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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Did Europe’s ‘age of catastrophe’ (1914–1945) represent a break with the past or did it amplify the tensions of the preceding era? Was it a ‘parenthesis’ or a ‘revelation’? Historians have usually taken the latter view and have dismissed popular nostalgia for the period before 1914 as mere hindsight. Yet Europeans had good reason to be nostalgic. The period 1900–1914 had its moments of crisis and ominous trends (e.g. anti-Semitism), but it was essentially defined by stability, democratization, and significant improvements in social conditions. Nor should one exaggerate the desire for war in society or among Europe’s political elites. Prior to the July Crisis, a great Continental war seemed neither inevitable nor likely, all of which has implications for our understanding of Europe’s later descent into barbarism. Simply put, the dynamics of violence and instability that characterized the ‘age of catastrophe’ were largely generated during that period.

Keywords: social progress, democratization, social insurance, welfare, cultural efflorescence, pacifism, anti-imperialism

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