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Opinion
Cass R. Sunstein

We Are Living in Historic Times. Or Are We?

Some events go unnoticed and some are inflated. Research shows how hard it is to say what will make history.

Observers in the 1970s were right: This revolution made history.

Observers in the 1970s were right: This revolution made history.

Photographer: Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images

If we are living through historic events, would we know?

In 1965, Arthur Danto, a philosopher at Columbia University, argued that it is impossible to tell, when you’re in the midst of things, whether an event is going to be deemed “historic” by future historians. If something happens – Russia successfully reclaims Crimea, for example, or Pete Buttigieg declares that he’s running for president – its ultimate significance will be determined by causal chains that cannot possibly be anticipated, and by an assortment of events that have yet to take place.