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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of madness, 8 Oct 2009
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This review is from: Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (Paperback)
As a 58 year old Briton I learned a long time ago that the cartoon-style version of European History we were taught at school was nonsense. Representing Nazism as just collective madness or Stalin's tyranny as the product of "brain-washing" never made sense. Many of the ruling ideas of the early 20th c were followed through in all their brutal logic by those regimes.

Fantasies of racial superiority were just as popular in Britain, France and (especially) the USA. Sub-Darwinian ideas that conflict was necessary to maintain the blood-line and that poor or sub-normal people should be prevented from breeding were widespread throughout the Western world. Intellectuals of left, right and liberal tendencies were in love with dreams of the "march of progress" and historical predestination. Jews were widely despised and national purity conflicted with the problem of minorities.

Such a continent was full of dark possibilities which Mark Mazower deftly shows shaped the last century. We were not civilised by the flowering of our better nature but by exhaustion, the threat of atomic war and the partitioning of Europe by the victors of WW2.

Yet, at the end this book tastes of realism and not hopelessness. The fact that such lucid hindsight is possible and that all the fantasies of nationalism, liberalism and socialism have been found wanting suggests that Europe might find a humbler way of living with itself and the wider world.

"Dark Continent" is packed with enlightening quotations and allusions. The endnotes are comprehensive. Good value in terms of money and reading time.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Jun 2012 11:15:34 BDT
Last edited by the author on 16 Jun 2012 11:16:17 BDT
"Fantasies of racial superiority were just as popular in Britain". Really? I accept that there were racist elements - Oswald Mosley had some success, admittedly - but I think you're pushing it a bit to suggest that such concepts were as popular in Britain as they were in Nazi Germany.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Nov 2012 00:17:33 GMT
Racial "analyses" were popular from the late 19th c onward throughout Europe as a pseudoscience. The Nazi development was not very popular to start with. It was their promise to save Germany from political and economic chaos which earned the votes which enabled them to barge their way into power. The racism seems to have been a more important part of the package than many Germans realised. With regard to British convictions about the superiority of the "white race" and the permanence of racial characteristics just read almost any fiction written between 1870-1930.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Nov 2013 12:54:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Nov 2013 16:39:30 GMT
F Henwood says:
You seem to imply an equivalence between British and Nazi racism. If this is your view, then of course you are entitled to it. But if you think your view is supported by Mazower, as your review seems to imply, then you are mistaken, as this quote from the book illustrates:

In few countries was biological racism as central to the definition of nation as it became in interwar Germany. References to la stirpe (race) in Italy, or to the health of the race in Britain were usually vague ways of talking about historical communities, with little impact on policy. Italian eugenicists were ... in favour of racial mixing, which they believed led to `hybrid vigour', while the British were more concerned about differential birth rates between classes ... Racial prejudice and anti-Semitism were omnipresent ... [and] the Third Reich spawned imitators ... but none of [them] ... could be compared in extent or intensity with what was happening in Nazi Germany (p. 102)

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2014 11:39:02 BDT
Thanks for your helpful remarks. I did not mean to imply equivalence. But I suspect the casual racism of the ordinary Brit or German "man in the street" was fairly similar. The Nazi doctrine piggy-backed the promise of national renaissance. The germ was everywhere, the epidemic flared up the conditions extant in Germany. Indeed the Weimar republic propaganda representing Germany as innocent of triggering WW1 and as the "victim" of Versailles laid the ground for the Nazi interpretation of recent history as a racist conspiracy against the "Herrenvolk".
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