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1947: Event & Idea

The second quotation opening the ‘Introduction’ in Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005) is taken from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790): ‘Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing!) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect.’ The inclusion of this quotation hints that Judt’s European history-writing may pay prominent attention to the relation between events and ideas; after all, as a later quotation, this time from Heinrich Heine in 1828, suggests, this relation is a characteristically Continental – if not English – concern. Heine observed how ‘it is rarely possible for the English, in their parliamentary debates, to give utterance to a principle. They discuss only the utility or disutility of a thing, and produce facts, for and against.’ [i]              Judt’s reading of Europe in the postwar period does indeed foreground the relationship between historical event

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