The conventional history of Europe, connecting the Enlightenment heritage with our time, makes a huge detour around the violent nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth one. The article explores the European peace utopias of 1815, 1918 and 1951, and their eventual loss of suggestive force, and argues that they link today’s global Europe to the post-Napoleonic world two hundred years ago. This connection, through a series of illusions and disillusions about the nature of politics, represents a different view on the nineteenth and twentieth century than the conventional teleological narrative about fulfilment of the Enlightenment promise of progress. The analysis of the bicentenary chain of shifts between postwar, prewar and war should not be read in terms of a teleology necessitating a new war; the point is, rather to draw attention to the fragility and openness of historical processes. The new narrative outlined here emphasizes that there was no necessity in the development towards today’s Europe; the story is full of alternatives, and highlights the role as well as the responsibility of human agency. No solution appears as a necessary result of impersonal forces, everything has depended, and continues to depend, on human choice.