil Howe recently cited, we are moving from the Catalyst into the Regenercy.

Of course, with this brings a whole set of emotions that you can plan for if you are paying attention.

The key to understanding how generations behave, or how crisis cycles unfold, is not in what is happening today, but rather what will happen tomorrow and 1 to 5 years from now. That is where this information becomes of value.
A Fourth Turning (crisis period) has 4 parts.

A Catalyst, Regeneracy, Climax and Resolution.

Catalyst – Event or series of events that start to change the mood of the Nation.

Regeneracy – An action plan that unifies and energizes civic life.

Climax – An event that confirms the death of the old and acceptance of the new way.

Resolution – Determines the winners and loser, solidifies the new system.


During Every Fourth Turning there is a…Catalyst

  • “An event that terminates the mood of the Unraveling and unleashes one of Crisis.
  • Triggered by a spark, or series of sparks.  Some burn briefly, some leave problems unresolved.
  • How we react to them is different.
  • Triggers a fierce new dynamic public synergy.
  • Society feels poorly protected…because they were foreseeable.
  • A new sense of urgency about institutional dysfunction and civic vulnerability.”


During Every Fourth Turning there is a…Regeneracy

  • “A drawing together into whatever definition of community is available at the time.
  • People stop tolerating the weakening of institutions, the splintering of the culture, and the individualizing of daily behavior.
  • Spiritual curiosity abates, manners traditionalize, and the culture is harnessed as propaganda for the purpose of overtly reinforcing good conduct.
  • One to three years after the initial catalyst, people begin deputizing government to enforce it.
  • Collective action is seen as vital to solving the societies most fundamental problems.
  • With the civic ethos now capable of producing civic deeds, a new dynamic of threat and response takes hold.
  • Instead of downplaying problems, leaders start exaggerating them.
  • Instead of deferring solutions, they accelerate them. Instead of tolerating diversity, they demand consensus.
  • Instead of coaxing people with promises of minimal sacrifice, they summon them with warnings of maximal sacrifice.
  • Leaders energize every available institution and direct them toward community survival.”
  • Society propels itself on a trajectory that nobody had foreseen.
  • Societal problems that, in the Unraveling, posed insuperable dilemmas now appear to have simple if demanding solutions.
  • A new resolve about urgent public goals crowds out qualms about questionable public means.
  • Crisis eras are studded with faulty leadership and inept management. Surprisingly, the public often follows even when mistakes are made.
  • Individuals are expected to comply with new standards of virtue.
  • Family order strengthens, and personal violence and substance abuse decline.
  • Those who persist in free-wheeling self-orientated behavior now face implacable public stigma, even punishment.
  • Winner-take-all arrangements give way to new mechanisms of social sharing.
  • Questions about who does what are settled on grounds of survival, not fairness.
  • A renewed social division of labor by age / sex.
  • Elders are expected to step aside for the young, women for men.  When danger looms, children are expected to be protected before parents, mothers before fathers.
  • All Social arrangements are evaluated anew; pre-Crisis promises and expectations count for little.
  • In the crisis, the pace of daily life will seem to slow down just as political and social change accelerates. (this vs. a past time of fast-paced personal lives against a background of public gridlock)


During Every Fourth Turning there is a…Climax

  • Approaching the Climax, society reaches a point of maximum civic power…and it justifies public fury. Wars become more likely and are fought with efficacy and finality.
  • The risk of revolution is high—as is the risk of civil war, since the community that commands the greatest loyalty does not necessarily coincide with political (or geographic) boundaries.
  • Leaders become more inclined to define enemies in moral terms, to enforce virtue militarily, to refuse all compromise…commit large forces…impose heavy sacrifices (at home and abroad) and deploy weapons for victory.
  • It is the equivalent to nature’s raging typhoon, the kind that sucks all surrounding matter into a single swirl of ferocious energy.
  • Anything not lashed down goes flying.
  • Anything standing in the way gets flattened.
  • It accumulates energy of unmet needs, unpaid bills and unresolved problems.
  • It then spends that energy on an upheaval whose direction and dimension were beyond comprehension during the prior Unraveling.
  • It shakes society to it’s roots, transforms institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people for life.


During Every Fourth Turning there is a…Resolution

  • In triumph or tragedy, or some combination of both, it ends.
  • Society passes through a gateway of history, fundamentally altering the course of civilization.
  • Victors are rewarded…Nations are forged or destroyed, treaties signed, boundaries redrawn.
  • And we start the 80 to 100 year cycle with a new First Turning…A High.

Please let me know your thoughts or how this can help you!

Darryl Howard

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