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AMERICAN GENERATIONS: A MODEL

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AMERICAN GENERATIONS: A MODEL

Histories of Futures

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DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS                                        DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Sectors: Identity                                                          Importance: ****

Level: National                                                            Scope: USA only

Period: Midrun cycles                                                 Process: Power politics

TOPIC: GENERATIONS                                              Treatment: Background

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INTRODUCTION

SOME PLAIN FACTS 1

KINDS OF GENERATIONS 2

A CYCLE OF GENERATIONS? 3

FROM IDEALIST TO CIVIC? 4

CIVIC VERSUS IDEALIST 5

APPENDIX

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SERIES

This is one in a series of Posts sketching HISTORIES OF FUTURES of American politics. The series tries to identify processes that have run through most of American political history, continue today, and may well continue into the future.

This Post is the first of two on the successive GENERATIONS of people who have animated American politics over the past four hundred years. This Post sets out a MODEL of generations in American history; the next Post will sketch that HISTORY itself.

Later Posts on Histories of Futures will sketch historical tensions within American political IDEOLOGY, note REGIONAL AND LOCAL formations that still influence American politics, and trace the succession of REGIMES in American political development.

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SOURCES

These two Posts on Generations summarize the following literature.

William Straus and Neil Howe originated this particular generation scheme in their 1991 Generations: The history of America's future, 1584 to 2069. New York NY: William Morrow / Harper Perennial, 538 pages. They further elaborated the scheme in William Strauss and Neil Howe 1997The fourth turning: An American prophecy. New York NY: Broadway Books, 382 pages.

Morely Winograd and Michaerl D. Hais have applied the Straus&Howe scheme to current American politics in their 2008Millennial makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the future of American politics. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 309 pages. They update the analysis in Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais 2011Millennial momentum: How a new generation is remaking Ameica. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 327 pages.

All of these authors are commercial and political consultants, not academic social scientists.

Some of their analysis may be too schematic. Nevertheless, they have absorbed a huge amount of historical material and presented it in an admirably understandable and usable form.

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AMERICAN GENERATIONS: A MODEL

INTRODUCTION

The Posts this week and next summarize a scheme for understanding American politics – past, present and future! This Post focuses on the scheme’s Model, according to which four types of generations have succeeded each other – over and over – with approximately the same characteristics in approximately the same order throughout American history. The Post focuses particularly on the alternation between two of the four generations, the Civic and Idealist generations, who tend to be larger and more activist, and therefore set the pace for the other two generations. American politics is currently getting over an older Idealist generation, the Boomers, and entering into a young Civic generation, the Millennials.

Next week’s Post will report the scheme’s HISTORY of the nearly twenty Generations of about twenty years each, covering all of American political history, from the early 1600s to the early 2000s. The scheme sketches the history of the American PEOPLE, not American political institutions. Nevertheless, knowing how much Americans changed from generation to generation helps explain how institutions, politics, and policies could have changed so rapidly. Moreover, understanding the particular characteristics of particular generations helps explain the politics of those times.

The generations scheme is quite schematic, forcing a lot of complex history into its mold. Nevertheless, regardless of whether or not one accepts all of the theory behind it, the scheme provides a convenient framework within which to orient oneself to the present (the Model) and to learn some key facts about American political history (the History). In particular, the Generations scheme enables one to survey American political history without having to learn the names of too many individual people. But please do try to learn the names of the generations and the historical upheavals and popular responses those names represent!

The fact that cyclical models are highly schematic does not mean that they are inherently incorrect. Recently an American political scientist famously posited a different kind of cycle in American political history: Stephen Skoronek 1993 The politics presidents make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush. Cambridge MA: A logic of recurrent political circumstances defines three basic types of American presidencies: Reconstructive, articulative, and disjunctive. I myself once wrote an article positing a cycle in Chinese rural policy under Mao: normality, mobilization, crisis, and back to normality. (G. William Skinner and Edwin A. Winckler 1969 "Compliance succession in rural Communist China: A cyclical theory." In A sociological reader on complex organizations, 2nd edition, edited by Amitai Etzioni. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 410-438.)

SOME PLAIN FACTS 1

All peoples are constantly evolving. Successive generations DO experience differences in family and child-rearing and they DO seem to try to be different from each other. For example, most Chinese would agree that China’s “one child” generation (China’s “Millennials”) is distinctive.

Successive generations DO face different challenges. To some extent there IS a demographic cycle in which generations alternate between larger and smaller, allowing fewer or more opportunities per person. (See Richard Easterlin 1987Birth and fortune : the impact of numbers on personal welfare 2nd ed. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 228 pages.)

As in the ideal multi-generational Chinese family, currently there are five generations active in American politics: Greatest, Silent, Boomer, GenX, and Millennial. American media often refer to these, so it is useful to know what they are.

Generational differences are currently central to American politics. Part of how Obama won the 2008 and 2012 elections was by accelerating the mobilization of the youngest generation into politics. These Millennials will increasingly dominate the early twenty-first century.

Conversely, Obama’s most vociferous opponents, the Tea Partiers, come mostly from the oldest (“Greatest”) generation that is now departing and being replaced by Millennials. That generational succession is much of what Tea Partiers complain about.

KINDS OF GENERATIONS 2

The Straus&Howe scheme identifies four kinds of generations: Civic, Silent, Idealist, and Adapter. These are either Dominant or Recessive in their social roles and either Outward or Inward in their personal orientations.

A CIVIC generation is dominant and outward, tending to be group-oriented and optimistic, facing up to fundamental challenges. “Civics” believe in community and tend to build institutions that last after them. The most recent past Civic generation was the “GREATEST” generation (born 1901-1924). They suffered the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and founded the postwar international order. The currently oncoming Civic generation is the Millennials (born 1982-2000). They are too young to have produced a prominent political leader yet, but they are the generation that staged Occupy Wall Street.

An ADAPTIVE generation is recessive and inward, tending toward risk aversion, conformity and compromise. Think of them as awed by their Civic parents’ accomplishments and trying to be the opposite of their parents. In recently past American politics, the SILENT generation (born 1925-1945) were so silent that the American presidency passed directly from Civics to Idealists! (I am a Silent.) The present Adapative generation is Generation X, its most outstanding exemplar so far is Barack Obama.

An IDEALIST generation is dominant and inward, tending to be ideological, clashing over strong private values. Idealists distrust and challenge existing political institutions. The classic recent example is the Baby BOOMER generation (born 1946-1964) whose student rebellions in the 1960s remade American politics. Prominent exemplars are Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both idealist, but with very different ideals.

A REACTIVE generation is recessive and outward, tending to be risk-taking, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, individualistic and even alienated. America’s most recent example is Generation X (born 1965-1982). So far their most outstanding political leader is the precocious Barach Obama. Others are now rising toward power, particularly within the Republican party (Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan).

Note that the Straus&Howe scheme is “bipartisan”: in modern American politics, each type of generation has contained both Republican and Democratic exemplars. Note also that, when it comes to interpreting particular episodes in American political history, no episode is caused entirely by only one generation. There are always several generations on the scene at any one time, and all of them have some input into what happens at that time.

A CYCLE OF GENERATIONS? 3

Within the long Straus&Howe eighty year cycle of four generations, the most important unit is the forty-year alternation between the two dominant generations, CIVIC and IDEALIST. That alternation resembles one between Public and Private earlier posited by historians Arthur Schlessinger Sr. and Jr..

The Straus&Howe model also draws on and improves “REALIGNMENT theory” in American political science, according to which new partisan eras have been inaugurated by “critical elections” in 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932, and 1968. In the terms of Straus&Howe followers Winograd and Hais, the 1860 and 1932 realignments were CIVIC, the 1828, 1896, and 1928 realignments were IDEALIST. If we regard the 2008 election as a realigment, it would be another Civic one, made possible by the votes of the rising young Civic Millennial generation.

After the pivotal 1968 election, American politics did not so much realign as dealign (more independents). So some American political scientists rejected realignment theory. Instead, Winograd and Hais reformulate it by shifting attention away from parties themselves toward underlying succession of generations and changes in communications technology. Pivotal Civic electoral victories cause realignment , pivotal Idealist electoral victories cause dealignment.

Winograd&Hais regard the Civic realignments as FOUNDINGs of new political ORDERS – almost equivalent to what my 130323 Post called political REGIMES. For analyzing such foundings, they include the Founding of the USA itself, about 1787, by the Civic Republican generation. So according to Winograd&Hais, in the course of American political history, it is CIVICS who have FOUNDED major new political ORDERS: during the American Revolution (1773-1789), the Civil War (1860-1877), the New Deal (1929-1941), and now perhaps under Obama.

This scheme almost but not quite coincides with the analysis of American political REGIMES reported in my 130323 Post. There Morton Keller’s three regimes were (using my labels) an Elite Republic (1787-1828), Mass Democracy (1828-1930), and Populist Technocracy (1930-present).

In the terms of Winograd&Hais, the Elite Republic and Populist Technocracy by a Civic generation were founded by a Civic generation, Mass Democracy by an Idealist generation. However, the discrepancy is not so great as it might seem. Keller readily recognizes the important Constitutional innovations made around 1860-1867, and many analysts, using one vocabulary or another, consider it the beginning of a new regime. (A further complication is that, according to Straus&Howe, the Civil War tragedy prevented the formation of a Civic generation in that cycle. However, younger the Gilded Age generation shifted from recessive to dominant and performed some Civic functions. S&H page 192)

FROM IDEALIST TO CIVIC? 4

In the early 2000s, Morely Winograd and Michael Hais attempted to use the contrast between CIVIC and IDEALIST Foundings and Refoundings to anticipate likely changes in the 2008 presidential election (2008, Millennial makeover). They anticipated a larger role for the Millennial generation and some shift toward Civic preoccuptions, though whether under Republicans or Democrats they did not predict.

As it turned out, in 2008 a candidate from the Adpative GenX or Thirteenth generation won the presidency in significant part by mobilizing still younger Millennials by espousing their Civic ideals. So Obama’s victory did move American politics toward the possibility of a Civic Refounding, as Winogrd and Hais had anticipated.

So in 2011 Winograd and Hais wrote another book attempting to anticipate further likely changes in the 2012 election, predicting a further rise of Millennials (2011, Millennial Momentum). Overall, that too turned out to be correct. Unexpectedly to some, despite the poor economy, Obama won a second term, particularly with continued support from Millennials (though only little INCREASE in their support).

In addition to broad predictions about generations and their ideologies, Winograd and Hais argue that Civic and Idealist Refoundings have significantly different effects on many important dimensions of politics. In advance of the 2008 and 2012 elections, they spelled out the effects that they expected the rise of Civic Millennials to have on American politics along these different dimensions. In the next section we sketch those dimensions.

CIVIC VERSUS IDEALIST 5

As just noted, Civic and Idealist Refoundings differ on many important dimensions of politics: The configuration of parties, the participation of voters, the role of government, and the relative importance and absolute direction of political, economic, and social issues. A theme throughout is that Civics tend to trust public institutions such as parties and government, Idealists tend to distrust them. Civics prioritize political issues over economic issues and economic issues over social issues, Idealists the reverse. It may be that, in any of these policy sectors, conflict is more likely in Idealist eras than in Civic eras over equality versus inequality – both for more equality and against even existing equality. (Numbers in parentheses after propositions show the page in Winograd&Hais 2008 on which the proposition appears. I have slightly reworded some propositions, combined some of them into one proposition, grouped propositions by topic, and presented them in a different order.)

Parties and voters

Realignments break up old coalitions of regions and create new ones (31). The main regional continuity across realignments has been that the South remains more traditional and the Northeast more modern, regardless of which particular political party either region supports. Historically, the major Idealist alignment was of the traditional South with the Democrats and the modern Northeast with the Whigs / Republicans (1828, 1896). The 1968 Idealist realignment exactly reversed the party that North and South supported, because Democrats had become more modern than Republicans. The 1860 Civic realignment moved the West from Democrats to Republicans. In the Civic 1930s, not just region but also class was a factor, making most managers Republican and most workers Democratic. The Civic realignment beginning in 2008 is likely to leave the South Republican but to gradually move the West from Republicans back to Democrats (eventually perhaps even Texas!).

Idealists are independent dividers, civics are partisan unifiers (34). Civic voters divide between strong rival parties, tending to vote “straight tickets” and to produce unified government (one party controls all branches), as after 1860 and 1930. Many Idealist voters declare themselves independent of parties, split their votes between parties, and tend to produce divided government (different parties control different branches), as after 1928 and 1968.

Realignments increase voter turnout, which remains high under Civics but falls under Idealists (31, 33). It is large generations that tend to be able to produce realignments, so those generations tend to bring large numbers of voters to the polls, regardless of whether the realignment is Idealist or Civic. However, after Idealist realignments turnout tends to fall (1828, 1896), after Civic realignments it tends to remain high (1860, 1932).

Role of government

Civic eras regard political institutions as good, Idealist eras regard them as bad (36). Civic generations trust political institutions – not only government itself, but also parties, interests, and media. Idealist generations distrust them. The effect of each kind of realignment can persist even into the next era. Third parties are more likely to form in idealist eras when trust in existing parties is low.

Civic eras promote using government, Idealist eras discourage using it. Eras that start with civic realignments build new government institutions and use them for economic and social purposes. For example, after the 1780s Founding, the 1860s Civil War, the 1930s New Deal, and the 2010s Obama administration. Eras that start with idealist realignments attempt to roll back civic constructions, particularly at the national level, preferring action by states, if any. Thus the 1830s idealist Jackson era opposed using the national government to promote economic development. The early idealist Progressive era did strengthen some forms of national government regulation (1900s), but that era then became increasingly deregulatory (1920s). Since the 1960s idealist realignment, Republicans have become increasingly insistent on shrinking Big Government.

Domains of policy

After Idealist realignments, ECONOMIC inequality tends to rise, after Civic realignments it tends to fall (38). Economic inequality increased particularly after the idealist realignments of 1896 and 1968. Economic inequality decreased particularly after the civic realignment of 1932.

Whether the Civic realignment that began in 2008 can reduce economic inequality remains to be seen.

Idealist realignments intensify conflicts over ETHNIC AND RACIAL IDENTITY, civic eras tend to relax them (42). Idealist realignments intensify such conflicts, generating policies that are often hostile and exclusionary, particularly concerning immigration (1828, 1896, 1968). Civic realignments TEND to relax such conflicts and to produce more inclusionary policies. However, although after the 1860 Civic realignment, the North tried to integrate the South racially, after 1877 the North abandoned the effort and allowed the South to segregate. Northern interests welcomed immigration by Europeans but, eventually, excluded Asians. After the 1930s Civic realignment, it took until the 1960s to resume racial integration and open immigration. Despite fierce opposition, the Civic realignment starting in 2008 should gradually relax ethnic and racial conflicts and produce inclusionary policies.

Idealist realignments intensify conflicts based on RELIGIOUS IDENTITY. Civic eras tend to relax such conflicts and shift attention to Economic and Security issues (40). Idealist realignments intensify conflicts – both for and against – over religious doctrine (creationism), religious rites (gay marriage), social roles (women’s rights), morality (abortion), substance use (alcohol, drugs), and other lifestyle issues. Idealist eras permit the use of such “social” issues as “wedge” issues to divide opponents. Civic eras are more ecumenical, tolerant, and agnostic.

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APPENDIX, RECENT GENERATIONS: GI, SILENT, BOOMER, and X.

(The following helpful commentary was posted on the Amazon website for the 1991 Straus and Hahn book. I simply quote it in full, adding only a few clarifying labels and dates, in brackets.)

The [Civic] GI generation (born 1902-1924) that fought WWII is a classic example of a "civic" generation. Consider their life experiences; when they came of age, they were asked en masse to participate in the greatest government-directed effort imaginable, fighting and winning WWII. Then when they got done with that, many of them went to school on the GI bill. When they were young, government spending and focus was oriented on youth. When they aged, government spending and focus shifted along with them, to where it is now focused on their elderly group, through Social Security, Medicare, and the other elderly programs that dominate the federal budget. It was natural that this generation would come to think of government's priorities being oriented in their direction as the natural order of things. They are civic-minded and they tend to have a more benign attitude towards government than do other generations. Accordingly, they are generally suspicious of change in the government approaches they know (for example, strongly against Social Security personal accounts, as opposed to a government-defined benefit.) Also, as a civic generation, they didn't focus their energies on redefining the values and purpose of America, they had a job to do (win the big war), and they did it.

[The Adaptive SILENT generation was born 1925-1960.] The contrast between the "Silent" generation and the boomers is instructive. The "Silents" followed on the GI generation, looked up to them, generally shared their values, and sought to expand and liberalize them somewhat incrementally. The "silents" worked within the system: the 1950s, for example, saw civil rights expanding, Brown vs the Board of Education, etc. They sought to expand the blessings of liberty but at the same time were generally trustful of the leadership of previous generations. Not so the boomers; as the boomers came of age, they loudly, and often with great hostility, attacked the core value systems of the generations before them as being inadequate to progress, and sought to make a new, purer system of values. The silents wouldn't have been nearly so bold.

[The Idealist BOOM generation was born 1943-1960.] Contrast that with an "idealist" generation, the "boomer" generation. Many in this generation grew up with an assumption of unlimited economic opportunity and security. They therefore turned their attention to spiritual matters, questioning and often rebelling against the values of the GI generation as well as its follow-up generation, the Silent generation. It was this "idealist" element of the boomers that unleashed the social revolutions of the late 1960s. This streak of strong opinions is visible in the boomers to this day; many of the political leaders who are regarded on both sides as being among the most shrill and uncompromising are from the boomer generation. This was also true when they were youth in the late 1960s; not only the activists on the radical left, but also those who retreated into a dyed-in-the-wool conservatism. The Silent generation prior to them didn't generally split into such poles. You can see the results in our national politics. The GI generation dominated the presidency for some time (Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder) and then handed the baton off to the Boomers (Clinton, Bush the Younger.) The Silent generation was simply skipped over.

[The Reactive THIRTEENTH generation – here called “Generation X” was born 1961-1981.]

The so-called "Generation X") is a classic example of a "reactive" generation. These generations usually followed idealist generations, and didn't have the economic optimism of their predecessors, and thus didn't feel the same security to reimagine the spiritual basis of their nation. These generations often receive great criticism from the generation before them for failing to uphold their ideals. When the Strauss/Howe book came out, this was happening to Gen X much more than is the case now; the boomers, anxious to preserve their spiritual vision, often expressed concern and even disgust about the cynical, world-weary attitudes of the generation that followed them. But the Gen xers had had a different experience; they were not taught, as were the boomers, that life was always going to be sunny for them economically. The boomers were blocking the job pipeline as these Gen Xers entered the workforce for the first time. And their life experience with government is exactly the opposite of the GI generation; at every stage of the Gen Xers maturation, government's resources have been directed to benefit someone else. Whereas the GIs will get far more out of Social Security than they ever put in, Gen X will put far more in than they will ever get out; small wonder that Gen X generally wants to be given personal accounts instead of sticking with the old system.

Only over time have the Gen Xers won the respect of previous generations, just as did previous "reactive" generations of their type. A great analogy are the generations that came of age before the American Civil War. The analogues to the boomers then were the "transcendental" generation: the Thoreaus and the Lincolns and the Garrisons -- many of the abolitionists and civil disobedients who found the value system of their nation to be lacking. They unleashed a social revolution that exploded in the Civil War. Meanwhile, the generation behind them, the Ulysses Grants of the world, were thought to be mundane, unimaginative, unimpressive. But it was the Grant generation that fought and won the Civil War, relying on the resourcefulness that a tougher life had required them to learn. The Gen Xers are showing similar resilience now.

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THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of Post: USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process: Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment: Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS

Policy Sectors: Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial Levels: Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal Periods: Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun

STANDARD TOPIC TAGS (BIAOQIAN)

SECURITY

Defense

Diplomacy

Intelligence

Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm

ECONOMY

Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy

Macroeconomy

Energy & Environment

Business

Employment & Income

IDENTITY

Propaganda

Immigration

Ideology

Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles

SUPRANATIONAL

Global

United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions

NATIONAL

Legislative

Executive

Judicial

Parties

Interest groups

Media

Public opinion

SUBNATIONAL

Subnational regions

States

Metropolitan regions

Cities

Counties

Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)

SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years

MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Variables

Cycles

Generations

Regime shift

Transformations

Regime change

Parameters

LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution

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