At the same time, the election of the first black President of the United States, and the campaign that preceded it, have made this moment an oddly optimistic one. In the middle of a crisis and while losing two wars, Americans chose hope over fear, to the applause and relief of much of the rest of the world. Times are tough, but we haven't yet concluded that they aren't going to get better.
But if we accept the rupture thesis somewhat easily, it's much harder to decide where we're going from here. Will we bailout our way to short-term relief to find ourselves back in a slump with a mountain of bills we'll never climb out from under? Will we seize a transformational moment to remake the world for the better? Will our values change to finally prioritise responsibility and engagement above comfort and isolation? Will we seek to just repair the rupture and move forward without direction and carrying significant baggage from our experience of 2008?
The year isn't over and it's too early to decide how we will respond to these questions. But for those of us who are hoping for transformation, it's worth noting that our last experience of cultural rupture may not have turned out exactly as some had hoped. The events of 1968 have been referred to quite a lot over the last few months, with good reason. The truth is that it has been 40 years since newspaper headlines reflected as much instability and possibility as they have in the past 12 months. Where '08 had mass foreclosures and history making candidacies' '68 had mass marches and history changing assassinations.
But two generations ago we chose Nixon in the year where we saw King and Kennedy die. We took seven years to end an unpopular war. Instead of rebuilding communities, we accelerated the exodus to exurban isolation. We built more shopping malls, ate more food, and largely abandoned the idea that together through government, we can pursue a common good.
For all the high drama and radicalism, at the end of our last moment of rupture, we turned to the comfort of the establishment. Marchers who demanded revolution settled for four decades of issue advocacy and tick-box gradualism. Apathy and cynicism filled the void created in the last rupture.
But might things just work out this time? For people like me who want to say yes, there is one hopeful characteristic of rupture '08 worth highlighting. This year, we have found humility in our thirst for change.
The high-mindedness of the change agents of '68 still inspires us. The righteousness of their approach was mandated by the starkness of their struggle. When your leaders are being murdered, it's hard to find compromise and consensus appealing. But in many ways it was the moral certainty of those who took to the streets in that rupture that was their undoing. Their crusading scared a middle class that may have been uneasy about the future, but still liked the way they lived their lives.
This year, two things are different. For starters, the middle class in the rich world has borne the brunt of our economic unravelling. A critical mass no longer has confidence that the way things have always worked are the way they must continue to be in the future. The ground is more ripe for change than it was forty years ago.
But just as importantly, the change agents of '08 - with Barack Obama, a man I personally doubted for too long, the undisputed leader - are making a virtue out of modesty. This time around, over-reach is the great mistake to be avoided. Pragmatism is the war cry. The goals of this movement - responsibility, sustainability, togetherness - can be supported in equal measure by nostalgia for the past and utopian views of the future.
The message is a call that we need to remember what really matters to us all - family, friends, health, work, even love. This is what is really meant by 'a new age of responsibility' - a realignment of our wants and needs. The change we are asked for is simple. And incredibly for the left, the political realignment this simple message has brought is breathtaking. Universal health care, fighting climate change, and the end of an unjust war are finally at home at the dead centre of our political culture.
I was reminded of the power of a simple message of change this week when I went to a screening of a film I first discovered in my teens and one borne out of that last rupture in '68. In Harold and Maude, a privileged, depressive young man who fakes suicides with artistry has his world upended by an octogenarian with a love of stolen vehicles.
Maude, we learn, has long been a crusader for 'the big issues.' Liberty. Rights. Justice. The umbrella on her wall a relic of her days of radicalism, she tells Harold that she's given up on the picket line and opted to fight for change now in her 'small individual way'. No longer liberating the canaries from the pet stores and getting into fights with the 'thugs of the opposition', Maude now spreads her quiet brand of celebration and personal chaos.
She teaches Harold to sing and dance. She shows him that simple vices can be fulfilling.
But above all, she teaches Harold what love can do for the world, and changes him forever. In the film's closing scene - with the last of the parade of Cat Stevens ballads that provide its soundtrack drawing to a close - Harold sends his hearse over a cliff, no longer clinging to death and content to play the banjo Maude gives him.
Harold and Maude is a film heavy on protest imagery, including multiple references to the stupidity of the Vietnam War. In a flash of a tattooed forearm, we learn that Maude is a survivor of the holocaust. We are told repeatedly not to get too attached to 'things'.
In other words, the radical aims of '68 are all present. But with early hindsight, we are cautioned against certainty and righteousness. Instead, we are guided to personal reflection, compassion, and love.
If you are feeling bruised from the headlines of this rupture, I can recommend spending 91 minutes with a film inspired by the last.