H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-5 on Betts. Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe after World War II

George Fujii Discussion

H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-5

Paul Betts.  Ruin and Renewal:  Civilizing Europe after World War II.  New York:  Basic Books, 2020.  ISBN:  9781541672468 (hardcover, $35.00).

4 October 2021 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT23-5
Editor:  Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Georgios Giannakopoulos | Production Editor: George Fujii


Introduction by Glenda Sluga, European University Institute, Florence. 2

Review by Giuliana Chamedes, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 4

Review by Dina Gusejnova, LSE. 7

Review by Aden Knaap, Harvard University. 11

Response by Paul Betts, University of Oxford. 15




“So there is a new spectre haunting Europe, and it goes by the old name of civilization.  This taunting sentence comes at the end of Paul Betts’s Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe after the Second World War (453).  The 400 and more pages that precede it offer a comprehensive account of why that spectre was taken seriously by Europeans at the end of the Second World War—and why historians should too.  Broadly, this is a history of reconstruction; more specifically, the book studies how, in the wake of the psychological as well as physical wreckage of the Second World War, Europeans used the “damaged traditions” of civilization “as compass and guidance.” Talk of “civilization” was ubiquitous, Betts argues in his reply here; it was not only a means of legitimating Europe’s exceptionalism or even cultural, and therefore political, superiority—as a relatively new historical literature tells us[1]—but also, more controversially, it was “a way of thinking and acting transnationally beyond the nation-state, nationalism, Cold War division, and empire.”

Paul Betts is Professor of Modern European History, at Oxford university, and the author of well-known prize-winning capacious studies of German history, both the West, with The Authority of Everyday Objects:  A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design), and the East, with Within Walls:  Private Life in the German Democratic Republic, which was awarded the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History.[2] His preference for taking on historical complacency is reflected in Ruin and Renewal, a study of how the idea of civilization was mobilized by left and right, fascists, liberals, socialists, for and against war, for and against nationalism, for and against the idea and authority of Europe itself.  Betts describes his book as an “experimental text in theme, approach and narrative structure.”

The reviewers who have generously taken the time to dissect Ruin and Renewal confirm Betts’s dynamic and often surprising account of just how popular civilisation remained as a concept that might save Europe reputationally as well as literally.  Each reviewer has found in the evidence and the argument points of distinctive historical contribution and provocation.  Aden Knapp enthusiastically picks up on the fate of civilization as a concept in international law – a history that offers notorious examples of the legitimating potency of civilization discourse.  After 1945, Betts argues, the language of civilisation was ‘decoupled’ from international law, its place taken by human rights and a broad humanitarianism—although Knapp suggests that the losers could have featured more in Betts’s account.  Dina Gusejnova observes that Ruin and Renewal is as much a history of consciousness and lauds Betts’s attention to the significance of decolonization and empire, particularly when she compares it with other well-known general histories of post-war Europe.  Betts’s version, for example, tracks the surprising appropriation of the language of civilization by postcolonial leaders who otherwise defined their national legitimacy over and against the idea of Europe.  Giuliana Chamedes is more critical of the absence of colonial voices in the Europe of this history; she is concerned that Betts’ account of reconstruction implicitly if not intentionally resuscitates the loaded idea of civilization, rather than simply helping us to understand its prominence in the post-war, as Betts conceives his endeavour.

All the reviewers comment on the geographical scope of Ruin and Renewal, especially its attention to the eastern half of the continent, traversing the Cold War ideological divide that historians often take at face value.  In this history, by contrast, the Soviet Union and the United States even shared a language of civilization in the early post-war period, as much as the Western Europeans.  The reviewers also pick up the unresolved questions raised by Betts’s book, not least the work that “the protean idea of civilization” did in the “political contest over Europe’s usable past.”  Then there is Betts’s interest in civilization as a concept that promoted transnational ways of thinking, in opposition to the narrowness of nationalism.  Indeed, I found it useful to make the leap to the naming in the late 1970s of my own Department at the European University Institute, as “History and Civilization,” by implication a by-product of the story Betts is determined to sketch out for us.  This still leaves us, and the reviewers here, grappling with the history of “civilization” as an idea that both links Europe’s imperial past and xenophobic present, and leaves a legacy that in 2012 blossomed into Nobel Peace Prize for the European Union.  Wherever we land on the multi-faceted dimensions of the role of civilization in the reconstruction of Europe, there is general agreement that the arguments and provocations presented in Ruin and Renewal are a welcome, even much needed, contribution to debates about the character and future of European history in the twenty-first century. 



Paul Betts is Professor of Modern European History at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and is the author of several books, including Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe after the Second World War (Basic Books (US)/Profile (UK), 2020) and Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (OUP, 2010).  He has co-edited seven books, most recently (with Jennifer Evans and Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann) The Ethics of Seeing: Photography and 20th Century German History (Berghahn, 2018).  A co-written book (with James Mark, et al.) on Socialism Goes Global: Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the Age of Decolonisation will appear with OUP later this year.

Glenda Sluga is Professor of International History and Capitalism at the European University Institute, Florence, ARC Laureate Fellow at the University of Sydney, and director of the ERC Advanced program ‘Twentieth-Century International Economic Thinking’.  Her latest book is The Invention of International Order: Remaking Europe after Napoleon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021).

Giuliana Chamedes is Mellon-Morgridge Professor of History at the Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her first book, A Twentieth-Century Crusade: The Vatican’s Battle to Remake Christian Europe, came out with Harvard University Press in 2019, and won the Michael Hunt Prize in International History (2020) as well as the Marraro Prize (2019).  She is currently drafting her second book, tentatively titled Failed Globalists: European Socialists, Decolonization, and the Decline of State Welfarism, 1973-2008.

Dina Gusejnova is Assistant Professor in International History at LSE.  Her research interests centre on modern European political, intellectual, and cultural history of transitional periods, especially the revolutions of 1918-20 and the two World Wars. 

Aden Knaap is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Harvard University.  He is currently working on a history of international courts.



In his sweeping new history of Europe since 1945, Paul Betts settles on one keyword to organize the narrative: ‘civilization.’ Today, the term has rather unpleasant connotations.  It reminds us of attempts to chart some countries as ‘civilized’ and others as ‘left behind;’ of violent European ‘missions to civilize’ the colonial world; of 9/11-era appeals to an ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ against foreign terrorists; and of present-day far-right calls to restore ‘western civilization’ and defend the ‘civilized world’ against purported enemies at the gates.  Our associations seem to suggest that defenders of ‘civilization’ have never been on the right side of history.  In his synthetic and ambitious book, Betts challenges us to think otherwise.

‘Civilization,’ Betts reminds us, was a term used historically as a call to action, but not just to achieve nefarious ends.  Yes, European imperial powers and Nazi-Fascist regimes were wedded to the concept to justify land-grabs and genocides, but ‘civilization’ was also a term embraced by historical actors and actresses whose work was praiseworthy.  Do-gooders after World War II seized on the term to signal their desire to assist with reconstruction after the devastating conflict.  ‘Civilization’ was a way for Western activists and scholars in the 1950s to announce a broader vision that had more to do with building a shared global humanity than with celebrating European particularities (for instance, the French historian Lucien Febvre in 1950 penned a book arguing that the French had “international origins,” insofar as they were and had always been “of mixed blood,” forged only through contact and exchange with places like North Africa and the Middle East).[3] In the 1960s and 1970s, the term changed meanings once again, enabling newly decolonized states—especially but not exclusively on the African continent—to lay claim to precolonial pasts and construct postcolonial futures. Thanks to BBC series like Civilisations (2008), the term has been able to live on as an idiom for post-Cold War universalism.  Perhaps the fact that this freighted term has been bandied for good and not just for ill is unsurprising.  ‘Civilization,’ after all, has also had positive connotations from when European thinkers first popularized the term.  Writing just after the French Revolution in The History of Civilization in Modern Europe, François Guizot defined civilization as “the history of the progress of the human races toward realizing the idea of humanity.”[4] Civilization, for Guizot, was forward-motion towards a more perfect universalism.

By hanging his hat on ‘civilization,’ Betts realizes a central component of his project: re-narrating the history of Europe since 1945 in a way that captures both light and darkness, good and evil.  After all, we have plenty of dark narratives—ones that emphasize how imperialism and violence were and remained virtually unshakeable throughout the twentieth century and beyond, living on under the mantle of ‘human rights,’ ‘international law,’ and more.  The historiography is also full of cheery stories, which chart the inspiring rise and rise of ideas like democracy and social justice.  Betts comes down somewhere in between.  Certainly, the book does not hide the horrors of recent European history, but it also does not linger there.

In another sense too, Ruin and Renewal charts a middle course.  Instead of retelling the history of post-1945 Europe as one dominated by Cold War antipathies, Betts highlights many forms of cooperation.  Cooperation is what we see in the first several chapters of the book, as Betts brings the reader into the world of reconstruction work.  He presents his central actors and actresses as passionate “new humanitarians,” whose heroic missionary work helped remake a fractured continent from the ground up.  In the field of international law, Betts emphasizes, those who triumphed were keen on treating the losers of the war humanely.  Even in terms of religious matters, cooperation is at the center of Betts’s analysis.  “Catholics and Protestants,” he notes, “successfully buried their interwar legacy of antiliberalism and confessional fighting in favor of a new ecumenical Christian front dedicated to upholding a new liberal version of Christian democracy” (160).  Here, as elsewhere, Betts offers a counter-current narrative.

While most scholars continue to “wear the Cold War lens,” as Matthew Connelly famously put it,[5] Betts suggests that not only was the Iron Curtain permeable, but (perhaps even more provocatively) that similar dynamics were at play in both the Eastern and the Western bloc.  Some of the examples are entertaining, such as the boom in etiquette books on both sides of the Iron Curtain (everyone, East and West, was apparently obsessed with drinking out of the right glass at dinner parties and perfecting the friendly hand-shake). But Betts also goes deeper.  Perhaps in response to scholarship that has tended to see Cold War cultural politics in cynical, instrumentalist terms, Betts argues that meaningful bonds were forged.  Without downplaying the degree of authoritarian control under which Eastern Europe operated, Betts stresses enriching episodes of boundary-crossing, lingering in particular on connections between Eastern European and African countries.[6] Whether it came to architecture or folk dance, literature or museum construction, Eastern European and newly decolonized African countries traded skills and know-how and engaged in quite a number of shared initiatives.

Betts ventures that the socialist world was perhaps more open than the west in terms of trade and interaction.  Here too, the term ‘civilization’ came back with a vengeance, as Eastern Europeans “drew on the once-denigrated idea of civilization not only to reject old European hierarchies and prejudices towards the rest of the world under the banned of equality and mutual respect but also to place Eastern and Western Europe on an equal cultural footing to overcome Eastern Europe’s own sense of underdevelopment, isolation, and colonial complex towards its Western European rivals” (382).  In tandem, newly decolonized countries latched onto the project of building a new civilization for themselves—even as they remained critical of Western European influence, largely subscribing to the famous dictum laid out in 1950 by Martinique poet and activist Aimé Césaire in Discourse on Colonialism, according to which a “civilization that chooses to use its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.”[7]

For all its strengths, one sometimes wishes that Ruin and Renewal were a bit more explicit about its core arguments and more deliberate in laying out how its account differs from or reinforces standard narratives.  Betts does not come down in a clear way on the crucial question of neo-imperialism.  Was European integration a fallback form of internationalism, following the failure of neocolonial projections like Eurafrica, for instance?  Relatedly, the book spends little ink on the role of black and brown communities in fundamentally shaping the postwar order and cultures of contestation on continental Europe.[8] His revisionist account of Cold War culture also begs the question: What implications did South-East collaboration have in the long run?  As his final chapter makes clear, it is hardly the case that Eastern European countries have responded in more welcoming ways to the Syrian refugee crisis, to take just one example.  Why did the cross-cultural openness of the 1970s not enable more tolerant attitudes in the 1990s and beyond?

The final key issue raised by Ruin and Renewal has to do with the term ‘civilization’ itself.  It is always tricky business for scholars to select a term of analysis that is also an actor’s term—and one that displays shifting meanings throughout the period under analysis to boot.  Does Betts suggest that we should be the heirs of civilization’s defenders, and take up this term with pride?  At turns, Ruin and Renewal seems to answer in the affirmative, suggesting that ‘civilization’ is a concept that must be preserved for analytical and normative reasons.  The book’s conclusion asserts that, “in the end, potentially universal concepts like civilization—or its equally beleaguered cousin, humanity—may be the only language we have left to imagine the prospect of peace and international cooperation” (456).  But elsewhere, the argument seems more tentative.  Does ‘civilization’ include or exclude?  Does it signal universalism or blinkered allegiance to outdated conceptions of modernity and western superiority?  Despite its shifting historical meanings, ‘civilization’ may not be able to claw itself out from its close identification with European imperialism and modernization theory.[9] ‘Civilization’ is a crucial word to carefully historicize, as Betts does, but it is not a useful term to recuperate for normative reasons: it will neither help Europe confront the crimes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, nor will it point the continent towards a more just future.


The world is full of repositories of past worldviews, but these usually survive in fragmentary form.  If they did exist as discrete objects, they would probably take the form of the graphic dials of vintage radio stations, where, in the 1950s, for instance, you would find a mix of locations that would not today, in the age of seemingly boundless aggregation of global spaces, inhabit any single list or space: places such as Berlin, Leningrad and Baranowicze, Helsinki and Hörby, Tangier and Beromünster.  In the absence of a single objet trouvé that would capture as large a subject as the idea of Europe after the Second World War, historians need to make their own intellectual and narrative devices for piecing together the likely sound and feel of a past era.  The choice of the right accents requires instinct, effort, imagination, a vast synthetic knowledge of the literature and historiography, and a talent for writing.  This is one way to describe the kind of undertaking that Paul Betts has, successfully, endeavoured in this book.

While the analogy of the radio dial does not appear in the book itself, it is meant to indicate that the reader should not expect a synthetic narrative of events in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Instead, the book provides a kind of history of consciousness of this period.  Looking at the way different actors saw their world and made sense of their actions, Betts revisits an epoch in which people imagined and reimagined different assemblages of European and recently colonial, metropolitan and provincial, spaces.  Despite the book’s subtitle, Betts does so not by speaking about how Europe was actually re-civilized, but rather by showing how people in different roles used notions such as “civilisation,” “humanity,” and “world heritage” in the aftermath of the Second World War.  The book begins with a tour d´horizon of European destruction, more specifically, the bombed-out idea of civilisation with which multiple actors were confronted in a ruined Germany after the Second World War.  The ruins were not only local and physical but also conceptual and universal.  Betts’s analysis is driven by a preoccupation with the concept of “civilization” – a “bruised” concept, as he calls it (22) – which he examines in different contexts of social interaction and social policy.  Against the backdrop of the Cold War divide and growing tensions between the former metropoles and colonies, the renewal of this concept was used for highly divergent ends by different actors and political regimes.  The wish to understand and contextualise the variety of efforts to turn a past conceptual bricolage into new confident visions of political communities is at the centre of the book.  In a section inspired by Norbert Elias’s Civilizing Process, which was published just at the start of the Second World War, Betts transposes Elias’s study of court culture to Cold War-era etiquette books that shaped gender and other identities according to the new rules of civility (210-2012).

The book moves from the ruins of European cities to its manifold reconstruction by competing actors in a world marked by Cold War and decolonisation.  Some of them are named, such as Stephen Spender, Arnold Toynbee, and André Malraux.  Other users of these concepts are significant chiefly due to their impersonal, institutional authority, such as UNRRA and UNESCO.  This is also true of writers of fiction and artists.  Some authors and writers disappear behind their work, particularly the photographers Edward Steichen and David Seymour, while others, notably V.S. Naipaul, retain their presence as authors.  The second chapter takes the Nuremberg trials as a threshold on which some older notions of justice and civilisation were reconfigured to serve divergent political ends.  Two chapters identify the renewed importance of faith and religion on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  The themes of empire, colonisation, rival claims to welfare and cultural heritage, particularly in Africa, dominate four chapters.  In the final chapter, the focus is on the media, particularly broadcasting corporations such as the BBC and American television, which are now viewed as sites where the various experiences of renewal are processed to form precarious notions of “multiculturalism,” or to entrench dangerous global frontiers by pitting civilisations against each other.

Finally, one lands in the present moment, a world divided by new populisms, hybrid wars, and the crisis of the pandemic, with a sharper vision of an epoch now definitely past.  In this new state of uncertainty, the ruined world of 1945 seems oddly familiar, while the internationalism of culture and international institutions of the 1960s and 1970s moves into a distant, almost counterfactual past.  This post-war world was marked by “postimperial ideals of shared world civilization” (453), followed by Cold War divisions but also by solidarities which today appear rather distant or unlikely.  For example, Soviet leaders used the discourse of civilization’s negative counter-concept, barbarism, to champion the international ban on chemical weapons (185), an idea which now, in retrospect, seems even more tongue-in-cheek than it may have done at the time.  This section of the book also grapples with the fact that some postcolonial African leaders, such as the Senegalese socialist Léopold Sédar Senghor, far from championing what today would be described as a more radical language of decolonisation, in fact incorporated Francophone notions of civilisations to assert the future of Africa as part of a Francophone federation of states (251).

By necessity, Ruin and Renewal treads some of the ground covered by the synthetic grands récits of the post-war (i.e. post-1945) period by historians such as Tony Judt, Mark Mazower, Konrad Jarausch, and Ian Kershaw.[10] But in many respects this is also a very different sort of book, in part because, as Betts indicates, unlike earlier work, Ruin and Renewal devotes much more attention to the histories of empires, decolonisation, and what he calls the subject of “multiculturalism” (27). Another key difference from existing synthetic narratives of the period is the book’s attention to and critical insight on the theme of religion and faith.  This is an unlikely subject, one might think, for the late twentieth century, and yet it is one which forms a highly compelling theme which is one of the hinges for understanding the shift from ruin to renewal.  Betts insists that “religion was fundamental to the Cold War from the very beginning, and shaped Cold War antagonism in surprising ways” (134).

Using the Cold War uptake of Hungarian Cardinal József Mindszenty’s persecution under Communism as a case study, Betts shows how a popularised account of the suppression of faith under Communism as personified by the Cardinal in films such as Hollywood’s Guilty of Treason (1950) shaped the powerful notion of Eastern Europe’s “captive peoples” (137).  As such it not only paved the way for Catholicism as a source of anti-Communist resistance in Eastern Europe, it also changed the agendas of intelligence organisations on both sides of the divide, which renewed efforts to develop chemicals and techniques affecting the mind and mass consciousness in a way that had not been seen since the 1930s.  At the same time, on the subject of faith, more could have been said about the use of biblical language in attempts to comprehend the destruction of the Jews, and the Cold War context of Holocaust memorialisation.  The theme of pan-Islamic anti-westernism is discussed as a separate theme throughout the book.

Several threads in the book come together in the link between the idea of Europe, European integration, and European development projects in Africa during the Cold War.  Throughout the book, Betts discusses European identity by problematising the way in which ideologues and leaders of European integration of the world reused their experiences of past empires, including the Pan-Europeanist Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi’s vision of Habsburg Europe, or the ideas of managing the transition in the Belgian Congo by Belgian foreign minister Paul-Henri Spaak.  Of particular insight is Betts’s analysis of the particular occasions and contact zones where events of the Cold War met with the legacies of colonialism, situations which revealed the contradictory thoughts of many leading political figures on economic modernisation, development, welfare, and cultural heritage.  One powerful case study is UNESCO’s effort to preserve Nubian civilisation under the label of a History of Mankind at the time of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, a modernisation project that was heavily sponsored by the Soviet Union, leading one contemporary Nubian to allegedly exclaim: “We would be better looked after if we were statues” (343, as told by a commissioner for archaeology in the Sudan).  Conversely, Betts also shows that in other places in Africa the roles of Soviet and western agents were reversed, with the Soviets pushing for culture where the West advocated development.

In this context, it is worth noting that Betts’s tapestry of Cold War cultural history resonates, but ultimately sits uneasily with current, sometimes self-serving, postcolonial or ‘decolonial’ discourses.  For instance, the cross-fertilising collaboration between the museums of Dakar, Zagreb, Ljulbljana and Belgrade, which took place in the 1960s (379), seems a far cry from today’s discourse of national restitution.  More could have been said here of the pull of universities in places such as Ghana for British intellectuals of the 1960s.  In some respects this relatively brief epoch of uncertainty and division which Betts’s book recovers is characterised by a much more active kind of internationalisation than the era of the other kind of globalisation which supposedly started in the 1970s.  In this light, the discourse of today’s world is striking with a provincial kind of uniformity.

Perhaps more significantly, Betts has an altogether different philosophical approach to the task of writing this history than many of major authors in the field.  This is as much a grand récit as it is a multi-conceptual history, inspired by Reinhart Koselleck’s approach.  First, there is the attention to the way language and images capture a changing texture of time.  Ruin and Renewal is certainly a study of futures past.”[11] The term “civilization” itself delineates a transitional world between what Koselleck had called the “space of experience” and the “horizon of expectation.” Crucially, the influence comes not so much from the Koselleck of the famous German “dictionary of dictionaries” project (Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe) begun in the 1960s, but rather, from Koselleck’s later understanding of time.  In his capacity as a visiting professor in Chicago, Koselleck had shaped a generation of American and British historians to think in a different manner than their German colleagues.[12] In the later period of his work, Koselleck had begun using photographic sources, particularly those of static things like statues, to capture the layered character of historical time and the traumatic nature of some of these layers in experiences of the present.[13] Betts too consistently uses photographic sources to examine the changing semantics of historical time – a theme that is particularly well developed with his use of photographs that capture ruins, from those of Germany in 1945 (166) to Palmyra in 2015 (430). The rich use of images is not illustrative but contributes to the conceptual understanding of the term, with images of European destitute children, for instance, giving way to the ceremonial establishment of African nation-states and pan-African collections of art, and modernism that was driven by Soviet and African alliances rather than, say, the global spread of National Socialism and exiles from Weimar Germany.

Over the past five years, most British and American universities have been in the process of updating their curricula for courses dealing with twentieth-century European history and with what U.S. institutions call ‘western civ.’ The courses are becoming more global, giving more space to the theme of empire, and accounting for new critical perspectives on Europe’s place in the world.  In addition, many historians who now write nineteenth and twentieth-century narratives on a European and global scale have worked previously on German history in various contexts.[14] This is an interesting phenomenon, which may reflect in part a generational shift in public interest from genealogies of the Third Reich towards more multidirectional understandings both of complicity and of reconstruction.  Christopher Clark has recently devoted a set of essays to the question how German history and theory lends itself to thinking about time and power on a more universal scale.[15] Betts’s book will be an important guide in this process of updating and transforming scales of analysis shaped by a generation of historians, for example, as A.J.P. Taylor, and their students.  This earlier generation of historians, who were centrally preoccupied with Nazi Germany, arguably allowed broader connections with imperialism, colonialism, and the ambiguities of welfare and humanitarianism to fade from view.  Betts’s more multidirectional account of the post-war period might be placed alongside comparable approaches in intellectual history and political theory, which have invited readers to identify more pluralist genealogies of concepts such as sovereignty.  Interestingly, recent work in this field has also been influenced by a German theorist who is experiencing a Renaissance among English-speaking scholars: Hans Blumenberg.[16]

Betts subtly persuades the reader of the distinctive character of this period but also of its gradual, rather than zero-hour like, disappearance.  In the end, this type of account has to be highly personal, meaning that suggestions on what should have been included may not be relevant.  Still, a few elements come to mind.  While themes such as the gender roles of a new humanity, and changing ideas of race, health, and the environment emerge as increasingly important connections surfacing in today’s world, it might have been illuminating to see more connections drawn between the case studies around these issues.  The very idea of development and growth in the context of the economic history of the post-war period deserved more attention, perhaps in dialogue with such authors as Thomas Piketty.[17] While Betts pushes Europe’s boundary further East than most major English-speaking authors in this field, in my view this is not East enough since the Soviet Union is only included as a distant actor on the central European or Middle Eastern post-war “theatres.”

Finally, I was not convinced by the statement that “a new specter haunting Europe, and it goes by the old name of civilization” (453).  When I taught at the University of Chicago, I was surprised by the library in the Common room of the College, which included an incomplete Encyclopaedia Britannica, some bibles, histories of religion, and some older world histories – all books, it turned out, that colleagues had discarded from their personal libraries.  To me, they formed a cabinet of curiosities of a discarded world, a world in which terms like ‘civilisation,’ ‘faith,’ and, indeed, ‘world,’ were widely used without quotation marks or embarrassment.  To me, in the end, Betts has explained not only how that world came about, despite the Second World War, but also why it slipped away.



A spectre is haunting Europe—only this time the spectre is not Communism but a more diffuse threat to ‘civilization.’ Much of the outcry over this supposed assault on European civilization has come from the far right.  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán warned in 2015, for instance, that immigration from the Middle East and Africa “could change the face of Europe’s civilization.”[18] But recent claims to European civilizational difference have also come from less extremist politicians.  French President Emmanuel Macron asserted in 2017, for example, that unlike Europe after 1945, the problems Africa faces “today…are civilizational.”[19]

In Ruin and Renewal Paul Betts explores the history of concepts of European civilization.  Betts’s brilliant conceit is to take a commonplace observation—that, historically, Europeans sought to civilize the world beyond Europe—and flip it on its head—arguing that, after 1945, Europeans, as well as others, sought to civilize Europe itself.  Historians have often assumed that European civilization was buried in the rubble of the Second World War.  By contrast, Betts argues that notions of European civilization re-emerged after the war.  Such ideas came, Betts shows, “from across the political spectrum”: from anti-imperialists as much as imperialists, Communists as much as liberals and conservatives (4).  “Just as democracy was subject to political wrangling after World War II,” Betts analogises, “so too did civilization fragment into multiple, overlapping and antagonistic stories of Western, Christian, Atlantic, African, white, universal, and socialist civilizations” (10).

Ruin and Renewal is a masterpiece.  It is a pleasure to read and is filled with fascinating and often surprising insights and anecdotes.  Betts’s approach is different in several respects from those of other histories of Europe after 1945.[20] Ruin and Renewal focuses on different topics, most notably empire, international organizations, and multiculturalism.  It deploys different methods, favouring cultural history—especially photography, film, and architecture—over the usual intellectual and political histories.  And it maps a different geography of Europe, one that crosses boundaries not just between Western and Eastern Europe, but between North and South, including in its scope several former European colonies in Africa.  As with previous histories, the Second World War looms large.  The emphasis here, however, is less on post-war destruction than on post-war reconstruction.  If Tony Judt titled his classic account of the period Postwar because of his belief that so much of that history took place in the shadow of the Second World War, Ruin and Renewal might be called ‘Beyond War’ because of Betts’s interest in how Europeans moved beyond it.[21]

In many ways, Ruin and Renewal continues longstanding intellectual interests of Betts.  In earlier work, Betts also exposed unexpected connections across the Cold War divide, and took seriously what others had dismissed as historical contradictions: private life in the German Democratic Republic, for example, or human rights in socialist states.[22] In Ruin and Renewal, however, Betts operates on a far larger scale: that of Europe in the world.  As a result, he covers much more ground.  Given the book’s breadth and richness, I will restrict my response to three themes: international organizations, international law, and the 1990s.

Chapter One of Ruin and Renewal explores the deployment of international aid organizations in Europe after the Second World War, most notably the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).  In a characteristically smart and elegant formulation, Betts argues that foreign relief agencies sought to “re-civilize” post-war Europe (15).  This mission, Betts ultimately concludes, was a success.  UNRRA in particular “posted remarkable achievements under demanding conditions” (68).  By the time it ended in mid-1947, it had missions in sixteen European countries as well as more than 700 camps for displaced persons in Germany, Austria, and Italy.  It was said that babies were named after UNRRA in Central Europe.  From UNRRA’s perspective at least, Europe had been re-civilized.

In evaluating this re-civilizing mission, Betts adopts the viewpoint of the aid workers themselves.  This has many advantages.  It foregrounds a group of mostly middle-class individuals, many of whom were women.  Betts calls these workers “Western Europe’s hidden civilizers” (72).  Betts uses memoirs and other sources produced by these workers to plot a rich cultural history of post-war humanitarianism, analyzing in wonderful detail, for example, photographs taken by relief workers.  But this approach also has its drawbacks.  By privileging the viewpoint of the (re-)civilizers themselves, Betts sometimes loses sight of the limits of the re-civilizing mission.  There were limits, after all, to how much the recipients of UNRRA’s aid felt re-civilized.  Betts acknowledges that many displaced persons were repatriated against their wishes.  He even records rumours among UNRRA workers that some displaced persons chose to commit suicide rather than be forced to return to the Soviet Union.  Betts’s source material is, however, unable to convey the perspective of the displaced persons directly.  For some of them, it was not clear how life in a post-war camp differed from life in a wartime camp.  As Peter Gatrell noted in The Making of the Modern Refugee, a Polish man in one UNRRA camp wondered: “Is there really much difference between “now” and “before”?  I was a number.  I am a number.  I was called ‘Polish dog,’ now I am called ‘wretched Pole.’[23] Understanding this sentiment would require reading the memoirs not of the UNRRA workers but of this Polish man—or of the children named ‘UNRRA’ themselves.

There were limits, too, to which Europeans were deemed worthy of re-civilization by UNRAA.  Betts concedes that UNRRA’s aid did not extend to German refugees from Central and Eastern Europe.  What is missing in his account is a reckoning with those whom UNRRA left behind.  When UNRRA wound up its operations in 1947, more than a million individuals remained in its camps.[24] More broadly, while international organizations extended greater protections to refugees during the post-war decades, they largely overlooked stateless persons.[25] If UNRRA workers were the hidden civilizers of post-war Europe, stateless persons were its hidden ‘uncivilized.’

Chapter Two examines how jurists re-civilized Europe through international law, specifically in the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.  Here, too, Betts’s approach brings new insights.  Building on new work on the role of the Soviet lawyers at Nuremberg, Betts shows how the language of civilization served, at least initially, as a “common cause” uniting the United States and the Soviet Union (85).[26] As with UNRRA, Betts finds that Nuremberg “largely succeeded in both the short and long terms” (88).  In the short term, the trial was “an effort to stay the hand of vengeance” (121) and “help[ed] restore law and order across the continent” (85).  As Betts notes, the tribunal sparked a wave of trials in domestic courts.  In the long term, too, Betts adds, Nuremberg “was a triumph, inspiring new confidence in the rule of law and helping to create the conditions for political order and stability” (88).

To a greater extent than he does with UNRRA, Betts acknowledges the limits of Nuremberg’s re-civilizing mission.  He concedes that the Holocaust played a marginal role in the trial; that it was victor’s justice; and that many of the charges were new in international law.  Other critiques could also be mentioned: that widespread extrajudicial revenge in Germany was unlikely; that Nuremberg’s pedagogical impact was dubious; and that the trials helped build a dictatorship in the East as much as a democracy in the West.[27] More significant, however, is the book’s failure to interrogate the politics behind Nuremberg.  As Mahmood Mamdani has argued recently, Nuremberg was just one of a range of options available; what he terms the “criminal model” of criminalizing violence as opposed to the “political model” of politicizing it.[28] Restricting post-war justice to an international criminal tribunal was a political choice.  It is surely significant that no international criminal tribunal was formed until the end of the Cold War.  Nuremberg might have inspired the American National Negro Congress to charge the United States with genocide in 1951, as Betts points out (89)—but it was calling for an investigation by the United Nations, not a trial by an international criminal court.  Until the 1990s, Nuremberg’s main legacy was that it was ignored.

Given the importance of the 1990s for both international law and international organizations, it is a shame the decade is not included.  This decision to end the book in the 1980s affects Betts’s interpretation of the place of ideas of civilization in the present.  In a recent article, Betts suggests that “[t]he question for our time…is not just which European Era 1989 has ended, but rather what European Era 1989 has started.”[29] Ruin and Renewal offers one possible answer: it is an era of the far right.  In the introduction and conclusion, Betts argues that the concept of civilization is being subjected to “radical appropriation by today’s conservatives and neofascists” (5).

A discussion of the 1990s might have resulted in a different answer.  In particular, it would have revealed a persistent discourse of civilization among liberals and leftists.  Historians have argued that elements of the civilizing mission were revived in the aftermath of the Cold War in the form of humanitarian interventions.[30] During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, for instance, invocations of civilization were everywhere in Europe: from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s description of the war as “a battle between good and evil; between civilisation and barbarity” to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s comment that Yugoslavia had “declared a war against European civilization” to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s statement that nothing less than “the European model of civilization” was at stake.[31] These ideas have their descendants in the twenty-first century. Thus, while Betts captures “the rich and contradictory historical legacy of civilization,” the book falls short of accounting for the rich and contradictory place of civilization today (5).  Put differently, Ruin and Renewal identifies the civilizationalism of Orbán, but misses that of Macron.

Faced with a choice between Orbán’s European civilization and Macron’s, we might find neither option appealing and could instead work towards a future without civilizational distinctions.  Until then, however, we need to understand the role civilization has played in the past.  And for that, there is no better place to start than with Ruin and Renewal.



First of all, I would like to thank Georgios Giannakopoulos for organizing this Roundtable, Glenda Sluga for writing the introduction, and Giuliana Chamedes, Dina Gusejnova, and Aden Knaap for their reviews.  It is a long and experimental text in theme, approach and narrative structure, and its main aspects have been perceptively addressed in a spirit of constructive engagement by the reviewers.  I cannot adequately address all of the remarks or questions, so I will limit my response to a set of clarifications and elaborations, roughly grouped around the themes of Approach and Chronology.   


As all of the reviewers note, this is not another survey of Europe since 1945.  As we know, there are many excellent histories on offer from Tony Judt, Mark Mazower, Ian Kershaw, Mary Fulbrook and Victoria de Grazia, among others, to say nothing of an older generation of historians, such as James Joll and Walter Laqueur.[32]  But in this book I wanted to do something different, namely to rethink the history of the continent after the Second World War as a long story of reconstruction, broadly conceived.  For some Europeans this meant starting afresh, but for many others 1945 augured an opportunity to recover lost or damaged traditions from the past as compass and guidance.  My original impetus was to integrate themes that have often been left out of other studies of post-1945 Europe – such as religion, reclaimed empire, decolonisation and race.  Yet the objective was never about simply adding these themes and stirring, but rather to see how these themes change our view of the continent’s identity politics and cultural geography, and to explore how these themes played out in an era of decolonisation during which Europe’s place in the world was radically changing. 

What held these themes together was the common effort among many actors to sift through the ruins of the past to build a more peaceful and progressive continent.  At first the rescue mission of European civilisation was mostly a Western European enterprise with American assistance, though it was later repurposed by Eastern Europeans and African national elites to their own ends as well.  Calls to save civilisation in crisis emerged as cultural wars about inheritance and belonging in a new world, reflecting competing national, regional, or continental blueprints, be they of the left or right, depending on the speaker-group or banner cause.  After 1945 the invocation of civilisation was a way of thinking and acting transnationally beyond the nation-state, nationalism, Cold War division, and empire.  More than any other concept from the period, civilization enabled its advocates to situate themselves in time (connecting the present with the past, and often ancient ones at that) and space (religious or regional identities beyond national borders) in surprising ways. 

Chamedes is right that I am “hanging my hat” on the theme of civilisation, but I should add that I did so precisely because so many Europeans (and non-Europeans in the ex-colonies) made sense of postwar ruin and renewal from this perspective.  Anyone vaguely familiar with the history of Europe (particularly Western Europe) cannot help but notice how ubiquitous the terminology of civilization in crisis was in the first two decades after the war, and well beyond.  The puzzle for me was to try to understand why so many historians have overlooked or ignored its historical power and presence  – after all, notions of civilisation were central to postwar humanitarianism, military occupation, Christianity, empire, welfarism, liberal internationalism and decolonisation.  By now, especially in connection with post-1945 European history, we have a number of valuable histories of the concepts of nationalism, the West, race, democracy, peace, internationalism, destalinization, sovereignty, Cold War liberalism, decolonization, and white privilege, but surprisingly little on civilization.  Civilization was closely entwined with many of these other ideologies at various moments, and the task was to track how and under what historical circumstances the concept was deployed culturally and politically. 

On this point Gusejnova is partly correct is saying that the book is a kind of “history of consciousness,” to the extent that the protean idea of civilization served as a political contest over Europe’s usable past.  That said, I expressly didn’t want to write an intellectual history whose focus would have been on how various thinkers, for example, philosophized about the heritage of the Enlightenment after Nazism and the war; my intention was rather to show how a wide variety of actors (ranging from aid workers to etiquette book writers) summoned the term to improve the lives of ordinary people.  I was also interested to show how its mobilisation drove action and change, as noted in philanthropy, military justice, peace politics and church restoration, among many other initiatives.  The trickiest challenge was how to structure the book, given how pervasive and shape-shifting the concept proved over the decades.  I decided to build the discussion around episodes when specific conceptions of civilisation in crisis generated wide public debate and controversy, and for that reason the book is less about chronicling the activities of any particular group or community (of whatever identity, creed or colour) than tracking how campaigns of re-civilisation gathered like-minded advocates to advance a particular cause (for example, the defence of empire and Christianity, or the struggle for peace and multiculturalism) based on specific political dreams and cultural fears. 

It is true, as Chamedes suggests, that there is not much on the “role of black and brown communities” within Europe, largely because that language was not identified by these groups as a vehicle of progress, rights, and justice, though it was in many colonial contexts.  (By the mid-1960s the language of civilization was increasingly associated with conservative politics, and thus was disregarded by feminists, labor unions, and 68ers.) Yet the book does follow the ways in which the heavy heritage of European civilisation was reworked in the ex-colonies of Ghana, Algeria, and Senegal by nationalist elites in the name of anti-imperialism and post-colonial sovereignty, building on long traditions of proto-nationalist resistance.  The larger trend was that the wide-open discussions about the meaning of civilisation after the war quickly shifted from middle-brow men and women (aid workers, teachers, healthcare officials, and urban planners) to male elites, as race, religion, and regional bloc – and less explicitly gender and class -- became the key reference points of civilizational politics in the decades after 1945.  

A sub-theme of the book is how the language of civilisation was decoupled from international law after 1945.  This was visible in the heady opening of the United Nations in the spring of 1945, as rights – including human rights – moved to the centre of attention, whereas the rhetoric of civilization was quietly dropped in large measure because of its unwanted imperial associations.  While that may have been true for the United Nations, the discourse of civilization remained at the heart of the Nuremberg Trial.  Knaap suggests that I didn’t sufficiently account for the politics behind the trial, and he is right that I didn’t devote very much space to its pre-history.  He cites Mahmood Mamdani’s interpretation of the infamous trial in his Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (2020) as having succeeded as a criminal trial, but failed as a political trial.[33]  The Allies, according to Mamdani, shied away from confronting Nazi Germany’s sinister legacy of targeting, terrorising and eliminating minorities as integral to modern state sovereignty and statecraft, in large measure because the Allies were guilty of the same sin.

While I admire Mamdani’s provocative book, it is doubtful that in Germany 1945 any other type of trial could have taken place in the political conditions of the time.  Mamdani’s interpretation seems anachronistic here, in that the Allies – above all the Americans – wished to assure that justice would be served this time around (as opposed to the farcical German war crimes trials in Leipzig after World War I) in the name of international justice, to the point of inventing new criminal offenses (above all crimes against humanity) ex post facto.  What I wanted to show was how the trial represented the swansong of the old nineteenth-century union of international law and ideals of civilization, now staged before a huge international audience, with the accused Nazi henchmen serving as lurid sources of media and moral fascination.  Justice is always performative, but this spectacle was carefully choreographed political theatre about civilization and barbarism, though not in the way that Mamdani has portrayed the proceedings. 

Knaap is right to stress the limits to this re-civilizing mission, as supply bottlenecks, maladministration, and frustration with not being able to do more was a constant refrain among aid workers operating in Central Europe in 1945.  Knaap alludes to a Polish United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) beneficiary cited in Peter Gatrell’s The Making of the Modern Refugee (2013).[34] In this account, the Polish Displaced Person (DP) complained that he was simply a faceless number in the eyes of UNRRA administration, and that his condition in the relief camps was not always so different from what he experienced during the war; it may be true in this case that the larger mission was of little consolation, and the same went for German survivors rendered ineligible for assistance.  But I was more concerned with how aid organisations like UNRRA described and justified their new humanitarian task across the continent.

What is interesting is that the Polish DP’s critique of UNRRA mirrored what the religiously based organisations (especially Catholic and Quaker charity groups) accused the UNRRA of – being cold, impersonal, and military-like in their administration of food and aid, something that the Christian charities argued that they did better and more humanely.  Yet it was the language of civilization and charity that motivated these aid workers to venture to devastated Europe to help people in need, and I was interested in documenting the way that they made sense of their actions and deeds under difficult circumstances.  UNRRA was very much involved in the painful business of repatriation, which included the repatriation of orphaned children.  As noted by Tara Zahra in her Lost Children (2015), orphans were deemed the property of states and designated families;[35] UNRRA’s version of the civilizing mission was not strong enough to challenge the power of state directives about forced expulsions.  In this context, civilization was a moral language of aid and assistance that had to work within existing military power structures on the ground.  In response to another of Knaap’s questions, I encountered no material suggesting that stateless people were treated as “uncivilized” recipients of aid, and instead I concentrated on the charity agents and humanitarian workers who did invoke the language directly in their dealings with the dispossessed.


All three reviewers draw attention to the contemporary resonance of this civilisation in crisis theme.  Knaap suggests that more coverage should have been dedicated to the ways in which the discourse of civilisation shifted since 1989; I see the point, though in my defense I did devote over 30 pages in the conclusion to post-Cold War transformations, especially related to the Bosnian Wars, 9/11 and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, and elsewhere.  My discussion of the 1990s and beyond also included liberal and leftist voices, ranging from Jürgen Habermas to Vaclav Havel, and the book ends with a summative quotation from the Trinidad-born writer V.S. Naipaul.  Knaap rightly notes the persistent presence of a liberal internationalist version of civilization, here identified with some of French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent utterances; but the point is that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s xenophobic nationalism and Macron’s liberal internationalism are only two recent iterations on offer.  More globally, the ‘defense of civilization’ rhetoric has also been closely associated with assertions of ‘Asian values,’ Sinocentrism, Afrocentricity, religious fundamentalism, and a rebooted Eurocentrism.   Recent years have seen a number of academic titles deploying the term in broader and more considered ways, and COVID-19 has prompted a number of environmentalists, epidemiologists, public health officials, and environmental historians to share scientific knowledge and vaccinations in the name of an interconnected and vulnerable “ecological civilization” or “planetary civilization.”[36]  The wider point is that civilization has had a complicated, chequered, and mercurial career path since the Enlightenment, and there is no reason to think that in the future it won’t be enlisted to underwrite new political causes in unforeseen ways, be they progressive or regressive, peaceful or violent, nativist or multiculturalist.  

This brings me to Chamedes’s suggestion that I am advocating the recuperation of the term for “both analytical and normative reasons.”  The first part is certainly true, insomuch as historians should take seriously the vocabulary with which actors understand and define their political place in history during moments of rupture and radical reconstruction, and civilization in crisis certainly has performed this role.  The second element, however, that I am somehow championing the moral rehabilitation of the term for both the study of the past and a possible way to the future was never my intention.  When I wrote that “in the end, potentially universal concepts like civilization—or its equally beleaguered cousin, humanity—may be the only language we have left to imagine the prospect of peace and international cooperation,” I meant that we should recall civilization’s diverse past, one that has included moments when various European voices and interest groups have reclaimed the concept for building a post-imperial, non-racist and more inclusive global society;  the invocation of civilisation held the possibility of thinking (and acting) beyond the nation-state, race, religion, and region, and the demise of a broader understanding of the term (alongside the recent decline of other discourses of potentially benign universalism, such as human rights) may signal a reversion to more inward, exclusionary and violent “imagined communities,” of the kind Mamdani describes in his book. 

I had toyed with the idea of weaving the conceptual history of humanity more centrally throughout the book, whose history is on the whole less toxic and controversial, even if we forget that in the nineteenth century the term humanity was anathema to conservatives who interpreted it as anti-clerical in its linkage with secular causes and movements.  However, humanity never generated the same amount of passion, anger, and controversy as civilization, and I wanted to organise the book around moments when deeply-felt crises of civilization provoked wide public debate, precisely because the term carried such radioactive historical baggage.  Mine is no plea for the recovery of the normative power of civilization, but instead is an effort to explore how Europeans (and later non-Europeans) seized on the concept to help define the contours, histories, and identities of political societies in trouble.  I fully subscribe to Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous comment that “the true barbarian is the one who believes in barbarism.”[37] And I am not convinced that more acceptable idioms of political kinship (nation, religion, class, and race) have led (or will lead) to a less barbarous world, but that’s not the same thing as calling for its comeback.  The Left’s abandonment of the term from the 1960s onward as a failed vehicle for progressive politics has left the mantle of civilization open to exploitation by the Right for “nativist” ideologies of purity and pollution - the book is in part a history of the unforeseen toxic effects of that abandonment.

My last comment is a response to the highly suggestive point made by Gusejnova about whether civilisation is really a spectre haunting today’s Europe.  I opened the book by noting the ever-increasing alarmist incitements of civilization in peril as a striking feature of twenty-first century international politics, which have been variously used to narrate the troubled present of Europe in light of a series of crises since 1989.  That may be the case, but what Gusejnova suggests is something more profound, namely the disappearance of older internationalisms (including Second-Third World solidarity in the 1960s and 1970s joined together in “socialist civilization”) with the post-Cold War triumph of a “provincial kind of uniformity.”  I tried to integrate Eastern Europe as a serious counter-model throughout, but I admit that it’s not “East enough,” largely because the language of civilization was never as central to socialism as humanism, solidarity, peace, and justice.  As she observes, the book is about forgotten “futures past,” and she rightly notes Reinhart Koselleck’s influence along the way.  At first I was jarred by her final comment that the re-civilisation project is not only about “how that world came about, despite the Second World War, but also why it slipped away;” then I came around to agree with her that the book chronicles how beliefs in European civilization were both revived and destroyed during reconstruction.  My own reconstruction of the reconstruction (one that places my own position of geography and generation) is part of the story, not least because I came of age at the very tail end of its chastened and selective renewal.

Historical claims to civilization are a capacious and complex theme, and for that reason the book could never be closed or definitive; the main hope was to stimulate some thought and discussion about a principal if strangely overlooked dimension of Europe’s history after World War II, and I am indebted to the three reviewers for their views and responses.  Civilization may be an article of faith and way of seeing, but it is also a mode of doing and identity-formation.  That the theme understandably troubles people (including historians) is testament to its mixed legacy and staying power, however many times it has been condemned or pronounced dead.



[1] See for example, Sankar Muthu.  Enlightenment against Empire, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003; Ntina Tzouvala, Capitalism as Civilisation: A History of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020); Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

[2] Paul Betts, The Authority of Everyday Objects:  A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Betts, Within Walls:  Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[3] Lucien Febvre and François Crouzet, Nous sommes des sang-mêlés: manuel d’histoire de la civilisation française (Paris: Albin Michel, 2012).

[4] François Guizot, A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times (Boston: Jewett, 1890), vol I, p.18.

[5] Matthew Connelly, “Taking Off the Cold War Lens: Visions of North-South Conflict during the Algerian War for Independence.” The American Historical Review 105:3 (2000): 739-769.

[6] See, for example, Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New York: The New Press, 1999).

[7] Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 31.

[8] On this, see Lorelle Semley, To Be Free and French: Citizenship in France’s Atlantic Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Annette Joseph-Gabriel, Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020); Tiffany Florvil, Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020); Félix Germain, Decolonizing the Republic: African and Caribbean Migrants in Postwar Paris (1946-1974) (Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2016); and Todd Shepard, Affirmative Action and the End of Empires: ‘Integration’ in France (1956-1962)” and the Race Question in the Cold War World (in process).

[9] See Andre Gunder Frank, Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974-2011); Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).

[10] Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2006); Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin Books, 1999); Konrad Jarausch, Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

[11] Reinhart Koselleck, Vergangene Zukunft: Zur Semantik Geschichtlicher Zeiten (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979).

[12] On this, see the introduction by the editors Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann and Sean Franzel in Koselleck, Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2018), ix-xxxi.

[13] Koselleck and Michael Jeismann, eds., Der Politische Totenkult: Kriegerdenkmäler in Der Moderne (Munich: Fink, 1994).

[14] I am thinking of examples such as Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 (London: Allen Lane, 2014), Konrad Jarausch (Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), Richard Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 (London: Allen Lane, 2016) to name only three of the most prominent names.  The most striking change of gears in this respect – from biographical studies of Hitler to major surveys—is by Ian Kershaw, The Global Age: Europe, 1950-2017 (London: Penguin, 2018).

[15] Christopher Clark, Time and Power: Visions of History in German Politics, from the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).

[16] The books I have in mind are Tsevi Ben-Dor Benite, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Nicole Jerr, eds., The Scaffolding of Sovereignty: Global and Aesthetic Perspectives on the History of a Concept (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), and Dan Edelstein, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Natasha Wheatley, eds., Power and Time:  Temporalities in Conflict and the Making of History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020).

[17] Thomas Piketty, Le Capital au XXIe siècle (Paris : Seuil, 2013).

[18] Andrew Rettman, “Orban Says Migrants Will Change European Civilisation,” EUobserver, June 2, 2015.

[19] Lizzie Dearden, “Emmanuel Macron Claims Africa Held Back by ‘Civilisational’ Problems and Women Having ‘Seven or Eight Children,” The Independent, July 11, 2017.  See Ntina Tzouvala, Capitalism as Civilisation: A History of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 1.

[20] See, for example, Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2005); Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998); Konrad Hugo Jarausch, Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton: University Press, 2015).

[21] Judt, Postwar.

[22] For the former, see Paul Betts, Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). For the latter, Paul Betts, “Socialism, Social Rights, and Human Rights: The Case of East Germany,” Humanity 3:3 (2012): 407–426.

[23] Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 98.

[24] Gerard Daniel Cohen, In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[25] Mira L. Siegelberg, Statelessness: A Modern History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020).

[26] Francine Hirsch, Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal after World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).

[27] Donald Bloxham, Genocide on Trial: The War Crimes Trials and the Formation of Holocaust History and Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Devin O. Pendas, Democracy, Nazi Trials, and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1945-1950 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

[28] Mahmood Mamdani, Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020).

[29] Paul Betts, “1989 At Thirty: A Recast Legacy,” Past & Present 244:1 (August 2019): 305.

[30] See, for example, Davide Rodogno, Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

[31] Quoted in Mick Hume, “Nazifying the Serbs, from Bosnia to Kosovo,” in Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman (eds.), Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 70; quoted in Charlotte Wagnsson, Security in a Greater Europe: The Possibility of a Pan-European Approach (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), 28.

[32] Tony Judt, Postwar (London: Allen Lane, 2005); Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998); Konrad Jarausch, Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the 20th Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015); Ian Kershaw, Roller-Coaster: Europe, 1950-2017 (London: Penguin, 2018); Mary Fulbrook, Europe since 1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth Century Europe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006); James Joll, Europe since 1870 (London: Penguin Books, 1976); and Walter Laqueur, Europe since Hitler: The Rebirth of Europe (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970).

[33] Mahmood Mamdani, Neither Settler Nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2020).

[34] Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 98.

[35] Tara Zahra, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).

[36] Kim Stanley Robinson, The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imaginations,” New Yorker, 1 May 2020.  See too Eileen Crist, Abundant Earth: Towards an Ecological Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016) and Arran Gare, The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future (London: Routledge, 2016). 

[37] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race and History (Paris: UNESCO, 1958 [1952], 13.