Being a witness to epochal change is rare. Really big events like the industrial revolution, the Protestant Reformation, and colonization of the Americas only come along once in a great while. They may last for decades or generations, but in the sweep of human history they are moments of brief and radical reorientation away from a previous era.
Although mammoth transformations provide demarcations through which we learn the past, many living through such drama will not recognize its significance at the time. People may fully understand that they are in the midst of substantial, perplexing, and even difficult change, but they may not be able yet to discern its cumulative and momentous character. The opposite occurs as well. Individuals and communities may encounter transitions that appear to be bigger than they are--small events that do not add up to move the world into a new stage of human experience.
I believe we are poised between epochs. Engulfed by astonishing and somewhat overwhelming changes across the world, we struggle to get a grip, to find our bearings. On one day we are elated about the release of Nelson Mandela or the destruction of the Berlin Wall, whereas the next finds us in anguish over war in the Gulf, civil war in Yugoslavia, or danger of starvation among millions in Africa. Underlying some of these events are significant transitions in the way that we think about and organize political economy.
Fundamental shifts from one political economy to another are usually accompanied by substantial social turmoil. Communism has collapsed after long decades of failure to respond to the needs and aspirations of many who lived within it. News of the consequences of this collapse bombard us daily, again some of it uplifting, some of it distressing.