Modern history

CODA

The End of Old Europe

‘Life changed surprisingly little after the war’.
David Lodge

‘I spent my early years in factory towns and their adjacent suburbs, amid bricks and soot and smokestacks and cobbled streets. We took streetcars for short trips and trains for long ones. We bought food fresh for every meal, not because we were gourmets but because we lacked a refrigerator (less perishable substances were kept in the root cellar). My mother got up every morning in the chill and made a fire in the parlor stove. Running water came in only one temperature: frigid. We communicated by mail and got our news chiefly from newspapers (we were sufficiently modern, though, in that we owned a radio roughly the size of a filing cabinet). My early classrooms featured pot-bellied stoves and double desks with inkwells, into which we dipped our nibs. We boys wore short pants until the ceremony of communion solennelle, at age twelve. And so on. But this wasn’t any undiscovered pocket of the Carpathians, it was postwar western Europe, where “postwar” was a season that stretched for nearly twenty years.’73

This description of industrial Wallonia in the 1950s, by the Belgian author Luc Sante, could as well be applied to most of western Europe in these years. The present author, who grew up after the war in the inner-London district of Putney, recalls frequent visits to a murky sweetshop run by a wizened old woman who advised him reproachfully that she had ‘been selling gobstoppers to little boys like you since the Queen’s Golden Jubilee’—i.e. since 1887: she meant Victoria of course—the Queen.74 In the same street the local grocery store—Sainsbury’s—had sawdust on the floor and was staffed by beefy men in striped shirts and sprightly young women in starched aprons and caps. It looked exactly like the sepia photos on the wall taken when the store was first opened in the 1870s.

In many of its essential features, daily life in the first decade after World War Two would have been thoroughly familiar to men and women of fifty years earlier. In these years coal still met nine-tenths of Britain’s fuel requirements, 82 percent of the needs of Belgium and the other countries of the new European Coal and Steel Community. Thanks in part to the omnipresence of coal-fires London—a city of trams and docks—was still periodically shrouded in the damp fog so familiar from images of the industrial city of late-Victorian times. British films from those years have a distinctly Edwardian feel—either in their social setting (e.g. The Winslow Boy of 1948) or else in their period tone. In The Man in a White Suit (1951) contemporary Manchester is depicted as nineteenth-century in all its essentials (hand carts, housing, social relations); bosses and union leaders concur in treating entrepreneurial amateurism as a moral virtue, whatever the price in productive efficiency. Three million British men and women went to licensed dance halls every week, and there were seventy working-men’s clubs just in the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield in the early fifties (though both sorts of social activity were losing their appeal to the young).

The same sense of suspended time hung over much of continental Europe too. Rural life in Belgium could have been depicted by Millet: the hay gathered with wooden rakes, the straw beaten with flails, fruits and vegetables handpicked and transported on horse-drawn carts. Like French provincial towns, where men in berets really did collect a baguette on their way home from the corner Café de la Paix (typically named in 1919), or Spain, sealed in aspic by Franco’s authoritarian rule, Belgium and Britain hung in a sort of delayed Edwardian limbo. Post-war Europe was still warmed by the fading embers of the nineteenth-century economic revolution that had almost run its course, leaving behind sedimentary evidence of cultural habits and social relations increasingly at odds with the new age of airplanes and atomic weapons. If anything, the war had set things in reverse. The modernizing fervor of the 1920s and even the 1930s had drained away, leaving behind an older order of life. In Italy, as in much of rural Europe, children still entered the job market upon completing (or more likely not completing) their primary education; in 1951 only one Italian child in nine attended school past the age of thirteen.

Religion, especially the Catholic religion, basked in a brief Indian summer of restored authority. In Spain the Catholic hierarchy had both the means and the political backing to re-launch the Counter-Reformation: in a 1953 concordat, Franco granted the Church not merely exemption from taxation and all state interference, but also a right to request censorship of any writing or speech to which it objected. In return the ecclesiastical hierarchy maintained and enforced the conservative conflation of religion with national identity. Indeed, the Church was now so thoroughly integrated into narratives of national identity and duty that the leading primary school history textbook, Yo soy español [‘I Am Spanish’](first published in 1943) taught Spanish history as a single, seamless story: beginning in the Garden of Eden and ending with the Generalissimo. 75

To this was added a new cult of the dead—the ‘martyrs’ of the victorious side in the recent Civil War. At the thousands of memorial sites dedicated to victims of anti-clerical Republicanism, the Spanish Church organized countless ceremonies and memorials. A judicious mix of religion, civic authority and victory commemoration reinforced the spiritual and mnemonic monopoly of the clerical hierarchy. Because Franco needed Catholicism even more than the Church needed him—how else maintain Spain’s tenuous post-war links to the international community and the ‘West’?—he gave it, in effect, unrestricted scope to re-create in modern Spain the ‘Crusading’ spirit of the ancien régime.

Elsewhere in Western Europe the Catholic Church had to reckon with competing and hostile claims on popular allegiance; but even in Holland the Catholic hierarchy felt confident enough to excommunicate electors who voted for its Labour opponents in the first post-war elections. As late as 1956, two years before the death of Pius XII marked the end of the old order, seven out of ten Italians regularly attended Sunday Mass. As in Flanders, the Church in Italy did especially well among Monarchists, women and the elderly—a clear majority of the population as a whole. Article 7 of the Italian Constitution approved in March 1947 judiciously confirmed the terms of Mussolini’s 1929 Concordat with the Church: the Catholic hierarchy retained its influence in education and its oversight power in everything pertaining to marriage and morals. At Togliatti’s insistence even the Communist Party voted reluctantly for the law, though this did not stop the Vatican excommunicating Italians who voted for the PCI the following year.

In France, the Catholic hierarchy and its political supporters felt sufficiently confident to press for special educational privileges in a ‘guerre scolaire’ that briefly echoed the church-state struggles of the 1880s. The main battleground was the old issue of state funding for Catholic schools; a traditional demand but well chosen. While the energy that had fuelled nineteenth-century anti-clericalism, in France as in Italy or Germany, had mostly dissolved, or else was channeled into updated ideological conflicts, the cost and quality of their children’s education was one of the few issues that could be counted on to mobilize even the most intermittent churchgoers.

Of Europe’s traditional religions, only the Catholics were increasing the number of their active constituents in the forties and fifties. This was partly because only the Catholic Church had political parties directly associated with it (and in some cases beholden to it for support)—in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, France and Austria; and partly because Catholicism was traditionally implanted in just those regions of Europe which were the slowest to change in these years. But above all the Catholic Church could offer its members something that was very much missing at the time: a sense of continuity, of security and reassurance in a world that had altered violently in the past decade and was about to be transformed even more dramatically in the years to come. It was the Catholic Church’s association with the old order, indeed its firm stand against modernity and change, which gave it a special appeal in these transitional years.

The various Protestant churches of north-west Europe had no such allure. In Germany a significant segment of the non-Catholic population was now under Communist rule; the standing of the German Evangelical churches was in any case somewhat diminished by their compromise with Hitler, as the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt by the Protestant leaders in 1945 half-conceded. But the main problem, in West Germany as elsewhere, was that Protestant churches did not offer an alternative to the modern world but rather a way to live in harmony with it.

The spiritual authority of the Protestant pastor or the Anglican vicar was by convention offered not as a competitor to the state, but rather as its junior partner—which is one reason why the Protestant churches of central Europe were unable to withstand the pressure of the Communist state in these years. But at a time when the West European state was embarking on a much enhanced role as the spiritual and material guardian of its citizens, the distinction between church and state as arbiters of public manners and morals became rather blurred. The late forties and early fifties thus appear as a transitional age, in which conventions of social deference and claims of rank and authority still held sway, but where the modern state was beginning to displace church and even class as the arbiter of collective behavior.

The character of the age is nicely encapsulated in an instruction booklet (BBC Variety Programmes. Policy Guide for Writers and Producers, 1948) prepared by the BBC for internal use in 1948. The sense of moral responsibility that the public broadcasting corporation chose to place upon itself is quite explicit: ‘The influence that [the BBC] can exert upon its listeners is immense and the responsibility for a high standard of taste correspondingly high.’ Jokes about religion were forbidden, as was the description of old-fashioned musical taste as ‘B.C.’—‘Before Crosby’.76 There were to be no references to ‘lavatories’ and no jokes about ‘effeminacy in men’. Writers were forbidden to use jokes that had become popular in the relaxed ambiance of the war, or make suggestivedouble-entendre allusions to ladies’ underwear as in ‘winter draws on’. Sexual allusions of any kind were banned—there was to be no talk of ‘rabbits’, or suchlike ‘animal habits’.77

Furthermore: Members of Parliament were not to appear on radio programs that might be ‘undignified or unsuitable’ for public figures, nor were there to be any jokes or references that might encourage ‘Strikes or industrial disputes. The Black Market, Spivs and drones.’ These terms—‘spivs’ and ‘drones’ for louche types and minor criminals, the ‘black market’ as an all-purpose term for traders and customers circumventing rationing and other restrictions—show how much Britain at least lived for some years in the shadow of the war. Well into the 1950s the BBC could reprimand one producer, Peter Eton of the popular radio comedy The Goon Show, for allowing ‘Major Dennis Bloodnok’ (played by Peter Sellers) to be awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for ‘emptying dustbins in the heat of battle’ (and for permitting an actor to ‘imitate the Queen’s voice trying to shoo away pigeons at Trafalgar Square’).

Such strictures, and their accompanying note of high-collared, Edwardian-era reformism, were perhaps distinctive to Britain. But their tone would have been familiar all across the continent. In school, in church, on state-run radio, in the confident, patronizing style of the broadsheet and even the tabloid press, and in the speech and dress of public figures, Europeans were still very much subject to the habits and regulations of an earlier time. We have already noted how many of the political leaders of the age were men of another time—Britain’s Clement Attlee would not have been out of place in a Victorian mission to the industrial slums, and it was altogether fitting that the prime minister who oversaw Britain’s transition to a modern welfare state should have begun his public career performing good works in the East End of pre-World War One London.

Against this image of an older Europe—moving at the pace of earlier days, at once changed by the war and restrained by pre-war routines and habits—we must set the unmistakably modern form of its primary source of entertainment. This was the golden age of the cinema. In Britain, cinema attendance peaked quite soon after the end of the war, with 1,700 million seats sold in the country’s five thousand cinemas in 1946. In that year one person in three went every week to the local cinema. Even in 1950, when attendance had already started to decline, the average English man or woman went to the cinema twenty-eight times a year, a figure that was nearly 40 percent higher than in the last year before the war.

Whereas the British cinema audience was to slip steadily through the fifties, in continental Europe it continued to grow. One thousand new picture houses opened in France during the first half of the 1950s, about the same number in West Germany; in Italy three thousand new cinemas appeared, bringing the national total to some 10,000 by 1956. The previous year cinema attendance in Italy peaked at around 800 million seats sold (half the UK figure for about the same size population). French audiences, which were at their largest at the end of the 1940s, were nowhere near as large as those of Britain or even Italy78. Nor were those of West Germany, although in the Federal Republic cinema attendance did not peak until 1959. But by any other measure audiences were large indeed; as they were even in Spain, where cinema attendance per head of the adult population in 1947 was among the highest in Europe.

Part of the reason for this post-war enthusiasm for films was the pent-up wartime demand, especially for American films—stoked by the ban on most US films imposed by the Nazis, by Mussolini (after 1938) and by the Pétain regime in France, and more generally by wartime shortages. In 1946, 87 percent of box-office receipts in Italy were for foreign (mostly American) films; of about 5,000 films shown in Madrid between 1939 and the end of the 1950s, 4,200 were foreign (again, mostly American). In 1947 the French film industry produced 40 films, in contrast with 340 that were imported from the United States. And American films were not just available in overwhelming numbers, they were also popular: the most commercially successful films in post-war Berlin were Chaplin’s Gold Rush and The Maltese Falcon (made in 1941 but not available in Europe until the end of the war).

American domination of post-war European cinema did not come about through the vagaries of popular taste alone, however. There was a political context: ‘positive’ American films flooded into Italy in time for the pivotal 1948 elections; Paramount was encouraged by the State Department to re-issue Ninotchka (1939) that year to help get out the anti-Communist vote. Conversely, Washington requested that John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath (made in 1940) be held back from distribution in France: its unfavorable portrayal of Depression-era America might be exploited by the French Communist Party. In general, American films were part of America’s appeal, and as such significant assets in the cultural Cold War. Only intellectuals were likely to be sufficiently moved by Sergei Eisenstein’s depiction of Odessa in the Battleship Potemkin to translate their aesthetic appreciation into political affinity; but everyone—intellectuals included—could appreciate Humphrey Bogart.

However, American cinema’s drive into Europe was above all prompted by economic considerations. US films had always been exported to Europe and made money there. But after World War Two American producers, squeezed between falling domestic cinema attendance and the rising cost of film-making, pressed especially hard for access to European markets. European governments, by contrast, were more than ever reluctant to open up their home market to American products: the local film industry, still a significant factor in Britain and Italy especially, needed protection against American ‘dumping’; and dollars were too scarce and valuable to be spent on importing American films.

As early as 1927 the UK Parliament had passed a law instituting a quota system, under which 20 percent of all films released in Britain by 1936 had to be British made. After World War Two the British Government’s goal was to set this quota at 30 percent for 1948. The French, Italians and Spanish all pursued similar or even more ambitious objectives (the German film industry, of course, was in no position to demand such protection). But heavy lobbying by Hollywood kept State Department pressure on European negotiators, and agreement to allow entry for US films was part of every major bipartite trade deal or loan agreement reached by the US and its European allies in the first post-war decade.

Thus, under the terms of the Blum-Byrnes accords of May 1946, the French government very reluctantly reduced its protectionist quota from 55 percent French-made films per annum to 30 percent—with the result that within a year domestic film production was halved. The British Labour Government similarly failed to keep out US imports. Only Franco succeeded in restricting US film imports into Spain (despite an attempted ‘boycott’ of the Spanish market by US producers from 1955 to 1958), in large measure because he had no need to respond to public opinion or anticipate the political fall-out of his decisions. But even in Spain, as we have seen, American movies vastly outnumbered home-grown products.

The Americans knew what they were doing: when European governments after 1949 took to taxing cinema receipts in order to subsidize domestic film producers, American producers began investing directly in foreign productions, their choice of European venue for the making of a film or group of films often depending on the level of local ‘domestic’ subsidy then available. In time, then, European governments found themselves indirectly subsidizing Hollywood itself, via local intermediaries. By 1952, 40 percent of the US film industry’s revenue was generated overseas, most of it in Europe. Six years later that figure would stand at 50 percent.

As a result of American domination of the European market, the European films of this period are not always the most reliable guide to European filmgoers’ experience or sensibilities. The British viewer especially was quite likely to form a sense of contemporary Englishness as much from Hollywood’s presentation of England as from his or her own direct experience. It is a matter of some note that among the films of the forties, Mrs Miniver (1942)—a very English tale of domestic fortitude and endurance, of middle-class reticence and perseverance, set symptomatically around the disaster at Dunkirk where all these qualities were taken to be most on display—was a pure product of Hollywood. Yet for the English generation that first saw it the film would long remain the truest representation of national memory and self-image.

What made American films so appealling, beyond the glamour and lustre that they brought to the gray surroundings in which they were viewed, was their ‘quality’. They were well-made, usually on a canvas far beyond the resources of any European producer. They were not, however, ‘escapist’ in the manner of 1930s ‘screwball’ comedies or romantic fantasies. Indeed, some of the most popular American films of the late forties were (as later continental admirers would dub them) ‘film noir’. Their setting might be a detective story or social drama, but the mood—and cinematographic texture—were darker and more sombre than American films of earlier decades.

It was Europeans who were often more likely to make escapist films at this time— like the frothy German romances of the early fifties, set in fairy-tale landscapes of the Black Forest or Bavarian Alps, or British-made lightweight genre comedies like Piccadilly Incident (1946), Spring in Park Lane (1948) or Maytime in Mayfair (1949), all made by Herbert Wilcox, set in London’s fashionable (and comparatively undamaged) West End, and starring Anna Neagle, Michael Wilding or Rex Harrison as witty debutantes and capricious aristocrats. Their no-less-forgettable Italian and French equivalents were usually updated costume dramas, with peasants and aristocrats occasionally replaced by mechanics or businessmen.

The best European films of the post-war decade—those that later viewers can most readily appreciate—inevitably dealt in one way or another with the war. The Liberation saw a brief spate of ‘Resistance’ films—Peleton d’execution (1945), Le Jugement dernier(1945), and La Bataille du Rail(1946) in France; Roma: città aperta (1945), Paisan (1946), and Un Giorno della vita (1946) in Italy—in all of which a moral chasm separates heroic resisters from craven collaborators and brutal Germans. These were closely followed by a group of films set in the rubble (literal and spiritual) of Berlin: Roberto Rosselini’s Germania anno zero (1947); A Foreign Affair (1948)—American but by the Austrian émigré director Billy Wilder; and Murderers Are Among Us (1946) by Wolfgang Staudte, notable in its time as the only German film to even begin to engage the moral implications of Nazi atrocities (but in which the word ‘Jew’ is never spoken).

Three of these films, Open City, Paisan and Germania anno zero were by Roberto Rossellini. Together with Vittorio De Sica, who directed Sciuscià (1946), Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D (1952), Rossellini was responsible for the cycle of neo-realist films made in the years 1945-52 that propelled Italian filmmakers to the front rank of international cinema. Like one or two of the contemporary English comedies made at the Ealing Studios, notably Passport to Pimlico (1949), the neo-realist films took the damage and destruction of war, especially in the cities, as the setting and in some measure the subject for post-war cinema. But even the best of the English films never approached the sombre humanism of the Italian master-pieces.

The simple ‘verities’ of these films reflect not so much the European world as it then was as that same world passed through the grid of wartime memories and myths. Workers, the undamaged countryside, above all young children (boys especially) stand for something good and uncorrupted and real—even in the midst of urban destruction and destitution—when set against false values of class, wealth, greed, collaboration, luxe et volupté. For the most part Americans are absent (except for the GIs having their shoes shined in the eponymous Sciuscià, or the posters of Rita Hayworth that appear in Bicycle Thieves, juxtaposed to the impoverished bill poster himself); this is a Europe of Europeans, living on the half-built, half-destroyed margins of their cities, filmed almost as documentary (and owing something, therefore, to documentary film-making experience gained with armies during the war). Like the world of post-war Europe itself they disappear after 1952—though neo-realism had a kind of curious half-after life in Spain, where Luis Garcia Berlanga directed Bienvenido Mister Marshall in 1953 and Juan Antonio Bardem made Death of a Cyclist three years later.

Like other amusements of its era, cinema-going was a collective pleasure. In small Italian towns the weekly film would be watched and commented on by most of the population, a public entertainment publicly discussed. In England, at Saturday morning shows for children, songs were flashed on the screen, with the audience encouraged to sing along in harmony with a little white ball that bounced from word to word. One such song from around 1946 is recalled in a memoir of childhood in post-war South London:

We come along on Saturday morning
Greeting everybody with a smile.
We come along on Saturday morning
Knowing it’s well worthwhile.
As members of the Odeon we all intend to be
Good citizens when we grow up
And champions of the Free.79

The didactic tone was not representative—at least not in so overt a form—and would disappear within a few years. But the ingenuous, old-fashioned note nicely captures the moment. Popular workingmen’s recreations like pigeon-raising, speed-way and greyhound racing reached their peak in these years before entering upon a steady decline that accelerated from the later 1950s. Their roots in late-Victorian times could be seen in the sort of headgear worn by spectators: the beret (France) and flat workingmen’s cap (England) both became popular around the 1890s and were still the norm in 1950. Boys still dressed like their grandfathers, except for the ubiquitous short trousers.

Dancing, too, was popular, in large part thanks to the American GIs, who introduced swing and be-bop which were widely performed at dance halls and night-clubs and popularized by radio (few could afford record-players before the mid-1950s and the juke-box had not yet killed off live dance bands). The generation gap of the next decade was hardly yet in evidence. Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ of February 1947—an aggressively indulgent style meant to contrast with wartime shortages of cloth, with ankle-length skirts, stuffed ‘leg of mutton’ shoulders and a plethora of bows and pleats—was favored, where they could afford it, by women of all ages; external appearance was still a function of class (and income) rather than age.

There were, of course, inter-generational tensions. During the war, Americaninfluenced‘zoot suits’ were worn by London spivs and Parisian ‘zazous’ alike, much to the appalled disapproval of their elders; and in the later forties the enthusiasm among bohemians and intellectuals for the duffle-coat, an adaptation of what had until then been the traditional outerwear of Belgian fishermen, hinted at the coming fashion among the young for dressing down rather than up. In the ultra-fashionable Parisian nightclub Le Tabou, which opened in April 1947, sartorial permissiveness was treated with great seriousness, while a French film of 1949, Rendezvous de Juillet, makes much of the spoilt younger generation’s lack of gravitas: at lunch, the conventional father of a traditional bourgeois household is appalled at the behavior of his youngest son, above all by his insistence on eating without a tie.

But all this was the small change of adolescent revolt, hardly new. Most people of all ages in post-war Europe were chiefly concerned with making do. At the beginning of the 1950s, one Italian family in four lived in poverty and most of the rest were little better off. Less than one house in two had an indoor toilet, only one in eight boasted a bathroom. In the worst-off regions of the far south-east of Italy poverty was endemic: in the village of Cuto, in the Marchesato di Crotone, the fresh water supply to the town’s 9,000 inhabitants consisted of a single public fountain.

The Mezzogiorno was an extreme case. But in West Germany in 1950 17 million of the country’s 47 million residents were still classed as ‘needy’, chiefly because they had nowhere to live. Even in London a family whose name was on the waiting list for a house or flat could expect on average to wait seven years before being housed; in the meantime they were placed in post-war ‘prefabs’—metal boxes installed on empty lots around the city to shelter the homeless until the construction of new dwellings could catch up with need. In post-war polls, ‘housing’ always topped the list of popular concerns; in De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (1951) the homeless crowd chants, ‘We want a home to live in, so we and our children can believe in tomorrow’.

The consumption patterns of post-war Europe reflected the continuing penury of the continent and the enduring impact of the Depression and the war. Rationing continued longest in Britain, where bread rationing was introduced between July 1946 and July 1948, clothes coupons remained in force until 1949, the wartime utility clothing and furniture regime was not abandoned until 1952, and food rationing on meat and many other foods was not finally ended until the summer of 1954—though it was temporarily suspended for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953, when everyone was allocated an extra pound of sugar and four ounces of margarine.80 But even in France, where rationing (and therefore the black market) disappeared rather sooner, the wartime obsession with food supply did not abate until 1949 at the earliest.

Almost everything was either in short supply or else small (the recommended size of the much-coveted new family dwellings being built by the Labour Government in Britain was just 900 square feet for a 3-bedroom house). Very few Europeans possessed a car or a fridge—working-class women in the UK, where the standard of living was higher than most countries on the continent, shopped twice a day for food, either on foot or by public transport, much as their mothers and grandmothers had done before them. Goods from distant lands were exotic and expensive. The widespread sense of restriction and limits and containment was further reinforced by controls on international travel (to save valuable foreign currency) and legislation keeping out foreign workers and other migrants (the post-war Republic in France maintained in force all the legislation from the 1930s and the Occupation designed to bar foreign labor and other undesirable aliens, allowing exceptions, mostly for skilled manual laborers, only according to need).

In many ways, Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s was less open, less mobile and more insular than it had been in 1913. It was certainly more dilapidated, and not just in Berlin, where only one quarter of the rubble of battle had been cleared by 1950. The English social historian Robert Hewison describes the British in these years as ‘a worn-out people working with worn-out machinery.’ Whereas in the US by the end of the 1940s most industrial equipment was under five years old, in post-war France the average age of machinery was twenty years. A typical French farmer produced food for five fellow Frenchmen; the American farmer was already producing at three times this rate. Forty years of war and economic depression had taken a heavy toll.

‘Post-war’, then, lasted a long time; longer, certainly, than historians have sometimes supposed, recounting the difficult post-war years in the flattering light of the prosperous decades to come. Few Europeans in that time, well-informed or otherwise, anticipated the scale of change that was about to break upon them. The experience of the past half-century had induced in many a skeptical pessimism. In the years preceding World War One Europe was an optimistic continent whose statesmen and commentators looked to a confident future. Thirty years on, after World War Two, people had their eyes firmly and nervously fixed upon the terrible past. Many observers anticipated more of the same: another post-war depression, a re-run of the politics of extremism, a third world war.

But the very scale of the collective misery that Europeans had brought upon themselves in the first half of the century had a profoundly de-politicizing effect: far from turning to extreme solutions, in the manner of the years following World War One, the European publics of the gloomy post-World War Two years turned away from politics. The implications of this could be discerned only vaguely at the time—in the failure of Fascist or Communist parties to cash in upon the difficulties of daily existence; in the way in which economics displaced politics as the goal and language of collective action; in the emergence of domestic recreations and domestic consumption in place of participation in public affairs.

And something else was happening. As The New Yorker’s Janet Flanner had noticed back in May 1946, the second highest priority (after underclothes) in France’s post-war agenda for ‘utility’ products was baby-carriages. For the first time in many years, Europeans were starting to have babies again. In the UK the birthrate in 1949 was up by 11 percent on 1937; in France it had risen by an unprecedented 33 percent. The implications of this remarkable burst of fertility, in a continent whose leading demographic marker since 1913 had been premature death, were momentous. In more ways than most contemporaries could possibly have foreseen, a new Europe was being born.

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