Thursday, 6 November 2008

Living, breathing history

A lot has been made of the "historic" na
ture of Obama's win on Tuesday. And while it is interesting to be "living through history" as it were, I have a question (if there's anyone left here that's still reading!).

Where does Obama's win rate - in a(n) historic
al context? Put it like this: Some academics (and I can't think of any right now!) would argue that the defining political moment of the last... 25 years would be the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Politically, symbolically and historically, that event paved the way for the end of the Cold War - and a radical change in the global political situation.

So - tearing down the Berlin Wall or electing the first African American to lead the world's most powerful nation? Which is your historic moment? (I would do one of those poll things, but I think this is bigger than a simple tick-box answer!)


Anonymous,  6 November 2008 at 16:03  

My view is that you cannot really tell where it ranks for another ten, twenty or even more years.

There are some events that can be judged instantly as being of massive signifiance - September 11 for example - but in general I think it's the only the prism of hindsight through which you can judge significance.

For instance we regard the fall of the Berlin Wall as of massive significance because we know what happened after. However what if that hadn't really been the end of communism, if instead it had risen again within a few years in those countries; at the stage the Berlin Wall would have seemed less relevant.

Obama's win is of course still significant, not least in a contemporary sense and with regard to US racial politics in the past forty years.

But ultimately the way we can judge events is by what happens after, especially if there is a direct link to that event. Time is the only way we'll truly be able to judge the significance of Obama's win.

Sam 6 November 2008 at 19:42  

I'm with the Chinese Prime Minister on this one.

IoC is right about the importance of time, but its also true that initial perceptions might have an edge of truth to them that hindsight will distort. Obama will always be the first black President but will he be remembered for something different?

To answer your question directly, I suppose this election has the potential to affect change in everything from US domestic issues (healthcare) to social policy (equality for minorities) to foreign policy (responsible US global engagement).

But the fall of the Berlin Wall was the death throes of a 40 year ideological & geopolitical struggle to control the entire world. Its hard to compete with those sort of forces.

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