Democracy in Europe has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Only in the wake of World War Two did democratic forces become ensconced and, even then, it was to be decades before democracy truly blanketed the continent.
How then did liberal democracy become the order of the day? Neither given nor granted, democracy requires conflict, often violent confrontations, and challenges to the existing order. In Europe, Geoff Eley here convincingly illustrates, democracy did not evolve organically out of a postwar consensus, the prosperity of the long boom, or the negative cement of the Cold War. Rather, it was painstakingly crafted, continually expanded, and aggressively defended by a loose conglomeration of
socialist, labour, feminist, and Communist movements that underwrote the industrial resurrection of Europe's ruined spirit. These parties of the left organised civil societies rooted in egalitarian ideals that came to from the very fibre of Europe's current democratic traditions. The trajectory of
European democracy is thus inextricably connected with the history of the European Left.
Seeking neither to valorise nor condemn, Eley has given us the first truly comprehensive history of the European Left's successes and failures; its high watermarks and its low tides; its accomplishments, insufficiencies, and excesses; and, most importantly, its formative, lasting influence on the political landscape of the West. At a time when the influence and legitimacy - the very value - of Leftist democratic principles in frequently called into question, this book stands as a ringing,
substantive affirmation of the power of human ideals and of collective organisation.
"Shaped by the ideals of equality, liberty and solidarity, the idea of the left was represented by the democratic movementof the nineteenth century and later by socialist and communist movements. Recent histories of the left have not added anything new to this vision. By contrast, Geoff Eley's book has the merit ofhaving enriched both the conceptualization and the historical narrative of this key aspect of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."- Slavic
"Combining the learning and analysis of the historian with the commitment of the student radical of 1968,Geoff Eley has written a manifesto of hope in democracy, and a long, regretful good-bye to the movements of the Left which, for 150 years, gave it its reality. Those who want to understand the history of Europe since 1848 will do well to read this wide-ranging and multinational survey, written with both thoght and feeling."--Eric Hobsbawm
""A remarkable feat--a clear, balanced history of left politics which includes social and cultural movements from women's liberation to proletarian nudism, from Bolshevik street theater to New Age travellers. Geoff Eley covers the well-known international events along with the suppressed and marginalized. His long view defies forgetfulness and suggest that what will be found relevant in the future is always unexpected."--Sheila Rowbotham
"Ranging over a century and a half and the entire continent of Europe, and with a cast of characters including unionists, feminists, radical intellectuals, political radicals, and many others, this remarkable book offers a much-needed account of the history of European radicalism. And it provides essential historical background for the rethinking of purposes and intellectual premises in which the European -- and American -- Left is now engaged."--Eric Foner