Media coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death has almost invariably noted how it marks the end of an era, the second Elizabethan Age. The event was certainly momentous, but we hear about ends of orders or ages or eras with many news events these days. With all the disruption and disorientation in the world, does it make any sense to say that some are is passing? And can we know when new ones begin?
The most important era-end is my death, whoever I am, and the start of that era is marked only by others. The human species, the earth, probably the universe, will all end at some time. In between the personal and the cosmic, when, and why, do we mark eras? Should we?
What is gained or lost with the passing of some era? When the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, ending an 86-year drought dating from the sale of Babe Ruth to New York, yes, the mindset of Boston fans, to some extent of all baseball fans, and even of New England, changed. Was the end of the “curse of the Bambino” a cultural gain – or loss?
A PBS series discusses the advent of writing, perhaps 5,000 years ago, against roughly 100,000 years of modern humans’ existence. If somehow writing were done away with, that would seem to be the end of a significant era. How would it be communicated? Would the adoption of new communication methods mark the beginning of another?
Since the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki there have been two major cases of unequivocal cross border, unprovoked invasion launched by one nation state against another. These were Saddam Hussein’s against Kuwait in 1991 and Putin’s against Ukraine in 2022. One was defeated and both drew widespread condemnation. Is there some age of international warfare that ended in August 1945, or some new one that began then?
The reign of Queen Elizabeth II has definitely ended. We will return soon enough to worrying about other ages and orders. Various parties worry over eras of climate conditions, of democracy and liberalism, of American primacy, of information technology, of mainstream media, of migration, to name a very few. The range, and the depth of change that is in the air, much of it disruptive or downright threatening, is actually alarming. What of all the worries is the most concerning, and are there new ages aborning that offer hope?
This is an open-ended question. The potential of a Red Sox player prospect, or of genetically engineered immunities, could offer hope, at their own levels. The question is what matters most to you and me.
For Americans, this blog sees an era that began in 1776, the importance of which was the open espousal by a new “power of the earth” that individual rights form a bedrock value and that governments exist to serve people, to secure their freedoms. This is merely one nation’s founding creed, but it carried a new image of the human being, as an individual making meaningful choices. It may seem like a flimsy idea against a long human history mired in a state of nature, but that history cannot limit what people do with their freedom going forward. The story of human development since 1776 has certainly generated threats to human well being, even to survival itself, as well as inventions and ideas and discoveries. But free people have the option to devise fixes, if they can figure out how. And if they can’t, if freedom proves futile, would an end to this era of human liberty mark any kind of gain?
America, and the world, stand on the cusp of huge and unfathomable transformations. We probably should not worry too much about ‘eras’ or ‘orders.’ What Americans do, however, could expand, or end, an era in which people believe, ever more widely, that they can live their lives by their own chosen lights. All people should be able to. America stands for that progression. So long as we understand how our nation conceived itself, we have a purpose.