Spectres Haunting Europe


Conservatives often claim that the total state was born in the ashes of 1789. That's truer than they may imagine: While the Jacobins were certainly pioneers of political policing, the same was true of the Old Order regimes that responded to the threat of revolution by building up police states of their own. Adam Zamovski's magnificent Phantom Terror (Basic Books) tells this tale, showing how governments across Europe reacted to revolutionary activity—and, much more often, to entirely imaginary revolutionary conspiracies—by erecting systems of surveillance, censorship, and control.

Figures like Prince Metternich come across as reactionary fantasists jumping at shadows: They see the hand of the Illuminati or some other subversive secret society behind anything that might erode their power, yet are caught unprepared when real revolts finally break out. In the meantime, networks of informants keep finding creative ways to feed their rulers' fantasies by telling officials what they want to hear.

NEXT: Indiana Prosecutor Bradley Cooper Is 'Proudly Over-Crowding our Prisons'

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  1. Just started reading this, up to Mitternich’s flailings and Tsar Alexander’s intrusive nannying of the rest of Europe. My major complaint is that he gets really bogged down in minutia, detailing comment after comment to back up some basic observation. At some point, I start skimming, usually realizing several paragraphs later that I missed something, and have to go back and read more slowly. It’s distracting, and makes it hard to keep the forest in mind when there are so many trees.

    But I’m learning all sorts of stuff that is interesting, so it’s worth putting up with.

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