Ferenc Laczó, editor of the History of Ideas section at the Review of Democracy, presents five key Ideas books in 2022.
James Mark and Paul Betts (eds.): Socialism Goes Global. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the Age of Decolonisation. Written by Alena Alamgir, Péter Apor, Paul Betts, Eric Burton, Bogdan Iacob, James Mark, Steffi Marung and Radina Vučetić.
Socialism Goes Global explores a momentous subject that has not received sufficient attention in recent decades: it studies the relationship between eastern Europe and the extra-European world in the age of decolonization. More broadly, this collective monograph penned by eight authors reflects on how key East European traditions of relating to the extra-European world have evolved in modern and contemporary times.
Based on plenty of original research, the authors address crucial questions regarding long-standing civilizational and racial hierarchies and how those may have been overcome, or perhaps reproduced, via East–South connections during the Cold War. Socialism Goes Global also shows how the study of this alternative form of globalization can help us grasp the end of European state socialism in a truly global perspective and offers original insights into the varied legacies of socialist world-making, including its often rather ironic contemporary consequences.
Listen to our conversation with Péter Apor, James Mark and Steffi Marung here
Charlotte Wiedemann: Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis (To Grasp the Pain of Others. Holocaust and Global Remembrance)
The memory cultures of contemporary Europe are meant to be self-critical, pluralistic, and inclusive. However, as Charlotte Wiedemann diagnoses, our reigning “economy of empathy” continues to be characterized by Eurocentric assumptions and massive inequalities. Members of German society may have been rightly lauded for their painful and rather thorough efforts to grapple with the darkest chapters in Germany’s recent past, but they would still need to learn not to place themselves into the center of their own narratives, Wiedemann argues.
The various chapters of To Grasp the Pain of Others show through powerful and persuasive examples what a more dialogical memory culture which is knowledgeable and sensitive about the broader global context – and the history of global colonialism and its long-lasting impacts in particular – could look like. Wiedemann’s volume thus amounts to a courageous and constructive intervention in public debates increasingly shaped by state dogmas and the reinforcement of victim hierarchies.
Listen to our conversation with Charlotte Wiedemann here
Kiran Klaus Patel: Europäische Integration. Geschichte und Gegenwart (European Integration: History and the Present Day)
The history of European integration has rarely seemed particularly relevant to the most innovative historians of contemporary Europe. As Kiran Klaus Patel – one of the most learned and original interpreters of the subject – rightly underlines in his new book, this is a mistake: European integration has become too important to ignore. It is high time to properly embed European integration into the broader history of international cooperation and to try and explain in a strictly non-teleological fashion what has made the European Communities – which was, as Patel rightly insists, a latecomer in a crowded field that had a limited mandate at first – stand out over time.
As Patel shows in this concise publication, a broader historical perspective can also help explain why norms and values, so abundantly evoked by representatives of European institutions these days, might be much less firmly secured in the EU than wishful thinking could lead us believe. A critical analysis of contemporary history, such as Patel’s, can also help us realize how European policies have shifted in recent years from an emphasis on opening and liberalization to trying to implement various concepts of protection and security.
Listen to our conversation with Kiran Klaus Patel here
Timothy Shenk: Realigners. Partisan Hacks, Political Visionaries, and the Struggle to Rule American Democracy
Realigners, Timothy Shenk’s wide-ranging biography of American democracy, studies the making of democratic majorities. The book offers original and often surprising interpretations of the making and unmaking of winning coalitions from the late eighteenth century till today, analyzes how the strongest and strangest coalition in American history that nobody saw coming – the New Deal majority – was forged, and it also explains why it has become so difficult to sustain majorities in the US today.
The book shows in impressive detail why realignment and coalition building should be seen as key to the history of democracy – and why members of the democratic elite who conceived of and made those majorities deserve to be placed center stage. Shenk’s is an exquisitely written book that has the potential to shift our conversation away from questions of ideological polarization and refocus it on the more essential one of how democratic majorities are forged.
Listen to our conversation with Timothy Shenk here
Mark Beissinger: The Revolutionary City. Urbanization and the Global Transformation of Rebellion
Revolutions are no longer what they used to be. As Mark Beissinger shows in this impressively researched new monograph, in the late twentieth century, revolutions – which he understands broadly as a political project of mobilized regime change from below – have returned to the city. Unlike in previous epochs, revolutions have now mobilized large numbers of unarmed, strategically acting citizens often rather weakly committed to democratic values. Such urban civic revolutions have frequently achieved their immediate goals. As The Revolutionary City shows, their longer-term impacts have tended to be more uncertain and ambiguous.
Drawing on a wide variety of literatures to unpack revolutions on a global scale, this major monograph offers essential insights into the changing role of violence and the varied consequences of revolutions. It paints the most comprehensive and up-to-date picture of this fascinating subject we possess.
Listen to our conversation about the book with Mark Beissinger here