About the Book -- Europe's Century of Discontent: The Legacies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism
This volume is based on papers delivered at an
international conference “Reflections on Europe’s Century of Discontent:
Confronting the Legacies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism,” held at the
Institute for European Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on 10–12
The impetus for the conference were our
feelings that with the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communist
regimes in Eastern and Central Europe, a number of questions regarding the
conventional understanding of totalitarianism could possibly be viewed in a new
The classical studies of totalitarianism after
World War II were undertaken when Nazism and Fascism had been vanquished, while
the Soviet system still existed and appeared to have come out strengthened,
surviving the travails of the war and even extending its boundaries with the
imposition of Soviet-style rule on the countries of Eastern Europe, only
recently liberated from Nazi German occupation and indigenous forms of Fascism.
The comparison between right-wing defeated
totalitarian regimes and the still existing – and apparently flourishing –
Soviet system was premised on a built-in asymmetry. After 1989, it was felt that
a new, less oblique perspective became possible for the first time.
With this in mind, our aim was to address a number of issues both on the level
of theory and as well as historical experience.
Given these possible new research horizons, we
asked the conference participants to take another look at the conventional
theories of totalitarianism and try to distil from them those insights which
have withstood the shifting paradigms developed in the study of totalitarianism
over the last decades.
We were also aware of the fact that the
classical models of totalitarianism have been developed by scholars who managed
to flee either from Nazism or Communism, and consequently have not themselves
lived under these regimes, nor have they undertaken systematic studies of them
as they have existed in reality: Popper, Arendt, Talmon, Friedrich and (to a
lesser extent) Brzezinski, have mainly developed their paradigms as political
theorists, not social scientists.
How much of this has been vindicated by what we
have learned, in the meantime, about these systems – and how much has to be
Because terror and mass murder have accompanied
Fascism, Nazism and Communism, we asked whether these have been inherent in the
internal logic of their thought systems, or whether their emergence could be
seen as an outcome of historical contingencies. Related to this, we suggested to
the participants to try to address the extent to which there have been
significant chasms between ideology and its realization in the different
With the new perspectives made available after
1989, we also asked the participants to reflect on the different ways in which
the various systems came to their end: here through a crushing military defeat
inflicted from outside, there via an internal implosion. Furthermore, we asked
them to look into the question whether the different ways of their demise left
different legacies for the successor regimes and the societies grown out of the
Last but not least, while we were not trying to
answer the excruciating question of “the lesser evil,” can one say today that
“left” and “right” totalitarianism were basically, as was usually claimed during
the Cold War, merely two different forms of the same phenomenon – or that there
were such fundamental differences in their ideological premises and structures
that the behavior of both regimes as well as their ultimate fate cannot be
divorced from these differences.
Because the nature of the questions asked moved
from the theoretical to the practical, we were happy to have as participants not
only scholars but also a number of persons who were instrumental in the dramatic
post-1989 transformations, primarily in Poland and Hungary.