ANNI MIRABILES: 1944

What was the most important year ever? Andrew Marr suggests it was probably 1776, but The Economist's Richard Cockett proposes the year that initiated modern ideological warfare

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2009

This was the transformative year of the modern era, when the world was recast by events and by ideas. The hegemony of European imperial powers gave way to a new world order of opposing blocks based on ideology. The new power of America led the liberation of old Europe, eclipsing any lingering pretensions to world leadership held by the weary titan, Britain. Soviet Russia, advancing on Nazi Germany from the east, affirmed its own intentions to rule eastern Europe; by the end of the year, the cold war was on. That was to dominate world history for the next 45 years—some argue it still does.

The Bretton Woods conference in July set up the pillars of the modern economic, financial and trading system: the IMF and the World Bank. Talks began on setting up the United Nations.

The Holocaust continued remorselessly; the worst crime in history killed millions this year. That led eventually to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the confrontation with the Arab world that followed—and still continues.

There was also an intellectual rebellion against the habits of thinking that had prevailed since the age of enlightenment, which had led, so the critics believed, to the Holocaust and Fascism in general. Two books published in 1944 encapsulated this rebellion: “Dialectic of Enlightenment” by Theodor Adorno and  Max Horkheimer, and “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek. The first inspired the post-modernist philosophy that would change societies so much in the 1960s and 1970s; the second, the intellectual revival led by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Despite the credit crunch, we still live in a world moulded by those two seminal works.

Richard Cockett has worked at The Economist since 1999. He is currently writing a history of Burma

Picture dsearls (via Flickr)