Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914–1945

Europe’s second Thirty Years’ War—an epoch of blood and ashes
Fire and Blood looks at the European crisis of the two world wars as a single historical sequence: the age of the European Civil War (1914–1945). Its overture was played out in the trenches of the Great War; its coda on a ruined continent. It opened with conventional declarations of war and finished with “unconditional surrender.” Proclamations of national unity led to eventual devastation, with entire countries torn to pieces. During these three decades of deepening conflicts, a classical interstate conflict morphed into a global civil war, abandoning rules of engagement and fought by irreducible enemies rather than legitimate adversaries, each seeking the annihilation of its opponents. It was a time of both unchained passions and industrial, rationalized massacre. Utilizing multiple sources, Enzo Traverso depicts the dialectic of this era of wars, revolutions and genocides. Rejecting commonplace notions of “totalitarian evil,” he rediscovers the feelings and reinterprets the ideas of an age of intellectual and political commitment when Europe shaped world history with its own collapse.


  • “Enzo Traverso’s investigation is based on a brilliant—although controversial—idea. It is an important book that deserves to prompt vast and interesting debates.”
  • “Despite thousands of books on the two world wars, we are still far from understanding the violence that tore Europe apart between 1914 and 1945. By conceiving of the conflict as a civil war, Enzo Traverso provides us with a new way to think about the disaster that continues to shape the twenty-first century.”
  • “This is engaged history at its best. Traverso wants to redeem those nowadays slighted anti-fascist thinkers and activists. He rejects a simplistic antitotalitarianism that upholds a pure liberalism untouched by uncomfortable choices. In part a coming-to-terms with his and his family’s past as leftists in Italy, Fire and Blood is a passionate and bracing contribution to the issues that bedeviled Western political intellectuals in the age of extremism.”
  • “Written with empathy and perspicacity, Fire and Blood takes the measure of the explosion of violence—revolutionary vs. counter-revolutionary, fascist vs. anti-fascist, military vs. civilian—that constituted the European “civil war” of the first half of the twentieth century. Enzo Traverso’s admirable erudition and judiciousness make this work an indispensable synthesis.”
  • “One must admire Traverso’s ambitious synthesis of theory and recent scholarship.”
  • “A remarkable study on the politics of violence.”
  • “This book … cannot be neglected by anyone with the temerity to approach the subject in future.”
  • “A magisterial interpretation of an epoch that threw Europe into chaos; it is one of those great books on the twentieth century which will be discussed in the coming years.”
  • “[A] remarkable reinterpretation of the history of the ‘Thirty Years War’ of the twentieth century … recreates the ethos of this time.”
  • “Grounded on a huge bibliographical base, this book interprets three decades of European history by skillfully focusing on the categories of total war and civil war … [Fire and Blood] allows us to understand the meaning of a tragic experience lived by humankind.”
  • “Analyzes the enchainment of tragedies that disfigured the twentieth century [and] explores the universe of horror and suffering, but also of cultures, ideas and hopes, that shaped Europe through a sequence of conflicts during the first half of the twentieth century.”
  • “The latest historiographical work of Enzo Traverso is the result of years, probably decades of investigation on the topics of wars, fascist dictatorships, intellectual exile, the Holocaust and the Nazi violence. Until now, he had approached them only separately, and today, at the height of his historiographical maturity, he gathers them in a global interpretation of the most intricate, as well as terrible period of the history of the twentieth century.”
  • “Enzo Traverso follows the rise of the cult of violence not only through the explosive escalation of brutality between the two world wars, but also through literature, the arts and cinema. Thus, through careful arguments, he depicts a convincing although completely discomforting panorama of acquaintance with violence and analyzes both its results and its function as midwife of history.”
  • “Sharply sketched … impressive … powerful … Fire and Blood opens the window, lets in fresh air and clears the intellectual fog.”
  • “Even those who don’t agree with many of Traverso’s theses and interpretations should undoubtedly recognize that his particular analyses are impressive. His phenomenological approach to the manifestations of violence and fear not only in social and political life but also in music, arts, literature and movies of this age, as he shows giving the examples of Igor Stravinsky, Max Beckmann, Louis Ferdinand Céline and Fritz Lang, are instructive and stimulating.”
  • “Whoever wishes to know about the nature of the twentieth century—the century from which all of us come—should not ignore this book.”
  • “One of the most significant books of the last decade—a great book that only a great historian could write. Fire and Blood rediscovers the concept of European civil war in order to analyze a socio-cultural context and a whole of attitudes and practices that, rather than a regression of civilization, appear as modern and radical experiences.”
  • “Displays a historiographical discourse of high standard and extreme lucidity [with] its clarity of exposition and its genuinely trans-European dimension.”
  • “The best general study on the European civil war … A magnificent historical, political and philosophical analysis of the ‘European Civil War’ that tore the continent apart during the first half of the twentieth century.”
  • “Remarkable.”
  • “Nuanced and erudite … Fire and Blood is more than a history of a catastrophe that began a hundred years ago. It is also a warning of a potential future.”
  • “This wonderful book …is not a simple history of [the 1914–1945 period]. Rather it examines the ideas which underlay the mass movements of the inter war years, and why the morality of pre-1914 Europe was undermined by a generation scarred by the horror of the First World War.”
  • “Enzo Traverso’s provocative book poses a profoundly important question to modern history. How can we understand the “age of extremes” (1914 to 1945) from a present – our present day in the west – that is in general terms allergic to “ideology” and convinced that “there is no alternative”? What happens when an anodyne and self-satisfied liberalism projects its values back into an earlier era of intense political struggle?”
  • “Incisive, challenging, and compelling interpretation of the European wars of annihilation, whose consequences still reverberate.”
  • “Fluently written and employing a synthetic approach that will appeal to the common reader.”
  • “Enzo Traverso has pulled off the rare reconstruction of a past epoch that pulsates with electric immediacy. Fire and Blood fashions events happening seventy-five-to-one-hundred years ago to feel as lively and pertinent as political debates taking place at present.”


  • Post-fascism: a mutation still underway

    This interview with Enzo Traverso was first published in L'humanité. Translated by David Broder. 

    June 2015 press conference of far right 'Europe of Nations and Freedom' bloc within European Parliament. 

    In his Les Nouveaux Visages du Fascisme, historian Enzo Traverso analyses the mutations of the European far Right movements that have emerged from "the fascist matrix."1 According to Traverso, the Left has to "offer political perspectives again" in order to occupy "the immense void" that is today being filled by both jihadism and a "post-fascism" that excludes Muslims.

    Are Europe’s far-Right movements (the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary…) adopting the same codes as fascism or Nazism?

    Enzo Traverso: First of all, these movements do share common traits, including their rejection of the European Union, their xenophobia and their racism, in particular in its Islamophobic dimension. Beyond these markers, we can see notable differences. There are clearly neo-fascist or neo-Nazi movements, like Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, etc., whose radicalism is often linked to the extent of the crisis, even if in Greece the rise of Syriza did put a lid on this dynamic. As for France, the Front National does have a fascist matrix, and there are certainly neo-fascists in the party, but its discourse is no longer fascist. After all, it has made a considerable effort at ideological mutation, and that is one of the keys to its success. If it still advanced neo-fascist arguments it would not get a hearing, and could certainly not hope to reach the second round of the presidential election.

    Continue Reading

  • Mutations of Fascism: an interview with Enzo Traverso

    In Les Nouveaux Visages du fascisme, Enzo Traverso and Régis Meyran discuss the continuities and discontinuities between the fascist movements of the twentieth century and the "post-fascist" far right of today. Olivier Doubre spoke with Traverso for the 16-22 February 2017 edition of Politis. Translated by David Broder. 

    You use the term "post-fascism" to characterise today’s far Right movements. What does this term mean?

    Enzo Traverso: The idea of post-fascism firstly serves to characterise a political movement that is shot through with contradictions, and which has an evident fascist matrix — for that is its history, where it comes from — and in the Front National’s case a dynastic line of descent. There is an undeniable fascist hard core in the FN apparatus, its activist base, composed of neo-fascist militants of all generations. They are very active in the FN and hold onto a good part of the organisation. So there is a rift between the organisational reality of this party — or even its anthropological fabric — and Marine Le Pen’s discourse in the media or the public sphere, which is of a xenophobic, nationalist, anti-neoliberal tenor but also comes out of a social Right. Yet if the FN were a neofascist sect, or even a neofascist party, I do not think that it would be considered likely to appear in the second round of the presidential election, or even capable of being France’s biggest party. This party is thus clearly transforming, and it is trying to operate a process by which it dialectically transcends its fascist character — but without entirely rejecting it. So in order to fight this party, we have to understand what it has become.

    Continue Reading

  • "The Left is a history of defeats": an interview with Enzo Traverso

    Sonya Faure's interview with Enzo Traverso on post-fascism, left melancholy, and the memory of defeat was first published in Libération. Translated by David Broder.
    A new edition of Christopher Hill's classic The Experience of Defeat is out from Verso this week.

    Gustave Courbet, Un enterrement à Ornans, 1849–50.

    Enzo Traverso has published two books in quick succession, which he himself sees as two parts of a diptych. In Nouveaux visages du fascisme ("Fascism’s New Faces," to be published by Textuel in February) the historian of ideas gives his definition of the concept "post-fascism" as he works to reveal the still-changing nature of the new populist and xenophobic currents from Le Pen to Trump. In Left-Wing Melancholia. Marxism, History and Memory (Columbia University Press, January 2017), he explains why the Left must draw on its inherent melancholia, a force for its own self-reinvention. Born in Italy, Enzo Traverso — a former far-Left militant and formerly an academic in France, today professor at Cornell University in the United States — places French political passions back at the heart of global debates, from the reconstruction of the Left to the populist temptation.

    Continue Reading

Other books of interest