After 1760, the West underwent a series of dramatic
transformations in politics, intellectual development, and
industrialization. The latter revolution altered basic
social patterns, enhanced Europe's position in the world, and
marked the path to be taken by other civilizations.
- Forces of Change
Coming after a period of relative stability, the French
Revolution and the Industrial Revolution startled
- Intellectual Challenge and Population Pressure
The Enlightenment was one challenge to regimes that failed to
enact reforms. A second source of instability was the
dramatic population increase that set in after 1730, a result
of improved nutrition and a lower rate of infant mortality.
Unlike previous epochs, the population increase of the
eighteenth century produced more positive responses. Upper-
class families attempted to secure their positions, and the
social hierarchy became more rigid. Business families
attempted to increase their margins of profit, sometimes by
the addition of more technology. At the lowest level, the
poor were driven to seek new means of employment. Population
growth stimulated a surge in production of textiles and metal
products, a process called proto-industrialization. Social
patterns changed in response to new economic conditions.
- The Tide of Revolution, 1789-1830
Intellectual ferment and economic change led to a series of
- The American Revolution
The first political upheaval occurred when the British
colonies of North America sought their independence after
1775. Colonists objected to new taxes imposed on the
colonies after 1763 and to limitations placed on development
of the western frontier. Following the Declaration of
Independence of 1776, colonists set up a provisional
government and proceeded to fight a war against British
forces. After forcing the British to come to terms, the
colonists established a new constitutional structure in 1789
based on Enlightenment principles.
- Crisis in France in 1789
Following the American example, reformers seeking change
along Enlightenment lines attacked the inefficiency and
autocracy of the French monarchy. Resistance to the
government arose in all levels of French society. Cries for
reform were met with adamant resistance on the part of the
monarchy and the French nobility. In 1789, Louis XVI called
a meeting of the French Estates General to consider tax
reform, but reformers seized control of the meeting.
Reformers issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man as a
statement of principle. Shortly thereafter a group of
Parisian citizens seized the royal armory at the Bastille.
Peasants began to rebel in the countryside in opposition to
aristocratic authority. A new constitution established
individual rights, assaulted the position of the Church, and
granted limited voting rights to the adult male population.
- The French Revolution: Radical and Authoritarian Phases
Faced with opposition from conservatives at home and abroad,
the revolutionary movement in Paris passed to more radical
leaders. The new leadership executed Louis XVI, abolished
the monarchy, and established the Reign of Terror to secure
the revolutionary movement. A new constitution proclaimed
universal male suffrage, military conscription, and social
reform. The armies of the new republic began to press back
its foreign enemies and to seize new territories. After the
fall of the radicals, a more moderate regime emerged.
Within four years, Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the successful
French generals, converted the republic to an increasingly
autocratic regime while continuing to champion individual
liberties, religious freedom, and the promulgation of a new
law code. Napoleon's attempt to carve out a European-wide
empire was less successful. Following a failed invasion of
Russia in 1812, French forces fell back until their final
defeat in 1815. The growth of revolutionary, national
patriotism in France spawned similar movements elsewhere in
- A Conservative Settlement and the Revolutionary Legacy
The allies responsible for the defeat of Napoleon met at
Vienna after 1815 to craft a lasting peace predicated on the
establishment of a European balance of power. The
settlements reached at Vienna gave Europe almost 50 years of
stability. The sentiment at Vienna was to create a
conservative political framework that would halt social and
political revolution. In this the Vienna negotiators failed.
New political movements spread across Europe. Liberals
sought greater individual liberties guaranteed by
constitutions and parliaments. Radicals pressed for more
democratic political structures and social reforms in favor
of workers. Nationalists urged national boundaries that
coincided with ethnic unity. Socialists attacked private property.
The new ideologies drew new participants into the political
arena from the middle classes and the workers. Revolutions
broke out in the 1820s and 1830s. In Greece, nationalists
sought independence from the Ottoman Empire. Spanish
revolutionaries sought to end the Bourbon monarchy. In
France the Bourbons were ejected again in 1830 in favor of a
new monarch and a somewhat liberal constitution. In the same
year, Belgium gained its independence. In Britain and the
United States movements successfully introduced wider
suffrage within the electorate.
- The Industrial Revolution
The key development of the Industrial Revolution was the
application of machine power to replace men and animals.
Favorable supplies of natural resources and the spur of
population growth helped to produce the first Industrial
Revolution in Britain. Industrialization built on the
commercial advantages Europe enjoyed in the world trade
network and the developments of the scientific revolution.
- Origins of Industrialization, 1770-1840
The initial inventions, such as James Watt's steam engine,
that prompted the Industrial Revolution occurred in Britain.
Each invention spawned new technological developments in
Transportation and communication innovations allowed
products, people, and information to be moved more rapidly.
Improved agricultural production fed the masses of workers
who moved to the cities. Industrialization involved a shift
in the organization of labor and the emergence of the factory
system with its specialization of tasks and greater
discipline. Industrialization also led to the creation of
larger firms with greater access to capital and more advanced
Britain's industrialization attracted imitators in the United States, Belgium, France, and Germany. The French Revolution promoted industrialization by sweeping away laws that restricted trade.
- The Disruptions of Industrial Life
Industrialization promoted movement from the country to the
city. Family life was disrupted in the process. Workers
found themselves packed into slums and subjected to harsh
labor conditions. Workers responded to new conditions, in
some cases with outright resistance, but failed to slow the
pace of technological change. Factory owners attacked
popular leisure activities as a means of gaining greater
control over the work force. Family patterns changed.
For the middle class, women retreated from the labor force to
take up duties in the domestic household. Attitudes toward
children involved greater concern for education and a sense
- The Revolutions of 1848
While not all governments sponsored the process of
industrialization as fully as did Britain, most supported
railway construction and technological fairs. Governments
became more actively involved in supplying public education
and improving slum conditions in the cities. Workers also
began to become more active in the political process. In
Britain, the Chartist movement attempted to democratize
representation in the British Parliament. In some cases,
unfulfilled labor requests contributed to revolutionary
movements. Beginning in 1848, revolutions broke out
throughout continental Europe. A revolution in France
unseated the monarch and briefly instituted a
republic. Workers groups pressed for social and economic
reforms. Revolutions followed in Germany, Austria, and
Hungary, where liberals and nationalists pressed for national
Socialist and nationalist movements failed in 1848. Prussian
and Austrian armies restored the status quo in central
Europe. In France, a nationalist empire rapidly replaced the
republic. The revolutions of 1848 were the last major
European rebellions. Industrialization replaced the old
social order with a new one. The aristocracy and artisan
class declined after 1850 to be replaced by new social
divisions between the middle class and laborers. The new
social organization helped to make revolution obsolete.
- The Consolidation of the Industrial Order,
1850 - 1914
After 1850, the sense of chaos lessened as the pace of
industrialization and urbanization slowed. Urban governments
began to find answers to the problems created by rapid
- Adjustments to Industrial Life
After 1850, birth rates dropped and population began to
stabilize. Although the European economy remained unstable,
standards of living began to rise. Rates of infant mortality
dropped. With Louis Pasteur's discovery of germs as agents
of disease, sanitation and health improved. New technology
increased the pace of work in the factory system, and workers
were often reduced to metronomic repetition of tasks. In
response, organization of laborers into trades-union
movements produced some gains for workers. In the
countryside, there was some organization of peasants to take
better advantage of market conditions. Agriculture became
- Political Trends and the Rise of New Nations
Consensus began to replace revolution in the European
political scene after 1850. Governments embraced the concept
of broader representation in parliaments and supported the
process of industrialization. As a result, many groups
gained new political rights. Conservative politicians
learned to utilize nationalism as a means of engendering
support for governmental policies. More aggressive foreign
policies were the result.
The most important uses of nationalism occurred when Italy
and Germany were able to unify as new states in central
Europe. The American Civil War resolved the sectional debate
over rights and ended slavery. Following its defeat by the
new German nation in 1871, France overthrew the second empire
and restored a republic. In general, differences that had
previously separated liberals and conservatives were
- The Social Questions and New Government Functions
After 1870, government functions expanded to include public
education and national systems of welfare. As government
responsibilities were enlarged, new taxes were imposed to pay
for the additional programs. The chief political issues
surrounded what was referred to as the "social question."
With the emergence of the social question, socialism and
feminism became newly powerful political movements.
Karl Marx promoted a more aggressive form of socialism
after 1848. Marx's system was predicated on the
inevitability of class conflict. He believed that modern
political systems would be shaped by the resolution of the
class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
Marxist theory provided a context in which working-class
movements could confront post-1870 governments. Socialism
spread rapidly among the grass roots, particularly in
Germany. Socialist parties developed as strong political
alternatives in France and Austria. Socialism proved less
successful initially in Britain and the United States.
Some socialists, called revisionists, abandoned Marx's
revolutionary scheme in favor of more gradual reform and
began to participate actively in electoral strategies. By
1900, women also demanded more political rights through
- Cultural Transformations
Western culture shifted in favor of consumerism during the
later nineteenth century. There were modifications in
traditional views of science. New styles appeared in the
- Emphasis on Consumption and Leisure
Improved standards of living and reduction in working hours
prepared the way for a new concept of leisure. Increased
production required the development of mass markets and new
Consumerism spread among all classes. Newspapers with mass
circulations, popular theater, and vacation trips appealed to
the new consumers. Leisure became a marketable commodity.
One aspect of the new concept of leisure was the emergence
of team sports, which reflected industrialized life and
community loyalties. The trend to worldly enjoyments
corresponded to a decline in religious practice.
- Advances in Scientific Knowledge
The advance of scientific knowledge competed with
alternative, less structured approaches to human experience.
One aspect of cultural activity stemmed from the Western
emphasis on rationalism. Advances in science were often
linked to technological applications, such as improvements in
medicine and agriculture. One of the great theories of the
age was Charles Darwin's discussion of biological diversity
in terms of evolution. In physics, new theories sought to
explain planetary motion in the macrocosm and the movement of
atomic particles in the microcosm. Albert Einstein's theory
of relativity added conceptions of time to physical
calculations. Social sciences also continued to advance.
Sigmund Freud sought to explain human actions in terms of the
unconscious, and economists attempted to unravel the
mysteries behind the cycles of boom and depression.
- New Directions in Artistic Expression
Art, in contradiction to the growth of science, seemed to
glorify the irrational. Beginning with romanticism, artists
sought to capture emotion rather than material reality. By 1900,
painters began to portray objects abstractly. Composers
experimented with atonal forms. Western art began to pull
the culture of other civilizations into the maelstrom of
creativity. Differences in approach between scientists and
artists created a dichotomy in Western culture that was
reflected in the institutionalization of science and the
arts. By the end of the nineteenth century, Western culture
failed to resolve the chasm between the rational and the
- Western Settler Societies
Industrialization enhanced the dominant position of Western
nations within the world trade network and increased
technological advantages in military science. As a result,
European nations embarked on new rounds of colonialism in the
nineteenth century. Western societies transported to the New
World and the Pacific enjoyed similar advantages.
- Emerging Power of the United States
From colonization until the middle of the nineteenth century,
the United States played a minor role in world politics.
Most of the new nation's energies were expended in extending
its boundaries from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Civil
War served to strengthen the unity of the United States,
ended slavery, and promoted the course of industrialization.
Railways were built that spanned the nation. American
agricultural and industrial products began to compete on the
Even at the end of the nineteenth century, however, American
diplomacy had little impact outside the Western hemisphere.
In culture and science, the United States continued to borrow
heavily from Europe.
- European Settlements in Canada, Australia and New
European settlement led to the establishment of Western
governments and cultures in Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand. These nations remained part of the British Empire.
The British won Canada during the imperial wars of the
eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, Canada
was permitted to establish virtual self-government. As in
the United States, settlement was eventually extended to the
Australia entered the British Empire as a penal colony. By
the mid-nineteenth century, Australia attracted a substantial
population of European immigrants. Discovery of gold in the
1850s stimulated further immigration. As in Canada,
individual provinces were granted substantial rights of self-
New Zealand was first settled by British immigrants in 1814.
Fearful of French intervention in the region, the British
moved to establish a formal colonial structure in the 1840s.
British settlers were primarily agriculturists, who fought
several wars with the indigenous Maori inhabitants of the
islands. After the 1860s, Britain granted self-government
within the Empire on the same basis established in Canada and
The new countries remained more dependent on Britain than did
the United States. Industrialization was slow to occur, and
the economies remained largely agricultural. During the
nineteenth century, all of these regions, including the
United States, received new waves of European immigrants.
The exportation of European population continued to support
the development of essentially Western cultures in these
areas. The extension of Western culture and political
institutions was made possible by the absence of large
indigenous populations capable of resisting colonization.
- Diplomatic Tensions and World War I
The unification of Germany upset the balance of power
established in Europe after the Napoleonic wars. Germany's
emergence set off rounds of diplomacy that resulted in new
alliances. Competition between nations over colonies tested
the ability of the alliance system to maintain the peace.
- The New Alliance System
By 1907, two alliance systems structured the diplomatic
relations of Europe. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy
formed the Triple Alliance, while France, Britain, and Russia
made up the Triple Entente. All parties began to construct
more powerful militaries to offset perceived gains among
their rivals. Each alliance system was dependent on the
status of a weak member. Russia (of the Triple Entente) had
recently suffered an internal revolution and was increasingly
Austria-Hungary (of the Triple Alliance) was divided among
quarreling ethnic groups seeking autonomy. Both of the
weaker partners were engaged in extending their influence
into the Balkans. Small nations in the Balkans had won their
independence from the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth
century. Slavic nationalism threatened Austrian interests in
the region. The Russians sought to advance Slavic interests
as a means of enhancing their presence. When in 1914 a
Serbian nationalist assassinated the Austrian heir to the
throne, Austria attempted to crush the Slavic state. Russia
mobilized its troops in support of Serbia. In response, the
greater powers of both alliance systems were drawn into war.
- Conclusion: Diplomacy and Society
By the nineteenth century, the absence of a single imperial
power in Europe resulted in tensions among the nation-states.
International disputes reflected growing fears of European
governments over socialism and the potential power of the
masses. Strong foreign policies and appeals to nationalism
were one means utilized to distract populations from internal
distress. Military escalation also aided industrialization.
Mass circulation of newspapers could be used to shape public
opinion in favor of nationalist escapades. Thus, after a
century of peace and enhanced standards of living, European
nations embarked on the path to war.