The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent proves to be both an informative and transformative excerpt from this book. The chapters clear up all misconceptions that, through a series of certain calculated events, fascism somehow prevailed over democracy and therefore World War II was inevitable. However, it is discovered that fascism was not a dark blip in Europe’s modern history. These chapters take a thematic approach, rather than a territorial approach, to explain exactly what was happening in both Western and Eastern Europe that led to both the development and breakdown of the democratic system and the rise of authoritarian powers.
This thematic approach may prove beneficial for a reader looking for common themes across several different countries. However, it may also be very confusing especially when Mazower is talking about England in one paragraph, and Hungary in the next. Similarly, some countries such as Russia and Germany are talked about far more than others. However, due to the nature of what was happening in those territories at the time, it can be understood that the events that took place there were talked about in more detail than others since the themes talked about, such as communism or nationalism, often happened in those countries at their core. Despite Mazower’s sometimes unbalanced way of looking at certain events, I found that the most beneficial part of this book was how the content was organized within the individual themes. For example, in Chapter 3, the topic of Eugenics comes up frequently, leading to a further discussion about racism. Mazower breaks this down with how each country dealt with it. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Greece were hard supporters of racist ideals such as anti-semitism. However, France and Britain saw both sides of the issue. He goes on to explain exactly what this meant for country policies and the Eugenics movement at this time.
The book does an especially great job at supporting it’s thesis’ with evidence from countless outside sources. They come from everywhere; constitutions, treaties, scholars from several different countries, journalists, critics, the leaders themselves, and so on. These sources collectively support the same ideas Mazower is trying to get through to us. The main theme of the book can always be found in his supporting arguments and sources. Democracy sometimes fails.
Dark Continent was written for an audience with a basic knowledge of European history. For this reason, I can absolutely recommend this book for undergraduates. These chapters, for me, took what I learned in secondary school and added details and context to the basic facts. The most important thing these chapters can do is explain the reasons for the area in history Europe wants to so desperately forget. “The reason why ‘fascisms’ come into being, is the political and social failure of liberal democracy’. (p. 17)