Professor Martin Conway

Featured Publication

Western Europe’s Democratic Age: 1945-1968 (Princeton University Press, June 2020)

conway western europes democratic age

What happened in the years following World War II to create a democratic revolution in the western half of Europe? In Western Europe’s Democratic Age, Martin Conway provides an innovative new account of how a stable, durable, and remarkably uniform model of parliamentary democracy emerged in Western Europe—and how this democratic ascendancy held fast until the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, Conway describes how Western Europe’s postwar democratic order was built by elite, intellectual, and popular forces. Much more than the consequence of the defeat of fascism and the rejection of Communism, this democratic order rested on universal male and female suffrage, but also on new forms of state authority and new political forces—primarily Christian and social democratic—that espoused democratic values. Above all, it gained the support of the people, for whom democracy provided a new model of citizenship that reflected the aspirations of a more prosperous society.

This democratic order did not, however, endure. Its hierarchies of class, gender, and race, which initially gave it its strength, as well as the strains of decolonization and social change, led to an explosion of demands for greater democratic freedoms in the 1960s, and to the much more contested democratic politics of Europe in the late twentieth century.

Western Europe’s Democratic Age is a compelling history that sheds new light not only on the past of European democracy but also on the unresolved question of its future.

 The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction, 1944-1947 (2012)

Cover for Sorrows of Belgium

The liberation of Belgium by Allied troops in September 1944 marked the end of a harsh German Occupation, but also the beginning of a turbulent and decisive period in the history of the country. There would be no easy transition to peace. Instead, the rival political forces of King Leopold III and his supporters, the former government in exile in London, and the Resistance movements which had emerged during the Occupation confronted each other in a bitter struggle for political ascendancy. The subsequent few years were dominated by an almost continual air of political and social crisis as Resistance demonstrations, strikes, and protests for and against the King appeared to threaten civil war and the institutional dissolution of the country. And yet by 1947 a certain stability had been achieved: the Resistance groups had been marginalised, the Communist Party was excluded from government, the King languished in unwilling exile in Switzerland, and, most tangibly, the pre-war political parties and the parliamentary political regime had been restored.

In this substantial contribution to the history of the liberation era in Europe, Martin Conway provides the first account, based on substantial new archival material, of this process of political normalisation, which provided the basis for the integration of Belgium into the post-war West European political order. That success, however, came at a cost: the absence of any substantial political reform after the Second World War exacerbated the tensions between the different social classes, linguistic communities, and regions within Belgium, providing the basis for the gradual unravelling of the Belgian nation-state which occurred over the second half of the twentieth century.



  • Contemporary European History
  • History of Democracy
  • History of Masculinity

My research has been principally concerned with European history from the 1930s to the final decades of the twentieth century. Like many others, I was initially interested in the inter-war years, and my doctoral thesis explored the history of the extreme-right movement in Belgium, the Rexist movement, during the Second World War. Published in 1993 as Collaboration in Belgium: Léon Degrelle and the Rexist Movement 1940-1944, it was subsequently published in French and Dutch translations. The Catholic origins of the Rexist movement led me on to develop a wider interest in Catholic politics, and I have published a number of books and articles which have looked more generally at the shape of Catholic politics in Europe. I have also continued my interest in Belgium, and wrote a large-scale study of Belgium after its liberation in 1944. This was finally published in 2012 as The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction 1944-47. It too has come out in a French translation.

In the last few years, much of my work has concerned the history of Democracy in twentieth-century Europe. I have published a number of articles on the nature of democracy in post-war Europe, and have recently completed a large book entitled Europe's Democratic Age: Western Europe 1945-68, which will be published by Princeton University Press in the spring of 2020.

In my future research, I intend to continue to write about democracy, with a more contemporary focus, and have continuing interests in writing about the working class, and about the modern history of masculinity.

  • The Legacies of 1945: The Evolutions of European Civic Morality

  • Writing European Unification Backwards

  • José Gotovitch, 50 ans au coeur et aux marges de l'historiographie de la Belgique contemporaine

  • Aprendiendo de América Latina

  • Western Europe's Democratic Age 1945-1968

  • On Fragile Democracy: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

  • Brexit: 100 Years in the Making

  • Europe's Postwar Periods - 1989, 1945, 1918 Writing History Backwards

  • Democracy in Western Europe after 1945

  • The (Re-)Making of Masculinity in Europe 1910-1960

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Alex Papanagiotou
  • Matt Myers


I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding any area of the post-1930 History of Western Europe or any potential Masters students looking at Modern European History.

I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS:

European and World History 4 1815-1914

European and World History: The European Century 1820-1925

France: Revolution and Empire, 1789-1815

European and World History: Europe Divided, 1914-1989

European and World History: The Global Century, 1930-2003


Theme d: Catholicism and the Making of the Modern World, 1545-1970


Further Subject: Cold War Culture


In the Media

The State of Europe (The Reluctant Internationalist, 4 January 2016)

What is it about Molenbeek? The bit of Belgium that was a base for Paris Terror Attacks (The Conversation, 20 November 2015) 

Brexit: 100 Years in the Making (Contemporary European History, February 2019)