A Grey Champion must step forward and lead. Who will it be? Where will they lead us? These are the questions of our time.

Grey Champions

By: Strauss & Howe

One afternoon in April 1689, as the American colonies boiled with rumors that King James II was about to strip them of their liberties, the King’s hand-picked governor of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, marched his troops menacingly through Boston. His purpose was to crush any thought of colonial self-rule. To everyone present, the future looked grim.

Just at that moment, seemingly from nowhere, there appeared on the streets “the figure of an ancient man” with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command.” His manner “combining the leader and the saint,” the old man planted himself directly in the path of the approaching British soldiers and demanded that they stop. “The solemn, yet warlike peal of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the battlefield or be raised to God in prayer, were irresistible. At the old man’s word and outstretched arm, the roll of the drum was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still.” Inspired by this single act of defiance, the people of Boston roused their courage and acted. Within the day, Andros was deposed and jailed, the liberty of Boston saved, and the corner turned on the colonial Glorious Revolution.

“Who was this Gray Champion?” Nathaniel Hawthorne asked near the end of this story in his Twice-Told Tales. No one knew, except that he had once been among the fire-hearted young Puritans who had first settled New England more than a half century earlier. Later that evening, just before the old priest-warrior disappeared, the townspeople saw him embracing the 85-year-old Simon Bradstreet, a kindred spirit and one of the few original Puritans still alive. Would the Gray Champion ever return? “I have heard,” added Hawthorne, “that whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again.”

Posterity had to wait a while before seeing him again—the length of another long human life, in fact. “When eighty years had passed,” wrote Hawthorne, the Gray Champion reappeared. The occasion was the revolutionary summer of 1775—when America’s elders once again appealed to God, summoned the young to battle, and dared the hated enemy to fire. “When our fathers were toiling at the breastwork on Bunker’s Hill,” Hawthorne continued, “all through that night the old warrior walked his rounds.” This “old warrior”—this graying peer of Sam Adams or Ben Franklin or Samuel Langdon (the Harvard president who preached to the Bunker Hill troops)—belonged to the Awakening Generation, whose youth had provided the spiritual taproot of the republic secured in their old age.

Hawthorne wrote this stirring legend in 1837, as a young man of 33. The Bunker Hill “fathers” belonged to his parents’ generation, by then well into old age. The nation had new arguments (over slavery) and new enemies (Mexico), but no one expected the old people of that era—the worldly likes of John Marshall and John Jacob Astor—to be play the role of Gray Champion.

“Long, long may it be ere he comes again!” Hawthorne prophesied. “His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invaders’ step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come….” Although Hawthorne did not say when this would be, perhaps he should have been able to tell.

Had the young author counted eight or nine decades forward from Bunker Hill, or had he envisioned the old age of the young zealots (like Joseph Smith, Nat Turner, and William Lloyd Garrison) who had recently convulsed America’s soul, he might have foreseen that the next Gray Champion would emerge from his own Transcendental Generation. Seared young by God, Hawthorne’s peers were destined late in life to face an hour of “darkness, and adversity, and peril.” The old priest-warrior would arise yet again in John Brown, damning the unrighteous from his scaffold; in Julia Ward Howe, writing “a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel”; in William Tecumseh Sherman, scorching Georgia with “the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword”; in Robert E. Lee commanding thousands of young men to their deaths at Cemetery Ridge; and especially in Abraham Lincoln, announcing to Congress that “the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation.”

Were Hawthorne to have prophesied yet another eight decades further ahead, he might have foretold another Gray Champion whose childhood would begin just after the “fiery trial” of Hawthorne’s own old age. This generation would come of age scorching the elder-built world with its inner fire—and then, a half-saeculum later, complete its self-declared “rendezvous with destiny” as “the wise old men of World War II.” By adding FDR’s Missionary Generation to the recurrence, Hawthorne’s Tale would have been not Twice, but Four Times Told.

When ancestral generations passed through these great gates of history, they saw in the Gray Champion a type of elder very different from the bustling “senior citizens” of America’s recent past—and from the old “Uncle Sam” Revolutionary War survivors of the 1830s, when Hawthorne wrote his tale. Who were these old priest warriors? They were elder expressions of the Prophet archetype. And their arrival into old age heralded a new constellation of generations.


10 thoughts on “GREY CHAMPION”

  1. Maybe I’m misreading this.

    Are Strauss and Howe suggesting that Lincoln (the Great Jailer of Opponents) or Sherman (writing to his wife that if it was up to him he’d murder every man, woman and child encountered during his march to the sea through half the populated areas of North America) were “Grey Champions?”

    If so, then thanks—but NO THANKS. Might as well suggest that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler were “Grey Champions,” too.

    1. dc sunsets

      Strauss & Howe do not use the term Grey Champion as a positive or negative connotation. They do not say that what Lincoln or Sherman did was good or bad. They are historians. They don’t take sides. Their point is that someone will step up and lead. You may not like the direction they lead, but they will lead.

      For libertarians, Fourth Turnings are usually not a good time. Central authority usually increases. So solly. The cycles of history keep spinning.

  2. not that it has a chance in hell of happening, but how about people stop looking for “leaders” and instead lead themselves. I get autonomy is too much to ask.
    this has to be one of the contributing factors of evolutionary plateauing.

  3. Ah-so.

    I can accept this; I view the USA as populated with the most obedient, farm-animal-type humans anywhere on Earth, and adding the Milgram Paradigm to this informs me that there isn’t anywhere on the planet a more fertile place for ideologically-based mass murder on a scale never yet seen.

    My main questions revolve around:
    1. Will the rulers (leaders?) of the USA depopulate lands outside of North America or turn inward and depopulate vast stretches of the USA proper?
    2. Will there be enough warning, to those willing to look for it, so that those not wishing to kill or be killed may leave, preferably with more than the clothes on their backs?
    3. Will it be possible to identify, with any hope of success, a place that is both likely to escape the wave of insensible fury and mayhem AND is willing to accept refugees?

    Leaders of fervent, hyperactive ideologies have in the past century produced enormous monuments to death, pyramids of human skulls reaching as high as small mountains. The end of this vast venture into unreason and foolish theory promises to plumb depths of human depravity not seen in centuries.

    Add the scale of modern nation-states, a large pool of people who can be made into corpses and the collective fury generated by the kinetic plunge from our Fantasy High to Overshoot-reality Low and it seems we should expect to set records in barbarism.

    Cyclic high today. Cyclic low in coming years. The trick is to remain the quick and avoid being the dead.

  4. harry p., look around us. Do we not see that humans are largely herd animals?

    We have the capacity for independence, but relatively few people exercise it.

    Sadly, I must accept this unfortunate truth and incorporate it into my OODA loops as I pass through them.

  5. @dc.sunsets – Technically (the best kind of correct) we are more like a troop than we are a herd or a pack. At least, a mixing of the two genders produces a troop.

    When its a group of men its more like a pack. When its a group of women, its more like a herd.

  6. dc,
    oh i very much do realize the herds around me, which is why i find myself less involved in most aspects involving others. people refer to the new funny commercial or some award ceremony and i have no idea what they are talking about. one of the few shows i watch comes back this week and i hope the stone & parker hit the premiere out of the park, lord knows they have had a lot of material to pick from in the past 8-9 months. sporting events have little interest to me as well as getting the latest “insert consumer product here”.

    even when i go workout at the gymn to improve my strength and conditioning I do so at 4:30am to avoid the herd of fist pumping yoga pants wearing mirror viewing adonis’s.

    the goal for the libertarian/anarchist in the upcoming times will be to remain unnoticed and realize that most of the people you see and know are part of the herd and could very well become your enemy if things go bad but you can’t pre-emptively consider them an enemy. trying times for people who cherish liberty i think.

  7. I can only think of 1 grey champion. Like it or not its Donald Trump.

    He’s willing to forgive some of the benefits of free trade for more social stability. Would probably enforce the border. Would most likely not be a stooge for special interests because he doesn’t have to be. He is most likely to have stewardship of America at heart as opposed to the big time Jews who couldn’t give a shit.

  8. I feel your pain, Harry. I’m just trying to figure out how to avoid isolation (which is bad in a socially chaotic situation).

    At a time when I desire closer connections to my neighbors, someone stole a 2.5 gal bright red gas can out of my garage in the last couple days, in broad daylight no less.

    My garage door is very rarely open when I’m not right there. Someone had to be very, very present to seize the opportunity.

    Did that someone grab the can and walk or bike-ride down the street in full view of anyone looking out their window?

    Occam’s Razor suggests it was someone who lives Quite Close to me.

    To the east is a retired couple who are very nice. Across are people with grade-school kids.

    To the west (on the garage-side of the house) is a family with 24 and 20 year old sons and a 17 year old daughter. Both of the younger two “kids” have plenty of friends dropping by, some of whom look somewhat unsavory.

    That Razor suggests from where is likely source of my thief, and there’s not one thing I can do about it other than hunker down, keep my doors closed & locked on a religious basis, and strongly consider upgrading my security technology.

    How do you address the importance of “community” when the barbarians are in all likelihood “inside the gates?”


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