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American Political Culture

The Generational Rhythm of American Politics

The American Mosaic, Chapter 2

Daniel J. Elazar

It should be clear that the spatial divisions of the United States combine a certain continuity over time along with a certain amount of change brought about by "changing times." Location in time is no less important a factor in shaping politics than location in space. Hence, we need to understand how time is organized so that location within its seemingly undifferentiated vastness can be more or less pinpointed.

This chapter will suggest a way in which political time actually is structured in the United States. It rests on a theory of generational rhythms which the author has successfully applied to the course of American politics since the mid-1950s to forecast developments with great success. At the same time he has applied that model to the American polity from the beginning, in a way that very usefully charts the flows of American political affairs.

Early Studies of Generational Rhythms

Students of society have noted the succession of generations since ancient times.1 Indeed, the Bible explicitly bases its chronology on generational measures.

The Bible was the first great work to concern itself with linear time and human movement through history and is the classic beginning of human understanding of the generational pattern in human affairs. It was also the first work explaining why the pattern transcends the individual lives that call it into existence. As such, it is the starting point for our understanding of the generational phenomenon and it offers classic paradigmatic examples of the phenomenon operating in history.2

Time in the Bible is almost invariably measured on a generational basis, beginning with the "generations of man" - the first recounting of human history in Genesis and continuing through the system of Divine rewards and punishments (the latter unto the third and fourth generation and the former unto the thousandth by the Biblical account).3 A human being is allotted two average generations (70 years) as his normal life span and three full generations (120) for exceptional virtue.4 Indeed, Biblical scholars have clearly demonstrated that the Biblical expression, "forty years" is an idiomatic phrase that means a "generation".5

Generations in the Biblical sense also are collective affairs. The "generation of the wilderness" is the best example of a collectivity of people linked primarily by their existence as adults during a common time span.6 The concept is applied even more frequently to a time period or, perhaps more accurately, a period that embraces time-plus-people. Thus the Book of Judges describes the rise of new judges in each generation to meet the challenges of that generation and to restore peace for the remainder of its allotted span.7

Moreover, the Bible recognizes that all civil societies have beginnings whose echoes are never lost. The character of the founders persists among their heirs. Israel, the people of central interest in the Biblical narrative, is at every point reminded of its beginnings and its ancestry.

Nineteenth-century philosophers, sociologists, and historians were the first to articulate systematic theories of generational progression and its influence on human development. Auguste Comte viewed the duration of human life, and most particularly the thirty-year term of full activity in adulthood, as decisive in shaping the velocity of human evolution, suggesting that "the unanimous adherence to certain fundamental notions" transforms the aggregate of individuals alive at a particular time into a social cohort.8 John Stuart Mill, influenced by Comte and convinced that "History does, when Judiciously examined, afford Empirical Laws of Society," added the idea that in every generation, the "principle phenomena" of society are different, suggesting that the differences appeared at generational intervals as each "now set" of individuals comes to dominate society.9

These general theories led to efforts at statistical and empirical verification and elaboration, especially during the last forty years of the nineteenth century, when historians were trying to develop the scientific study of history. Antoine Augustin Cournot developed the principle that generations are articulated through historical events and suggested how continuity among generations is maintained. Giuseppe Ferrari emphasized the thirty-year interval and suggested a fourfold classification of generations as preparatory, revolutionary, reactionary, and conciliatory in repeating cycle.10 Wilhelm Dilthey applied the concept to cultural development.11 Leopold von Ranke and his student Ottokar Lorenz emphasized that generational periodization was one of the keys to the scientific study of history, utilizing as tools the study of genealogy and heredity.12 Lorenz introduced the concept of the three-generation century.13

After World War I, Jose Ortega y Gasset (1933, 1962) made the succession of generations the basis for his philosophical theory of social life, adding, among other concepts, the distinction between contemporaries (those alive at the same time) and coevals (those who are part of the same generation).14 His work was continued by his student, Julian Marias. Sociologist Karl Mannheim (1952) also worked on this problem, as did such scholars as Francois Mentre (1920) and Engelbert Drerup (1933).15 The thesis was applied to art by Wilhelm Pinder (1928) and literature by Julius Peterson (1930) and Henri Peyre (1948).16

More recent efforts by political and social scientists have focused on problems of intergenerational differences and the political socialization of new generations primarily in totalitarian regimes or in reference to parties of the extreme left or right. Sigmund Neumann (1965) was the first to apply this perspective in his study of the rise of Nazism.17 Bauer et al. (1956) included it in their study of the Soviet system.18 Marvin Rintala (1958, 1962, 1963) focused on right and left in Finland while Maurice Zeitlin (1966) studies Cuba.19 S.N. Eisenstadt (1956) and Joseph Gusfield (1957) utilized the generational concept in entirely different settings, in Israel and the United States, respectively.20

All these studies have provided basic data for the development of a comprehensive theory of the generational rhythm of politics. Most of their authors have not attempted to formulate such a theory and those few who have not attempted to apply their theories, leaving many questions remaining to be clarified. Thus, for example, the studies have shown that generations can be conceptualized in two parallel ways: as discrete series of interrelated events and as the people who actively inhabit a particular period of time. In fact, both phenomena represent reality, just as physicists have determined that light consists, simultaneously, of waves and particles. The linkage of the two phenomena is a prerequisite to any comprehensive theory.

None of these authors is concerned with the inner composition of a generation. Rather, they look at it as something resembling a black box that can be added with others to form even larger time periods. Some of them indeed put more emphasis on the century, consisting of three generations.

Many authors use the term in a common sensical way without defining way they exactly mean by the term generation. This makes an empirical verification of their use impossible. The only one who is somewhat more precise in this regard is Gustav Ruemelin.

Consistent with the field of interest of these scholars (literature, art, music), they are interested in generations as a sequence of eminent men rather than putting their scheme on a more popular basis.

Some authors (notably Mannheim) try to solve the problem of how to embrace peoples of different cultural and geographic settings under the heading of "a generation".

Efforts to Delineate Political Cycles in American History

A number of theories of political cycles in American history have been advanced since Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote The Tides of American Politics in 1939 that are related to the generational thesis presented here.21 Schlesinger saw American history as a series of alternating periods of conservatism and liberalism based on "the dominate national mood as expressed in effective governmental action (or inaction)". Conservative periods reflect "concern for the rights of the few", emphasis on the welfare of property" and "inaction". Liberal periods reflect "concern for the wrongs of the many", "emphasis on human welfare", and "rapid movement". Aside from Schlesinger, the authors of such theories include V.O. Key, Jr., Charles Sellers, Gerald Pomper and Walter Dean Burnham.22 V.O. Key's theory is based on his historical theories of party loyalty and critical elections. He traced the "more or less durable" shifts in "traditional party attachments" using the latter as "bench marks" in studying the electoral process. Key was primarily interested in the "secular realignment" of the interest coalitions that make up the party vote in the United States. Since Key made no attempt to deal explicitly with historical periodization, his efforts are insightful but incomplete.23

Charles Sellers and Gerald Pomper look at political cycles in the manner established by Key with the intention of refining Key's work. Sellers looks at the party distribution of electoral votes in presidential elections and seats won in off-year elections to the House of Representatives to discover "the oscillations in actual party voting strength" as the basis for the cyclical pattern in American politics which he, like Schlesinger bases on the notion of an equilibrium cycle. On this basis, Sellers divides American history into six periods, each of approximately a generation in length but with minimum consistency in their results. He concludes that the equilibrium cycle is of little value as a predictive device since the oscillations move in irregular and unpredictable directions.

Pomper avoids some of the problems created by Sellers in his emphasis on geographic rather than personal realignment but, by using the states as his primary units does not cope with shifts of voting behavior that do not affect his correlations of the state vote as such. Beginning with the election of 1828, he delineates five periods; the Populist (1890s-1928), the New Deal (1928-1960s) and the present.

Walter Dean Burnham links his theory of political cycles to the level of public discontent. On that basis, he identifies five periods since 1789, each of which has gone through a cycle of stability, crystallization and discontent. "The intrusion of approximate tension-producing event" acts as a catalyst causing already growing discontent to be focused on the capture of an established political party or the creation of a new one. This, in turn, leads to voter realignment. Burnham sees a generational basis to this pattern and, in effect, suggests that such a realignment occurs in every generation.

While only one of the five (Schlesinger) attempts to deal with American history prior to the adoption of the Constitution (he begins with the generational buildup to the Revolution), all three of those who begin in the eighteenth century see something decisive happening between 1787 and 1790, viewing those years as a beginning point. If we accept 1787 as a starting point, we find that Schlesinger gives implicit recognition to the existence of a generational cycle based on conservative-liberal-conservative shifts as follows:


The political scientists all use critical elections to mark the beginning or ending of particular political periods, viewing them primarily as causitive factors in the generation of political cycles rather than primarily as responses to other factors as they have been viewed here. Hence, even when they reveal generational patterns, the patterns are somewhat confused. Sellers shows the following pattern:


His assessment of which are the critical elections comes close to that presented here though there is serious disagreement as to their significance in the periodization process.

Burnham's scheme diverges most from that presented here although even his outline of the generational pattern is at least visible if it is schematized as follows:


Key simply offers certain bench mark dates which can be schematized as follows:


Pomper also offers election dates and no more:


None of these are complete theories and all must be considered within a larger context which their proponents leave implicit.

Beyond these efforts at systemization, there are rough approximations of the generations or segments of generation in the commonly accepted descriptions of historical periods in the United States. In some cases whole generations have identities; e.g., The revolutionary period, the Populist era. In others, the periods of generational response have recognized names: e.g., Jackson Democracy, The New Deal, The Great Society. In still others, periods of political dominance flowing from critical elections are named: e.g., The Jefferson era, The Jacksonian era.

In the first few years of the 1960s a number of political observers developed cogent and well-elaborated theories to explain why the federal government, particularly Congress, was paralyzed and could not respond to the needs of the time.24 A few years later, however, the American people were treated to a display of federal activity -- and particularly Congressional legislation -- paralleled only by FDR's "100 days" after March, 1933. Why did these theories miss the mark so badly? What brought about the shift from the apparent truth of this thesis in the 1950s to the veritable revolution of the mid-1960s? The answer to these questions lie in a proper understanding of the temporal rhythm of political life in the United States. (Rhythm in the sense used here refers to the structured flow of time and events.)

The American political system, like all others, has a rhythm of its own, which, in turn, is linked with the overall rhythm of human time. By tracing those links, we can begin to lay out a discernible pattern in the progression of political events in the United States over the years and get some sense of why things happen (or do not happen) when they do.25 The historical pattern of political events in the United States follows a generational rhythm which flows in cycles ranging from 25 to 40 years each, approximately the biological time-span of the mature or active portion of a human life. The sequence and impact of discrete political events is substantially shaped by the rhythm of the generations, even though the events themselves may seem random. Thomas Jefferson noted this phenomenon and built a constitutional theory around it:26

The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also among the fundamental principles of every government...let us suppose a whole generation of men to be born on the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age, all together. Let the ripe age be supposed of 21 years, and their period of life, 34 years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons who have already attained 21 years of age. Each successive generation would, in this way, come on and go off the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now....

What is true of a generation all arriving to self-government on the same day, and dying all on the same day, is true of those on a constant course of decay and renewal, with this only difference. A generation coming in and going out entire, as in the first case, would have a right in the first year of their self dominion to contract a debt for 33. years, in the 10th. for 24. in the 20th. for 14. in the 30th. for 4. whereas generation changing daily, by daily deaths and births, have one constant term beginning at the date of their contract, and ending when a majority of those of full age at that date shall be dead. The length of that term may be estimated from the tables of mortality, corrected by the circumstances of climate, occupation &c. peculiar to the country of the contractors. Take, for instance, the table of M. de Buffon wherein he states that 23,994 deaths, and the ages at which they happened. Suppose a society in which 23,994 persons are born every year and live to the ages stated in this table. The conditions of that society will be as follows. 1st. it will consist constantly of 617,703 persons of all ages. 2dly. of those living at any one instant of time, one half will be dead in 24. years 8. months. 3dly. 10,675 will arrive every year at the age of 21. years complete. 4thly. it will constantly have 348,417 persons of all ages above 21. years. 5ly. and the half of those of 21. years and upward living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18. years 8. months, or say 19. years as the nearest integral number. Then 19. years is the term beyond which neither the representatives of a nation, nor even the whole nation itself assembled, can validly extend a debt.

On similar ground, it may be proved, that no society can make a perceptual constitution, or even a perpetual law...Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 34. years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.

The elaborate scheme that Jefferson, in his search for a system that would provide the maximum degree of individual liberty, proposed to his friend and colleague, James Madison, at the outset of the French Revolution, represented a transient thought on his part. Once the sage of Monticello experienced the problems of constitution-making on a large scale, he did not actively try to begin anew every nineteen years. Yet in proposing his rather radical scheme, Jefferson did come to grips with an important social phenomenon, one which perceptive statesmen of every age have reckoned with in one way or another, namely, the succession of generations as the measure of location in time.

Human Social Rhythms

As Jefferson noted, the human biological heritage provides a natural measure of time. We often use the concept of the generation in a common-sense way for just that purpose, as when we talk about the "lost generation" or the "generation gap." In fact, social time does appear to move in sufficiently precise generational units to account for the rhythm of social and political action. If we look closely and carefully, we can map the internal structure of each generation in any particular civil society and chart the relations among generations so as to formulate a coherent picture of the historical patterns of its politics.

During a period of no less than 25 and no more than 40 years, averaging 30 to 35, (Jefferson gives 34 as the average) most people will pass through the productive phase of their life cycles and then pass into retirement, turning their places over to others. Every individual begins life with childhood, a period of dependency in which one's role as an independent actor is extremely limited. Depending upon the average life expectancy in a society, he or she begins to assume an active role as a member of society sometime between the ages of fifteen and thirty (Jefferson's average: 21) at which point he or she has between 25 and 40 years of "active life" ahead during which one is responsible for such economic, social, and political roles as are given to mature men and women in society. Sometimes between the ages of 55 and 70, if one is still alive, a person is relieved of those responsibilities and is by convention, if not physically, considered ready for retirement.

Political life reflects this generational pattern on both an individual and collective basis. Politically speaking, for the first fifteen to twenty years of life an individual is essentially powerless from a political point of view, having no right to vote, and dependent upon one's elders for political opinions. After attaining the suffrage, individuals must still pass through a period of political apprenticeships before the right to vote can be translated into the chance for political leadership. Even among those who choose to be active in politics, most reach their 30s before assuming positions of responsibility of any significance on the larger political scene.27 It is only then that they become serious contenders for political power and, with good fortune, are able to replace the incumbent power-holders who depart from the scene as a result of physical or political death (which may be defined as the ending of one's serious political career without suffering actual physical death). By and large the years from one's 30s into one's 60s represent the period in which the potential influence is at its maximum. A few people begin to exercise influence earlier and some very exceptional people remain political leaders longer, but rare indeed is a political career that exceeds forty years of meaningful influence past one's apprenticeship.

The voting behavior of the average citizen reflects a similar cycle of participation. A very high percentage of newly enfranchised young people do no bother to vote. The percentage of eligible voters actually exercising this right, increases significantly for people in their 30s, remains much the same until retirement age and then declines again. It seems that voters as well as leaders tend to "retire" after a generation's worth of activity.28

In addition to the generational pattern that is reflected in each individual, as Jefferson noted indirectly, a nation or civil society is, in effect, a sequential combination of generations sharing a common history and heritage. The generational pattern for any particular society, nation or group is set at the beginning of its history by its founders. Take the United States. The historical record shows that the "founders" of the colonies, the Republic, and the western states and settlements, were generally "young" men, at the beginning of the productive phase of their life cycles.29 In the process of founding new settlement or institutions, they formed leadership groups which in the normal course of events remained in power throughout the years of their maturity. They retired when age and an entirely new generation forced them to do so and, as a result, were replaced according to the cycle which they, willy-nilly established.

Thus, in the first third of the 17th century, groups of young adults settled virgin territory at key points along the Atlantic coast and in that way initiated what was to become in time the generational progression of the United States with what was, for all intents and purposes, a free hand. Since the first generation of Americans began more or less "even", its people (particularly its leaders) passed from the scene at approximately the same time, thereby opening the door for a new generation of leaders to enter the picture and to begin the process all over again. Thus it was that at every stage of the advancing frontier, new people would pioneer, establish their patterns and pass from the scene at roughly the same time, thereby allowing a new generation to assume the reins.

Because such beginnings occur in history from time to time, they establish a much greater regularity of generational progressions in social and political life than that found in the simple processes of human biology which, theoretically should, if other things were equal, maintain a constant "changing of the guard." In this way the biological basis for the progression of generations is modified by locational factors. Given sufficient data, we could probably trace the generational cycles and patterns back to the very foundations of organized society. In the United States, a society whose foundings are recorded in history, we can do just that.

Such changes as occur in any society are intimately tied to the progression of generations. Each new generation to assume the reins of power is necessarily a product of different influences and is shaped to respond to different problems. This reality heightens the impact of the change and encourages new political action to assimilate the changes into the lives of the members of the new generation. At the same time, the biological fact that three or at the most four generations are alive at any given time creates certain linkages between generations (for example, the influence of grandparents on grandchildren) that insure a measure of inter-generational contacts and social continuity. Those contact help shape every generation's perception of its past and future. In this respect, Jefferson's effort to separate generations sharply is socially inaccurate just as it is biologically impossible and politically unmanageable.

Generations, Centuries and Events

Since the founding of the first European settlements along the Atlantic seaboard three and a half centuries ago, eleven generations of Americans have led the United States through a continuing series of challenges and responses and we are now near the middle of the twelfth. In due course, the centuries (which are essentially three generation units) as well as the generations have acquired a certain distinctiveness of their own. Again, there is a common sense recognition of this in the treatment of American history. The 17th century stands out clearly as the century of the founding of American settlement. The 18th century stands out as the century in which an independent American nation was forged; the 19th century stands out as the century of continental expansion; and the 20th century is the century of the United States as a world power.

Historical centuries do not cover precisely the same time periods as chronological centuries. In American history, as in modern European history, historical centuries have come to an end and new ones have begun some seven to fifteen years after the chronological dividing point, thus:

  1. 16th century ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth I (1522-1603) and the 17th century began with the opening of the American frontier at Jamestown (1607) and the emergence of conflict between the Stuarts and the Puritans as the decisive political factor of the times.

  2. The 17th century ended and the 18th century began with the Treaty of Utrecht and the conclusion of Queen Anne's War (1713) which eliminated the Netherlands as a world power and turned the Anglo-French conflict in the New World into a primary consideration for both countries.

  3. The 18th century ended with the fall of Napoleon and the end of the War of 1812 (1815) and the nineteenth century began with the "era of good feeling" and the American turn west (1816ff).

  4. The 19th century ended and the 20th century began with the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson's "New Freedom" (1913), the outbreak of World War I (1914), and the final closing of America's last land frontier.

Perhaps even more salient, the fundamental issues and alignments that form the hidden dimension in shaping political behavior show every sign of persisting over three generation periods and then dissipating in the fourth. Two examples from American history are immediately relevant. The issues and alignments revolving around the nature of the federal union and the slavery issue that emerged during the sixth generation of American life -- the first generation under the Constitution -- persisted through the eighth generation (a century later) when they were resolved in the Civil War. In turn, the war created a new set of fundamental issues and alignments having to do with economic reform and the location of a pluralistic society. These took form in the ninth generation and dominated American politics for a century. Those issues and alignments disintegrated in the eleventh generation and Americans are presently in the process of defining the issues and shaping the alignments that will replace them.

The issues of the past century are being replaced in the twelfth generation by new issues that have surfaced in American life in the past decade. Indeed, the crisis of the 1960s, which commentators have described as the most divisive since the Civil War, came just when it would have been predicted to come in the flow of generations,that is, when one century's set of "just" issues was ceasing to hold the American people and a new set of issues of equal intensity was moving to center stage. This is why the conflicts of the late 1960s and early 1970s was so intense, the sense of alienation from the American past so deep among the members of the generation then coming to maturity, and the changes in American life so vast. Since then, great healing has taken place. While it began after Gerald Ford entered the White House, its peak was presided over and encouraged by Ronald Reagan in a decade which witnessed the renewal of American patriotism and self-confidence.

The progression of centuries and generations since 1607 may be delineated graphically. In the course of this book, the progression will be related to major forces and factors shaping American history: (1) the stages of the continuing American frontier; (2) the principal challenges facing the American people in each generation and the central responses to those challenges; (3) the changing forms and patterns of American federalism (4) the sequence of critical elections; (5) the dominant modes of economic organization in the country; and (6) the changing relationships between racial, ethnic and religious groups.

One note of caution: the dates must be viewed as approximate. Historical eras can be delineated but they do no begin and end with such sharpness. Convenience demands that we be more precise for analytical purposes than life ever is.

The first three generations together comprised the 17th century, the period of initial colonization. By 1713, immigrants from the Old World, mostly from the British Isles, the Netherlands and Germany, but already including Africans and small numbers from from virtually every corner of Europe, had founded all but one of the original thirteen colonies, giving birth to the first generation of native Americans of European and African descent in the English colonies, and starting those colonies on the road toward becoming a separate nation with its own civilization.

The fourth through sixth generations encompassed the 18th century, which, from the first American recognition of common continental interests in 1713 to the conclusion of the "Second War for Independence" in 1815, was devoted to forging an independent American nation. They created the idea of American nationalism, successfully fought for the independence of the united colonies and established the United States as a democratic federal republic. The idea bequeathed by those three generations form the core of the political heritage of all subsequent generations of Americans.

The 19th century covered the seventh, eight and ninth generations, beginning at the point where America turned its back on European entanglements after 1815 and ending at the point where it reembraced them in World War I. They transformed the young republic into an industrialized continental nation with a strong national government; abolished slavery, settled the west and created an embryonic world power ready for overseas involvements.

The tenth generation -- the first of the twentieth century -- reformed the nation's industrial system and led the country into the arena or world politics. The eleventh generation was charged with the task of shaping America's role as a world power and of presiding over massive efforts to adjust socially and politically to the results of a technological transformation at least the equal of the industrial revolution.

As the twelfth generation began forming, it seemed to be faced with the task of adjusting to a world role of reduced dominance for the United States, one in which American industrial might is diminished relative to Japan and Western Europe. It is also the first generation of the transformation of society as a result of the application of cybernetics, faced with adjustment to this new frontier. The generational climax, however, came with the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union, leaving the U.S.A. politically dominant although economically weakened. The results of these phenomenon will constitute the basis for working out the remainder of the generation.

Generations and Frontier Stages

The challenges to which each generation has had to respond are products of the country's continuing frontier experience. In American history, the continuing frontier has been the crucial, if not the decisive factor, in the progression of generation and centuries. The chart delineates the course of several American frontiers, their interrelationship and their relationships to other historical and political phenomena.

Since the first settlement on these shores, American society has been a frontier society, geared to the progressive extension of human control over the natural environment and the utilization of the social and economic benefits gained from widening that control, i.e., pushing the frontier line back. The very dynamism of American society is a product of this commitment which is virtually self-generating since, like a chain reaction, the conquest of one frontier has led to the opening of another. It is this frontier situation that has created the major social and economic changes which have, in turn, forced periodic adjustments in the nation's political institutions.

America's continuing frontier has manifested itself in four stages to date: the rural-land frontier, the urban-industrial frontier, the metropolitan-technological frontier, and now, the rurban-cybernetic frontier. Each stage has involved its own form of settlement coupled with a dominant form of economic activity that together have been decisively influential in shaping virtually all aspects of American life within that stage.

The rural-land frontier was the classic "frontier" described by the historians that set the tone for American development. It lasted from the beginning of settlement in the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century on the eve of World War I. Based on the conquest of the land - the American share of the North American continent, it was oriented toward the direct exploitation of the products of the land even in its cities. It was characterized by the westward movement on a basically rural population interested in settling and exploiting the land and by the development of a socio-economic system based on agricultural and extractive pursuits in both its urban and rural components. The rural-land frontier was dominant through the middle of the ninth generation, remained an active and potent force for the remainder of that generation and still exists as a factor on the fringes of the country, primarily in Alaska.

Early in the nineteenth century, the rural-land frontier gave birth the the urban-industrial frontier, which began in the Northeast and spread westward, in the course of which it transformed the nation into an industrial society settled in cities and dedicated to the spread of new technology as the primary source of the nation's economic and social forms. The urban-industrial frontier represented the unique impact of the industrial revolution on the United States, where it went hand in hand with the first settlement of the greater part of the country. An outgrowth of the rural-land frontier when it first emerged as a recognizable frontier in its own right at the beginning of the seventh generation, it remained tied to the demands of that classic frontier through the next two generations, finally superseding it as the dominant frontier in the middle of the ninth generation. It remained the dominant frontier nationally until the end of the tenth generation and continues to be important in various localities, particularly in the South and West. The dominant characteristics of this frontier was the transformation of cities from service centers or workshops for the rural areas into independent centers of opportunity, producers of new wealth, and social innovators possessing internally generated reasons for their existence and growth.

By the mid-twentieth century, the urban-industrial had given birth, in turn, to the metropolitan-technological frontier which is characterized by the radical reordering of an industrial society through rapidly changing technologies and settlement patterns that encourages the diffusion of an urbanized population within large metropolitan regions. These radically new technologies, ranging from atomic energy and automation to synthetics and cybernetics and the accompanying suburbanization of the population influenced further changes in the nation's social and economic forms in accord with their new demands. At the same time, metropolitan expansion offered a new kind of land base for a transformed industrial society. Like the first two frontier stages, the metropolitan-technological frontier has also moved from east to west since the 1920s, taking on a clear identity of its own at the outset of the tenth generation. After World War II, in the eleventh generation, it became clearly and exclusively the dominant frontier, setting the framework for and pace of development across the country.

The metropolitan frontier reached its peak in the mid-1960s and by the mid-1970s, most of its impetus had been spent. It continues to be a force in selected areas of current metropolitanization. The late 1960s and 1970s were notable for the dominance of the backlash from that frontier -- in the form of political radicalism challenging the frontier assumptions and policies of the 1950s, ecological challenges to frontier-generated environmental pollution, and a new school of no-growth economics that attacked the growth premises of a frontier society -- all stimulated by new problems of resource management brought on by the energy crisis. Pundits were saying that, after centuries, the frontier was over.

By 1980, however, there were signs that a new frontier stage was emerging, based on the cybernetic technologies developed on the metropolitan frontier. These technologies -- minicomputers, satellite-transmitted communications, cable television, and new data-processing devices -- fostered a settlement pattern of large belts of relatively small cities, towns, and rural areas populated by urbanites engaged in traditionally urban (that is to say, not connected with rural) pursuits, but living lives that mixed city and small town or rural elements. These rurban belts have no single metropolitan center, only a number of specialized ones for different purposes. While this phenomenon started along the northeastern coast, as did earlier frontiers, its major expression is to be found in the sun belt. This rurban-cybernetic frontier is still in its early stages, but it is already bringing its own challenges, initially manifested in the 1980s in the Reagan presidency and its renewed commitment to the market economy which let loose a bevy of financial entrepreneurs who changed the face of the American economy. Globally, the end of the decade witnessed the collapse of Communism, the end of the Cold War, and the triumph of the West.

Each successive frontier stage has opened new vistas and new avenues of opportunity for the American people. At the same time, each new frontier has brought changes in economic activities, new settlement patterns, different human requirements, political changes, and its own social problems that grow out of the collision of old patterns and new demands as much as they are generated by the new demands themselves. Most important for our purposes, the coincidence between the points of generational division and the shifts in the various frontier stages is as exact as possible, as will be shown in greater detail in the following chapters. Such shifts invariably came as part of the initiating events of a new generation and, indeed, are closely related to the opening of new centuries.

Generations and Economic Periods

One major consequence of the continuing frontier has been a continuing demand for public-generally governmental - activity to meet frontier-generated problems, particularly economic ones. As a result, the governments of the United States have always maintained a more or less active relationship to the American economy even in the so-called "era of laissez-faire". What has changed from era to era is the nature of the relationship and the character of the governmental response. These changes have also developed on a generational basis, with some shift in every generation since the founding of the Republic. Inheriting a mercantilistic economic policy, in the first generation under the Constitution (the sixth generation of American history) the American government continued a semi-mercantilist policy. The next generation - the first of the nineteenth century - brought a transition from intensive government involvement in the economy to free enterprise capitalism, during which the forms remained mixed. It was succeeded by a generation in which free enterprise flourished as never before or since, the outcome of which was the emergence of the more successful competitors as monopoly-oriented corporations leading to a generation of concentrated enterprise capitalism, still essentially unregulated by government.

Demands for government regulation that built up during the last generation of the nineteenth century led to the reintroduction of intensive government involvement of a different kind in the first generation of the twentieth, another transition generation. In the eleventh generation, the question was resolved in favor of active government involvement leading to a regulated enterprise system. Then, at the beginning of the twelfth, there was a sharp turn around toward reinvigorating the market economy, free enterprise, and less government intervention.

Centuries, Generations and Federalism

The use of federal principles and the whole problem of union can also be traced on a generational and century basis. The very first generation of American history brought the introduction of federal principles through the contracts and covenants that established the colonies and the local settlements within them as well as through Puritan theology. In the remaining two generations of the seventeenth century, experiments with federation were made on a local and regional basis. During the eighteenth century, the idea of national federation was developed and introduced, as an idea whose strength spread through the first generation, in increasingly, concrete ways in the second, and in firmly institutionalized form in the third. The nineteenth century was a period of testing and crystallizing the character of the federal union building up to and then beyond the Civil War, the synthesizing event of the century. The thrust of the twentieth century from Wilson through Reagan has been to accommodate federalism and a modern technological society.

Each generation has not only had its own particular need to deal with questions of federalism but in most, if not all, new techniques have also been devised to handle intergovernmental relations. These new techniques and the systemic adaptations which they have entailed have been major elements in the concrete response to the generation's challenges.

Generations and Ethno-Religious Interrelationship

The relationship between racial, ethnic and religious groups (and their various combinations) stand with the frontier and the challenge-response relationship as central factors in the shaping of American history and politics. The changes in those relationships also coincide closely with the flow of generations and centuries. British America's first generation saw an attempt to allow religious pluralism on a strictly territorial basis; that is to say, through giving particular religious groups exclusive control over particular territories. At the same time, Africans were introduced as indentured servants to initiate a racial division in the country. In the second and third generations, heterodox elements were recognized in most of the colonies as ethnic diversity and sectarian differentiation spread while the Africans were reduced to slavery. Thus by the end of the first century, a modified religious pluralism was the norm with locally favored churches and tolerated ones existing side by side. At the same time a racially-based caste system was in the making.

During the three generations of the second century, ethnic and sectarian pluralism increased radically, rendering most of the original territorial arrangements obsolete and resulting in the virtual elimination of established churches in the new nation. Slavery, after increasing moderately in the South, was given a new lease on life by technological change while at the same time it was abolished in the North.

The first generation of the nineteenth century saw the unofficial establishment of a generalized Protestant republicanism which was almost immediately challenged by the rise of non-Protestant immigration. The second generation was one of transition to a new post-Protestant pluralism which remained an antagonistic one through the third generation when the non-Protestant non-British migration reached its height. Slavery boomed, was abolished and allowed to reappear in the course of the century as the caste system was reaffirmed through the institution of segregation.

From the first, the twentieth century has been the century of open pluralism-religious, ethnic and racial - in American life. The barriers of full participation by non-White Anglo-Saxon Protestants began to fall in the tenth generation and the elimination of those barriers has been the priority problem of the eleventh. Indeed, by the late 1960s, pluralism in morals and life styles began to shape up as the great issue of the coming generation. By the middle of the twelfth generation, not only were there no more excluded groups, but those once excluded were calling for the further redefinition of American society as one based on "multiculturalism," that is to say, to giving equal weight to all groups in the expression of American culture.

While the generation thesis suggested here has not heretofore been presented in detail, there are rough approximations of the generation or segment of generations in the commonly accepted descriptions of historical periods in the United States. In some cases whole generations have identities; e.g., the revolutionary period, the Populist era. In other, the periods of generational responses have recognized names: e.g., Jacksonian Democracy, The New Deal, The Great Society. In still others, periods of political dominance flowing from critical elections are named: e.g., the Jeffersonian era, the Jacksonian era.

The Internal Structure of the Generation: Challenges and Responses

Each generation has had to face and respond to its own particular challenge. With perhaps one exception, each has also developed its own very clear and widely recognized response.30 The challenges and the responses provide the skeletal structure of each generation. In some cases, particularly after independence when the nation could act decisively, the responses have been very clear-cut indeed. In others, particularly in the colonial period, they were more diffuse.

The character of the challenges changes from century to century. During the seventeenth century, they were essentially related to the tasks of founding a new society as manifested in the various colonies. In the eighteenth century, they were essentially related to the tasks of consolidating the supremacy, unity and independence of British America. In the nineteenth century, they were essentially related to expanding the scope, wealth, and purposes of the American national enterprise. In the twentieth century, they have been essentially related to the metropolitanization of American society and the assumption of an American role in world affairs.

The emergence of the challenge is a phenomena associated with the initial stages of each generation during which the challenges which, objectively speaking, may have originated earlier, is progressively recognized as a challenge by the body politic. It is this growing recognition of the challenge that, in conjunction with other factors such as the replacement of populations and the consequent shifts in voting behavior, brings the intensive response associated with mid-generation national activity. In fact, the response itself builds up in a diffused way in various public quarters, particularly in the states and localities, while the challenge is coming to public attention and only after it has been tested in many quarters does it emerge as a concentrated national effort.

Aside from the fact that each generation acquires a certain discreet existence of its own, within each there is a more or less regular progression of political events revolving around the development of a particular set of challenges confronting that generation and its response to them. It is this recurring pattern of challenges and responses that gives each generation its particular character. While the shape of the challenges is primarily determined by external -- or environmental -- forces, the mode of handling those challenges is primarily determined internally, by the members of the generation themselves.

In American history, the pattern of challenges and responses has taken two generalized forms, one in the colonial period when each colony had its own internal politics essentially independent of its sisters, and the other science independence when a common national constitution created a common national politics. In some cases, particularly after independence when the nation could act decisively, the responses have been very clear-cut indeed. In other, particularly in the colonial period, they were more diffuse.

The character of the political challenges that have dominated the American scene has changed from century to century. During the 17th century, they were essentially related to the tasks of founding a new society as manifested in the various colonies. In the 18th century, they were essentially related to the tasks of consolidating the supremacy, unity and independence of British America. In the 19th century, they were essentially related to expanding the scope, wealth, and purposes of the American national enterprise. In the 20th century, they have essentially related to the metropolitanization of American society and the assumption of an American role in world affairs.

In a generalized map of the pattern of challenge and response within each generation since independence, the "border" between the old and new generations is marked by several decisive political actions, often involving constitutional change, whose characteristic feature is the simultaneous completion of the major responses of the old generation and the opening of new directions, challenges and opportunities for the new. The first half of the new generation is a time for recognizing the new challenge confronting it and the issues they raise, and developing and testing proposals for political action to meet them. At the same time, it is a period of population change as old voters and leaders pass from the scene of political activity and new ones come onto it. During that period there occur the generation's expressions of public will that point it in the direction which the response will take, generally by raising leaders to office who have indicated that they are ready to respond to the generation's developing challenges. In fact, the response itself builds up in a diffused way in various public quarters, particularly in the states and localities. Only after it has been tested in many quarters does it emerge as a concentrated national effort.

The second half of the generation begins with a great spurt of governmental innovation on the national place designed to respond to the now-recognized challenge. That effort lasts for three to five years. The remainder of the generation is then occupied with digesting the results of that spurt, modifying the new programs so that they will achieve greater success and at the same time integrating them into the country's overall political fabric. The end of the generation is marked by political acts that both ratify and codify its accomplishments while also serving to open up the issues of the next generation. By that time, voices calling for political responses to new challenges are already beginning to be recognized.

The Bench Marks of American Political History:
Critical Elections and New Deals

In the course of mapping the topographic characteristics of a particular landscape, geologists mark off crucial points through a system of bench marks. Crucial points in the passage of time can also be seen to be marked off in some way. In American political history, the crucial points of demarcation are very much in tune with the generational rhythm of events. They are of two kinds; first, the critical elections that determine who shall govern in a particular generation and, second, the "new deals," or periods of intensive federal legislative innovation, through which government initiates a systematic response to the challenges of each generation.

The Generational Recurrence of Critical Elections

A major element in the movement from challenge to response is the sequence of critical elections that has preceded every major period of national response since the adoption of the Constitution. The generational thesis takes on particular clarity in light of this pattern of critical elections. A critical election is one which brings about major alterations in the party loyalties of major blocs of voters, shifting them from one political party to another. Professor V. O. Key, who first suggested the term, defined a "critical election" as one in which "the depth and intensity of electoral involvement are high, in which more or less profound readjustments occur in the relations of power within in the community, and in which new and durable electoral groups are formed."31 These shifts and readjustments which occur as a result of the critical elections lead to the formation of new nationwide electoral coalitions and either to a change in political ascendency from one party to the other or, within the major party, from one major element to another.

Students of American electoral behavior have clearly shown that there is a tendency for one of the major parties to command the allegiance of a majority of the national electorate for a relatively long period of time.32 Thus, for example, according to public opinion polls and the election returns, between the 1930s and the 1970s a majority of the nation's voters who identify themselves with a political party have considered themselves to be Democrats. In consequence, in every national election since 1932 the Democrats have started with the advantage of having a plurality of the voters identified with them while the Republican Party, as the minority party, has had to overcome a "normal" Democratic majority in order to elect presidents or even a sufficient number of senators and representatives to win control of Congress.

The results of this situation are well-known. Between 1932 and 1968, only one Republican had won the Presidency and the GOP controlled the Congress for only two years (1952-1954). Dwight D. Eisenhower, a military hero with non-partisan appeal, was able to overcome the "normal" Democratic majority to capture the White House for his party twice because of his personal appeal coupled, at least in 1952, with a general feeling that it was "time for a change" after twenty years of Democratic incumbency. All of this was upset by the Vietnam War. Republican Richard M. Nixon squeaked into the Presidency in 1968 in the wake of the Democrats' Vietnam problems, won a second term at the expense of an extremely unpopular Democratic alternative, but could not in either case carry a Republican majority into either house of Congress. Nevertheless, his victory hastened the weakening of the majority Democratic coalition and broke the Democratic lock on the presidency. It ushered in a period of split ticket voting that has kept Republicans in the White House for all but four years (1977-1981) since 1969, but left the Democrats in full control of Congress except for 1980-1984 when the GOP controlled the Senate.

A party becomes the majority party when it is able to put together a nation-wide coalition comprising a majority of the various permanent and transient electoral groups. These electoral groups are based on a variety of economic and geographic interests, differing historical loyalties, racial or ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations, personal or family ties, and responses to the specific problems of the age. These coalitions are not national so much as they are nation-wide. They are inspired and held together by national leaders (or leadership) but are actually activated through the separate state parties which form the two national confederations known as the Democratic and Republican parties. Just as the national parties are confederations of the state parties, so is the national coalition of electoral groups a confederation of state and sectional coalitions.

Once one of the parties is able to put together such a coalition and thereby capture the majority of the votes, the tendency of the electorate to remain stable in its allegiances will enable it to remain the majority party until positive reasons develop that lead to the dissolution of the winning combination. This dissolution, too, is virtually inevitable. Times and moods change, new problems attract voter attention, the opposition party exploits the dissatisfactions that develop and sooner or later make the necessary inroads in the various electoral groups.

Even during its period of dominance, the majority party faces opposition and loses elections as a result of temporary shifts in public opinion. Since its coalition is never of equal strength in the fifty states, some states remain in the control of the party that is in the minority nationally. Of course it is by no means certain that the majority party will even win all the national elections during its ascendency. Indeed it is both possible and usual for a party to suffer losses on the national plane for a limited time without forfeiting its majority status as long as its losses are aberrations that do not dissolve the coalition. The states which remain in the hands of the minority party serve as bases that enable it to maintain its effective existence and mend its political fences until it is able to develop the new majority coalition when the time is ripe, by providing candidates for national office and sources of patronage and other political rewards for the party faithful during the years of national "famine."

As the majority coalition begins to weaken, its constituent electoral groups will become alienated from each other. Their changing needs may even bring former confederates into conflict with each other. The members of these electoral groups may begin to find the other party more receptive to their new demands. As issues pass and problems change, whole electoral groups may decline radically in importance and new, still uncommitted, groups may emerge to be wooed and won by the opposition. When the time is ripe for a change, the realignment takes place. This is not the oft-discussed realignment of the liberal and conservative wings of the two parties, but a reshuffling of the parties' constituent elements, the myriad electoral groups.33

While the beginnings of every realignment can be found in the state and congressional elections, the shift becomes a national phenomenon only through the medium of the quadrennial presidential election. Once every four years, sufficient voter interest is aroused to make embryonic realignment actual ones. Once the realignment become fixed, they are further reflected in the state and congressional elections that follow. The series of presidential and congressional election in which the realignment takes place are the "critical elections."34

The first pair of critical elections actually antedated the development of the institution of the popularly elected president. Despite the difference in modes of election the same factors of electoral bloc representation that later came to symbolize presidential politics when the votes of the people were solicited apparently were present in the contests in the electoral college and the House of Representatives.

Key's thesis regarding the shift of political allegiance on the part of individual voters has been challenged as unprovable through the use of aggregate voting data. Moreover, some doubt has been cast on the notion that many voters do indeed shift allegiances. The generational thesis offers the key to the solution of this problem. It may very well be that the "realignment" that takes place does not so much involve changes in the allegiance of specific voters but a disruption of the common pattern whereby children tend to vote as did (or do) their parents - along lines determined by issues current during their grandparents' prime. A "realignment" thus becomes the end result of an event or compact series of events so crucial that they disrupt this "normal" progression and lead a significant percentage of children to reassess their family voting patterns and alter them in light of a situation which has made the old issues lose their primary importance. As the parents die (or cease to vote as is often the case with oldsters), the votes of their children came to represent first the balance in the electorate and then the majority. The shift is first felt in the period of generational buildup which is precisely the period when this "challenging of the guard" is taking place among political actives and "rank and file" alike. That is why the critical elections occur during that part of each generation and serve to bring it to an end. By the time the ratifying election, the new generation of "children" has moved from balance to majority.

"New Deals" -- Bursts of Federal Government Activity

The culmination of each series of critical elections is a bursts of innovative federal activity, legislative activity of the kind usually referred to in connection with the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These periods become fixed in the public mind as the historical watersheds they are.

In the six and a half generations since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, there have been five such concentrations of reform activity. Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are well-known for their reforms. We still speak of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy. It is less well-known that Abraham Lincoln presided over a period of domestic reform legislation of major proportions that enabled the country to adjust to the industrial revolution the way the New Deal provided the basis for overcoming the social problems of industrialization. The Civil War upstaged that dimension of his Presidency but the period, as such, stands out in the public mind because of that struggle. Only in the ninth generation was the moment of reform aborted. It began at the appropriate point but was cut short by a series of decisions of an extremely unsympathetic U.S. Supreme Court. The reforms, perforce, were delayed until nearly the end of the generation when Theodore Roosevelt was able to use the Presidency to overcome some of the resistance to them. Next came Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal which has become the model for all such periods of federal action. In the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" carried on the pattern, "on schedule," as it were. The next such concentration should come in the 1990s.

The burst of legislative activity in the Great Society lasted approximately three years. While the acceleration of the curve of governmental involvement continued within the executive branch of the federal government and in the intergovernmental system for another two or three years, in effect, the election of Richard Nixon to the presidency ushered in the appropriate period of generational consolidation.

The first postwar generation came to an end in the three years between 1973 and 1976, during which time the American effort in Vietnam collapsed and the United States became "gun-shy" of extensive overseas involvements as the world's policeman. President Nixon became involved in the Watergate scandal and was forced to resign his presidency, putting an end to the growth of the "imperial presidency" and bringing about a Congressional reassertion of its power. The energy crisis and some of the more critical domestic problems that arose in the last days of the Nixon administration led the governors of the American states to reassert themselves to fill the vacuum left by Washington, thereby considerably weakening the hierarchical understanding of American federalism whereby the states and localities had come to await marching orders from Washington before undertaking any activities.

The election of Jimmy Carter to the presidency in 1976 as an "outsider" whose task it was to clean up the Washington community marked the beginning of the second postwar generation, the twelfth in American history. The Carter administration, although scarred by many difficulties, began to define the issues of the new generation, usually in a way that was unrecognized by the public at the time. President Carter was faced with the task of restructuring America's international role in the wake of the post-Vietnam mood. He tried to shift federal government concern from social welfare to a new set of infrastructure issues revolving around energy. He tried to bring the Washington bureaucracy under control in the name of the states and localities. These were all to become principal issues during the period of generational build-up.

The election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 brought to the White House a figure whose ability to communicate issues to the American people in a simple and direct manner intensified the tendencies introduced in the Carter years. In the eight years that followed, all those issues required more intensified expression. By the end of the Reagan administration voices were being raised on behalf of a new wave of government activity to respond to what were referred to as the issues of the 1980s but were actually the issues of the new generation.

Politically speaking, the new programs of each generation have been invariably preceded by critical elections through which the reconstituted electorate -- which changes from generation to generation as new people reach voting age and old ones die -- determines the basic pattern of party voting for the new era, either by reaffirming the majority party's hold on the public by granting them an extended mandate or by rejecting the majority party as unable to meet those demands and elevating the minority party to majority status. These critical elections, which attain their visibility in presidential contests, allow voters, blocs, and interests to realign themselves according to the new problems which face them.

Three times in American history critical elections have elevated the party previously in the minority to majority status. In the series of elections beginning in 1796 and culminating in 1800, the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans replaced the Federalists. In the 1856 and 1860 series, the Republicans replaced the Democrats who had become the heirs of the Jeffersonians and in 1928-1932, the Democrats in turn replaced the Republicans.

Between each shift, the critical elections served to reinforce the majority party which was successful in adapting itself to new times and new conditions. Thus, in 1824-1828, the Jacksonian Democrats picked up the reins from their Jeffersonian predecessors; in 1892-1896, the Republicans were able to reconstitute their party coalition to maintain their majority position and even strengthen it. In 1956-1960 the Democrats were able to do the same thing. The old coalition put together by FDR and the New Deal, which underwent severe strains in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was reconstituted and reshaped by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to give the Democrats an even stronger majority than before. This made the programs of the 1960s possible, but in turn led to a new testing period for the Democratic coalition.

To suggest that a generational rhythm is clearly apparent in American politics is not to suggest that events move in any lock-step, that the rhythm of every generation is exactly the same as that of every other, or that there are no exceptions to the "normal" rules. Obviously history does not work in that way. Hence we must not the exceptions as well as the rule and account for them for the theory to be an accurate one. It is the fact that this too can be done that gives the theory its power.


Chapter 2 has focused in detail on the generational rhythm of American politics. Ultimately derived from the biblical understanding of time, the generational theory has been of more interest to European social philosophers than American social scientists until recently. Most systematic American attention to the question has been concerned with the cycles of American politics, often confined to electoral ones and, hence, limited in their theory. A more systematic biostatistical basis for the generation rhythm was provided by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson points the way to understanding that the rhythm of generations is based upon human social rhythms generally.

Political events follow the rhythm of the generations, both in their internal rhythm and on an intergenerational basis. Centuries represent three generations and also have a certain pattern to them.

The chapter examines the internal structure of the generation, constructed around the generation's challenges and the responses to them. The chapter concludes with the presentation of critical elections and new deals as the benchmarks of American political history recurring on a generational basis.


1. Julian Marias, Generations: A Historical Method, translated by Harold C. Raley (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1970); Marvin Rintala, The Constitution of Silence: Essays on Generational Themes (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979).

2. George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1973).

3. E.A. Spieser, The Anchor Bible: Exodus chapter 20, verse 5 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1987).

4. E.A. Spieser, The Anchor Bible: Genesis (Garden City: Doubleday, 1987).

5. For citation in the Bible of the idiomatic expression for a generation, see The Anchor Bible: Book of Judges, chapter 3, verse 11; chapter 5, verse 31; chapter 8, verse 28.

6. See The Anchor Bible: Joshua, chapter 5, verse 6; and Numbers, chapter 32, verse 13.

7. See The Anchor Bible: Book of Judges, chapter 3, verse 11; chapter 5, verse 31; chapter 8, verse 28.

8. Harriet Nartineau, The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (London: G. Bell, 1896).

9. John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (London, 1862).

10. Giuseppe Ferrari, Coros Su Gli Scrittori Politici Italiani (Milano: Monanni, 1929).

11. Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Leben Schleiermachers (1870) or Menschen, der Gesellschaft und dem Staat, in Gesammelte Schriften, Band 4. (1875), pp. 36-41.

12. Leopold von Ranke and Ottokar Lorenz. For more information on Leopold von Ranke, see George G. Iggers and James M. Powell, eds., Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1989); Peter Gary, Style in History (New York: Basic Books, 1974); Theodore Hermann Van Lane, Leopold Ranke: The Formative Years (New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970); Felix Gilbert, History, Politics or Culture? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

13. Marias, Generations: A Historical Method.

14. Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Modern Theme (New York: Norton, 1933).

15. Karl Mannheim, "The Problem of Generations," in Paul Kecsdemeti, ed., Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1972); Francois Mentre, Less Generations Sociales (Paris: Bossard, 1920); Engelbert Drerup, Das Generations Problem in der Griechischen und Griechisch-Roemischen Kultur (Paderborn: F. Schoeningh, 1933).

16. Wilheim Pinder, Das Problem der Generation in der Kunstgeschichte Europas (Berlin: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1926); Julius Peterson, Die Literarischen Generationen (Berlin: Junker and Duennhaupt, 1930) and Die Wesenbestimmung der Romantik (Leipzig, 1925), Ch.6; Henri Peyre, Les Generations Litteraires (Paris: Boivin, 1948).

17. Sigmund Neumann, Permanent Revolution: Totalitarianism in the Age of International Civil War, 2nd ed. (New York: F.A. Praeger, 1965), and "The Conflict of Generations," Partisan Review 39, No. 4 (1972): 564-78.

18. Raymond A. Bauer, Alex Inkeles, and Clyde Kluckhohn, How the Soviet System Works: Cultural, Psychological, and Social Themes (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956).

19. Marvin Rintala, The Constitution of Silence; Maurice Zeitlin, American Society (Chicago: Markham, 1970).

20. S.N. Eisenstadt, From Generation to Generation: Age Groups and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1956); Joseph Gusfield, Protest, Reform, and Revolt (New York: J. Wiley, 1970).

21. Arthur Schlesinger, "The Tides of American Politics." (1939).

22. Charles G. Sellers, A Synopsis of American History (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969); Walter Dean Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: Norton, 1970); V.O. Key, Jr., Public Opinion and American Democracy (New York: Knopf, 1961); Gerald M. Pomper, Elections in America (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1968); Aletta Biersack, et al., The New Cultural History: Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

23. V.O. Key, Jr., "A Theory of Critical Elections," Journal of Politics 17 (1955): 3-18, and "Secular Realignment and the Party System," Journal of Politics, 21 (1959): 198-210.

24. See, for example, James MacGregor Burns, The Deadlock of Democracy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963). Over the years various theories have been propounded to explain the cycles of American politics. Perhaps the best known is that of Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., Paths to the Present (New York: Macmillan Co. 1949), which proposes a cycle of swings from liberalism to conservatism approximately 50 years in duration. Unfortunately the article itself is extremely time-bound, first of all in using liberalism and conservatism, constructs particularly relevant in the generation between World Wars I and II when the article was written as the fundamental basis of American political ideas, something which is simply not the case. Moreover the cycles themselves best reflect the swings from more activist to less activist government from the Civil War to the New Deal.

25. The discussion to be advanced in the following pages was first presented in Daniel J. Elazar, "Generational Rhythm of American Politics," American Political Quarterly (January 1978) vol. 6, no. 1, and in "Generational Breaks," Nissan Oren, ed., When Patterns Change: Turning Points in International Politics (1984). See also Daniel J. Elazar, Building Toward Civil War (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America and Center for the Study of Federalism, 1992).

26. Letter to James Madison, September 6, 1789.

27. Note that the U.S. Constitution requires a person to be 25 years old to serve in the House of Representatives, 30 years old to serve in the Senate, and 35 years old to be President.

28. See Angus Campbell, Phillip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller and Donald E. Stokes, The American Voter (New York: Wiley, 1960); Norman H. Nie, Sidney Verba and Jae-on Kim, "Political Participation and the Life Cycle," Comparative Politics, 6 (April 1974): 319-340; Mary M. Conway, Political Participation in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1985); Norman H. Nie, Sidney Verba, John R. Petrocik, The Changing American Voter (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976); Alex Inkeles, "The American Character," The Center Magazine (Santa Barbara, Calif: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Nov/Dec 1983); Morris Janowitz, The Last Half-Century: Societal Change and Politics in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Lester W. Milbrath, Political Participation: How and Why do People Get Involved in Politics (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1965); Roger W. Cobb and Charles D. Elder, Participation in American Politics: Agenda Building (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1972); James David Barber, Politics By Humans: Collected Research on American Leadership (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988); Clifton McCleskey, Political Power and American Democracy (Pacific Grove, Cal.: Brooks/Cole, 1989).

29. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick discuss this phenomenon with special reference to the revolutionary and constitutional years in The Founding Fathers: Young Men of the Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1961).

30. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (New York: Dell, 1965): Jhurgen Habermas, The New Conservatism; Cultural Criticism and the Historians Debate (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989).

31. V.O. Key, Jr., "A Theory of Critical Elections," in Journal of Politics 17 (1955): 3-18.

32. Campbell, et al., The American Voter; Gerald Pomper, Elections in America; Phillip E. Converse, "Of Time and Partisan Stability," Comparative Political Studies, 2 (July 1969): 139-171.

33. On realignment, see, V.O. Key, Jr., The Responsible Electorate (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966); James L. Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute, 1973); Walter D. Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: Norton, 1970), and "American Politics in the 1970s: Beyond Party?" in William Nisbet Chambers and Burnham, eds., The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 316-317; Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 122-129; Anthony King, ed., Both Ends of the Avenue: The Presidency, the Executive Branch, and Congress in the 1980s (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1983).

34. Burnham, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics, and The Current Crisis in American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982); Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System; Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony; David R. Mayhew, Placing Parties in American Politics: Organization, Electoral Settings, and Government Activity in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); James Clotfelter, Political Choices: A Study of Elections and Voters (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980); Bruce A. Campbell, The American Electorate: Attitudes and Action (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979); Peter B. Natchez, Images of Voting: Visions of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1985).

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