14: Postwar Society
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Once the Cold War began in 1947, Europe was just one of the stages on which it was played out around the world. Cold War divisions were perhaps stronger in Europe than anywhere else, however, because the European subcontinent was geographically divided along the lines of the Cold War: in the west the prevailing political and economic pattern was of democracy and a regulated market capitalism, while in the east it was of Soviet-dominated communist rule and command economies. The contrast was all the more striking in that both sides of the Cold War divide began in similar circumstances - devastated by World War II - yet within a decade the west was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom while the east descended into relative economic stagnation.
- 14.1: Social Democracy
- In the aftermath of the war, the most important and noticeable political change in the west was the nearly universal triumph of democratic forms of government. Whereas the democratic experiments of the interwar period had all too often ended in the disaster of fascism, stable democratic governments emerged in the postwar era that are still present today, albeit in modified forms in some cases like that of France.
- 14.2: The Postwar Boom and Cultural Change
- With the governments of Western Europe sharing these fundamental characteristics, they sought to ease trade across their borders, forming federalist bodies meant to make economic cooperation easier. In 1957, the governments of central continental Europe came together and founded the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market.
- 14.3: Philosophy and Art
- Ironically, some of the major intellectual movements of the postwar period focused not on the promise of a better future, but on the premise that life was and probably would remain alienating and unjust. Despite the real, tangible improvements in the quality of life for most people in western Europe between 1945 - 1975, there was a marked insecurity and pessimism that was best reflected in postwar art and philosophy.
- 14.4: The Youth Movement and Cultural Revolution
- Much more significant in terms of its cultural and social impact than postwar philosophy was the global youth movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The baby boom generation came of age in the 1960s, with unprecedented numbers of young people reaching adolescence right at the height of postwar prosperity.
Thumbnail: Young people near the Woodstock music festival in August 1969. (CC BY 3.0 Unported; Ric Manning via Wikipedia)