About halfway through this. It’s a history of Europe, 1945 – 2005, and it’s a great roach-killing doorstop of a thing.
It’s good, though. And it’s easy to read in installments of 10 or 15 minutes at a time, which is important for me at this time in my life (small children).
I like that it manages not only to tell me stuff I didn’t know — that’s easy enough — but to tell me stuff I knew already, arranged in a way that is clear and makes sense. A sample:
Social Democracy had always been a hybrid; indeed, this was just what was held against it by enemies to the Right and Left alike. A practice in lifelong search of a theory, Social Democracy was the outcome of an insight vouchsafed to a generation of European socialists early in the twentieth century: that radical socialist revolution in the heartlands of modern Europe — as prophesied and planned by the socialist visionaries of the nineteenth century — lay in the past, not the future. As a solution to the injustice and inefficiency of modern capitalistm, the nineteenth-century paradigm of violent urban upheaval was not only undesirable and unlikely to meet its goals; it was also redundant. Genuine improvements in the conditions of all classes could be met in incremental and peaceful ways.
It did not follow from this that the fundamental nineteenth-century socialist tenets were discarded. The overwhelming majority of mid-twentieth-century European Social Democrats, even if they kept their distance from Marx and his avowed heirs, maintained as an article of faith that capitalism was inherently dysfunctional and that socialism was both morally and economically superior. Where they differed from Communists was in their unwillingness to commit to the inevitability of capitalism’s imminent demise or to the wisdom of hastening that demise by their own political actions…
The politics of social democracy were not always seductive to impatient young people, as later events were to show. But they were intuitively appealing to men and women who had lived through the terrible decades since 1914, and in certain parts of Western Europe social democracy by the mid-sixties was no longer so much a politics as a way of life.
“A practice in lifelong search of a theory”, ha. Well, it works for me.
There’s also all sorts of fascinating factoids (Franco’s Spain did not allow the public display or practice of any religion but Catholicism until 1966), interesting sidebar discussions (how midcentury Scandinavia managed to avoid the rural-urban political division that afflicted much of the rest of Europe, and how this was a huge boost for both political stability and general development), and bits of forgotten history (the importance of the long-defunct International Refugee Organization in getting millions of Europeans resettled in the years just after the war).
I’m sure Postwar has flaws, but they haven’t forced themselves on my consciousness yet. One interesting thing: I’m halfway through the book, and I haven’t been able to suss out author Judt’s own personal political convictions yet. This is rare; when it happens, it means either (1) his match my own closely, and so fall in a sort of blind spot, or (2) the author has managed the difficult feat of writing objectively about recent history. (1) is actually more likely, but I’m reserving judgment. I’m about to hit 1968. Let’s see if he can keep this up.
Anyway. It’s big, it covers all of Europe from If this seems like your sort of thing, by all means seek this book out — it’s IMO entirely worth while.