Sunday, February 05, 2006

World history in the " short " 20th century

It has always been my personal habit to carry a book or two with me for leisurely reading during holidays because I never waste time on gambling. This Chinese New Year was no exception and the selection was British historian Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes - The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (London, Abacus, 1995).

I read the book before in the mid-1990s but I decided to re-read it because I strongly felt I missed something important during the first reading. Indeed, re-reading contemporary history with newer observations and experiences often sheds new light on some old - but still unresolved- questions or problems. Howsbawm, for example, had already observed some ten years ago that "(t)he end of the Cold War suddenly removed the props which had held up the international structure and, to an extent not yet appreciated, the structures of the world's domestic political system" and "what was left was a world in disarray and partial collapse, because there was nothing to replace them" (p.255).

On the resurgence of religious fundamentalism as a factor in international and domestic politics, Hobsbawm remarks that "(F)undamentalist religion as a major force of successful mass mobilization belongs to the last decades of the twentieth century, which have even witnessed a bizarre return to fashion among some intellectuals of what their educated grandfathers would have described as superstition and barbarism" (p.202).