In This Review

Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe
Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe
By Jan-Werner Muller
304 pp, Yale University Press, 2011
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How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism
How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism
By Eric Hobsbawm
480 pp, Yale University Press, 2011
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Any intelligent observer of Europe in the 1930s would have been hard-pressed not to feel that its future belonged to either communism or fascism. Liberal democracy, besieged on the left by Stalin's Soviet Union and on the right by Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, seemed to stand no chance of survival. Most central and eastern European countries had already succumbed to ­authoritarianism or different variations of fascism, and the Great Depression suggested that the activist solutions implemented by both extremes were better than the feeble nostrums liberalism could offer. Back then, the notion that by the beginning of the twenty-first century, Europe would be democratic from the Tagus and the Ebro to the Danube and the Vistula would have seemed utterly ridiculous.

And in fact, liberal democracy's triumph was hardly inevitable. Two recent books, by authors with greatly differing worldviews and methodologies, try to explain why history worked out as

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  • SHLOMO AVINERI is Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the author of, among other books, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx. He served as Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry in the first cabinet of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
  • More By Shlomo Avineri