The Social Affairs Unit

Print Version • Website Home • Weblog Home

Use the buttons below to change the style and font size of our site.
Screen version     Print version:   
March 23, 2006

Europe since 1945 - Jeremy Black is still awaiting a conservative history of Postwar Europe: Europe's Troubled Peace 1945-2000 - Tom Buchanan; Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 - Tony Judt

Posted by Jeremy Black

Europe's Troubled Peace 1945-2000
by Tom Buchanan
Pp. 370. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006
Hardback, 60; Paperback, 16.99

Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945
by Tony Judt
Pp. 893. London: Heinemann, 2005
Hardback, 25

The appearance of these two books is welcome not least because they provide an opportunity for considering periodisation in history. The twentieth century recedes here as a unit, being replaced by a division based on war and politics. In turn, each book by means of the illustration on the front cover makes reference to the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and indeed Judt discloses that he decided to write his book in December 1989.

1945, 1989, the new millennium, appear to offer a ready chronology, but it is possible that this is less appropriate than a division in the early 1970s, because it was then that the optimism and sense of perfectibility, stemming variously from Western European economic expansion and from Communist aspirations, ran into the buffers. Furthermore, the 1970s take on more meaning in a Mediterranean context as the legacy of authoritarianism and/or Fascism was successively extinguished in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

If periodisation invites debate so also does the question of what to include. This can be handled both geographically and thematically. The first invites attention to the distribution of space between national and supra-national levels, as well as the questions of how best to define the relevant supra-national entities (institutional, and, if so, which, or geographical and, if so, how to define the latter), and how far to allocate space to particular countries.

It is understandable, given constraints of space, that neither book devotes sufficient attention to the sub-national level, but, however, that is the context in which identity and change are experienced by most people. Thematically, there is the question of how best to discuss social, economic and cultural history alongside the more commonplace political themes, and also the extent to which it is appropriate to consider environmental developments.

Of the two books, that by Buchanan is considerably shorter. That makes it more difficult to cover the full range of topics, but, within the space available, there has clearly been a prioritisation that has led to a marked emphasis on political developments. The resulting lack of attention to other issues is disappointing (though understandable in terms of the series, Blackwell's History of Europe). What Buchanan manages to include of these issues is impressive but whets the appetite for more and raises questions about the series direction. As far as the politics are concerned, it is useful to see a clear introduction in terms of World War Two and its legacy, a chapter that deals with topics such as collaboration which greatly influenced the postwar world.

The intellectual thrust of this impressive work, however, is questionable. Buchanan is clearly an integrationist. He begins with Mitterrand blaming World War Two on nationalism and ends by arguing that Europe has a choice between irrelevance or

its emergence as a united, assertive voice.
There are multiple flaws in this approach. For example it was British and Russian nationalism that helped stop Hitler, who, alongside his German nationalism, was very much a European integrationist of a certain type. More seriously, Buchanan relies on assertion rather than debate. For example (p. 197):
Rupert Murdoch's decision to sack his Fleet Street printworkers and move to new high tech facilities in 1986 was evidence of the brutalism in British industrial relations.
This is a somewhat slanted account.

Judt's work is considerably longer and this creates problems for readers, which is a pity as his is a thoughtful account. It is particularly interesting as a result of his individual voice: a British scholar of French history who teaches in New York and has a strong grasp of developments in Eastern Europe. Whereas Buchanan will be most useful to students seeking a clear political narrative, Judt ranges widely, to discuss a wide range of issues, including sex, the distinctive tone of Italian television, changes in investment in Spanish companies, and the activities of the Czech secret police.

Judt is particularly interested in the varieties of Europe and also discusses Europe as a way of life. There is a powerful moral voice, as in the vigorous denunciation of Switzerland for profiting from the Holocaust, which, more generally, Judt treats as a resonating European memory. The photographs are impressive women for sale, the destruction of the Aral Sea, the impact of Chernobyl, Portuguese "guest workers", and so on. The sympathies again are on the left, but this is throughout a perceptive work that is worth persisting with. The challenge of writing with a more conservative voice remains, but for those anticipating a long journey Judt can be thoroughly recommended, although hopefully in paperback form.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. Amongst much else, he is the author of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and of War since 1945 (Reaktion, 2004).

Comments Notice
This comments facility is the property of the Social Affairs Unit.
We reserve the right to edit, amend or remove comments for legal reasons, policy reasons or any other reasons we judge fit.

By posting comments here you accept and acknowledge the Social Affairs Unit's absolute and unfettered right to edit your comments as set out above.
Post a comment

Anti-spambot Turing code

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The Social Affairs Unit's weblog Privacy Statement