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.