Massive but well-contained and richly detailed account of history’s bloodiest century.
Even confined to Europe, the victims of the 20th century number in the millions. Jarausch (European Civilization/Univ. of North Carolina; After Hitler: Recivilizing Germans, 1945-1995, 2006, etc.) examines the origins and effects of the bloodletting: in, among other things, “unbridled nationalism among the policy elites as well as the popular masses” and an equally unbridled belief in Social Darwinist notions that supposed inferiors were rightly destined to extinction at the hands of history’s winners. There were positive trends, as well. The years immediately following World War I, writes the author, showed a rapid growth in democracy, though within two decades, all but one “turned into nationalist authoritarian regimes.” So vast a canvas leaves Jarausch room to explore fruitful themes, among them the origins of the dystopian view that machines represent “a mechanized menace,” the stock in trade of science fiction from H.G. Wells’ time to our own. One does not have to read far between the lines to sense that Jarausch is sympathetic to the foundational ideals of the League of Nations and United Nations in abolishing the “nation-state as the basic unit of politics,” which, of course, never happened. The nation-state is alive and well, as is the demand for national sovereignty and the constant pulling at the edges of entities like the European Union (and the U.N., for that matter). The text can be eye-glazing at times (“The introduction of comprehensive secondary schools was a progressive move, but the requirement of political loyalty showed that education was instrumentalized for the maintenance of party power”), but for the most part, Jarausch’s study of people and states in conflict is both accessible and coherent.
Comprehensive and with a convincing closing defense of the best of European ideals as contrasted with the “prescriptions of military strength, unilateral intervention, unrestrained speculation, and social conservatism” that prevail on the other side of the Atlantic.