"None of the major problems facing humanity in the 21st century can be solved by the principles that still dominate the developed countries of the west: unlimited economic growth and technical progress, the ideal of individual autonomy, freedom of choice, electoral democracy. As is evident in the case of the environmental crisis, facing these problems will require in practice regulation by institutions, in theory a revision of both the current political rhetoric and even the more reputable intellectual constructions of liberalism. The question is can this be done within the framework of the rationalist, secularist and civilised tradition of the Enlightenment. As for left vs right, it will plainly remain central in an era which is increasing the gap between haves and have-nots. However, today the danger is that this struggle is being subsumed in the irrationalist mobilisations of ethnic or religious or other group identity."I can't begin to express how much the writing and thinking of Eric Hobsbawm has meant to me. If any reader of this blog has not heard of him or read him yet, it thrills me to have the privilege of introducing him to anyone trying to understand the world we live in. If this is your case, congratulations, this is a fortunate day for you, indeed. And for me, I repeat, a privilege.
Eric Hobsbawm, historian - Prospect Magazine - March, 2007
His "Age of.." series, explaining the history of the world from 1789 to 1991 in four volumes is breathtaking in its scope and clarity. From 1789 (the French Revolution) to 1914 (the beginning of the First World War), Hobsbawm calls the Long 19th Century and from 1914 to 1991,( the Fall of the Berlin Wall) he calls the "Short 20th Century". I can't think of any set of history books that have helped me "find my feet" in understanding the affairs of the world as much as these.
Hobsbawm has defined the 19th and 20th century brilliantly. Now, in the quote from Prospect Magazine that opens this post, Hobsbawm, at the age of 90 lays out what will surely be the history of the 21rst century, with the same clarity and good sense.
Please read it carefully. Read it again. You will see that it is an outline for dozens of books, thousands of articles, millions of blog postings and for major political strategies and programs. In these 146 words is a touch stone to return to again and again to keep our times in focus. DS