Close watchers of “The Watcher,” the popular Netflix series about a couple who move to the New Jersey suburbs, only to be haunted in their dream home, may have caught the reference.
It comes when one of the main characters, played by Bobby Cannavale, finds a creepy man in his kitchen who describes himself as a construction inspector. After Mr. Cannavale’s character notices that people are fleeing New York, the man replies, “It’s the fourth turn.”
The confusion on Mr. Cannavale’s face invites an explanation.
According to “fourth turning” proponents, American history passes through recurring cycles. Each one, which lasts about 80 to 100 years, consists of four generation-long seasons, or “turns.” The winter season is a time of upheaval and reconstruction – a fourth turning.
The theory first appeared in “The Fourth Turning,” a work of pop political science that has had a cult following more or less since it was published in 1997. In the last few years of political turmoil, the book and its ideas have bubbled into the mainstream.
According to “The Fourth Turning,” previous crisis periods include the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. America entered its latest fourth revolution in the mid-2000s. It will culminate in a crisis sometime in the 2020s – ie now.
The theory is popular with people on both ends of the political spectrum. It also inspired an acclaimed Off Broadway play, “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” which features a conservative Catholic writer, Teresa, who is obsessed with the book and its promise of a coming revolution.
The play’s author, Will Arbery, 33, said he heard about “The Fourth Turning” while researching Stephen K. Bannon, the right-wing firebrand and former adviser to President Donald J. Trump, who is a longtime admirer of the book and directed. a 2010 documentary based on its ideas. A writer for the HBO show “Success,” Mr. Arbery said he also found references to “The Fourth Turning” in modern corporate culture.
He described it as “this almost funny theory about history,” but added: “And yet there’s something deeply menacing about it.”
Mr. Arbery, who said he does not subscribe to the theory, sees parallels between the fourth turning and other unscientific beliefs. “I modeled the way Teresa talks about the fourth turning on the way young liberals talk about astrology,” he said.
The book’s perspective on the near future has made it attractive to macro traders and crypto enthusiasts, and it is often quoted on the “Macro Voices”, “Wealthion” and “On the Margin” podcasts.
“I read ‘The Fourth Turning’ and actually found it useful from a macroeconomic investment perspective,” Lyn Alden, 35, an investment analyst, wrote in an email. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it kind of gives us a loose framework to work with.”
For Ryen W. Thomas, 42, a filmmaker and co-host of a YouTube series, “Generational Talk,” “The Fourth Turning” captured an atmosphere of decline in recent American life. “I remember feeling safe in the ’90s, and as soon as 9/11 hit, the world turned upside down,” he said. “Every time my cohort got to the point where we were optimistic, another crisis happened. When I read the book, I was like, ‘That makes sense.'”
“The Fourth Turning” was conceived during a period of relative calm. In the late 1980s, Mr. Howe, a Washington, D.C. political analyst, teamed up with William Strauss, founder of the political satire troupe the Capitol Steps.
Their first book, “Generations,” told a story of American history through generational profiles going back to the 1600s. The book is said to have influenced Bill Clinton to choose fellow baby boomer, Al Gore, as his running mate. Mr. Strauss died in 2007, and Mr. Howe has continued the couple’s work ever since.
When it was published, “The Fourth Turning” drew a withering review in The New York Times by writer Michael Lind, who criticized the authors for cherry-picking facts and lumped them in with “purveyors of pseudoscience.” But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit almost exactly at the point when the beginning of the fourth turning was predicted, it seemed to many that the authors might be on to something. Recent events – the pandemic, the storming of the Capitol – apparently provided more evidence for the fans of the book.
Mr. Howe, who is the managing director of the demographics team at the investment research firm Hedgeye, compared the popularity of “The Fourth Turning” with the shares of a basic business like Campbell Soup Company during an economic crisis. The worse the news, the higher its fortunes rise.
“Obviously, it’s not intentional,” he said, speaking from his home in Virginia.
Historically, a fourth turning crisis has always translated into a civil war, a war of great nations, or both, according to the book. Both are possible over the next decade, Mr. Howe said. But he is gloomy with an optimistic streak: Every fourth turn, in his narration, triggers a renaissance in civic life.
In the new book, he describes what the next civil war or geopolitical conflict might look like – although he avoids casting himself as a modern-day Nostradamus.
“This big tide change is coming,” Mr Howe said. “But if you ask me which wave will topple the lighthouse, I can’t do that. I can simply tell you that this is the time period. It gives you a good idea of what to look for.”