Critical Summary

Mark Mazower’s text Dark Continent gives readers a panoramic view of the conflicts that Europe faced during the turbulent inter war period. The first four chapters cover a plethora of topics including racism, religion, eugenics, and many more. Mazower’s ability to tie these issues together is a testament to his skill as a writer and its what makes this book such a fascinating read. Throughout the book Mazower seems to tie all of his points to the larger idea that Europe’s inability to adapt to the idea of democracy led to the rising radicalization of almost all of Europe, with countries on the right like Germany, and Italy, or the left like Russia, and Hungry experiencing many of the same issues.

The inter war period was a dynamic time of extreme adjustment, controversy, and volatility throughout Europe. Issues such as the fall of the imperial powers, financial crisis, and rising nationalism, were brought to the forefront during this polarized time. Mazower theorizes that the conflicts in places such as Germany, Austria, Hungry, and Russia were not unique to each one, but rather he focused on the common fundamental issues facing these countries, organizing his text by theme rather than chronology. In all these nations existed a populous that shared the ideals of the Western powers–particularly Britain, France, the United States, and Switzerland–such as democracy and liberalism. These ideals, however, applied to a continent ravaged by war and occupied largely by a working class that preferred an increase in wages, to constitutional liberties, were ambitious and utopian. Attempting to break free from these ideals, Germany, Italy, Russia and many more countries turned to radicalism and violence to achieve there goal of dominance of there own populous and also the Europe as a whole.

At one time or another there where liberal democracies set up in all of Europe’s countries. However the failure of these democracies in countries like Russia led to a rise of radicalism, “His triumph, like Mussolini’s later from the Right, was really the consequence of liberalism’s failure” (Mazower P.11). This quote by Mazower is talking about Lenin and his success in Russia, however it can be used to describe many of the European democracies who let radicals like Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler step into power gap’s left by these democracies. The Parliament’s of these countries where described by Mazower as so “Parliament seemed like a lens, magnifying rather than resolving the bitter social, national and economic tensions in society at large.” This view of Parliament although harsh was very true and, further illuminates the failure of “liberal democracy”.

Overall I highly recommend Mazower’s text to all who have a interest in this period. Although some of the information in this book are more for students of the undergraduate and beyond level, I cannot thing of a reason for any avid history buff to not have this text on their reading list. In one volume of around five hundred pages it is able to give a rather varied and compressive history of twentieth century Europe, a topic that could take volumes to write about.