The Strategic Vision:
WHERE THERE IS NO VISION, THE PEOPLE PERISH. --- Proverbs, 29:18
Previous discussions in the Millennial Files have summarized the exposition of a new model of United States economic history. Our model has three main components. The first is the demographic structure, the historically unique order and arrangement of generations of Americans as they pass through time. The underlying nature of this component has been outlined in previous files. The second component is the technological cycle confronted by a particular generation at any given time in history. These cycles of technology have also been elaborated on previously.
The third component has yet to be discussed and represents a critical element in our model. It is The factor that actualizes the first two. This critical third component is the Strategic Vision that a generation forms as it confronts the challenges that history inevitably places before it.
The importance of the third component resides not simply in the fact that it is the key to the nation's past success. But the overwhelming importance of a national strategic vision for today is that a new vision is the indispensable key to the most critical issue now confronting America: the issue of whether Americans can move successfully from the final cycle of the Age of Industrialism into the initial stages of a Post Industrial Age.
COMPETING REPUBLICAN VISIONS: JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON
The first step to be taken in establishing a new strategic vision begins with an examination of the original generational visions that built this country. The first of these great generational visions belonged to the Republican Generation, the generation that as young adults had successfully fought for and won America's political independence in the Revolutionary War, and who afterwards then assumed mature adult leadership at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This was the generation of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, the two men whose competing national visions have, in fact, established the parameters of American history.
For Jefferson the future of America rested in an expanding class of small and independent farmers. In his purchase as president of the Louisiana Territory, for example, Jefferson was acquiring the land that would bring into being his great strategic vision of America as a nation of free and self sufficient individuals. Alexander Hamilton's vision was different. Hamilton believed that the nation's future resided with the creation of a powerful financial and manufacturing class who would take it upon themselves to make the American nation rich and prosperous.
THE REPUBLICAN COMPROMISE
The historic compromise that evolved between these two visions, Jeffersonís and Hamiltonís, meant that the United States would be a republic in form, safeguarding the property rights of the wealthy, but democratic in spirit, to insure opportunity for most everyone else. Equally as important for its long term development, the American economy was to reward invention and industry. This strategic vision made it possible for the United States to enter into the first cycle of the Industrial Age, the Textile/Cotton/Slavery Cycle.
TRANSCENDENTALS: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Half a century after Jefferson and Hamiltonís great national visions were brought to life, and once America had committed itself to the Industrial Revolution, the nationís future progress again rested on the development of another great strategic vision. This vision belonged to the Transcendentals, Lincoln's generation. The Transcendentals envisioned America as a great continental nation of free labor and abundant economic opportunity.
There were two epic tasks required to bring this vision to life: the first was the building of a transcontinental railway system to unite the country; and the second, a terrible Civil War fought to end slavery. Had these two tasks not been undertaken and completed, America would not have become a great nation.
PROGRESSIVES: THEODORE ROOSEVELT
After the Civil War and the completion of the Cycle of the Railroads/Western Expansion, however, the United States still remained essentially a nation of small towns and rural communities. Then, at the beginning of the current century, another great strategic vision transformed that reality.
This third great national strategic vision launched America into its third technological cycle, the Cycle of Mass Production and Mass Urbanization. The generation responsible for this critically important strategic vision was Theodore Roosevelt's Progressives. Roosevelt's generation saw America as a modern urban nation, of great material wealth founded on a powerful manufacturing base, and of enlightened popular institutions based on progressive social policies.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Progressive Generation created modern urban America. The abolition of child labor, the imposition of the eight hour work day, two of the most important social reforms in all history, represented only a part of their enduring legacy. The great manufacturing base created during this period would ultimately provide the winning measure in the Second World War, and the underpinnings of American post World War II prosperity
LOSTS: TRUMAN and EISENHOWER
Half a century later, after the Progressive Era and World War One, after the "Roaring Twenties" and the Great Depression, at the end of the Second World War, America again required another great national strategic vision to propel it into another era of economic prosperity. Based on the creation of a second great national transpiration infrastructure, built, not with steel rails as in the past, but with concrete, the Automotive/Petroleum/Mass Suburbanization Cycle, the final cycle of the Industrial Age, was the vision of the Lost Generation, the generation that counted Truman and Eisenhower among its members. The prosperity of the post war era rested on the vision of the Lost Generation.
AN IMPERFECT PAST
The execution of each of these great strategic visions was, unarguably, flawed and imperfect. The implementation of Jefferson and Hamilton's grand compromise was also a compromise with slavery, and it would require a bitter civil war over half century later to eliminate that terrible institution. The building of the railroads tragically completed the displacement of Native America and exploited the men who labored to build that great transportation infrastructure in an equally tragic manner. The construction of the great urban centers of the Cycle of Mass Production and Mass Urbanization lead inevitably to the creation of slums. And finally the Automotive/Petroleum/Mass Suburbanization Cycle has itself left the once great cities of America's past in a state of terrible economic and social decay.
The generations whose great visions shaped this country were composed of human beings, subject to all the flaws that human beings have. This fact only makes their achievements that much more remarkable. Now, however, what is of paramount importance is that today's Americans not only recognize the genuine high purpose to which the great strategic visions of the past aspired, but also draw upon them and the history they made as examples for the future.
BOOMERS: THE CHALLENGE
For now, at the end of the fourth and final cycle of the Industrial Age, in the last decade of the twentieth century, and on the threshold of a new millennium, another brand new vision must be seen and articulated if this nation is to embark upon a new era of true economic prosperity and real greatness. Whether by happenstance or fate, the demographic structure that exists at this time in history means that this task falls to the generation of Americans born in the wake of the Second World War, the Boomer Generation who are just now on the verge of assuming the role of mature adult leaders in American society.
The political malaise that grips this country today will only deepen until a new national strategic vision for America is found. The rancorous partisan nature of our national politics represents a developing crisis that can only be remedied by a new national consensus on what is the next great strategy for national development.
Make no mistake about it. If the Boomers fail in the task that history has assigned them, a two hundred year old tradition of national success will end. No people, no nation, can do better than the vision that propels it. For both the Boomers and the members of Generation X, this is no mere academic question. Every member of these two generations must take it upon themselves to raise this great issue and to do so as if their lives depended upon it. For in truth, the lives of both these generations will be determined by their nationís ability to see and act upon a new national Strategic Vision.