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Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, Book Review Example

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Book Review

In “Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century” Mark Mazower does a tremendous job of detailing the driving factors that influence politics, power and ideology in Europe throughout the 20th Century. Chapters 1 through 11 are titled: Chapter 1-The Deserted Temple: Democracy’s Rise and Fall –  Chapter 2: Empires, Nations, Minorities, Chapter 3: Healthy Bodies, Sick Bodies, Chapter 4 The Crisis of Capitalism, Chapter 5: Hitler’s New Order, 1938-45, Chapter6: Blueprints for the Golden Age, Chapter7: A Brutal Peace, 1943-9, Chapter 8: Building People’s Democracy, Chapter 9: Democracy Transformed: Western Europe, 1950-75, Chapter 10: The Social Contracts in Crisis, and Chapter11 Sharks and Dolphins: The Collapse of Communism. They all chronicle in great detail Europe’s troubles with implementing Democracy leading up to and after the First World War. Mazower credits Europe’s inadequacy with Democracy to why fascism was able to  easily expand across the region, when he says, “‘The reason why `fascisms’ come into being,” wrote a French critic, “is the political and social failure of liberal democracy.” The authors of Fascism for Whom? (1938) put it more simply: “Fascism was the product of democratic decay (Mazower, 28).’” He goes on to note that anti-liberal and anti-democratic beliefs had grown in popularity since the last quarter of the 19th century, just following the Great War. These beliefs were fueled by a newly spreading belief in violence. Mazower refers to the new extremist movement that developed during this period as the “generation of 1914.”  He notes that they favored violence over reason and they weren’t about talking or rhetoric but preferred action. Many extremists of the generation of 1914 believed that nothing was accomplished without ‘bloodshed’ (34). Mazower does an exceptional job of detailing how this movement transitioned Europe from the rise of democracy to its fall and then ultimate adoption of fascism. The second half of the book focuses on the rise and fall of fascism, the Cold War and the ultimate fall of the Berlin wall and decline of communism and rise of capitalism.

Overarching Theory

Marzower hints to this transition in Chapter 1 by detailing the violent ideals of the generations of 1914 but he documents the transition from Democracy to Fascism in Europe in greater details in the later chapters when he talks about the Treaty of Versailles and how it created minority and majority groups in Europe. Marzower states that, “[The Treaty of] Versailles had given sixty million people a state of their own, but it turned another twenty-five million into minorities,” (42). The author notes that this treaty turned young nation states into cultural battlefields, due to the fact that the minorities and majorities of these regions were put at odds against one another. Marzower further notes that parliamentary democracies in Europe at the time failed the public because they favored strong legislation over executive power, meaning their was no real strength to enforce laws enacted.  Marzower further credits The Great Depression as an impetus to driving Europeans to seek alternatives liberal democracy. The worldwide economic crisis drove Europeans to adopt economic nationalism as opposed to free market capitalism. The example the author gives is how Italy’s adoption of the Third Reich reduced unemployment and thus enhanced the confidence Italian citizens had in the nation and the economy (Marzower, 115). What Marzower proves by making this connection between nationalism and the economy of Europe is to reveal that fascism did not rise over night with Hitler, but actually grew naturally out of ideologies already heartfelt and a socioeconomic necessity. At one point the author even reveals, that eugenics was implemented as a a part of legislation programs in Scandinavian countries, Germany, and Switzerland that sought to promote the birth of children that were perceived as genetically superior, while sterilizing those that

The second half of the Book focuses primarily on the Col War. After the Berlin Blockade, the trend in foreign relations developed to establish the ‘Cold War’ where the USA and the USSR treated one another  as rivals in a competition for world domination.  The author notes how nationalism and communism declined economically causing the soviet Union to adopt some tenants of Capitalism which ultimately lead to a loss of trust in the leadership of the Czech Republic and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Conclusion

Mazower’s overarching theory is that the ideological transitions that seemed to drive politics and power in Europe were actually just underlying supporting elements to change driven by economic need. This can be seen in how Liberal Democracy transitions to fascism when the Great Depression arises, but then transitions back from Communism to free-market capitalism to end the Cold War when the Soviet Union is in economic decline and in need of change. He points out that the underlying tenants of fascism, specifically the belief in eugenics, while it might not have been shared by all members of Europe, it was inevitable for them to grow in popularity as Europeans failed to make liberal democracy work. I agree with Mazower’s view and I find ti to be logical in its explanation. The most convincing argument Mazower makes, which I find to be very telling, is the argument that Europe in nature is governed based on monarchy ideologies and the transition to democracy was alien to Europeans. I think the 1914-1950’s represented a period of trial and error, with the major mistake being that European countries failed to enact executive powers to back their legislation. This is largely why Hitler was able to engage in political warfare illegally imposing his will on the borders of European regions leading up to and following the Treaty of Versailles, without initially invading any new nations state, due to the fact that there was no judicial consequence for his actions. I think Mazower does an excellent job of defining the real cause of World War II, as well as why Democracy has been successful in Europe since.

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