Close watchers of “The Watcher,” the popular Netflix series about a couple who move to suburban New Jersey to haunt their dream home, may have grabbed the reference.
It comes when one of the main characters, played by Bobby Cannavale, stumbles upon a creepy man in his kitchen who describes himself as a building inspector. After Mr. Cannavale’s character remarks that people are fleeing New York City, the man replies, “It’s the fourth turn.”
The bewilderment on Mr. Cannavale’s face begs for an explanation.
According to proponents of the Fourth Turn, American history goes through repeating cycles. Each one, which lasts about 80 to 100 years, consists of four long seasons, or “fluctuations.” Winter is a time of upheaval and reconstruction – the fourth turn.
The theory first appeared inFourth transformation,” a work of popular political science that has had quite a cult following since its publication in 1997. In the past few years of political turmoil, the book and its ideas have exploded into the mainstream.
According to the Fourth Shift, previous crisis periods include the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. America entered its final fourth transformation in the mid-2000s. And it will culminate in a crisis sometime in the 2020s – that is, now.
The theory is popular with people on both ends of the political spectrum. It also inspired a popular off-Broadway play, Heroes of the Fourth Turn, which depicts a conservative Catholic writer, Teresa, obsessed with the book and his promise of a coming revolution.
The play’s author, Will Arbery, 33, said he heard about The Fourth Shift while researching Stephen K. A 2010 documentary film based on his ideas. Mr. Arbery, a writer on the HBO show “Succession,” said he’s also found references to the “Fourth Shift” in modern corporate culture.
He called it “an almost fun theory about history,” but added, “However, there is something very menacing about it.”
Mr. Arbery, who has said he does not endorse the theory, sees similarities between the fourth turn and other unscientific beliefs. “I modeled the way Teresa talks about the fourth turn into the way young liberals talk about astrology,” he said.
The book’s outlook into the near future has made it appealing to macro traders and crypto enthusiasts, and it’s frequently cited on the “Macro Voices,” “Wealthion,” and “On the Margin” podcasts.
“I’ve read The Fourth Shift, and really found it useful from a macro-investing perspective,” Lynn Alden, 35, an investment analyst, wrote in an email. “History doesn’t repeat, but it kind of gives us a loose framework to work with.”
For Ryan W. Thomas, 42, a filmmaker and co-host of a YouTube series called Generational Talk, The 4th Turning captured a slump in modern American life. “I remember feeling safe in the ’90s, and then as soon as 9/11 happened, the world went upside down,” he said. Every time my group got to the point where we were hopeful, another crisis occurred. When I read the book, I was like, “This makes sense.”
The Fourth Shift was conceived during a period of relative calm. In the late 1980s, Mr. Howe, a Washington, D.C., policy analyst, teamed up with William Strauss, founder of the political satirical troupe Capitol Steps.
Their first book, The Generations, told the story of American history through generational profiles dating back to the 17th century. The book was said to have influenced Bill Clinton in choosing fellow Boomers, Al Gore, as his vice presidential running mate. Mr. Strauss died in 2007, and Mr. Howe has continued the couple’s work ever since.
When it was published, The Fourth Shift drew rave reviews in The New York Times for writer Michael Lind, who criticized the authors for carefully picking facts and lumping them into “purveyors of pseudoscience.” But when the financial crisis of 2008 hit exactly the point where the beginning of the fourth turn had been predicted, it seemed to many that the authors might be on to something. Recent events — the pandemic, the storming of the Capitol — seem to have provided more clues for fans of the book.
Mr. Howe, who is the managing director of the demography team at the investment research firm HedgyHe likened the popularity of the “fourth shift” to the stock of staple businesses such as the Campbell Soup Company during an economic crisis. The worse the news, the richer it gets.
“This is clearly not intended,” he said, speaking from his home in Virginia.
Historically, the crisis of the fourth turn has always translated into a civil war, a war of great powers, or both, according to the book. Both are possible, Mr. Howe said, within the next decade. But he is a doomed killer with optimistic steps: every fourth turn, in his telling, begins a renaissance in civilian life.
In the new book, he describes what the next civil war or geopolitical struggle might look like—though he shies away from portraying himself as a modern-day Nostradamus.
“This big shift in tides is coming,” Mr. Howe said. “But if you ask me which wave is going to knock down the beacon, I can’t do that. I can only tell you that is the time period. It gives you a good idea of what to watch for.”