Pendulum Swing: Generational cycle theory


Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

–John Adams
I thought I would expand on why I adhere to some of the attributes of Howe & Strauss generational cycle theory.  In short, it’s because of the nature of democracy. Democracy deals with the age old chicken-or-the-egg scenario of the needs of the many vs. the needs of the few. Are you part of the many or part of the few? In a democracy the idea is to achieve unity in the midst of the needs of the many and the needs of the few. On top of that, if all men are created equal, there is always an ongoing conversation of what that union looks like.

Let’s take a look at the aspirations of these United States of America. Blame my Boomer parents for exposing me to School House Rock at a young age, as you sing along with me:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


pendulum copy


Powerful words, and very lofty ideals that I greatly respect. The “blessings of liberty” and goals of “domestic tranquility” are much easier said than done. But the constitution says that it’s goal is to form a more perfect union. It’s on ongoing process.

But in this country the ongoing experiment of democracy seems to have a pendulum swing from the needs of society to needs of individuals. It is a processes of editing, revising, and rebuilding.

My belief in a pendulum swing in generations is not based on destiny. The traits of a generation are not magically inborn, but rather a reaction to the ebb and flow of individualism and ideology vs. society and institutions. There will always be aspects of every generation that will be spontaneous: changes in pop culture, ever-advancing technology, and the impact of one individual on an entire generation, to name a few. How a generation forms will always be complex.


With that said, my ongoing study and observations of Millennials is that they fit many of the traits of a Civic generation. Even with varying beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures I believe Millennials are looking to build a better society, for the good of all individuals.

It seems as though patriotism has gained traction over the last decade or so. Be it the post-9/11 era that has created a sense of unity in our nation, or the higher voting rate of Millennials than previous generations at the same age, there has been a shift in the country that I think many of us can feel.

We’re the generation naive enough to believe that even after democracy has “commit[ed] suicide” (again) we can rejuvenate it with enough idealism, optimism, and long-term planning.

Even if it just unravels again in the future, to Millennials it’s at least worth the risk.

7 thoughts on “Pendulum Swing: Generational cycle theory

  1. That the category of a civic generation exists is fitting, though all generations are civic in a sense…”Of or relating to the duties or activities of people in relation to their town, city, or local area.” It seems to me that the salient features of the lofty generations we choose to dub thusly are not their duties nor activities, as all such things will relate to the greater generational cohort, but rather the grandness with which they fullfil their duties and purposefulness with which they execute their activities and goals. The theory says that we Millennials, the new civic generation, will clean things up and rebuild institutions but I think that’s looking at the glass half-empty. Instead of clean, why not make things new? Instead of rebuild, why not construct above the ruins of what failed before a new structure filled with the promise of what we’ve fought to expect for both ourselves as a generation, and for each other as a whole.

    • “Instead of rebuild, why not construct above the ruins of what failed before a new structure filled with the promise of what we’ve fought to expect for both ourselves as a generation, and for each other as a whole.” That’s the Millennial optimism I’m talking about. Let’s do it!

  2. Pingback: Rise of Millennial Cynicism | So-Called Millennials

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