Europe's New Narrative

Why the Cold War was so instrumental in Europe's success.

Issue: Winter 2005-2006

Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (Penguin Press: New York, 2005), 964 pp., $39.95

THE THEME of Tony Judt's magisterial history of Europe since 1945 hinges on the symbolic moment that he suggests took place in Paris on December 28, 1973, when "the Master Narrative of the twentieth century . . . [and] its core assumptions began to erode and crumble" with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. This was not the first, and certainly not the most literary, exposure of the Soviet experiment as "a barbaric fraud", but it was the fatal blow to the long and lingering loyalty that so many Europeans had maintained to the utopian hopes of the 1917 Revolution, a loyalty that was given a new lease of life by the epic of the Red Army's resistance and its march to Berlin in 1945. And in rejecting the last claim of Soviet communism to be on the side of history or social progress or even human decency, the recognition of the gulag required Europeans to question anew the assumptions that lay behind so many of the national and political myths that had survived the double suicide of Old Europe in the First and Second World Wars. Like Auschwitz, the gulag was unforgivable; there was nothing inevitable about "History" that could not be changed by individual courage and decision; the Left could not therefore be pardoned for Marxism's sins by pleading good intentions.

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