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A flawed history of Europe
on 6 May 2007
Although there are quite a few books on aspects of European History written from a specific ideological angle, not many of them give an overview of the entire period. This book is one of them and, inevitably, it will cause many debates between those who agree and those who disagree with the author's political views. However, such a book should not be judged according to its political orientation but according to the consistency and coherence of its documentation and argumentation. It is in this respect I have some objections to the book.
In my opinion, its most fundamental flaw is the identification of liberal ideologies in Europe (centrist, social-democratic, Labour etc.) with left-wing radicalism, including accusations of Communist appeasement. If any proof of the fallacy of this generalisation were required, this is provided by facts described in the book itself, much as these are downplayed. The demand for fairer social policies and respect for human and civil rights by the liberals was not motivated by Communist sympathies but by the experience of the Nazi and the other fascist regimes (including the USSR) whose horrors are described well in the book. Liberal criticism focused only on actions and policies that contradicted the values for which the West was fighting the Communist tyranny. The book does not deny such policies but excuses them in the usual the-goal-justifies-the-means manner and, what is worse, accuses those criticizing such policies as being soft on Communism! Absurdly, the book brands liberals as "discontents of prosperity", even though they were those who called for opportunities for more people to partake in exactly this prosperity.
One is tempted to believe that in reality, Judt's problem is not the inhumanity and lack of freedom in Communism, since he is often indifferent to other cases of suppression of freedom by non-communist dictators. Rather, it looks as if he objects to the principle of more social justice and greater opportunities for the more disadvantaged members of the society to realize their potential, a principle he wrongly associates with its perversion in the communist regims. While, many people were indeed misled by the Communist rhetoric into an outlook sympathetic towards the Eastern Block dictatorships, the overwhelming majority of those believing in this principle had definitely nothing to do with Communism and a large segment of them actively fought Communism (the Christian Social Union in Bavaria comes to mind).
It is a distortion of historical truth verging on the defamatory to collectively associate all those inspired by values of humanity with the Communist monstrosities.