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History ends, worlds collide

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The end of the Cold War was an event of great significance in human history, the consequences of which demand to be glossed in broad terms rather than reduced to a meaningless series of events. Neorealist writers on international relations would disagree; most such see the end of the Cold War in terms of the collapse of a bipolar balance of power system and its (temporary) replacement by the hegemony of the winning state, which in turn will be replaced by a new balance. There is obviously a story to be told here, they would argue, but not a new kind of story, nor a particularly momentous one. Such shifts in the distribution of power are a matter of business as usual for the international system. The end of the Cold War was a blip on the chart of modern history and analysts of international politics (educated in the latest techniques of quantitative and qualitative analysis in the social sciences) ought, from this perspective, to be unwilling to draw general conclusions on the basis of a few, albeit quite unusual, events. Such modesty is, as a rule, wise, but on this occasion it is misplaced. The Cold War was not simply a convenient shorthand for conflict between two superpowers, as the neorealists would have it. Rather it encompassed deep-seated divisions about the organization and content of political, economic and social life at all levels.

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