Years Of The Modern-James Quinn

Sunday, April 17, 2011
By Paul Martin

by Jim Quinn

Is humanity forming en-masse? for lo, tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim,
The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war,
No one knows what will happen next, such portents fill the days and

Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to
pierce it, is full of phantoms,

Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me,
This incredible rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams
O years! – Years of the Modern- Walt Whitman

The great American poet Walt Whitman wrote these words in 1859. Whitman was trying to peer into a future of uncertainty. He was sure the future would be bleak. He had visions of phantoms. Maybe he saw the 600,000 souls who would lose their lives in the next six years. Whitman had captured the mood of a country entering the Fourth Turning. He didn’t know what would happen, but he felt the beat of war drums in the distance. Whitman did not have the benefit of historical perspective that we have today.

There have been three Fourth Turnings in American History. The American Revolution Fourth Turning ended in 1794 with the Crisis mood easing with the presidency of George Washington. Whitman didn’t realize that, 64 years after the previous Fourth Turning, the mood of the country was ripe for revolution and the sweeping away of the old order. When the stock market crashed in 1929, 64 years after the exhausting conclusion to the Civil War Fourth Turning, Americans didn’t realize the generational constellation was propelling them toward a new social order and a horrific world war. It is now 66 years since the conclusion of the Depression/WWII Fourth Turning. All indications are that the current Fourth Turning began in the 2007 – 2009, with the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing financial system implosion.

I find myself vainly trying to pierce the veil of events yet to be. The future is filled with haunting phantoms of unborn deeds which could lead to renewed glory, untold death and destruction, or the possibly the end of the great American experiment. Walt Whitman captured the change of mood in the country with his poem. History books are filled with dates and descriptions of events, battles, speeches and assassinations. What most people don’t understand is Fourth Turnings aren’t about events, but about the citizens’ reaction to the events.

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