The book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe extensively documents historical patterns in the character of generations of Americans from the Puritan settlers in the 1600’s up through the year when it was published, in 1991. Based on these patterns, and a theory they develop about how different sequences of “personalities” across generations give rise to consistent historical patterns, they make predictions about what they call “the crisis of 2020”.
I still have the original copy of the book I bought in 1991. I have photographed two of the pages from it below, so that you can see for yourself that these words were not revised or updated by a “later edition”: these were the actual words as printed exactly 25 years ago. Here is a continuous transcript starting from the middle of page 405 to the middle of page 406 (in the paperback edition). I have highlighted the parts that really stand out for me, but I’m including all of the text so you can see that I have not “fiddled” with the context.
By the 2010s, [the Baby Boomer generation] will feel its collective mortality, along with a sense of urgency about unsolved (and previously deferred) problems in the outer world. Events that earlier would have elicited compromise or stalemate will now bring about aggressive action pursuant to the Boom principle. The Crisis of 2020–the Gray Champion’s hour of “darkness, and adversity, and peril”–will be at hand.
Whatever the crisis turns out to be, old Boomers may be inclined to attribute it to “mistakes” America made when it turned its back on the future during the inner-driven era of the 1980s and 1990s. Responding to domestic and international challenges in way unimaginable today, Boom leaders will be policy perfectionists, inclined to enforce principle even at the risk of toppling existing order. These elders will see in themselves a global mission–ethical, ecological, economic, and quite possibly military. This generation’s quest for righteousness–having been local through rising adulthood and national in midlife–will extend globally in elderhood. They will define the acceptable behavior of other nations narrowly and the appropriate use of American arms broadly. Like other old Idealists, Boomers will not instinctively dislike authoritarian regimes; indeed, they will be quite authoritarian themselves. The question they will ask is whether such authority is exercised for good or for evil.
Boomers will find enemies, most likely in new places. Unlike their G.I. fathers, Boomers will have little interest in a continued U.S.-Soviet rivalry. They may even find a second superpower useful in helping to maintain order in an ethically disheveled world. Instead, the old Boom is far more likely to direct its global wrath at the Third World. Their quest for environmental asceticism may put them on a collision course with developing societies whose first priority is to enjoy a higher material standard of living–no matter what air is polluted or how many forests slashed. Terrorists and drug traders may or may not still be major problems by the 2010s, but Boomers will have grown accustomed to blaming this ilk for whatever goes wrong overseas. Most Third World leaders, moreover, will be a generation younger than the Boom, who by then will associate men in their forties with a roguish amorality.
Great peril might arise if Boomers find themselves confronting old religious fundamentalists whose inner zeal matches their own. The most terrible war in American history featured Idealist leaders on both sides (Lincoln and Davis, and their respective Congresses). All other crises have pitted elder Idealist leaders against younger, less godly opponents (Puritans against Bacon, Andros, and King James II; Awakeners against General Howe and King George III; Missionaries against Hitler and Tojo). Picture a 70-year-old Willian Bennett delivering a “Confrontation and Consequence” missive to a twenty-first century Ayatollhah. Imagine the aftermath.
Whatever the circumstances and whoever the adversary, the Crisis of the 2020s will transform Boomers into America’s next Gray Champions. The time will be right for a great leader to emerge, some elder man or woman with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command” of an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.
The major question–indeed, the one whose answer may decide whether Boom leadership will end in triumph or tragedy–will hinge on this generation’s capacity to restrain (or let others restrain) its latent ruthlessness. Historically, aging Idealists have been attracted to words like “exterminate” and “eradicate,” words of apocalyptic finality. If the purpose of crisis is inner principle, the degree of outer-world destruction needed for those ideals to triumph will be of secondary consideration.
Make no mistake: Faces with crisis, this generation of onetime draft resistors will not hesitate, as elder warrior-priests, to conscript young soldiers to fight and die for righteous purpose. This stop-at-nothing zeal is already apparent in the first Boomer cohorts to reach their mid-forties, from Elliott Abrams and Oliver North at one ideological edge to Mitch Snyder and Denis Hayes at the other. Picture these individuals as national elders–and then realize they represent their generation’s moderate first wave, whose youth was marked by relatively few social pathologies. Add in the fiery passion of the more evangelical last-wavers, sharpen everyone’s moral conviction, reduce everyone’s level of tolerance, subtract the presence of any adult Adaptives–and that is the leadership that is awaiting America, circa 2020. It is easy to picture aging Boomers as noble, self-sacrificing patriarchs–but just as easy to see righteous Old Aquarians as the worst nightmare that could ever happen to the world.”
How prescient are Strauss and Howe about everything going on in our culture right now, from the Alt Right and Donald Trump, to the shrieking activism of “SJW”s on college campuses, to our responses to climate change, to the way Republicans have been courting Russia, and the way both parties have been banging the drums for war on ISIS?
Judge for yourself.