Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Train Reading - Mazower's Hitler's empire. Can a multi-ethnic society survive?

My train reading has switched to Mark Mazower's Hitler's Empire: Nazi rule in occupied Europe (Penguin Books, London 2009). I bought the book at the airport to read on the plane to Canada, but have only now found the time t0 actually start reading.

In many ways this book forms a companion piece to three earlier books. Warren Treadgold's A History of the Byzantine State and Society sets the scene for the complex mess that became the Balkans.

Then Edmond Taylor’s The fall of the Dynasties, the collapse of the old order 1905-1922 takes the the story up, tracing the interaction between rising nationalism, ethnic and religious rivalries and state (dynastic) failure over the nineteenth and early twentieth century. These led to the First World War, the collapse of the old European dynastic order and then the Second World War.

Published in 1937, J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth is a travel book. However, it provides an insight into the way in which Social Darwinism with its focus on ethnic and national competition, improvement and superiority in the first half of the twentieth century gave added venom to the insanity that was Nazi Germany. Now in Mazower's book we see this working out in Nazi practice.

I suppose the most depressing thing about my reading is that it shows just how hard it is for groups divided by ethnicity and culture to live together in peace. There is a tendency today to blame this on religious divisions, and certainly these have contributed to the troubled pot. However, even if religion was to vanish from the scene, I doubt that results would be much different.

I am left wondering just what it requires for a society with multiple ethnic groups or cultures to survive into the longer term. If so, what are the features that society must possess?

Note to readers:

The posts in this current series are:


Neil said...

There are positive and negative lessons to be learned, perhaps, from the very long history of India.

The other thing that is just as pressing is "just what it requires for a WORLD with multiple ethnic groups or cultures to survive into the longer term." Because that is what the world is.

We have to learn!

Jim Belshaw said...

I think you are right re India, also Canada, Neil, and in your world point.

Kanani said...

I hadn't thought about the divisions remaining if one stripped away religion, but I think you're right. One look at Israel and Palestine --and you the differences are mired in something more than just religion. Any hope for that situation, as well as the longer lessons in India? Not so sure.

I guess the two things that help are economic opportunities and education. But even these can come fully loaded with their own headaches when it comes to delivery.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think its more than education and opportunity, Kanani, although they are critical in overcoming division. Education, for example, can in fact be used as a tool to reinforce division.

We often look at things that don't work. I am now wondering about diverse societies that have worked as a way of providing clues.