Government and Politics of the Developed World
September 5 2008
Reading Notes for Topic I: The Historical Stage
Readings and lectures on this topic are designed to provide some historical perspective on
European political development. As I mentioned in class this week, our focus is
contemporary Europe. But the political dynamics of contemporary Europe do have a
history, there are legacies of history which have consequences for the present.
To begin with, one conventional way of distinguishing past and present in European
politics is just to distinguish contemporary Europe from modern Europe. There is no hard
and fast date which marks the transition in history from ‘modern’ to ‘contemporary’
Europe but, for our purposes, a convenient point of demarcation is 1945. Most of the
course material deals with European politics from 1945 onwards, whether we are looking
at the political dynamics of capitalist democracies such as France, Britain, Germany or
Italy, the political meaning of the East-West divide in Europe or the evolution of
economic and political integration and the institutions of the European Union (EU). And,
of course, within this time period from 1945 to 2008, we pay particular attention to the
very contemporary period – to the dynamics of European politics today, whether we are
looking at particular states or regions of Europe or the pan-European institutions of the
But to do this -- to fully understand the present -- we need to understand the past, we
need to put the dynamics of contemporary Europe in historical perspective. The readings
on this topic are intended to provide some of this needed perspective.
To start with, I will discuss the first three readings by Mazower, Howard and Johnson.
The Mazower reading is a chapter from a larger book which Mazower has written on
twentieth century Europe, the Howard reading is an article in a special issue of a journal
devoted to the question, What is Europe?, and the Johnson reading is an excerpt from an
article on the evolution of the French nation from the French Revolution onwards. I think
these readings fit together and I think they provide some historical perspective. We will
come to why I think this in a minute.
All three readings were written by historians and they are all detailed. The Mazower
reading in particular might on first reading appear to be daunting.
You might ask, how much of this detail do I need to know and, then you might ask, what
does this reading mean?
DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED OR DISCOURAGED!
You should ask yourself two questions: (1) What is the basic argument of each reading?
Or, put differently, what is the author’s main point which he or she then illustrates or
develops with historical detail and examples? The key is identifying to what use all of the
detail is being put and to do that we need to understand the basic point of the reading (2)
How do these readings hang together? That is, are there points of similarity or difference
between them? Are they making similar arguments but in different ways? If they are