Welcome to the bottom of the Saeculum

In an excellent book, that I highly recommend, “The Fourth Turning” by William Strauss and Neil Howe (gee, it’s a shame I don’t make any money off of that link), the authors describe the 80-year cycles or saeculum (Latin pronunciation: sigh-koo-lum) of history.

Everything is a wave– an oscillating cycle of highs and lows.  Light, sound, seasons, day and night, the aging cycle (see alternate interpretations of “INRI”), even matter– it’s all a wave.  So why shouldn’t history be one?

Now, I don’t believe that history repeats itself.  That is a simple delusion held by people who have no sense or understanding of history.  But history does have patterns of behavior, of outlook by the people who are alive at the time, influenced by what has occurred before and these patterns follow a roughly 80-year cycle.

So?  What was going on 80 years ago?  The United States and the rest of the world (influenced by an Anglo-American historical saeculum) was in the middle of the great depression.  Our past behaviors and failure to recognize that our actions had larger consequences caused an economic collapse (which gave momentum  to fascism) and the worlds first globally significant environmental disaster (the Dust Bowl, best described in another fantastic book: The Worst Hard Time).  We were in the bottom of the saeculum– the crisis stage, as you will see we are now.  The crisis was only ended on the very climatic and important date of June 6, 1944.

What about 80 years before that?  The Civil War, which reached its climax at simultaneous battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg on the same day– July 4, 1863, where, through violence the question of slavery was ended in our nation, by breaking the back of the confederacy.

80 years (or more accurately “four score and seven years”) before Gettysburg, the crisis was ended by the declaration of an independent nation (the war still had many years to fight, but the bell of liberty could not be un-rung).  The crisis was that although we were considered part and parcel of Britain, we had no voice and considering the part played by the colonies in the French and Indian wars (part of the Seven Years’ war, often referred to by sticklers like me as World War 1).

80 before that?  The Glorious Revolution of William and Mary transformed an isolated Britain into a naval powerhouse that lasted for nearly 3 centuries.  80 prior to that was the Elizabethan Golden Age, which saw the beginning of the end of the Spanish empire.

And so it goes back to the War of the Roses 80 years before Elizabeth I, when her grandfather, Henry VII defeated Richard III (“A horse!  A horse!  My kingdom for a horse!”) of England at the battle of Bosworth Field, ending the Plantagenet line and founding the Tudor.

Keep in mind that I am referring to an Ango-American historical line, since this historical pattern has had the dominant influence on the world.  There have been others, including Germanic, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian 80 year cycles not necessarily in sync with the AA line, but often forcibly synced to the AA line as critical events have unfolded.

The 80 year cycles, much like a sine wave start at a low point, cross a median, reach a high point, descend back to the median and thence to a new low– four stages.

The high point tends to reflect our greatest achievements and aspirations (I give you the moon landings, Medicare, the failed War on Poverty, and the hubris that we could win an Indochinese war), it is often followed by a roughly 20 year period of decline where we enter a stage of malaise which leads to a final 20 year period in which hairless apes can do nothing right.

The end of this period is pretty much where we are now.


We are now engaged in a civil war, my friends.  It is not fought with weapons (yet), but with words and ideas.  We are in the crisis period of the latest saeculum.  For no apparent reason at all, there seems to be a sabotage of our very civilization at work– its agents represented by a resolute right and a hapless or even non-existent left.

I know many people, both friends and relatives who have a differing political view than my own.  They also have, live and believe in a different reality.

I cannot stress that last phrase enough:  they live in a different reality.

The crisis periods of the last three saecula that have been part of the Anglo-American historical stream have been a struggle between two cultural suppositions to answer the question ‘what is the nature of the american way?’  Is it that the individual is supreme?  Is it every man for himself (and no, I mean that literally: women are cut out almost by default in our great sausage-fest)?  Is it devil take the hindmost and ‘I got mine’?  Does it extend to ‘owning’ other people?  Are the “works” of Ayn Rand a blueprint or just very bad fiction for self-centered 15 year old boys to whack off to?

Or is it that we take the path of what is best for all.  Do we ‘all hang together or surely hang separately’?  Is it one for all and all for one?  Is it reestablishment of the principle of community?

In all three of the American crises (independence, civil war and economic collapse), the nation chose the latter.

Now we have a choice before us.

Are we together or on our own?


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