The Coming Generation War

The Coming Generation War

The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young—and the consequences could be profound.

Niall Ferguson
Co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project

Eyck Freymann
Research analyst at Greenmantle

"In the 20th century, many sociologists and historians flirted with the idea that generational changes could explain U.S. politics. The historians Arthur Schlesinger Sr. and Jr. wrote about 'cycles of American history,' arguing that, as the generations turn, American politics rotates inexorably between liberal and conservative consensus. More recently, a new generational scheme has come into vogue. William Strauss and Neil Howe’s theory of the 'fourth turning' predicts a crisis and a major political realignment every 80 to 90 years. (Strauss and Howe were briefly in the spotlight in 2016 after Steve Bannon praised their work.)

"We are skeptical about cyclical theories of history. We are also aware of the slipperiness of generations as categories for political analysis. As Karl Mannheim pointed out more than 90 years ago, a generation is defined not solely by its birth years but also by the principal historical experience its members shared in their youth, whatever that might be. Nevertheless, we do believe that a generational division is growing in American politics that could prove more important than the cleavages of race and class, which are the more traditional focuses of political analysis."

I rather like Ferguson: he's a rather pompous conservative, but he's British, so he usually carries it off.

David Trammel's picture

I agree that the politics of this country will see a big push between the interests of the younger demographics and the older ones over the next few decades. Especially with the way the young are waking up to climate change and its potential to radically change their way of life and future prospects.

I've had a few co-workers in that age group speak about their worries about those changes. They aren't very optimistic.

I've also had some older co-workers take a very privileged attitude about how "they paid into Social Security all their lives and the politicians best not mess with it!"

But having competing interest groups when the resource pie is declining isn't necessarily a bad thing. We will have to relearn how to compromise. Some of the really hardcore "I want mine, screw you", will put up a big fight, and don't discount the fact that we seniors have the money, but the Young have social media and the will to organize and make noise.

It will be up to those of us here on Green Wizards, and other forums to try and bridge the divide.