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About this book

As Europe has expanded its influence in world economic and political affairs, there has been an increased need to understand how Europe recovered from the devastation of World War II to become a major world player. This concise history offers a comprehensive overview of Europe's political, social, economic and cultural developments since 1945.

J. Robert Wegs and Robert Ladrech balance a narrative of the major events and personalities of the post-war political scene with a critical assessment of key issues and themes, such as:
- the development of the welfare state
- European integration and the European Union
- the Cold War
- the rise and fall of the Soviet Empire
- the political-economic turmoil in eastern Europe since 1989
- the place of Europe in the globalisation of the world's political-economic affairs.
The text also features further reading sections at the end of each chapter to aid more detailed study, and is enhanced throughout with tables, maps and illustrations.

Written for students and general readers alike, this thoroughly revised, updated and expanded new edition is an ideal introduction for anyone with an interest in the history and politics of post-war Europe, east and west.

Table of Contents

1. A Bipolar World

Contemporary history tends to exaggerate the influence of recent events — the impact of Second World War on Europe’s role in world affairs, for example. Long-term developments — the growing economic and political importance of the United States, Japan and the Soviet Union, or the demographic patterns that began to reduce Europe’s proportion of the world’s population after 1930 do not receive the attention given to a recent cataclysmic event such as the Second World War. Europe’s weakened condition, especially the collapse of the German centre, made the US and USSR military might appear even more formidable. Much of the history of the post-war years will involve a European recapturing of the worldwide influence it had in 1900 but lost in 1945.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

2. From Left to Right: European Politics, 1945–48

When the Second World War drew to a close in Europe in May 1945, even the victors had little to celebrate. With approximately 14 million deaths in Western and Central Europe, one-half of them civilians, and the transplanting of another 16 million during and immediately after the war, few families escaped the war’s suffering. The spectre of economic ruin and famine threatened much of the continent. In Great Britain, wartime debts and post-war shortages cut short the victory celebrations. In France, the destruction of large areas of the northeast as well as chaos in internal social and political affairs boded ill for the nation’s future. The restoration of the Third Republic was itself in doubt, as the quote above attests. For the defeated, Germany and Italy, the future seemed even bleaker. In Germany the survivors would have to live with widespread destruction, famine and an economy that had ground to a halt. Germany also had to absorb around 8 million ethnic Germans who fled or were driven out of Eastern Europe. Countries that had been caught between the major belligerents, such as Belgium and Holland, had also suffered severely from the war.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

3. Economic Recovery in Western Europe

In the two decades following 1948, revolutionary economic changes laid the groundwork for what many observers termed the New Europe. By 1960 Europe had regained its place as the leading trading area in the world, with nearly one-quarter of the world’s industrial output and 40 per cent of the world’s trade.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

4. Western European Politics, 1948–60s

The rapid economic growth in Western Europe and improved East-West relations determined the course of political development from 1948 into the 1960s. Spared serious economic crisis after 1948, the politically moderate and right-of-centre forces in the major Western European countries were not challenged seriously by the left. Growing economic affluence, combined with government extension of social welfare services and full employment policies, stilled demands for a truly revolutionary political change. Parties on the left, kept from office by the improving economic conditions and their own revolutionary rhetoric, began to adopt reformist rather than revolutionary policies. Moderate reformers, such as Willy Brandt in West Germany, emerged as the new leaders of Socialist parties.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

5. The End of European Empire

During the two decades following the Second World War, Europe lost its Asian and its African empires. The Asian empire was the first to go because of national liberation movements that began before the First World War. By 1965, most of Africa had followed the Asian countries to independence. Over forty countries with one-quarter of the world’s population had overthrown colonialism in this brief span of time.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

6. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1950s and 1960s: The New Course and Polycentrism

The above announcement signalled the end of an era, but several years were to elapse before the nature of the new era became clear. Between Stalin’s death and the denunciation of his so-called cult of personality that Nikita Khrushchev made at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, a struggle for power raged between the Stalinists and the proponents of a ‘new course.’
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

7. European Unity

The omnipresent fear and impotence of small nations in a world dominated by superpowers, the desire to incorporate Germany into a federated Europe so as to prevent a recurrence of war and its attendant devastation, the longing for the economic advantages thought to be inherent in a larger economic unit — together, these provided the initial impetus for European integration. The unification movement had slowed by the 1950s, but then the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution, the British and French failed at Suez, and Europe lost its colonial empire. All these now convinced a growing number of Europeans who had originally opposed union that closer cooperation might be their only salvation. Externally, the United States pressured Europe to cooperate so that it could pay for more of its own reconstruction, restore its markets for American goods, and prevent calamitous political developments similar to those that followed the First World War.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

8. Post-war European Society: A Consumer Society and Welfare State

Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission from 1985 until 1995, often spoke of a ‘European model of society’. By this, he meant a model of society in which the state provided a welfare system that was more than simply a safety net, an economy in which the social partners cooperated rather than conflicted, and a principle of economic activity summed up by the term ‘social market economy’. The Western Europe reconstructed after WWII and developed since, is not a perfect representation of this model. But in some key areas, Delors’ vision is closer to reality than, say, America’s, often the model of society that Delors and other Europeans, especially on the left, have warned against (in France this model is often simply referred to as the ‘anglo-saxon model’). Western European countries have indeed entered a new socio-economic and political era. The poverty of the immediate post-war period has been replaced in much of Europe by a material well-being that rivals and in some cases surpasses that of the United States. Wylie’s observation is relevant for much of Europe, not simply France. Added to this material well-being are welfare systems that provide extensive protection to all citizens. Although there is now movement to cut back extensive welfare systems that have threatened economic efficiency, all political parties support the welfare state. Affluence forced socialist and even the communist parties to drop their revolutionary rhetoric and programmes and support the welfare state. The contemporary struggle defining left and right in this matter is between the two models of society, that is, preserving and modernizing the European model, or allowing globalization to promote the American model. In this chapter, we pay special attention to the characteristics of the society that emerged in the first several decades after the war. Globalization, the enlargement of the EU to eastern and central Europe and other social trends are stimulating a new evolutionary phase in contemporary Europe, and will be explored in Chapter 14.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

9. Economics and Society in the Communist World

During the immediate post-war decades, the East European countries and the Soviet Union made good on their promise to bring about a greater equalization of income. Their economic policies, however, while initially inducing greater levels of industrialization, lowered dramatically the standard of living for the vast mass of their populations by the 1980s, and contributed to the collapse of these regimes in 1989–90. They achieved greater social equalization after the war through the abandonment of private ownership of property, through the nationalization of industry and through a greater equalization of educational opportunity. But in place of an elite based upon private ownership emerged an elite based upon special privilege. Moreover, economic difficulties forced these countries to reintroduce income differentiation in order to bring about the economic reforms necessary to stimulate economic performance. While the income disparities were not as great as they are in the West, the higher income and greater privileges of the elite has brought about social disparities and popular resentment in the East. This chapter will examine economic and social development within the Soviet Bloc and Yugoslavia between 1945 and 1989.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

10. 1968: Year of Crisis and Its Legacies

On its way towards the affluent society, Western Europe was shocked by a series of student-led demonstrations and strikes in 1968 that ultimately brought into question much of what Europe’s leaders had been trying to achieve since 1945. Before the riots began, some political scientists had suggested that the relative absence of serious political turmoil could only be explained by an ‘end of ideology’ brought about by the inappropriateness of radical solutions in the modern welfare state. Both in Europe and in the United States during the 1950s students seemed to have little interest in politics. Although American students became more active in the early 1960s, in response to the civil rights movement and then to the Vietnam War, Europe’s students remained quiet. Even if students had been dissatisfied, no one expected that their activities could harm the stable advanced European societies, let alone nearly bring down the government in France.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

11. Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to the 1970s and Beyond: Decline, Fall and Transition

The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have experienced four major phases since 1968 with Soviet directives or experiences the predominant influence in the first and third phases and indigenous east European developments decisive in the second stage. The first phase ensued immediately after the suppression of the 1968 Czech uprising when the Soviet Union sought to shore up its Eastern European empire through a carrot and stick approach. Adherence to the Warsaw Pact and Comecon were stressed and any attempts to challenge the supremacy of the Communist Parties or to develop political pluralism were rejected. To make such a policy palatable, the Soviet Union encouraged consumerism through subsidies and Western credits in order to legitimize communist regimes through an improved standard of living and to divert attention from the absence of political freedom. Although these policies succeeded in the early 1970s, the serious worldwide economic downturn after the mid-1970s coupled with the failures of economic planning in the Communist Bloc brought huge debts and economic chaos to Eastern Europe.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

12. Political and Economic Trends Since the 1960s in Western Europe

European economic and social renewal in the sixties provided strong support for the political status quo. Conservatives in Western Europe and socialists in Scandinavia continued their decades-long rule during this long period of economic resurgence. But the economic downturn that began in the early 1970s, described below, helped unseat incumbent political parties throughout Europe as electorates voted for change. A leftward trend that had begun in Western Europe in the 1960s as a result of relaxed East-West tensions and a growing socialist political moderation accelerated rapidly in the 1970s. The apparent moderation and national-centered policies of some Western European Communist parties, or ‘Euro-communists’ as they were called for a brief period in the 1970s, gained them some additional support. Europeans no longer thought that a vote for a Communist candidate was necessarily a vote for Moscow. The continued relaxation of tensions between East and West and Europe’s desire to pursue an independent foreign policy had promoted a policy of détente, or increased understanding and contacts, between Western Europe and the Communist world. The deepening of the Franco-German rapprochement also contributed to stability, as the Mitterrand quite suggests. These contacts, especially the economic ones, were maintained or even enhanced despite the United States–Soviet animosity in the early 1980s. Gorbachev’s assumption of power again relaxed East-West tensions and permitted a resumption of contacts. By the 2004, many of the former Communist states of Eastern Europe had joined NATO, and Russia had even signed up to an arrangement with NATO, the Partnership for Peace.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

13. Thought and Culture Since 1945

After the experiences of Second World War — the mass exterminations, the bombing of civilian centres, the atomic bombing of Japan — a pervasive cultural pessimism settled over continental Europe in the immediate post-war period, reflected in Adorno’s statements. For if the land of Goethe and Bach could carry out the atrocities of Auschwitz, what hope was there for mankind in general? Only after extensive soul searching could Europeans, especially the Germans, begin to seek answers to this paradox. Except for those who remained loyal to some form of Marxism, Europe’s intellectuals first turned against all ideological systems, all attempts at understanding the whole, to a distrust of all ‘facts’ and ‘knowledge.’ This existential attitude was most evident immediately after the war in philosophy and literature.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech

14. Europe Enters the Twenty-first Century

By the beginning of the twenty-first century Europeans could point with pride to many post-war achievements: the re-emergence of Europe as a powerful economic and cultural force, the growth of affluence, the rejection of authoritarian government in the South, greater independence in foreign affairs and the end of European overseas colonialism. But most important was the end of the Cold War and division of Europe. With the demise of Stalinism and Leninism and the end of Soviet rule, Eastern Europe and the successor states of the Soviet Union appeared headed for some more democratic form of government and a closer association with Western Europe.
J. Robert Wegs, Robert Ladrech
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