A quick thought experiment: imagine if you’d been told on January 1 of everything that lay ahead in 2016. Would you have believed that British democracy would be brought to the brink by a referendum on the EU? If you’d heard that a billionaire renowned for paying few taxes and low wages would be elected to the White House as a champion of poor Americans, would you have believed that?
The killing of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Monday evening might have prompted knee-jerk comparisons to the 1914 assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, but it almost certainly won’t spark a World War One-type conflict. The lethal truck attack that killed 12 in Berlin a few hours later, however, could ratchet up the prospect of yet another political shock in Europe.
Historian Eric Hobsbawm famously called the 20th century an “age of extremes”, one characterised by polarising ideological battles fought in the name of nationalism. Whether fascism, communism, or Western capitalism, Hobsbawm related how these ideologies transformed the political consensus, sparked global wars, and incurred an astonishing death toll.