“There is an unraveling, a great unraveling that I believe is occurring. Not without its pain, not without its frustration. Perhaps the fundamentalism we see within America right now is in response to these changes. We fear change, and so we cling to what is known.”

— Terry Tempest Williams

“The final act of an unraveling society isn’t immoral behavior; it’s canonizing immoral behavior as a ‘new normal’ and celebrating it as a ‘moral victory.'”

— Jeff Iorg

“I am convinced by the events of the last few weeks that nefarious forces of people–unidentified but no less real–are threatening life as we know it, and in fact, may be bent on unraveling the very fabric of our existence.”

— Christopher Moore

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

— Thomas Jefferson

“Lincoln prevailed: wearing his green shawl in the White House and gripped with melancholy, his feet constantly cold, he preserved a nation that had begun to unravel, often holding it together with nothing more than the flat of his hand and his unfaltering sense of human worth.”

— Jerome Charyn

“America feels like it’s unraveling.”

— William Strauss & Neil Howe

“In cyclical time, a society always evolves. Usually, the circle is a spiral of progress, sometimes a spiral of decline.”

— William Strauss & Neil Howe

“… one absolute rule of history is that crisis eras are marked by large, dictatorial, authoritarian and intrusive regimes. No exceptions.”

— William Strauss & Neil Howe

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and is as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

— Thomas Jefferson

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

— Thomas Jefferson

We were long overdue for a great unraveling. It came at last, and may now be mostly done. That is good. Now for the tough part – a final crisis phase that sets the stage for a new and better beginning. Based on centuries of history, however, war seems to be an inevitable part of this crisis process. But is war truly inevitable?

Those of you who are familiar with the Strauss-Howe (S-H) generational theory of U.S. history will have read something about the final two phases of a complete, roughly 80-year, historical cycle (or saeculum, in Strauss-Howe terminology). These phases – called “turnings” by Strauss-Howe) – are “Unraveling” and “Crisis”. Crisis, the Fourth Turning, marks the end of the cycle. Each of these “turnings” lasts about 20 years – roughly a human generation, give or take a few years.

Let’s look at Unraveling first

Unravel: a complex process, system, or arrangement that completely disintegrates or collapses on its own, is destroyed by malevolent forces, or is simply undone – breaks apart into some still-functioning pieces.

Much has been written about the S-H theory, both for and against, but it does seem to capture, at least in rough terms, both the primary stages of Anglo-American history and their cyclical nature over several centuries. Here is what the Unraveling – Third Turning is about:

“An Unraveling begins as a society embraces the liberating cultural forces set loose by the Awakening [Second Turning]. Individualism and personal satisfaction are at their highest, while community and trust in public institutions are at their lowest. Pleasure seeking and extreme lifestyles emerge. Society fragments into polarizing groups which become increasingly entrenched in their respective ideologies, making the reaching of consensus and the taking of decisive public action difficult. Instead of addressing problems, businesses and government leaders just kick the can down the road. Confidence in society’s future darkens, and the culture feels used up and worn out. Civic and moral paralysis and apathy set in. Art reflects the growing pessimism as themes of dreary realism take center stage. Child-rearing begins to move back towards protection and structure.”

“Previous Unravelings occurred around World War I and the decades before the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. According to Strauss and Howe, the most recent Unraveling began during the second term of the Reagan administration and continued into the 2000s [i.e., 2007].”

Sure sounds to me like today. Worse yet, most of the S-H Unraveling phase (aka Third Turning) characteristics have pretty much been realized. This means that we were, in 2007, fully staged for rollout of the Crisis phase – the Fourth Turning.

What happened in the 1987-2007 Third Turning Unraveling?

Looking back on the years between 1987 and 2007, the most recent S-H designated Third Turning timeframe, we can see what an Unraveling stage of U.S. history contains. Among my own recollections, assisted by this interesting site:

  • 1987: Black Monday stock market crash; EEC formed
  • 1988: Iran-Contra affair; Space Shuttle program resumes
  • 1989: Savings and loan crisis; Berlin Wall falls
  • 1990: World Wide Web revolutionizes communications
  • 1991: Operation Desert Storm liberates Kuwait; USSR breaks up
  • 1992: Hurricane Andrew devastates Florida; NAFTA agreement signed
  • 1993: World Trade Center bombing; Clinton elected president
  • 1994: MLB players’ strike; Whitewater scandal
  • 1995: Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing; JavaScript introduced
  • 1996: Mars Global Surveyor launched
  • 1997: Heaven’s Gate Cult mass suicides; global stock markets crash
  • 1998: Google founded; Bill and Monica scandal – Bill impeached
  • 1999: Euro currency introduced; Columbine High School massacre
  • 2000: Bush v. Gore legal battle; rolling blackouts in CA
  • 2001: 911 terrorist attacks; anthrax attacks; more CA rolling blackouts
  • 2002: Bush “Axis of Evil” speech; US Airways, Kmart go bankrupt; Enron
  • 2003: US invasion of Iraq; Dept of Homeland Security formed
  • 2004: Major EU expansion; Bush Jr. reelected
  • 2005: Hurricane Katrina; YouTube founded; Gitmo; Bird flu
  • 2006: N. Korea nuke test; secret CIA prisons; huge oil shale reserves
  • 2007: iPhone, Tesla introduced; housing bubble bursts

Don’t know about you, but to me this list seems more like history-business-as-usual than any sort of extraordinary unraveling. Lots of stuff happening, just like always. Stuff-not-happening might be something to worry more about.

It may well be, however, that the serious unraveling process has been going on behind the curtains, largely invisible except when it causes some major mischief. And perhaps unraveling continues in the background even while the crisis phase gets rolling. It seems possible also that evidence of unraveling appears mostly during events of the subsequent crisis phase.

Life in our current Crisis Fourth Turning

Crisis – the Fourth Turning – is an era of destruction (often involving war or revolution) that is accompanied by a profound loss of trust in institutions. The Fourth Turning leads to a breakdown of the established social order and precedes a new era of growth and optimism (in yet another 80-year generational cycle).

Trends forecaster Trends and Track Records in 2020 summarized what the surviving S-H partner Neil Howe foresees in this current Fourth Turning happening:

“First, he asserts that one absolute rule of history is that a Crisis is marked by large, dictatorial, authoritarian and intrusive regimes. No exceptions. And holding true to this assertion, over a decade after the Great Recession [i.e., 2008], the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly potentiated authoritarian tendencies. The pandemic has served as a catalyst sparking growing discontent and further acceptance of restrictions on individual freedoms. For the world depends upon top-down institutions working correctly. And when they don’t – when it becomes apparent that they are impotent, sclerotic, and can’t effectively respond – people naturally gravitate toward increased authoritarian rule. Just like in the 1930s, when people wanted effective governance for the challenges of that era, the world has once again become enamored by authoritarian models and is beginning to pull back from globalism. This is a hallmark occurrence of the Fourth Turning.”

“This where Neil Howe points out the positive aspect of the Fourth Turning. He maintains that in a Fourth Turning, societies in the heat of Crisis are actually empowered to confront, overcome and solve problems that seemed vastly too large to confront at a time of peace and equanimity. Big Problems only get solved in a time of Crisis [emphasis added]. When everyone is energized and when all institutions are suddenly fluid, we have an opportunity to reset all the rules of the game. In order to create a new Golden Age, Howe maintains, you have to reforge it. You have to get everything molten hot and create a new template, a new paradigm.”

This is good news, right?

We definitely have a real mess of Big Problems today that seem way overdue for fixing. The S-H [generational] program, however, holds that the fixing takes place during the Crisis phase of things. Maybe not everything that was unraveled earlier gets fixed, but the Crisis survivors normally tackle at least some important aspects.

Oh, wait. We may need a war first. Previous Fourth Turnings have featured the Revolutionary War (1773-1794), the Civil War (1860-1865), and the Great Depression – World War II combo (1929-1946). Note that the start dates of these happenings – 1773, 1860, and 1929 – are roughly 80 years apart, as required by the S-H theory. Very roughly, but good enough for theoretical academic work. Below is a (very poor) image listing the various turning markers.

Strauss-Howe turnings over several centuries.
Strauss-Howe turnings over several centuries.

Do we really need a war first?

Well, it appears so. Otherwise, our generation will likely lose its membership in the generational theory club. Things today could be worse, and they seem to be getting just that. S-H have already named this “war” as the “Millennial Crisis”, probably without consulting any millennial representatives. No matter.

Natural Health News via Mike Adams (who has very strong opinions about nearly everything, natural and unnatural) has this prognostication dated September 12, 2022 for us to ponder:

“Global FORCE MAJEURE coming after declaration of World War III – many financial obligations, contracts and pensions will be vacated.”

“A series of events has been set in motion that we believe will end in a ‘global Force Majeure’ (act of God) among Western nations. If this analysis is correct, it means that many financial obligations — potentially including social security, US Treasury debt, pensions, derivatives, commodities paper contracts, industrial deliverables, insurance payout obligations, etc. — would be nullified. This appears to be part of the ‘Great Reset’ plan to clear out US Treasury debt (and the overbearing debt of other western nations) by ‘defaulting without defaulting’ — i.e. blaming some other great emergency for the cancellation of financial obligations and the wholesale resetting of the global money canvas.”

“In order to achieve this, western nations must first invoke global war [emphasis added] with either Russia or China. As we have exhaustively documented this year, many efforts are under way by the Biden regime controllers to ignite war with both adversaries. The latest example is the Ukrainian counteroffensive, heavily hyped by western media, that saw Russian military forces withdraw from a region containing around 40 – 50 small villages and towns in order to avoid being encircled by Ukrainian forces.”

It appears then that a major war of some nature, including the war-to-end-all-wars, is in the cards near-term. Our generation’s membership in the S-H theory realm consequently seems quite safe. Perhaps the Ukraine mess is simply just a warmup, a practice run for the required S-H Fourth Turning Big One.

We are of course already in World War III

With the Ukraine mess rapidly evolving into a very clear NATO (aka U.S.) vs. Russia conflict, we effectively have a superpower war in progress. As I write, Armenia-Azerbaijan are tangling over yet another “border conflict”, and now some sort of Russia-Georgia mess seems to be developing. Georgia is “… one of NATO’s closest partners” according to NATO, and Azerbaijan is a current NATO member. Hmmm.

Such an abundance of wars and near-wars seems to be enough to validate adequately the S-H Crisis requirement. Whether this “war” goes nuclear is still undecided, but there are signs that this aspect too is busy getting underway.

Note that a “world war” is often defined as a war that is engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world or, alternatively, a war between the world’s great powers. In practice, “great powers” and “principal nations” are probably equivalent. Wikipedia notes that the latter definition gives a total of eight world wars:

“According to the historians Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig there have been eight world wars. Possible world wars are the Nine Years’ War in 1688, followed by the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean War, World War I, and World War II.”

The ”great powers” definition seems to qualify the evolving US-NATO vs. Russia conflict as a world war, aka World War III, despite its active scope being limited to the Ukraine regions and it being officially “undeclared”. At least, for the moment. Its under-the-radar expansion to involve NATO nations, which are effectively under U.S. control, makes this an undeclared world war.

Then there is the life cycle of empires to worry about

Sir John Glubb, British soldier, scholar, and author, in his fascinating analysis of the life cycle of empires – “The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival (1977)”, suggests that empires last on average around 250 years. His empire list is shown below – 11 empires dating back to around 1000 BC. As you can see from this list, the 250-years “average” looks more like an effective upper limit.

Glubb's empires list.
Glubb’s empires list. Source: Sir John Glubb, The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival (1977).

America declared itself an independent nation in 1776. It is therefore at empire-age 246 years. Our expiration date is almost upon us by this historical metric. Not good news. From Glubb’s short monograph:

“What then, we may ask, can have been the factor which caused such an extraordinary similarity in the duration of empires, under such diverse conditions, and such utterly different technological achievements? One of the very few units of measurement which have not seriously changed since the Assyrians is the human ‘generation’, a period of about twenty-five years. Thus a period of 250 years would represent about ten generations of people. A closer examination of the characteristics of the rise and fall of great nations may emphasize the possible significance of the sequence of generations.”

This suggestion of empire longevity based on human generations eerily echoes the Strauss-Howe generational theory. S-H of course tracked a single nation – Anglo-America – and its apparent behavioral cyclicality over a few hundred years, without any visible end. Yet.

Sir John Glubb.

If we are in a World War now, will it get serious and go nuclear?

Considering that wars of various intensities and scopes have been going on at least forever, war seems to be a fundamental part of the human condition. It’s what we do. An extended period without war would be a concerning aberration.

Our big worry – or at least my own – is about whether the major current unpleasantness will go major-major. There seem to be two flavors here: (1) limited nuclear (if such a thing exists); (2) fully nuclear – war to end all wars.

Limited nuclear, should it exist, seems highly unlikely. Tactical battlefield nukes, once used, are almost certain to draw in equivalent or worse responses. This option in practice may well be simply a likely prelude to the main action. On this basis, there is only the real Big One that has any likelihood.

Russia and its China buddy (at the moment) appear to be making serious efforts to keep things peaceful and contained. A peaceful world war, if you like. Or perhaps this is just deception so that they can prepare for the Big One. As ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu noted – “All warfare is based on deception”.

Brandon Smith via Alt-Market.us brings up yet another wildcard in current the China-Taiwan situation:

“As I write this, Vladimir Putin is set to meet with China’s Xi Jinping and the nature of the conference is not clear. There are the obvious points of agreement such as China’s continued purchases of Russian oil and other commodities, as well as the ongoing plan to build a pipeline to China by 2025. There is also strategic cooperation which is evident in the recent naval exercises between the two nations around Japan and Taiwan.”

“The timing of the meeting is concerning to me, because the prime season for a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan is fast approaching (October is the best month for naval movements to avoid typhoons). China would not necessarily need to commit to a ground invasion, either. They could simply cut off all import/export trade from any source other than China and starve Taiwan until they accept unification.”

This seems to offer the enhanced possibility of a nuclear “accident” on two major warfronts. Just what we need.

Military vehicles in Moscow’s Red Square during a Victory Day parade in 2009 – carrying Topol ICBM’s.
Military vehicles in Moscow’s Red Square during a Victory Day parade in 2009 – carrying Topol ICBM’s.

A positive worst-case outlook

Assuming that the required Fourth Turning war is not one of nuclear devastation, we may well be getting into a change-friendly situation that will lead to some significant, much-needed fixes. A multi-polar world, as envisioned and being implemented by Russia and China and friends, seems like a very good step. Domination by any nation or group is bad news or worse in a high-tech nuclear world.

Our institutions and systems of all kinds – government, education, medical, financial, etc. – are permanently damaged so far as I can see. They really can’t be fixed. They must be replaced, hopefully not by copies of what has just failed us so badly during our very own Great-Unraveling-plus-Crisis. How such a miracle might take place is unclear to say the least.

This Big Fix for our current Big Problems seems possible only as a result of a Big Crisis. A non-nuclear World War might be just what is needed. Or maybe a serious Civil War in America.

Another major warlike situation is America breaking apart into tribal States and assorted fiefdoms. From what I can see, the country is just about there already. Making a good start, at least.

This happening may just be what is required to distract the U.S.-led (or globalist wannabe powers) from being able to force a major World War escalation. A goodly chunk of the country today is probably ready to push back in a big way.

At the same time, it is hard to see the Ukraine and European unpleasantness getting resolved anytime soon. Perhaps it will become one of the never-ending series of regional conflicts like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan (among many others) that will continue in the background as viewed from the U.S.

Still a small chance of a nuclear World War

This is my view, being highly non-expert in such matters. The only nuclear war trigger that I can see having any significant likelihood is one of an accident. Everyone, including a long list of major bad guys, has too much to lose and nothing to gain from a war-to-end-all-wars.

That said, the chances of an “accident” occurring are greatly increased by conflicts involving the super-powers – U.S., Russia, China. Did you know that some folks actually try to calculate the probability of a nuclear war? Alex Tabarrok wrote a very brief summary in Marginal Revolution – “What is the Probability of a Nuclear War?” – that pegged it at about 1% a year (e.g., 10% over ten years). This is not much comfort since it has been around 75 years since nukes were first used in war. At a 1% probability per year, we are up to 75% right now. Good thing the statistics here are questionable to say the least.

Alan F. Philips, M.D., offered a fairly scary listing of accidents since that did not lead to nuclear war:  “20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War”. He notes however that:

“The following selections represent only a fraction of the false alarms that have been reported on the American side. Many probably remain unreported, or are hidden in records that remain classified. There are likely to have been as many on the Soviet Side which are even more difficult to access.”

The good news here is that nothing of consequence resulted from what appears to be a significant “mishap” frequency. This seems to mean that accident management procedures are working quite well. Max Roser has a recent article in Our World in Data that discusses these measures in some detail: “Nuclear weapons: Why reducing the risk of nuclear war should be a key concern of our generation”.

My take is that you can’t calculate a meaningful probability of a nuclear war. The best you can do is make a rough assessment – none, small, medium, large – at any point in time based on the current activities of likely belligerents. Likely belligerents today being of course the U.S., Russia, and China. Based on the current activities of this scary lot, the probability seems to have risen from “small-to-none” a few years ago to at least “medium” today.

Bottom line:

We are pretty clearly in a Fourth Turning Crisis phase – in fact, nearing the end (2027) – that has in past involved major wars. Major war today is a nuclear World War III that will have no winners. It seems highly unlikely to be triggered purposefully by one of the great powers – U.S., Russia, China. The most likely triggering event seems to be an accident, of which way too many have occurred in past. Small-scale conflicts between superpowers greatly increase the probability of a triggering accident. Our best hope today may be that the successful-so-far efforts of accident prevention and management groups since 1946 will continue this vital track record.

Related Reading

  • Jeff Thomas, via Doug Casey’s International Man, adds some interesting history and views to the S-H theory: “Navigating the Fourth Turning”:

“’These are the times that try men’s souls.’ So, Thomas Paine wrote in 1775 in his publication of “The American Crisis.” Not so well-remembered today are the words that followed that famous quote:”

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

“At that time, Colonial America was passing through the early stages of a “Fourth Turning,” an historical time of crisis that occurs roughly every eighty years.”

“As a point of reference, a First Turning is a period of renewal; one in which a historical crisis has ended. The populace has risen to the occasion, thrown off tyranny and conquered social, political and economic tribulation. Having done so, they now create a renewal, based on hard work, personal responsibility and moral integrity.”

“A Second Turning occurs a generation later, when the rewards of a First Turning have resulted in prosperity and stability. Those new adults who have grown up during a First Turning will be well-off and will seek to pursue high-mindedness and social concerns. Along the way, they will also pursue self-indulgence. (A deterioration begins.)”

“In a Third Turning, again a generation later, complacency sets in. Politically, those individuals who are sociopathic (a clinical aberration, estimated at about 4% of any society at any given time) tend to rise in political spheres, replacing the older generation of responsible people. They tend to raise taxes, increase social welfare programs and increase government spending in every way – really, any excuse to seize increased power over the populace.”

“Then, in a Fourth Turning, again a generation later, power having been seized, the sociopaths seek total power – the elimination of all freedoms, to be replaced by totalitarian rule.”

“Historically, in a Third Turning, a complacent people make it possible for sociopaths to take power. In a Fourth Turning, the sociopaths exert that power. It matters little whether the excuses put forward by political leaders are climate control, racial equity, CBDCs, cancel culture, owning nothing, digital IDs, transhumanism, vaccine mandates or a Green New Deal, the objective is singular: total dominance of the ruling class over the subservient class. Any excuse will do, if it has totalitarian rule as its outcome.”

“In any Fourth Turning, those who are more thoughtful and forward-thinking will begin to make sense of the ruse, but find themselves being heavily criticized by all and sundry. The media will do all within their power to slap down those who denounce the ruling class. But more to the point, the greater proportion of the populace will remain in their slumber and resist the awakening strenuously.”

“The latter half of a Fourth Turning becomes a chaotic and confusing period – one in which many people desperately hope to just get along, whilst those who are more visionary become increasingly aware that their freedoms are being flushed away on a wholesale basis. And, whilst it is the smaller, more visionary group that creates the spark of change, it is, historically, a different and unlikely group that actually creates substantive change in the latter half.”

“I’ve long felt that, as an end-run, what the West might do would rely on an old favourite technique – a false flag attack. Create a narrative and videos of an attack on, say, Kiev by Russia with a small nuclear warhead. Then announce that the warhead had been fired, killing hundreds of thousands. Then let loose the pre-prepared media blitz and invoke Article 5, justifying nuclear warfare.”

“It just might turn the tide of sympathy. But it would also open a door that could not once again be closed.”

“For decades, both Russia and the US have had large numbers of nukes aimed at each other, with a system of timed releases. Once the first button is pushed, interrupting the progression is difficult.”

“So, as to that second question – “What would a nuclear war look like?” there are many studies, but the most illustrative one I’m familiar with was produced by Princeton.”

“It begins with a random single release in Eastern Europe and demonstrates the sizes and numbers of nuclear warheads, along with the release patterns. It shows the trajectories and, in addition, shows diameters representing the degree of devastation by each missile.”

“The smaller nukes would cover all of Europe, leaving very little intact. Then the larger transatlantic nukes would take over – the state-of-the-art Sarmat missiles. Sarmat has the capacity to elude anti-missile defense systems. It travels at five times the speed of sound, weighs more than 200 tonnes and each one has multiple breakaway warheads. The West has nothing like it.”

“So, what would the outcome be? Well, each major US city would be targeted with multiple ICBMs, each big enough to destroy it. Most of the US would be carpeted with other ICBMs. The US would be destroyed within a few hours. An estimated 90 million people would be killed initially.”

“Those at ground zero would be vapourised. Those on the periphery of a bomb could escape if they were to get to concrete shelter very quickly. They would then need to remain sealed up for weeks, if not longer, until the majority of fallout had settled. It would be a gamble as to when exiting the building would be safe.”

“We are on the brink of World War III, which the West is compulsively pushing for. And this is no longer a fear or expectation, it is a fact. Russia is at war with the collective West, with NATO and its allies (though not with all of them: Turkey and Greece have their own position and some European countries, primarily but not only France and Italy, do not want to actively participate in a war with Russia). Yet, the threat of a third world war is getting closer and closer.”

“Whether it will come to the use of nuclear weapons is an open question. But the probability of a nuclear Armageddon grows by the day. It is quite clear, and many American military commanders (such as the former American commander in Europe Ben Hodges) openly declare it, that the West will not even be satisfied with our complete withdrawal from the territory of the former Ukraine, we will end up on our own soil, insisting on ‘unconditional surrender’ (Jens Stoltenberg), ‘de-imperialisation’ (Ben Hodges), dismemberment of Russia.”