Modern European history presents an intriguing narrative. It has witnessed the rise and fall of the Renaissance city state, industrial and political revolutions, and a brace of bloody civil wars which engulfed the world. It has given rise to the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment’s philosophes,
the capitalist laissez faire economics of Adam Smith and John Locke’s conception of government, as well as Charles Darwin’s founding of evolutionary biology and two of the most far-reaching ideologies of the last two centuries: Marxist Communism and Nazi Fascism.
The early twenty-first century shows no sign of this situation changing. With France and Britain spearheading the NATO operation in Libya in 2011, and the recent Eurozone crisis threatening financial markets worldwide, Europe’s place in global affairs continues to exceed its unremarkable geography. Indeed, as a moderately-sized peninsula on the western fringe of Asia, it is extraordinary how such a modest territory has exerted quite so much influence upon the world.
Europe’s history and socio-economic circumstances, coupled with its place in international relations, make it an important gauge in measuring the stability of industrialised societies in the post-modern era.
Consider, if you will, its ingredients. Its crowded patchwork of peoples and states presents a rich tapestry of language, religion and culture, driven by an admixture of capitalist enterprise and socialist leanings. It’s had its share of political and economic upheavals, mass migrations and religious wars. Industrialisation has largely been and done its thing, for better or worse, and the process of democratisation has, for now, driven the despot and the dictator from European shores – or at least from Western Europe, given the dubious democratic credentials of Belarus’ present government. So, when certain negative human behaviours become apparent between the waters of the Atlantic and the elevated fastnesses of the Urals, it’s worth pausing for thought. For an industrially-developed Europe, threatened by ancient human frailties, presages serious questions for the progress of humanity.
Nationalism is a case in point. An age-old concept, rooted in that most basic of qualities, racial identity, it became a fundamental force in European politics during the nineteenth and early twentieth century.