'If Men Were Angels. . . ' : Reflections on the World of Eric HobsbawmIssue: Summer 1995
As the twentieth century draws to its end, we can expect a parade of books that will purport to tell us its meaning. The last fin de siècle was rich in artistic innovation; this one is more likely to be rich in historical reflection.
But in a certain sense the twentieth century has already ended. It did so half a decade ago. Historians for quite some time have seen the nineteenth century as really lasting from 1789 (the beginning of the French Revolution) to 1914 (the beginning of the First World War), and they have accordingly termed it "the long nineteenth century." So too, historians have recently begun to see the twentieth century as lasting from 1914 to 1989 (the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe) or to 1991 (the end of the Soviet Union), what Eric Hobsbawm in his new book calls "the short twentieth century." As it happens, the two historical centuries--the long nineteenth and the short twentieth--add up neatly to two conventional centuries.