European Society Post World War I Era
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15. Assessment of the European societyÐÐŽÐÐ‡s social, economic and political as well as philosophical tendency of the post world war I era.
For Europe and the European world the years 1871 to 1914 were marked by hitherto unparalleled material and industrial growth, international peace, domestic stability, the advance of constitutional, representative, and democratic government, and continued faith in science, reason and progress. But in these very years, in politics, economics, philosophy, and the arts, there were forces operating to undermine the liberal premises and tenets of this European civilization.
The belief in progress has been at the center of modern thought since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Although some romantic poets, conservatives, and socialists questioned the consequences of modern techonologies and industry, most people in the nineteenth century assumed that progress was both inevitable and beneficial. Liberals were especially optimistic about progressive developments in all the main spheres of modern life: scientific knowledge, new inventions, economic expansion, constitutional government, and protection for fundamental human rights. But the liberals were by no means alone in seeing the late nineteenth-century European ascendancy as the historical confirmation of human progress.
There were also many Europeans, however, who believed that whole groups of human beings were denied the benefits of modern civilization, that workers were not receiving their rightful share of modern wealth, or that women were not entering their rightful place in modern political life. The popular new political movements in these decades thus presumed that they were on the side of progress, and in fact they often gained new tights or benefits for the groups they represented.
Meanwhile, science itself continued to produce advances in both the theoretical understanding of nature and the technological inventions that transformed modern societies. Yet it was also at this time that various advanced thinkers began to question the certitudes of scientific knowledge and to stress the limits of human reason, thus challenging cultural assumptions that sustained the popular belief in human progress. The idea of progress remained a powerful theme in all modern cultures, but by the early twentieth century the limits and consequences of progress were also becoming subjects for historical reflection and cultural debate.
Between 1850 and 1871, the national state became the focus of peopleÐÐŽÐÐ‡s loyalty. Wars, both foreign and civil, were fought to create unified nation-states. Political nationalism had emerged during the French revolutionary era and had become a powerful force of change during the first half of the nineteenth century, but its triumph came only after 1850. Associated initially with middle-class liberals, by the end of the nineteenth century it would have great appeal to the broad masses as well. In 1871, however, the political transformations stimulated by the force of nationalism were by no means complete. Significantly large minorities, especially in the polyglot empires controlled by the Austrians, Turks, and Russians, had not achieved the goal of their own national states. Moreover, the nationalism that had triumphed by 1871 was no longer the nationalism that had been closely identified with liberalism. Liberal nationalists had believed that unified nation-states would preserve individual rights and lead to a greater community of European peoples. Rather than unifying people, however, the new, loud and chauvinistic nationalism of the late nineteenth century divided them as the new national states became embroiled in bitter competition after 1871.
In the late nineteenth century Europe witnessed a dynamic age of material proseperity. With new industries, new sources of energy, and new goods, a Second Industrial Revolution transformed the human environment, dazzled Europeans, and led them to believe that their material progress meant human progress. Scientific and technological achievements, many naively believed, would improve humanityÐÐŽÐÐ‡s condition and solve all human problems. The doctrine of progress became an article of great faith.
The new urban and industrial world created by the rapid economic changes of the nineteenth century led to the emergence of a mass society by the late nineteenth century. A mass society meant improvements for the lower classes who benefited from the extension of voting rights, a better standard of living, and mass education. It also brought mass leisure. New work patterns established