Cover Page


Preface: The Dilemmas and Rewards of a Concise Historical Overview

List of Maps

List of Figures


Introduction: What Is Europe?

“Christendom” and Europe

Geographical Definitions

Europe’s Unusual Seas: The Mediterranean and Baltic

Europe’s Unusual Races

European Languages

Europe’s Religious Mixes

The Differing Rates of Growth in Europe’s Regions

Notes to the Reader

Part I Romanticism and Revolt: The Seedtime of Modern Ideologies, 1815–40

1 The Legacy of the French Revolution

France’s Preeminence

The Changes Made by the Revolution

The Revolutionary Mystique

The Opening Stages of the Revolution

The Causes of the Revolution: Precedents

The Ambiguous Ideal of Equality

Civil Equality for Jews?

The Many Meanings of Fraternity

The Revolution: Progressive or Regressive?

2 The Congress of Vienna and Post-Napoleonic Europe: 1815–30

A Uniquely European Meeting

The Major Powers: Goals and Compromises

Napoleon Returns: The Hundred Days

The Issue of Poland

Other Territorial Settlements

Accomplishments of the Congress: Short-Term, Long-Term

The Repressive Years in Britain

Metternich’s Repressions

3 The Engines of Change

Conceptualizing Historical Change

The Industrial Revolution and Its Preconditions

The British Model of Industrialization

Industrialization in Other Countries

Resistance to Industrialization

Technological Innovation and Industrialization

The Implications of Industrial Change

4 The Seedtime of Ideology: A Century of “Questions”

Europe’s Major “Questions” and Its Belief in Progress

The Elusive Genesis and Evolution of Europe’s Isms

Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism

Edmund Burke: The Conservative Traditionand Its Opponents

Feminism and the Woman Question

The Evolution of Liberal Theory and Practice: Radicalism and Utilitarianism

Classical Liberalism

Mill on Socialism and Feminism

Fourier’s Fantastic but “Scientific” Vision of Socialism

The “Practical” Socialist, Robert Owen

Saint-Simon, Prophet of Modernism

The Communist Tradition

Romanticism and Classicism

Part II From the 1820s to the Great Depression of the 1870s and 1880s

5 Liberal Struggles, Victories, Dilemmas, Defeats

The Revolution of 1830 in France

Unrest in the 1830s

Agitation to Repeal the Corn Laws

The Great Hunger in Ireland

The Darker Vision of Thomas Malthus

Again, Revolution in France

Reform in Britain: The Chartist Movement

Revolutions of 1848 and the End of Metternich’s Europe

The Republican Provisional Government and the “National Workshops”

Rising Class Conflict and the “June Days”

The National Question Outside France

Growing Divisions among the Revolutionaries

6 Nationalism and National Unification

Problems of Definition

Ideas of German Nationality

People, Language, and State: Herder and Hegel

Slavic Identities

Southern Europe: Latin Identities

New Power Relations in Europe: The Wars of Mid-century

The Unification of Italy

The Unification of Germany

7 Mid-century Consolidation, Modernization: Austria, Russia, France

The Habsburg Empire

The Russian Empire

France’s Second Empire

8 Optimism, Progress, Science: From the 1850s to 1871

The Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune

The Classic Age of British Liberalism

Britain’s Social Peace, Political Stability, and Economic Productivity

Liberalism, Population Growth, and Democracy

The Irish Question

Darwin and Darwinism

Part III From Depression to World War: The 1870s to 1914

9 The Depressed and Chastened 1870s and 1880s

The Spread of Marxism: Controversies about the Meaning of Marxism

The Development of Social Darwinism and Evolutionary Thinking

Russian Revolutionary Movements in the 1870s and 1880s

The Appearance of Modern Racial-Political Antisemitism

Antisemitism in Germany

The Weakness of Antisemitism in Italy and Britain

Antisemitism in France: Renan and the Scandals of the 1880s

10 Germany and Russia in the Belle Epoque: 1890–1914

A Rising Germany

Liberalism Challenged, Mass Politics, and the Second Industrial Revolution

The Influence of Friedrich Nietzsche

New Aspects of the German Question

The Evolution of German Social Democracy: The Revisionist Controversy

Russia under Nicholas II

The Appeals of Marxism in Russia and the Emergence of Leninism

The Russo-Japanese War, 1904–5

Revolution and Reaction in Russia, 1905–14

11 France and Britain in the Belle Epoque: 1890–1914

France in Turmoil

The Dreyfus Affair

French Socialism

Edwardian Britain

The Boer War

The Woman Question

12 The Origins of World War I

Growing International Anarchy, Hypernationalism, Polarization of Alliances

An Inevitable War?

The Role of Personality and Chance

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

From Euphoria to Stalemate Warfare

Part IV The European Civil War: 1914–43

13 World War I: 1914–18

Stalemate Warfare in the West and Expansion in the East

1916: The Battles at Verdun and the Somme

1917: A Turning Point

Autumn 1917 to Autumn 1918: The Last Year of War and Germany’s Collapse

November 1918: The Balance Sheet of War

14 Revolution in Russia: 1917–21

A Proletarian Revolution?

The March (February) Revolution: Provisional Government and Soviets

Lenin’s Return: The Paradoxes of Bolshevik Theory and Practice

The Mechanics of the Bolshevik Seizure of Power

The Constituent Assembly

Civil War in Russia: The Red Terror

The Failure of Revolution in the West

What “Really Happened” in Russia between November 1917 and March 1921?

15 The Paris Peace Settlement

The Settlements of 1815 and 1919 Compared; the Issue of German Guilt

Popular Pressures, “New Diplomacy,” Russia’s Isolation

Wilson’s Role: The Fourteen Points

The Successor States and the Issue of Self-Determination

The Creation of New Nation-States: Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia

Dilemmas and Contradictions of Ethnic-Linguistic States

Minority Treaties

League of Nations Mandates

16 The Dilemmas of Liberal Democracy in the 1920s

Containing Germany: The Weakness of the Leagueof Nations, 1919–29

The Dilemmas of American Leadership: Isolationism

Reactionary Trends and the Woman Question

The Negative Impact of the Versailles Treaty: Undermining German Democracy

The Evolution of Liberal Democracy in Germany

Developments in the Third Republic

The Brief Rule of the British Labour Party

The Stock-Market Crash, November 1929: The Beginning of the Great Depression

17 Stalinist Russia and International Communism

Stalin and Stalinism

The 1920s: Lingering Dilemmas and the Industrialization Debate

Stalin’s Victory in the Struggle for Power

Stalin and the Jewish Question in the Bolshevik Party

Collectivization and the Five-Year Plan

The Blood Purges

1939: The Balance Sheet: Paradoxes and Imponderables

18 The Rise of Fascism and Nazism: 1919–39

The Origins of Italian Fascism

Mussolini’s Assumption of Power

The Evolving Definition of Fascism: Initial Relations with Nazism

The Spread of Fascism Outside Italy, 1922–33

Nazism: The Basis of Its Appeal

The Nature of Hitler’s Antisemitism

Hitler in Power

A Moderate Solution to the Jewish Question?

Nazi and Soviet Rule: Comparing Evils

19 The Origins of World War II and the Holocaust: 1929–39

European Diplomacy, 1929–34

Hitler’s Retreats, the Stresa Front

The Great Turning Point, 1934–5: Comintern Policy and the Ethiopian War

The Popular Front in France, 1935–9

The Spanish Civil War, 1936–9

The Era of Appeasement, 1936–8

Evaluating Appeasement

20 World War II and the Holocaust: 1939–43

Appeasement from the East and the Outbreak of World War II

The Opening Stages of World War II

War in the West, 1940

The War against Judeo-Bolshevism

The Turning of the Tide

Victories at Stalingrad and the Kursk Salient

Part V Europe in Recovery and the Cold War: 1943–89 and Beyond

21 Victory, Peace, Punishment: 1943–6

The Problems and Paradoxes of Victory

Planning for Victory

Personal Diplomacy and Realpolitik

Winning the War: Myths and Realities

The Ambiguous Peace

The Holocaust’s Final Stages: Vengeance

The Nuremberg Trials

Dilemmas and Paradoxes of Punishment

22 Europe’s Nadir, the German Question, and the Origins of the Cold War: 1945–50

War-time Deaths, Military and Civilian

The Unresolved German Question: Germany’s Borders


The Two Germanies, East and West

Schumacher and Adenauer

Social Democrats vs. Christian Democrats

Postwar Austria

The Origins and Nature of the Cold War

23 The Mystique of Revolution: Ideologies and Realities, 1945 to the 1960s

The Revolutionary Mystique in the Immediate Postwar Years

Democratic Socialism in Western Europe: Great Britain

Democratic Socialism in Western Europe: Scandinavia

The Revolutionary Mystique, the Cult of Personality, and “Real” Socialism

Titoism and the New Show Trials

Stalin’s Death and Khrushchev’s “De-Stalinization”

Revolts in Poland and Hungary, 1956

The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

East Germany and the Berlin Wall

24 The End of Imperialism, and European Recovery: 1948–68

European Exhaustion and the End of Empire

India and the Middle East

New Dimensions of the Jewish Question

“French” Algeria

The Vagaries of Historical Memory: The Role of the Cold War

The Establishment of the Fourth Republic in France

Restoring Liberal Democracy in Italy

European Unification: The First Steps

De Gaulle’s Vision: The Fifth Republic

25 Europe in a New Generation

Communism with a Human Face: Czechoslovakia, 1968

Young Rebels in Western Europe

France: The “Events of May”

Feminism in the New Generation

26 Détente, Ostpolitik, Glasnost: A New Europe

Shifting International Relationships: Frictions and Contretemps in the Soviet Union and United States

The Impact of the Oil Embargo of 1973: “Stagflation”

The Restive Soviet Bloc in the 1970s and 1980s

Poland and Solidarity

West Germany’s Ostpolitik: Management of Modern Capitalism

Gorbachev and Glasnost, 1985–9

The Disintegration of Communist Rule

From Mystique (1989–90) to Politique (1991–2012)

From Soviet Union to Russian Federation

The Unification of Germany

The Breakup of Former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia

Western Europe: From Common Market to European Union

27 Europe in Two Centuries: An Epilogue and General Assessment

Europe’s Evolving Identity

European Liberties and Toleration

The Irish Question

The Woman Question

The Social Question and the Role of the State

The Eastern Question and the End of Empires

The German Question

Americanization, Globalization, and the European Model

The Jewish Question

The New Enemy: Islam

Environmentalism under Capitalism and Communism

The Demographic Question and European Xenophobia

The Sovereign Debt Crisis: The Dilemmas of the European Union


Concise History of the Modern World

Covering the major regions of the world, each history in this series provides a vigorous interpretation of its region’s past in the modern age. Informed by the latest scholarship, but assuming no prior knowledge, each author presents developments within a clear analytic framework. Unusually, the histories acknowledge the limitations of their own generalizations. Authors are encouraged to balance perspectives from the broad historical landscape with discussion of particular features of the past that may or may not conform to the larger impression. The aim is to provide a lively explanation of the transformations of the modern period and the interplay between long-term change and “defining moments” of history.


A History of Modern Latin America
Teresa A. Meade

A History of Modern Africa, second edition
Richard J. Reid

A History of Modern Europe
Albert S. Lindemann



The Dilemmas and Rewards of a Concise Historical Overview

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

(attributed to George Santayana)

We Communists have no difficulty in predicting the future – it’s the past that keeps changing on us!


Memory is like a crazy old woman, storing colored rags and throwing away good food.

(attributed to Austin O’Malley)

In the nineteenth century, Europeans produced a dazzling civilization, a culmination of centuries that was once termed “the rise of the west.” Europe influenced the rest of the world to an extent that few, if any, previous civilizations had. Europeans were admired and imitated but also feared and hated in much of the rest of that world. The empires of individual European countries, especially those of Britain and France, ruled over ­hundreds of millions of non-European peoples, often with a heavy hand. Europeans came to believe in their inherent superiority to other peoples, and there was no denying the Europeans’ scientific discoveries, military power, and all-round ­creativity. Yet, driven by the demons of the extreme left and right, European civilization nearly committed suicide, pulling much of the rest of the globe into two massive ­conflicts termed “world” wars, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions and ­incalculable miseries for millions more.

A familiarity with that history is obviously desirable for any educated person in the early twenty-first century, but such a familiarity is not easily gained. The volumes of Wiley-Blackwell’s Concise History of the Modern World series are designed for readers with “no prior knowledge” of the topics covered, but those volumes also have the goal of offering “vigorous interpretation” and insights from “the latest scholarship.” Any presentation of modern European history with those requirements must pay especially rigorous attention to priorities, leaving out much that would find a place in a longer volume for a different audience. In particular, any history intent on presenting penetrating analysis and provocative interpretive perspectives must be substantially different from an inclusive, fact-filled, chronological narrative. At any rate, most modern historians have long since moved away from presenting “just the facts” in an “objective” way. Professional historians see their discipline as ­question-driven, involving debate and ambiguity, rather than simply one in which facts are accurately, amply, and objectively presented. Again, the professional historian’s approach to history involves priorities, unavoidably stirring up debate about the nature of those priorities.

The above three epigrams suggest many of the challenges – and pitfalls – associated with writing an overview that is readable and yet avoids condescension. The first quotation is the most widely familiar. Attributed to George Santayana, it is a simplifi­cation of his actual words (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it”); the following pages will have much to say about the “lessons of history” – lessons that have often turned out to be simplistic and misleading, if not utterly false, leading to new tragedies. The second quotation, while obviously tongue-in-cheek, makes a point about the past that is tacitly accepted by all historians – not that historical facts can be crudely ignored, as was notoriously the case under Communist rule, but rather that what interests us about the past subtly evolves. We are constantly discovering new details about the past, and partly because of that new information we continually reformulate the questions we ask about that past. This is not to assert that the past itself changes; it is rather to recognize that we look for new things, while losing interest in things that had once fascinated us.

The third of the above quotations observes how our memory tends to be attracted to the gaudy and garish, passing over “good food” – in other words, avoiding more valuable memories, especially if they are awkward ones. That quotation also touches on one of the major issues for those writing modern history: the widening gap between “popular” history and history written by professional historians, the first colorful and highly readable but also tending to be conceptually shallow, the second generally less readable but more intellectually challenging. That division has a convoluted relationship with what have been termed the “old” and “new” approaches to the writing of history. A venerable or “old” tradition in history-writing concerned itself primarily with the role of great men and with those areas in which such men predominated (politics, diplomacy, and warfare, but also scientific inquiry and economic enterprise, to name just a few). “New” history has its own honored tradition in its concern to “revise” or radically reconceptualize how we understand the past, to achieve fresh perspectives on it – and is especially proud in announcing its move away from the earlier focus on great men.

The distinction between old and new history is so fraught with definitional problems that the terms may pose more of an obstacle to understanding than an aid to it. Those writing from an “old” perspective are also constantly in search for new interpretations, while most of those writing “new” history by no means completely ignore the more long-standing concerns. Nonetheless, the terms “old history” and “new history” are entrenched and do have some thought-provoking implications. The difference between old and new history, for example, has been described as involving a shift “from victors’ history to victims’ history” – tendentiously, no doubt, but pointing nonetheless in fruitful directions. How much should historical narratives concentrate on “elites” (the powerful, the famous, the creative) in contrast to the mass of the population (the previously neglected, powerless, mundane, and inarticulate)? Does the historian properly direct most attention to an ascendant Britain or to a declining Spain (in other words, to the successful model that others sought to emulate or to the failing one that others sought to avoid)? Which is it more important to understand: the personal lives of Hitler or Stalin, or the lives of the lower classes in Germany and Soviet Russia? Women constitute half of the population; should they then take up half of any general historical narrative? Elites are by definition a very small part of the population; should they then constitute a very small part of historical accounts? Anyone who believes that history should include “all of the above” cannot expect to find a concise volume that does so.

“New” history tends to favor “history from below,” dismissing “history from above” as limited and too focused on elites (which, at least for some observers, are implicitly bad, while “the people” are implicitly good). Impersonal forces are similarly seen as far more significant than the decisions of “great men”; the face of the common people, the writers of new history maintain, is more worthy of attention than previously recognized by those writing “old” history. These issues connect in a pertinent way with a major theme of the following pages; that is, how Europe over two centuries rose to such impressive heights, then fell to such appalling depths, yet then recovered to an amazing degree. Is that story best conceptualized “from above,” as one involving choice by identifiable historical actors and powerful elites (overwhelmingly males), who then are in some sense to be considered primarily responsible for the depths into which Europe descended? Or, in contrast, should the emphasis be from below, on great impersonal forces and the “anonymous” masses, relegating those elite actors to relative insignificance, like leaves on the surface of a powerfully rushing river?

Modern Europe’s civil war of 1914 to 1945, especially the mass murder of Jews that occurred in its last years, looms as the dark star of its history, potently drawing our attention and seeming to influence our interpretation of nearly all other developments. Who (or what) was responsible for the terrible catastrophes of those years? How could so many millions have perished? How could Germany, previously considered one of Europe’s most highly civilized areas, oversee a mechanized, merciless genocide of the Jews under its power, to say nothing of the many millions of other “inferior” peoples? How could Soviet Russia, its Communist leaders claiming to represent the humane values of the Enlightenment, oversee even more murderous measures over a longer period, resulting in tens of millions of deaths of its own citizens?

Are those calamities to be presented as avoidable, if political leaders or other elites had made different choices, or were those calamities ultimately inevitable, the result of impersonal forces that overwhelmed individuals? If we dismiss the “great men” of this period – Stalin, Hitler, Churchill – as unimportant compared to the workings of the economy or the strivings of the great masses of humanity, what kind of historical narrative might result? To turn the accusing finger in a different direction, might the rise in the power of the masses – ignorant, gullible, short-sighted – be seen as fundamental to Europe’s tragedies, whereas “great” men became important only insofar as they could manipulate those masses?

Such questions have no easy answers. This volume may be seen as an exploration of the kinds of blends or syntheses of old and new history that are desirable and – let us be realistic – possible in a concise volume. There is a related question that cannot be ignored in a history of modern Europe. “Eurocentrism” is one of the many sins charged against “old” versions of history. A history of Europe is by definition centered on Europe, but what is more broadly implied in the charge of Eurocentrism is that historians of Europe (and, by extension, people of European descent) have seen the rest of the world from a blinkered perspective, failing to view non-Europeans with the proper sympathy or respect. For many, especially in the intellectual climate of recent years, sympathy and respect are absolute requirements when dealing with history’s victims – the weak, vulnerable, or previously denigrated. Similarly, any suggestion of a critical stance in regard to history’s “losers” is dismissed as mean-spirited.

There is, however, this dilemma: Some of those claiming to present “new” perspectives have reproduced the tendencies of “old” history in elevating their favored group, and, even more, in failing to evaluate it searchingly. But surely the goal of reassuring one group or another that their members are wonderful and their enemies nasty is not consistent with the highest ideal of historical analysis. In this, as in other regards, there are obvious connections with the culture wars of recent decades and the way one approaches history.

The word “sympathy” can imply many things, but it tends to pull in different directions than critical analysis does. The ideal in these pages has been to extend sympathy to all – while also subjecting all to searching analysis. It is an ultimately unachievable ideal, of course, but nonetheless sympathetic understanding must be distinguished from rationalization or apologetics. That many Europeans of the nineteenth century considered themselves superior to non-European peoples is only too obvious, just as European elites considered themselves superior to the European lower orders. European imperialism and the struggle against it are major themes of this volume, as are the related themes of European racism and the struggle against it. In the history of other areas of the world, imperialistic expansion and concepts roughly comparable to European racism were common enough, but European civilization came to have more concentrated power and a greater range of influence throughout the world than any previous civilization – and, of course, most of us have a fresher memory of it.

A key focus, then, of these pages is on the reasons for the admiration that Europeans attracted, as well as reasons for the related hatred they inspired. As noted above, the Europeans’ growing sense of superiority to the rest of the world was in certain regards based on reality. Their physical power as measured in weaponry in relation to that of non-Europeans was often overwhelming. Yet the fierce dynamism of European civilization helped to carry it to the edge of self-destruction. It grew to awe-inspiring power, characterized by unparalleled material wealth and military might. Its scientific discoveries impressed its most determined opponents, as did its music, visual art, and literature. European ideologies spread widely. But Europe descended, between 1914 and 1945, into shocking irrationality and cruelty, and the mass murder of its own peoples.

Most observers today reject the nineteenth-century belief, often termed “triumphalism,” that Europeans and those of European descent were bringing higher moral values and an obviously superior level of civilization to the rest of the world. In a now-famous put-down, the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, when asked about European civilization, observed that “it would be a nice idea.” Nonetheless, there remains the issue of whether the contrasting assertion – that the West’s influence on the rest of the world was mostly destructive – is any more valid. World history is after all a story of mutual influences, but not usually of mutual benevolence. Europe’s arrogance and cruelty were hardly unprecedented, though its power and world influence may well have been.

List of Maps

Map I.1

Physical map of Europe.

Map 2.1

Europe, 1815.

Map 6.1

Unification of Italy.

Map 6.2

Unification of Germany.

Map 7.1

Languages and ethnicities of the Habsburg Empire.

Map 11.1

Imperialism in Africa.

Map 13.1

Europe during World War I.

Map 15.1

Europe, 1919.

Map 21.1

Nazi-dominated Europe, 1942.

Maps 22.1–22.3

Germany’s changing borders. Top: Interwar
Germany, 1919–39. Middle: Greater Germany
(Grossdeutsches Reich), 1941–5. Bottom: Truncated,
divided Germany, 1949–90.

Map 24.1

Palestine, 1948.

Map 27.1

Europe, 2010.

List of Figures

Figure 2.1

The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba. Hand-colored ­etching, 18.9 × 22.7 cm, published by J. Phillips, London, 1814. The text coming from the donkey’s bottom reads: “The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff.” Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-04308.

Figure 3.1

Woman using spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves in 1764. Wood engraving, c. 1880. Source: Universal History Archive/Getty Images.

Figure 7.1

Napoleon III (by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1805–1873). The portrait suggests nobility and an association with Emperor Napoleon I, whereas Napoleon III was often cruelly caricatured by his contemporaries, most famously by Karl Marx. Source: DEA / G. Dagli Orti / De Agostini / Getty Images.

Figure 8.1

Darwin portrayed as an ape (or an “orang-outang”) in a cartoon in the Hornet magazine, March 22, 1871. The caption read “A Venerable Orang-Outang. A Contribution to Unnatural History.” Source: © Classic Image / Alamy.

Figure 9.1

Karl Marx in his final years, in a photograph that became iconic. Source: akg-images.

Figure 10.1

“Dropping the Pilot” by Sir John Tenniel. The “pilot,” Bismarck, is being dismissed, while the bumptious and incompetent young Kaiser Wilhelm II is taking over. Source: Punch, 1890. © INTERFOTO / Alamy.

Figure 11.1

The caption reads: “What better place than in the bosom of the family?” Dreyfus was demonized by much of the French right, who thought Devil’s Island was the right place for him. Source: Private Collection / Roger-Viollet, Paris / The Bridgeman Art Library.

Figure 12.1

Gavrilo Princip is paraded by his Austrian captors after assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Sarajevo, Bosnia, June 28, 1914. Source: © Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy.

Figure 13.1

France, World War I, Battle of the Somme (July 1 to November 15, 1916), the British front. The battle developed along a front of some thirty kilometers, on both sides of the Somme river, between the German army and the Franco-British forces. It was the first time in military ­history that tanks were used. Source: Album / Prisma / akg-images.

Figure 14.1

Rasputin, surrounded by ladies at the court of the tsar, 1910. Source: © World History Archive / Alamy.

Figure 15.1

The “Big Four” world leaders at the World War I peace conference, Paris, May 27, 1919. From left to right: Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Premier Vittorio Orlando, Premier Georges Clemenceau, and President Woodrow Wilson. Source: © GL Archive / Alamy.

Figure 17.1

Lenin and Stalin, after Lenin’s first stroke. This photograph was used to emphasize the closeness to Lenin that Stalin claimed. Source: SSPL / Getty Images.

Figure 18.1

Adolf Hitler, September 1936. The business suit reflects his efforts at this time to appear as a respectable statesman, not a radical demagogue. Source: © ullsteinbild /

Figure 20.1

Hitler: “The scum of the earth, I believe?” Stalin: “The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?” Cartoonist David Low’s “Rendezvous,” originally published in the Evening Standard, September 20, 1939. Source: British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, Evening Standard.

Figure 21.1

Nazis arresting Jews in Warsaw Ghetto. Frightened Jewish families ­surrender to Nazi soldiers at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. In January of that year, the residents of the ghetto rose against the Nazis and held their ground for several months, but were defeated after fierce fighting in April and May. Photo from Jürgen Stroop’s report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 21.2

The Big Three: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin at the Yalta Conference, February 4–11, 1945. Source: © Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy.

Figure 23.1

“I’m sorry, kids! It was, like, just an idea I had!” Roland Beier: Marx cartoon, 1990. Source: © Roland Beier.

Figure 24.1

Arriving in Palestine. A soldier of the British Parachute Regiment with newly arrived Jewish refugees at a port in the British Mandate of Palestine, 1947. Source: Popperfoto /Getty Images.

Figure 26.1

Willy Brandt kneeling at a monument to the Jewish dead, Warsaw, 1970. Source: © Interfoto / Alamy.

Figure 26.2

Still smiling after a very hectic day in the Big Apple, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa display their endurance as they attend a reception in their honor, December 8, 1987. Source: © Bettmann / CORBIS.


Writing a book can seem a lonely undertaking. Facing a blank screen each day (or worse, a screen filled with endlessly revised previous drafts), one mutters, “How did I get into this?” In my case there is a simple answer: I was asked by Christopher Wheeler, publisher at Wiley Blackwell, if he could interest me in writing a concise, readable ­history of modern Europe. In no small part due to his delicate flattery, my initial ­resistance was overcome. (A more complex answer is that, having taught the subject for many years, I had long contemplated writing such a book, and this was the chance to put up or shut up.)

It was not lonely, then, at the beginning. Christopher and I exchanged many emails, discovering that we were largely in agreement about the dimensions of the volume. About six months later I delivered a detailed proposal. Five scholarly readers were then asked to offer their reactions to it. These turned out to be gratifyingly supportive. Thereafter, many more readers were asked to look over the gradually emerging draft chapters. Among those readers were students in my university classes, colleagues at my university and elsewhere, non-academic friends, and last but by no means least my wife, Barbara, also a professor of History – the first and last reader of all my books and articles.

A contract was negotiated, but not long thereafter Christopher accepted a position at Oxford University Press. His successor at Wiley Blackwell, Tessa Harvey, proved ­gracious and professional, even when progress seemed worryingly slow. I again exchanged countless emails with Tessa, Isobel Bainton, Anna Mendell, and Gillian Kane. It would be hard to imagine a more efficient, sensitive, and supportive group of editors.

The complete draft of the manuscript in its initial form was too long, so I thoroughly revised it, deleting tens of thousands of words that I had so sweated to produce, but I finally got much closer to the agreed-upon goal of a “concise” history. This draft yet again went through a rigorous vetting process, most notably by development editor Sarah Wrightman, whose sensitivity to what I was trying to accomplish gave me a ­welcome boost. The eagle eye of copy-editor Hazel Harris caught typos and ­inconsistencies, but more significantly she showed a remarkable talent for flagging unclear passages. Caroline Hensman and Charlotte Frost offered invaluable assistance with the often complex issues associated with selecting maps and illustrations.

Rather than feeling lonely, then, I had good reason to agree heartily that it “takes a village” to (raise a child or) write a book of this sort. Yet, with all these many helping hands, there did remain an undeniable solitude, for an author must be, in the immortal words of a recent American president, “the decider.” Many readers offered ­knowledgeable suggestions, but those suggestions often contradicted the equally knowledgeable ­suggestions of other readers. Not all readers could come fully to grips with the ­implications of that terrifying word “concise.” While it is true, then, that it takes a ­village, it is also the case that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” A single author’s voice is crucial to producing a readable and coherent narrative, and that author cannot avoid making decisions about what should be included, or, more painfully, what had to be excluded. Such a process, even for the most confident and experienced writer, will likely involve bouts of frustration and self-doubt – if finally also a giddy mix of satisfaction and exhaustion at wrestling the thing to the ground.

It is customary in the acknowledgments page to end by thanking everyone who helped yet at the same time firmly recognizing that any remaining errors or ­inadequacies are the author’s responsibility. I hope my comments above adequately convey those sentiments. But I must sincerely declare to all those mentioned above – beyond the usual boilerplate and blarney – that it would have been inconceivable to complete it without you, and I offer you my sincerest thanks.


What Is Europe?

As will be more amply explored in the concluding chapter (Chapter 27), by the early years of the twenty-first century, the long-standing question “What is Europe?” – or, more generally, “What does it mean to be a European?” – took on mounting interest and complexity, for both Europeans and others. That interest derived in part from the progress made toward European unification after World War II, linked to the related discredit of the nationalistic passions associated with the rise of modern nation-states. Interest also arose because of the dilemmas that growing European unity seem to pose. With the Cold War passing ever more into remote memory, Europeans were asking, not for the first time but now with more direct and practical implications, what distinguished them from the citizens of the United States, a nation founded by Europeans on European principles that was coming to play a crucial role in European history in the twentieth century yet was somehow different from Europe.

The citizens of the United States have long considered their country to be a model for the world, a view dismissed as a naive conceit in most of the rest of the world, though taken seriously, at least to some degree, by others. Still, especially during the presidency of George W. Bush, the American model (or what in the United States was often termed “American exceptionalism”) was one that made even previously sympathetic Europeans uncomfortable. One conveniently succinct answer to “What is European?” was simply “not American!” (“Americans” will be used in these pages for “citizens of the United States of America,” partly because it is more succinct but mostly because the usage is so widely accepted in the world, even if it understandably irritates some Latin Americans.)

Identity is often more easily sensed by what one is not than what one is. That negative reaction to the American model, whatever its nuances and ups and downs, is revealing because there has been little need for Europeans to state so emphatically their differences from, say, the Japanese, the Chinese, or Africans, since the differences of those peoples from Europeans are so obvious. In previous centuries “not Asian” might have been an equally succinct and satisfying answer (“Asia” and “the Orient” then vaguely referring to areas east or southeast of Europe). But Europeans after the end of the Cold War felt a refreshed but hardly unprecedented need to examine and underline what it was that distinguished them from Americans.

“Christendom” and Europe

The actual word, Europe, has a long history, stretching back to ancient times, involving a subtle and complex symbolism. “Christendom” was a more common expression from the early Middle Ages up to the seventeenth century, but, as the eighteenth century progressed, “Europe” gradually replaced “Christendom.” The earlier term was found unsatisfactory for several reasons, probably most important being the disgust felt by influential European elites for the catastrophic wars of religion in the seventeenth century. That sentiment blended with their growing admiration for the tolerant and sophisticated values of the pre-Christian civilizations of Greece and Rome. Those intellectual elites differed about which qualities were most characteristically European, but they nonetheless felt a growing sense of common identity, by the eighteenth century, that extended beyond Christian faith.

Among the most important aspects of that common identity was the Europeans’ sense that they enjoyed “liberties” that non-European civilizations did not. In a related way, Europeans took growing pride in the rich variety and relatively free interplay of the many cultures and languages within their states, with no single language or culture imposed from a ruling elite (though French came close for a while). Even the term “Christian,” in spite of the ill-repute the term took on for some European intellectual elites, had lasting relevance in the emerging sense of shared European values, in that European civilization in the previous thousand years had unquestionably been Christian. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Europeans remained devoutly or at least formally Christian well into the twentieth century. Even those Europeans who expressed disillusionment with Christianity nonetheless retained an identification with the art and music of the past, both overwhelmingly Christian in themes and inspiration.

This sense of European cultural commonality in comparison to the rest of the world was by the early nineteenth century a subtle and yet significant force in binding Europeans together. Again, what was not European was easiest to state succinctly. The Turks, to cite a particularly revealing example, were not considered European. True, their empire extended into part of the European landmass, and for many years European peoples were subjected to their rule. Istanbul, the Turks’ capital city, is as close to Rome as Warsaw is. Moreover, the Turks’ capital city was once called Constantinople, a Christian capital rivaling Rome. The Turkish example is further revealing in that the peoples of Asia Minor, the Turkish heartland, resemble Europeans physically (or “racially”); even further, the Anatolian Peninsula (another word for Asia Minor) protrudes into Europe and is surrounded by European bodies of water (the Mediterranean Sea to its south and the Black Sea to its north). Still, the Turks were not considered Europeans because they lived under an “Oriental” despotism, in Asia Minor (the term itself of course marked a difference from Europe), and did not enjoy European liberties.

The lack of liberty was not the only issue, however. The Russians also lived under despotism but were by the eighteenth century making more persuasive claims to be considered Europeans than the Turks could make. A more crucial issue was that the Turks were Muslim, and for much of the early modern period of Christendom they had been the Enemy. Fighting off the Turkish–Muslim military threat in early modern times had contributed significantly to Europe’s sense of itself as a whole with common interests to defend, just as, in the nineteenth century, the steady weakening of the Turkish Empire was a key element in the Europeans’ growing sense of superiority, as the Habsburg and Russian empires nibbled away at Turkish holdings in the Balkans.

Finally, the Turks’ origins, in the prehistoric movements of peoples, were believed to differ from those of the great majority of Europeans, as was further confirmed by the nature of the Turkish language. Most European tongues derive from the Indo-European family of languages (“Aryan” was a term often preferred then), whereas the Turks spoke a language that belonged to the Altaic family of “Asian” languages. Still, even this was not decisive but rather one element of a cumulative sense of Turkish difference. There were some Europeans, notable among them the Hungarians and the Finns, whose ­origins and language were also non-Aryan.

Geographical Definitions

A definition of Europe based on its geographical features was easier to formulate than a religious, cultural, or linguistic one. Nonetheless, Europe’s “natural” boundaries had a number of awkward or contestable aspects, beginning with the just-mentioned point, in the southeast, where the Anatolian and Balkan peninsulas meet. Similarly, on Europe’s northeastern edge, Russia’s status as fully European long remained in question. Perhaps more precisely the issue was which part of the Russian Empire was European and which was not, since that vast empire stretched into areas that were incontestably not European.

The lands dominated by the tsars by the late eighteenth century extended from east-central Europe (where a large portion of Poland had recently been annexed into the Russian Empire) across the Ural Mountains into the sprawling territories of Siberia. The generally accepted notion of “European Russia” referred to the area west of the Ural Mountains. Southward from those mountains, the empire of the tsars also extended into central Asia, including many Turkic peoples and millions of Muslims. Tsarist rule itself, even in European Russia, remained indelibly marked by Russia’s past of despotic Tartar domination (the Tartars were one of many Turkic-speaking peoples originating in Mongolia). However, the Slavic-speaking Russians had converted to Christianity, even if many of the Russian Empire’s other nationalities had not.

A key consideration was that the tsarist empire had come, by the eighteenth century, to play a key role in European power politics and its related dynastic alliances. In fact, the tsars themselves by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were more Germanic than Slavic in lineage. Comparable marriages between Christian and Muslim dynasties were scarcely conceivable, although military alliances between the Turks and Christian states did occasionally occur. Russian armies, allied with various European powers, marched over much of western and central Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That was shocking enough for many Europeans, but for Turkish or Muslim armies to have done the same would have been an almost unthinkably repellent notion.

Map I.1 Physical map of Europe.


An entirely different kind of ambiguity about Europe’s natural or physical boundaries prevailed at Europe’s northwestern edge. The inhabitants of the British Isles retained a subtle if sometimes adamant sense of separateness from the Continent; they did not actually consider themselves non-European, but they cherished an identity as physically, culturally, and diplomatically separate from the Continental states. Just as the Russians had major interests in the non-European east, the British looked out over the oceans, beyond Europe, to their vast imperial holdings. Still, British cultural distance from other Europeans remained minor compared to that of the Russians. British “liberties” were admired by many on the Continent, in sharp contrast to the revulsion generally felt for the harshly despotic rule of the tsars. Furthermore, European civilization was so profoundly influenced by its long-standing British element that describing the British as non-European makes little sense.

Whatever the uncertain aspects of Europe’s eastern and western fringes, by 1815 its general boundaries were evident enough to contemporaries: the Mediterranean Sea on the south, the Atlantic Ocean on the west, Scandinavia (or its sparsely settled Arctic regions) on the north, the Ural Mountains to the northeast, and the Black and Caspian seas to the southeast, with a further boundary of the Caucasus Mountains stretching between them. Within these broad, palpable geographic boundaries there was an intricate network of internal barriers and byways – seas, rivers, mountains, swamps, and plains – that established some of the preconditions provided by nature for nation-­building and national identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The celebrated nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke (birth and death dates of figures discussed in the text are to be found in the index) argued that Europe’s unique greatness and creativity were explained by the fact that it was composed of many nations, within various and often imperfect natural frontiers, in enduringly productive interplay with one another; they were not a single political unit or centrally directed empire, yet they were able repeatedly to unite sufficiently to repel intrusion from non-European powers. Europe’s many states were never, or at least not for long, completely dominated by one of their own states; they remained enduringly separate yet still part of a larger identifiable civilization.

The significance of what nature provided Europe with is worth further scrutiny, as is the point that the internal natural borders of Europe’s nation-states were often highly uncertain – one reason among many that Europe’s leaders were endlessly tempted to try to add a neighbor’s territory to their own. Nature provided Italy (“the boot”) with unusually well-defined borders, but Poland’s were anything but clear; they were mostly drawn in the plains and swamps on the east and west, and were not even beyond dispute along the Baltic Sea to the north. Poland’s geographic situation made it likely, especially given its powerful, expansionist neighbors, Russia and Prussia, that its history as a nation would be insecure. And in fact Poland’s recurring national tragedies were a central theme of modern European history, with far-flung implications.