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Mainstream, VOL LX No 5, New Delhi, January 22, 2022

Making Sense of Time | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 21 January 2022, by Arup Kumar Sen

In his book, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914 -1991 (Abacus, London, 1995), the eminent Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, drew our attention to the assessments made of the 20th century by some eminent intellectuals. William Golding (Nobel Laureate, Writer) observed: “I can’t help thinking that this has been the most violent century in human history”. Similarly, the eminent philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, made a negative assessment of the century: “I have lived through most of the twentieth century without, I must add, suffering personal hardship. I remember it only as the most terrible century in Western history”. (See ibid.)

Hobsbawm’s own reading of the 20th century suggested an important trend in the domain of politics:

By the century’s end large numbers of citizens were withdrawing from politics, leaving the affairs of state to the ‘political class’...wealth, the privatisation of life and entertainment, and consumer egoism, made politics less important and less attractive... (p. 581)

Hobsbawm ended his book with a seminal observation: “We do not know where we are going. We only know that history has brought us to this point...However, one thing is plain. If humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present”.

The parameters of life have been radically transformed on a world scale in the 21st century in the wake of outbreak and spread of different variants of the Coronavirus. We do not know how the parameters of politics will evolve in the coming days. However, we are witnessing emergence of many forms of ‘politics of life’ in different parts of the world.
In India, the recent victory of the farmers’ struggles against the farm laws enacted by the neoliberal state bears testimony to the rebirth of ‘Politics’ and the ‘people’.

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