Mazower Critical Summary

In Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent, Chapters one to four serve as a strong introduction to the cultural, political and economic problems that plagued inter-war Europe. Mazower argues that the growth of fascism, nationalism, bureaucracy, and new economic systems came as a counter-reaction to the failures of democracy and capitalism in post-World War I Europe. Arguing that because of the slow-pace of democracy and the economic failures that the Treaty of Versailles brought, revolutionaries mobilized the population and seized control of the governments, instituting radical reforms and changes in all aspects of life-social, political and economic which guided Europe to recover and another world war. While Mazower does do an excellent job of balancing a generalization of Europe and using specific examples; however, these examples tend to focus on Germany and Russia too much at certain points. While his use of these general outliers do help to show the extremes that Europe faced during these critical years, they do not add anything to his thematic arguments or prove his generalizations of the continent.

Dark Continent has the benefit of coming after the collapse of the Soviet Union which allowed Mazower and other historians access to documents previously unavailable. This helps to create the impact that Mazower’s work has on the general historical community. Mazower relies primarily on secondary accounts mainly from the 1970s and 1980s with some outliers in the 1960s and 1990s as well. His primary sources are limited, but when they are used, specific examples and quotes are used to bolster his argument.

The major issue with Dark Continent is the problems of length and organization. In order to provide clarity, Mazower organizes his topics thematically rather than chronologically. In order for the reader to properly follow this text, a companion text emphasizing the chronology of events in inter-war Europe is extremely helpful, allowing the reader to better understand the relationship between Mazower’s themes and the overall history between the wars. However, because Mazower analyzes overarching trends in those years, the way he organizes his text is quite understandable.

Overall, Mazower adds an interesting perspective to the changes of inter-war Europe, bringing new light to a period which primarily emphasis the actual events rather than the thematic trends one sees during those years.