Generational model

T4Ter Sean Love (Zarathustra) developed a concept of the saeculum he called the Multimodal saeculum. He assumed that the four archetypes (Prophet, Nomad, Hero, Artist) are fixed, permanent forms because they represent fundamental qualities of humanity. Following Wilber, Love saw humans as holons. A holon is a whole unto itself that is both part of something larger and contains smaller parts which may also be holons.

According to Wilber multiple viewpoints are inherent in the nature and existence of holons, as a natural consequence of holon-ness. Each viewpoint has a valid perspective to offer. For example, the emotional pain of a person who suffers a tragedy is one perspective while social statistics about such tragedies provide another. The former is the subjective experience of a specific individual while the latter is an objective assessment of the experiences of many individuals Wilber identifies four perspectives valid for any holon: the subjective (inner) and objective (outer) views of an individual and those for a group of individuals. Wilber stresses that all four perspectives are equally valid and needed for real understanding of a matter. To collapse them all together can be a serious mistake.

A useful analogy might be the two dimensional grid that is often used to characterize political beliefs (see Figure 1). The vertical axis in the figure directly corresponds to the Wilberian individual versus group perspective. Libertarians develop their philosophy and ethics from an individual, objective perspective. Behavior is based on a rational calculation that can be duplicated by a third party given the required information. Human interactions can be adequately explained as contracts and a central concern is property, an objective external. On the other hand, Marxists develop their philosophy and ethics from a communal objective perspective. Emphasis in on behavior of groups such as social classes and on how they are affected by materialist historical forces. Both have useful things to say, but they are incomplete because they do not consider the other perspectives.

An example of a discipline with a focus on the individual subjective perspective would be Freudian psychoanalysis. The concept of zeigest would be an example that uses the collective subjective perspective. These four perspectives of Wilber can be graphed in a fashion analogous to the political grid to give four quadrants as diagramed in Figure 2. Here the four perspectives are collapsed in two dimensions, each of which can have two values. The vertical axis is a measure of specificity. Low values correspond to observations and attitudes that apply to groups or classes of individuals, high values to a unique individual. The horizontal; axis is a measure of tangibility. Low values correspond to intangibles, the experience of which is a matter of subjective opinion, high values correspond to concrete, material realities, objective facts.

Table 1. Strauss and Howe generations mapped onto the Wilber quadrants



Vertical dimension

Horizontal dimension

Upper left (I)




Upper right (IT)




Lower right (ITS)




Lower left (WE)




Love maps the four Strauss and Howe generations onto the Wilberian quadrants as shown in Table 1. Figure 3 presents a graphical version of Table 1. The vertical axis represents the communitarian versus individualist dimension and the horizontal represents subjective versus objective. Each quadrant corresponds to a pair of high or low values of this two dimensions, which map into a distinct generation as described In Table 1. . The circle in the figure represents the continuous stream of new cohorts coming of age. Time increases as one moves clockwise along the circle. As the curve moves through the four quadrants starting at the lower left, the four generations are generated in their standard order: artist, prophet, nomad, hero.

When the curve passes from one quadrant to another, it crosses one of the axes. Each axis intersects the other axis at its midpoint, when the two extremes of the dimension represented by that axis are in balance. Rising through the horizontal axis then reflects moving from a point where a communitarian perspective is most important to one where an individualist perspective is. Descent through the same axis on the other side of the circle reflects the reverse shift. An analogous shift occurs when moving right or left through the vertical axis. Each time an axis is crossed a new generation starts to be formed by the coming of age experience. .

One full circuit of the cycle corresponds to one saeculum, so for a 90-year saeculum, each year would correspond to a 4 degree arc. During such a cycle the value plotted on each axis moves from one extreme to the other and back again. Thus, Figure 3 can be considered as a pair of two-phase cycles (one dimensional oscillators) of the same period as the saeculum which are 90 degrees out of phase with each other. A simple mechanism can explain how each oscillator moves between its two extremes. Suppose that the cohort coming of age reacts against the adult environment by adopting an attitude opposite to the dominant attitude in the culture. We can represent this idea in terms of the following expression:

1.      d/dt O(t) = − k [ T(t-L) + (1-f) x T(t-2L) + f x T(t-1) ]

Here O(t) refers to the value of the one-dimensional oscillator at time t. T is a discrete variable called type. T is equal to 1 when O is positive and −1 when O is negative. L is the length of a generation, k is an arbitrary constant and f is the fraction of the current generation that come of age since its first cohort. For example, Generation X came of age between 1984 and 2004. At the end of 1993, 10 years of the 21-year Generation X had come of age and f would be 10/21 or 0.48. The symbol d/dt means rate of change. Equation 1 says that the rate at which the oscillator changes is the opposite of a weighted average of the value of type L years in the past (those leaving rising adulthood to enter mature adulthood), the value 2L years in the past (those leaving mature adulthood for elderhood) and the value last year (those who have just entered rising adulthood).

The term in brackets on the right-hand side of equation 1 is the value of T for the generations currently occupying the combined rising adult and maturity phases of life. Each year the value of f advances by one year; the oldest members in active adulthood adult move out and are replaced by a new cohort who came of age over the past year. Thus the contribution to the average value of T from the older gen steadily falls while that from the coming of age generations rises as the years pass (f rises).

Figure 4 shows a plot of the value of the oscillator O for the subjective-objective dimension as the open symbols and type T as the blue line. Here a T value of −1 represents subjective and +1 represents objective. Also shown as the red line is the rate of change of O (right hand side of equation 1). Type exhibits a periodic flip between objective and subjective every two generations.

The exact same analysis can be done for the individualist-communitarian dimension. The type variable in this case shifts every two generations between individualist and communitarian. Figure 5 plots type levels for the individualist-communitarian dimension in red and for the subjective-objective dimension in blue. The two plots have the same shape but are shifted one generation apart. The combination of these two type variables creates four combinations that correspond to the quadrants in Figure 2 and to the four generational archetypes in the correct order.

This model is yet another example of a lagged negative feedback mechanism, which typically generates oscillatory behavior. Like the population model the rate of change in the oscillator is inversely related to its value in the past. It is analogous to psychological explanation for the war cycles advanced by Quincy Wright: the warrior does not wish to fight again himself and prejudices his son against war, but the grandsons are taught to think of war as romantic.1  The notion that talent or a weakness such as alcoholism skips generations is a commonly held idea. A plausible explanation for this might be that children who experience the negative effects from parental weakness or talent may simply choose to take a different path when they grow up. So those who grow up with an alcoholic parent decide they will never drink. Those with a very talented and successful parent may choose to develop talents different from what their parent did so as to avoid unfavorable comparisons with them. In these examples the younger generation adopts an opposite to a parental behavior or belief (this is the negative feedback). In the case of the generational mechanism proposed here the reaction is not against one’s own parents, but against the dominant belief and behavioral modes of adults in general who are still playing a role in society and culture--that is, the occupants of the rising adult and maturity phases of life.

How this works is best shown by the situation that exists during periodic politico-economic crises in American history every three or four decades. We are in such a crisis today in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. Four decades earlier there was the political and cultural upheaval of the sixties followed by economic stagflation in the next decade. Four decades before that was the Great Depression and the tumultuous Progressive era three decades before it. Finally the Progressive era was preceded by the Civil war three to four decades earlier. These periodic crises and the calm eras in between them comprise what I call the political-economic (PE) cycle. The PE cycle is essentially a version of the saeculum in terms of external events instead of generational archetypes.

Table 2 identifies these crisis periods as the shaded rows and gives dates for the PE cycle in the first column. The characterization of these periods in terms of unrest and economic performance is summarized in the next two columns. These crises are called active periods in the PE cycle and social moments in the Strauss and Howe turning cycle. The paradigm mechanism was proposed to explain these active periods/social moments. It largely operates through politics and has political moments that roughly correspond to (and serve the same purpose as) social moments. Its operation involves alternating paradigms or worldviews that affect the kind of policy choices considered by decision-makers. Like the attributes described above, paradigms shift every two generations. Paradigms alternate between two kinds: freedom and progress. The column labeled progress party illustrates the operation of freedom and progress paradigms. The figure given is the fraction of the time the progress party2 holds the presidency. The progress party is in favor when a Progress paradigm is being created and in the subsequent turning, average occupation is 77%. It is out of favor when a Freedom paradigm is being created and in the turning after, average occupation is 37%.

Table 2. Summary of turnings and generations since Independence (active periods/social moments are shaded)

PE cycle



Progress party*


Coming of age generation

Paradigm-based dating

S&H dating**






























































Civil War Hero



































*Progress party was Democrats after 1932 and Republicans before 1913. Shown is the fraction of time when this party held the presidency

**Dating is birth years plus 23 (age of paradigm formation) plus 3 (lag between turning and associated generation).

Figure 3 shows the paradigms as a second vertical axis. Not surprisingly, a freedom paradigm corresponds to the individualist attribute. Paradigms are generated during one of these active periods. As the active period proceeds, policymakers gradually come to see that the problems are the consequences of past policy and policy is changed. The generation coming of age experiences the bad economic times and social/political turmoil, and reacts against what they perceive as the cause. In secular crisis turnings, individualist generations have created the failed policy and the paradigms acquired by heroes coming of age are more likely to be biased against individualism than paradigms acquired in other turnings. For example, polls suggest Millennials have a more favorable view of socialism3 (which is antithetical to individualism) than did other generations at the same age

This bias tilts the world-view of new paradigms towards a communitarian perspective. Not all individual paradigms will have a communitarian bias, just more than average. This tendency is what it meant by the statement, the hero generation adopts a Progress paradigm. Empirically, a Progress paradigm is defined as the paradigm held by the generation coming of age during a political moment associated with a Strauss and Howe crisis turning. . The same process holds for active periods that correspond to spiritual awakenings. During these periods, communitarian generations have failed and paradigms acquired by prophets coming of age will tend to be biased in favor of individualism. The collectively is a Freedom paradigm. A Freedom paradigm is defined as the paradigm held by the generation coming of age during a political moment associated with a Strauss and Howe awakening turning.

The creation of a new paradigm is a mechanistic characterization of the turning cycle. The idea of a new generation arriving on the scene that is typified by a different set of attributes (different quadrant in Figure 3) or that belongs to a different generational archetype is an internal manifestation of a turning change. . The mechanistic characterization has the advantage that it can be tested empirically.

For the high and unraveling turnings, the adult generations are evenly split between individualist and communitarian attributes and there is no need for a corrective response in this dimension. Therefore the paradigm remains unchanged. What does change during the high and unraveling involves the objective-subjective axis. Coming out of the secular crisis, adults are over weighted in the objective attribute and the artist generation coming of age adopts a more subjective outlook in response. Similarly, coming out of the spiritual awakening, adults are over-weighted in the subjective attribute and the nomad generation coming of age adopts a more objective outlook in response. We can imagine a paradigm-like mechanism operating on the objective-subjective axis that produces an oscillation between spiritual and secular societal orientation once per saeculum. The nonsocial moment turnings would serve as cultural moments, when a new spiritual paradigm would be acquired by the generations coming of age.

The cultural paradigm would find full expression during the subsequent social moment. The cultural paradigm can explain why half of the periodic crises are spiritual awakenings. According to Strauss and Howe parental nurture follows cycle of four generation length:4

Nurture is most protective during crises and least protective during Awakenings

This nurture cycle is coincident with the cultural cycle. The notion of a cultural paradigm generalizes the Strauss and Howe conception of dominant and recessive generations. Hero and prophet generations are dominant (paradigm-formers) in the political and economic spheres while nomad and artist generations are dominant in the culture and family. The political paradigm cycle intersects with the cultural paradigm to give four combinations in accordance with which paradigm is fully operative: progress (high), spiritual (awakening), freedom (unraveling), secular (crisis)--see Table 3.

Table 3. Turnings as the intersection of political and cultural paradigm cycles


Dominant Attribute of Adults

Paradigm (politics)

Spirituality (culture)

Parental Nurture Cycle


Objective -> Communitarian

Progress (political unity)

Low -> High



Communitarian -> Subjective

Progress -> Freedom


Min. protective/ Empowering


Subjective -> Individualist

Freedom (political disunity)

High -> Low



Individualist -> Objective

Freedom-> Progress


Max. protective/ Repressive

These spiritual/secular periods match up with the subjective/objective attributes on the horizontal axis of Figure 3 like the paradigms do with the attributes on the vertical axis. The spiritual approach to life strengthens during the high and flowers during the awakening, giving it is spiritual nature. In contrast, the progress paradigm strengthens during the crisis turning and flowers during the high. Similarly, the secular approach to life strengthens during the unraveling and flowers during the crisis.


1.      Wright, Quincy, A Study of War, 1942; reprint ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965, p 230.

2.      The progress party was originally the Federalists, the party of Alexander Hamilton. The Hamiltonian progress ideology was continued by the Whigs and then the Republicans after them. The freedom party was originally the Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson and the Democratic party of Andrew Jackson later on (see the paradigm model article for more on this). The progressive wing of the Republican party split off during the Bull Moose campaign of 1912. Like the Southern Democrats who split from their party 36 years later, they lost their influence and eventually joined the other party. Shorn of their progressive wing, the Republicans became increasingly an economically libertarian party consistent with a Freedom paradigm and were already expressing these during the twenties. After 1912 they ceased to be the Progress party. The Democrats gradually picked up Republican Progress ideology and its dominant wing had made the shift by 1933. One of the consequences of this Democratic ideological shift was that the party became increasingly out of sync with Southern Democrats, for whom Republican-style progress (i. e. radical republicanism) was anathema. They would eventually find a political home in a Republican party that had embraced Jacksonian freedom ideology. After 1932 the progress party has been the Democratic party.

3.      Little Change in Public Response to Capitalism, Socialism, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, December 28, 2011

4.      Strauss, William and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America's Future 1584 to 2069, New York: Quill William Morrow 1991, p 354.