In his first chapter, Mazower argues that the parliamentary democracies that emerged in the wake of World War I were unable to navigate the polarized political environment of the postwar era. This was due to a number of reasons, but Mazower stresses the threat (or perceived threat) of communism posed by the Bolshevik Revolution. "Ruling elites," he writes, "...showed themselves to be anti-communists first, democrats second." In the end, democracies and parliamentary institutions collapsed under the challenge of far-right authoritarian governments that were able to subvert them in the face of the threat of revolution. They proved so weak, Mazower argues, because most European nations had little tradition of democracy.
Mazower also points out that World War I marked the triumph of nationalism, which created the problem of minorities within a nation. This was because the states that emerged from the Treaty of Versailles, were, at least in theory, ethno-states, founded upon the idea of an ethnic majority. Since this gave them their legitimacy, ethnic minorities within their borders posed a problem, one that was seen as difficult to resolve within a parliamentary system. This made racial nationalism more palatable within Europe, and international organizations and laws, contrary to the hopes and wishes of European liberal leaders, proved powerless to protect minorities within each nation.
The economic collapse of the Great Depression also eroded confidence in the liberal democracies of Europe because most were unable to adequately respond to the economic crisis. Even capitalism itself was under attack, and Mazower points out that these attacks contributed to the rise (or popularity) of far-left ideologies that, as noted above, destabilized and polarized democracies. Economic problems, then, served as a catalyst for the rise of authoritarian and even fascist regimes.