Critical Summary of Mazower’s “Dark Continent”

Throughout the first four chapters of Dark Contienent, Mark Mazower argues in support of his thesis that in Europe, the period in between the World Wars was a time of overwhelming change.  While all of the countries of the time underwent some sort of ideological changes, from the emergence of the nation-state to the grand sense of nationalism, some countries went to dire extremes, such as Nazi Germany to the right of the political spectrum and the Bolsheviks in the USSR to the left of it.

Mazower takes a balanced look at Interwar Europe by covering a different area of developing significance in each of the four chapters.  Chapter one discusses the decline of democracies and failures of the new constitutions created after World War I. Chapter two’s focus is on the emergence of extreme nationalism and the horrifying effect this had on minorities.  Then, Chapter three covers health and social welfare programs in the nation-states, and finally, Chapter four discusses the economics of Interwar Europe.  Sometimes, Mazower’s writing style becomes too dense for the uninformed reader.  To be able to fully understand this section of the text requires at least a basic background in both economics and European history.  However, Mazower’s approach of covering one issue per chapter rather than focusing on all of the issues of a single country is a great organization tactic in relation to the complexity of the time period.  The reader is able to follow his ideas without struggle.

In his text, Mazower maintains an objective perspective on Interwar Europe.  His interpretation of it is that of many countries with similar ideological values which are often horrifying to a modern perspective, such as the use of eugenics to justify racism.  However, he paints the USSR and Nazi Germany as extremes of the social and political norm, rather than absolute abnormalities.  He shows this by discussing some the less far-fetched, yet still horrific atrocities of other European countries and even the USA, such as the legalization of sterilization of persons with disabilities for the “good” of the state.  The countries whose unethical policies Mazower discusses are both Allied nations and those aligned with the Axis Powers.  This objective strategy shows the reader that those countries who were not as extreme in their views and actions were still morally impure.

While Mazower’s text sometimes becomes too dense for the average uninformed yet intelligent undergraduate student, he provides a variety of extra resources in the back of the book, such as maps and charts.  The maps show the constantly changing boundaries of Interwar Europe while the charts convey the decline of minorities in Eastern Europe starting in 1931.  Both of these help clarify the information Mazower discusses, as well as giving visuals for some of his most important points.  Mazower also lists the wide variety sources he used.  His bibliography is extensive, however he relies heavily on secondary sources dating as late as the 1990’s and not as much on primary sources.  A better balance of the different types of sources would have made his argument more credible.

The objective perspective that Mark Mazower uses in Dark Continent gives readers an interesting and fresh perspective on Interwar Europe.  He effectively shows how the policies of the USSR and Germany are not simply abnormalities, but variations on those of the rest of the continent and all around the world gone horribly extreme.  While the density of the writing style sometimes allows for the reader’s attention to stray, the unique perspective overall keeps the reader’s interest and makes it worthwhile for interested undergraduates to study.


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