Books Summaries



Books Summaries


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Books Summaries


History 280: Book Summaries                                            Spring 2002


Klaus Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism (1966) establishes the existence of a strong

current of conservative thought and action in Germany in the late 18th century, if not a real conservative movement; the book carries the story up to 1806.  Conservatives were formed in reaction to the German Aufklärung, especially in the latter’s critique of religion; conservatives are soon writing on social, economic and political matters.  Perhaps the most common type of conservative before and after the beginning of the French Revolution were moderate, British-style conservatives, of which the Hanoverians, August Rehberg and Justus Möser were the outstanding examples.  Conservative writers were perhaps more public and aggressive after 1789, but conservative currents were well established before that date.  The author comments on the tendency of German conservatives to promote Bildung (education) rather than agitate for political change.


Walter Simon, The Failure of the Prussian Reform Movement (1954) casts light on the partial modernization of Prussia during the Napoleonic Years.  The old Frederician system had suffered such a catastrophic blow at the hands of Napoleon that significant reform occurs in the most unexpected of places.  The most impressive and thoroughgoing reform occurs in the military area as Prussia embraces more or less the idea of the nation in arms; recruitment, staff planning, military education, and focus on talent and qualification in the officer corps are all incorporated into the Prussian military system.  Other areas such as rural institutions, education and urban reform change less dramatically; and the constitution promised by the king is postponed after the defeat of Napoleon and not implemented until 1849.  But Prussia emerges as a much more ‘modern’ state and thus a more natural leader in Germany.


David Sorkin, The Transformation of European Jewry, 1780-1840 (1987) discusses attempts by the bourgeois German Jewish community to integrate itself into the general German bourgeois culture in the late 18th and early 19th century.  The attempt represented the impact of the German Enlightenment on German Jews, who agreed, in exchange for greater toleration and acceptance, to begin a process of self-Bildung to enable them to fit in as another confession (alongside the Protestant and Catholic) in German culture and society.  The author argues that the attempt was only partially successful: by the middle of the 19th century German Jews were very similar to their gentile counterparts, but still segregated into separate groups and organizations; German gentiles remained conscious of the differences between Jews and themselves.


Ernest K. Bramsted, Aristocracy and the Middle Classes in Germany (1964) analyzes the relationship ship between the German middle classes and the aristocracy through the lens of German realist novels and German popular literature such as magazines.  His thesis appears to be that through the 1860’s the middle classes (represented by authors such as Gustav Freitag) had a clear idea of their distinctness from the aristocracy and perhaps their superiority to it, since the middle classes represented virtues such as thrift, seriousness and hard work and were the wave of the future.  After the 1860’s attitudes appear to shift: criticism of the aristocracy is blunted, and the sources indicate more interest in and support for nationalism, militarism and an aggressive foreign policy.


J.P. Stern, Idylls and Realities: Studies in Nineteenth-Century German Literature (1971) analyzes various genres in German literature throughout the 19th century.  Although Germans enjoy some western-style social realism (Gustav Freitag), the only great German realist comes at the end of the century, Theodor Fontane.  German literature in this period rather emphasizes the “idyll.”  Many characters in these works spurned involvement in politics and other aspects of the public sphere: indeed, the hero’s contact with the public sphere often brought his destruction (Georg Büchner).  These works stressed solitude and alienation and “flight” into refuges designed to protect the artist from an uncomfortable modern world of industrialization and urbanization.  Patriarchal societies and a lyrical nature (Stifter) come to mind.  There is a tradition of inwardness and alienation in German writers of this period.


Martin Swales, The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse (1978) charts the evolution of this typical German genre from the late 18th to the early 20th century.  No other national tradition indulges so much in this type of novel which chronicles “the quest for organic growth and personal self-realization” through the early years of adulthood.  Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is the real archetype for this genre.  Wieland, Stifter and Keller all appear to analyze the tensions between the creative impulse in the budding artist and the practical demands of the world around him.  Succeeding in the arts usually implies unhappiness in the world, an inability to succeed in practical affairs, perhaps an inability to attain one’s desires.  With some exceptions, the writer ends alienated from the society in which he lives (is this a condition particularly common in Germany?).  The Magic Mountain is the most monumental of these works, but it is difficult to define what Hans Castorp learns in his Swiss sanitorium.


Alan Sked, The Survival of the Habsburg Empire: Radetzky, the Imperial Army and the Class War, 1848 (1979) attempts to shed light on the factors making for the survival of the supernational Austrian Empire in an age of national obsessions.  For one thing, the book deals with the attempts of Radetzky to undermine the position of the anti-Austrian, nationalist nobility living in Lombardy at mid-century;  his attempts to push through land reforms that would benefit the peasants at the expense of the nobles were not, however, very successful.  Radetzky was, however, much more successful in bringing military and administrative power to bear in the summers of 1848 and 1849 to keep the empire together; he defeated the Italian armies in the field.  Kaisertreue (loyalty to the Francis Joseph) and Radetzkytreue (loyalty to the ‘proconsul’ in the field) were at the heart of the survival of the Empire until 1918.  The army and the civil service provided perhaps the main glue to keep the Empire together.


Dennis Showalter, Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology and the Unification of Germany (1975) examines the impact of technology on primarily the Prussian Army in the years of conflict at mid-century.  His general thesis is that armies have to make appropriate strategic and tactical adjustments in order to put new military technology to effective use.  The Prussian General Staff was quite effective in putting new railroad technology to use in troop transport: Moltke’s use of railroads in the Austro-Prussian War enabled him to bring large numbers of troops to bear against the Austrians, although at the cost of exposing units to piecemeal attacks.  The Prussian Army was cautious in adopting cast-steel rifled artillery, and these new guns played only a small role in the Prussian victory of 1866.  The most important innovation for that war was the new breech-loading needle gun with its rapid fire capabilities.  Prussian planners effectively modified troop tactics to take advantage of the increased firepower, and this was brought to bear with devastating effect on the Austrians at Königgrätz.


A.J.P Taylor, Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman (1955) is a well-known quirky interpretation of Bismarck’s life and significance.  The author specializes in “off the wall” interpretations that he often does not document sufficiently (or at all); he also sometimes contradicts himself.  Was Bismarck downright timid about the Hohenzollern Candidacy and was dragged, so to speak, kicking and screaming into the War of 1870?  Did he really say in the early 1870’s that he was bored?  Did he take his subordination to God seriously?  Was his outlook seriously influenced by the Hamburg background of his mother and her family?  He does seem to give some interesting psychoanalytic interpretations of Bismarck’s adult personality; and the author establishes well that Bismarck was an opportunist, waiting for God to walk by so he could catch the hem of his garment, and that he did not have a master plan for solving the constitutional crisis even before he came to office.


Fritz Stern, Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder, and the Building of the German Empire (1979) is a classic, highly praised biography of the German Jewish banker Bleichröder and his relations to his employer Bismarck and the German state in this era.  Despite the banker’s Jewishness, the two men were close friends, remaining in close contact until Bleichröder’s death in 1893.  The banker helped Bismarck build up a huge private fortune; he was heavily involved in Prussian public finances especially during the 1860’s, and because of his contacts with foreign bankers (particularly the Rothschilds in Paris) he was of some use to Bismarck as an informal diplomat after 1870.  The close relation of the two symbolizes the union of old nobility and new money that is a salient feature of the new German Reich.  Bleichröder becomes a butt of rising anti-semitic sentiment in Germany in the late 19th century (the Jewish financial manipulator behind the scenes).  The book is beautifully written.  It attracted one extensive hostile review by Geoff Eley, who attacked it because it represented the “old” history of traditional biography, political orientation without sufficient analysis of historical structures and systems.


Adalbert Stifter, The Recluse (1843) is a novella (short novel) by one of the great stylists in 19th century German literature.  It is about a young man living in the Böhmerwald who, before he takes up a profession, goes to visit his uncle on an enchanted-seeming island in the middle of a large lake in the mountains; the uncle persuades the young man to give up his prospective life in the city and to return home to his small town, marry, have children, and live quietly in domestic bliss.  Descriptions of nature are quietly beautiful and seem to refer to a spiritual dimension not apparent on the surface of the story.  The novella is interesting for its depiction of a relationship between the older and younger generation, and for its endorsement of a simple, traditional, domestic life in the Austrian provinces.  Stifter presents an “idyll” in which the main characters choose to live away from the big city and the pace of change characteristic of the 19th century.


Donald Rohr, The Origins of Social Liberalism in Germany (1963) analyzes developing thought by German liberals on the emerging social question in Germany between 1830 and 1848.  It seems that a large number of liberal writers in Germany in this period were aware of the social and economic dislocation caused in Germany by the beginnings of industrialization and they recommended strong action to remedy the worst abuses.  Some of the liberals were defenders of economic liberalism who considered overwork and poverty a temporary issue that would be soon remedied by the spontaneous operation of the market place.  Most however recommended that action be taken by either the state or voluntary organizations.  The most prominent was Robert von Mohl (1799-1875) who identified the concept of mass poverty and recommended that the state intervene to guarantee minimum wages, subsidize housing and outlaw child labor.  The influence of these social liberals was limited in the following period because of the general prosperity in Europe; but social liberalism was to have a major influence on Germany at the turn of the 20th century.


Hermann Oncken, Napoleon III and the Rhine: The Origins of the War of 1870-71 (Berlin, 1926).  This book was the introduction to a three-volume collection of German documents published in the 1920’s on the origins of the War of 1870.  The author writes a thesis-driven essay in which he shows his extreme disenchantment with the War Guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) that forced Germany to accept responsibility for the First World War.  The author analyzes the commitment of France since the 17th century to keep Germany disunited and to annex the Left (German-speaking) Bank of the Rhine.  He asserts that the French government was aggressively pursuing an expansionist policy in the late 1860’s and seized upon the Hohenzollern Candidacy to provoke a war with Prussia that would humiliate Bismarck.  The “à tout jamais” demand was simply a delaying tactic based on the calculation that the French army was not quite ready for war.  Bismarck’s role in the affair of the Ems Telegram was defensive and designed to unmask the French plot.  The author’s thesis is tendentious; he hardly considers the questions of Bismarck’s role.  The book is of use only to someone already familiar with the material.


James J. Sheehan, German Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century (1978) essentially analyzes the reasons for the “failure” of German liberalism (compared to their western European confreres).  The German liberal movement split as a result of Bismarck’s Prussian-led unification of Germany; it then progressively lost strength to the right and the left up to World War I; liberals never succeeded in pushing through democratic and liberal changes in German political; the more conservative National Liberals often acted not much like liberals.  The reasons and patterns: 1) great regional diversity among German liberals; 2) the fear of virtually all German liberals of “mob rule,” i.e., the revolutionary potential of the popular classes; 3) as a rule, liberals were opposed to an organized party structure; thus their influence was limited; 4) German liberalism was never a class movement, i.e., the German middle classes often supported conservative movements or the Catholic Center Party.  The book is no fun to read.


Lawrence S. Steefel, Bismarck, the Hohenzollern Candidacy, and the Origins of the Franco-German War of 1870 (1962) is one of the most up-to-date treatments of this subject, taking into account the new documents found in the German state archives and published by Georges Bonnin in 1957.  Steefel was a student of Robert Lord, who published the first authoritative English-language book on the subject in 1924.  Steefel accepts the standard interpretation that after about February 1870 Bismarck was pursuing a provocative policy toward France, and that he must have realized that war was a probable outcome.  The author is less sure whether Bismarck played a strong role in the Hohenzollern Candidacy before that date; he states “The evidence adduced to prove his activity before that date is not convincing.”  Some informed reviewers that that he is giving Bismarck too much benefit of the doubt; Prussia’s Minister-President was too canny and well-informed for us to imagine that he was not aware of the implications of the Candidacy on France.  The book does not retell the story, but is essentially a historiographical commentary on the scholarship available at that time.  There is some debate as to whether it is a “masterpiece.”


Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-1871 (1961) is a widely praised, definitive-seeming work on the Franco-German conflict.  The book discusses the background to the war, examines the condition of the two armies and their war plans on the eve of the conflict, and describes and analyzes the military operations and their implications.  The French Army went into the war overconfident because of their military domination in the previous couple of centuries of European history.  The author insists that the Prussian Army was superior to the French in all areas except technological, and the latter advantage was neutralized by poor leadership.  Moltke was an effective commander, and most of the French commanders were passive and uncertain.  The French supply system was woefully inadequate.  The author gives an interesting analysis of civil-military relations on both sides, of irregular guerilla-style warfare in the latter part of the war, and of the strengths and weaknesses of the second French war effort beginning in September 1870.  Howard thinks Bazaine is worthy of our sympathy, if not our admiration.  Gordon Craig thinks the book is a “splendid volume.”


J. Alden Nichols, The Year of the Three Kaisers, 1887-88 (1987) examines the politics of the approximately twelve months embracing the death of Wilhelm I, the short reign of his son Frederick III (husband of Victoria, daughter of the Queen), and then his death and the accession of his son, Wilhelm II.  The book focuses mainly on the policy of Chancellor Bismarck in this period fraught with potential danger for the new Reich.  The author takes positive view of Bismarck’s politics: he contrasts Bismarck’s “domination through balance and maneuver” with the “warring ideologies” of irresponsible, “parochial” conservatism and tendentious “unreal” liberalism.  In contrast to the cynical interpretation of authors like Erich Eyck, the author thinks that his Septennat Election (1887) was conducted (however ruthlessly!) with good intentions, i.e., to create a bloc in the Reichstag that would ease the transition to the reign of Frederick William.  We should also give credit to Bismarck for easing the subsequent transition to Wilhelm II, who was a particular problem because of his immaturity and impulsiveness and his attachment to the likes of Court Chaplain Adolph Stöcker and the “mercurial Russophobe” General von Waldersee.  Bismarck is presented as a pragmatist devoted to preserving a stable Germany.


Guenther Roth, The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany: A Study in Working-Class Isolation and National Integration (1963) is a sociologist’s analysis of the evolving role of Social Democracy in Germany from the 1870’s until the fall of the Reich.  Basing himself on classic sociologists such as Max Weber, Roth gives a theoretical analysis of historical patterns already elucidated in other books.  The German nation rejected both the Russian (repression) and the Anglo-French (democratic integration) models of integrating the industrial proletariat into the life of the nation; the German case may be described as “negative integration,” whereby the working class movement is allowed (by the state and the middle classes) to organize itself and thrive, but is constantly denounced by the government, not allowed to participate in the political system, and used as a bugbear to scare other Germans into conformity with the government program.  The book is particularly adept at painting a picture of the socialist subculture provided by the Social Democrats: German workers’ lives are influenced both by the culture at large (patriotism in school and military service) and by specific activities organized by their party and their trade unions.  Orthodox Marxist theory play an integrating role in the Social Democratic organization and paradoxically promote reformism in the movement.  The author thinks that “negative integration” added to the stability of the German state (but it apparently was not enough).


Louis Snyder, Diplomacy in Iron: The Life of Herbert von Bismarck (1985) is a competent consideration of the career of the famous Bismarck’s son, although the book often focuses more on the father than the son.  Herbert shared many of his father’s vices – over-indulgence, vindictiveness, arrogance – compounded perhaps by his unconscious resentment of his father’s domination.  He often oscillated between ingratiating charm and being “an angry, snarling martinet.”  He went into service in the German Foreign Office in 1873 and was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1886 to 1890.  He was a competent official and often represented his father in specific negotiations.  Herbert resigned his position when his father stepped down in 1890.  Afterwards, he served in the Reichstag until his death in 1904 and did his best to be a thorn in the side of the Hohenzollerns.  He has little importance himself, but is useful in understanding the nature of the Bismarckian system, where it seems the Chancellorship was supposed to be hereditary.


David Crew, Town in the Ruhr: A Social History of Bochum, 1860-1914 (1979) deals with the broad outlines of the evolution of a Ruhr industrial town in this period.  Bochum grew from modest size at the beginning of the period to one of the four main industrial centers in the Ruhr by the turn of the century.  Coal mining and metallurgy were the main industries.  The work force tended to be migratory, especially at the beginning: most of the workers immigrated from surrounding rural areas looking for jobs; the population became more settled as the years passed.  Life for workers was hard: periods of prosperity and more or less full employment alternated with times of unemployment and falling wages due often to foreign competition.  Income brought into the family by women was much less important than that of the men.  Company housing provided some stability, but it was often used to keep control over the workers.  Social mobility was very limited among workers in Bochum: very few of them moved up the social ladder to become members of the bourgeoisie.  The book seems to leave out many interesting subjects such as improvement in public health, diet, standard of living, influence of the socialists and trade unions.


Erich Eyck, Bismarck and the German Empire (1950) is one of the most popular treatments of Bismarck's life and significance.  Eyck was a German liberal who left Germany during the Hitlerzeit and settled in England.  Eyck is highly critical of Bismarck's methods, achievements and influence.  He gives him credit for being a sort of genius in foreign affairs, and for being a moderate statesman in several instances, e.g., in his decision not to impose a punitive peace on Austria in 1866 and in conducting a defensive foreign policy after 1871.  The author does however criticize Bismarck for a duplicity and mendaciousness that often sowed distrust among nations; Bismarck must bear the major blame for the origins of the Franco-Prussian War.  Eyck is even more critical of Bismarck's domestic policy, where the Chancellor's egotism, lies, short-term goals and cynical manipulations left Germany with a terrible burden: a weak parliament, excessive power in the office of the Emperor, and slavish attitude toward authority among the German people.  Eyck emphasizes the Bennigsen episode in 1878 when according to the author Bismarck refused to take Bennigsen into his 'government' because he was afraid that a precedent might be established for a 'Gladstone Cabinet.'  The image that emerges is a supremely gifted, dominating character who achieved great things; but fatally (for Germany) flawed by his egotism and short-sightedness.


George L. Mosse, Germans and Jews: The Right, the Left and the Search for a "Third Force" in pre-Nazi Germany (1970) is a collection of essays of different subjects by the noted historian of pre-Fascism.  The useful parts of the book deal with the search by German intellectuals before World War I for a "third force" that would establish a just society in Germany owing nothing to either capitalism or Marxism.  The German Volkish movement, influential among intellectuals and youth (the German Youth Movement) before the war, emphasized the nobility of ties to the land and agrarian pursuits, the spirit of provincial man, the unity of the souls of individuals bound to the Volk through their love of the land, the development of the body through sports, the mystical bond between the Volkish leader and his followers, etc.  The movement tended to be highly anti-semitic, and indulged many of the standard anti Jewish ideas of the age: the Jews as rootless, duplicitous, unethical; their participation in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy; their ugliness, filth and immorality; Volkish people became racial anti-semites around the turn of the century.  Paradoxically the Zionist movement in this period was influenced by these Volkish ideas in their organization, ideology, etc.


Frederick Hollyday, Bismarck's Rival: A Political Biography of General and Admiral Albrecht Von Stosch (1960) is a straightforward, well research biography of the "rival" of Bismarck for the office of Imperial Chancellor in the 1880's.  Stosch was from a Junker family; he made his way as a high-ranking supply officer in the Prussian Army during and after the Franco-Prussian War and then as head of the new Reich navy from 1872 to 1883.  Stosch is universally recognized as an efficient and gifted officer, largely responsible for the beginning buildup of the German Navy in the period before Tirpitz.  He was clearly a conservative by most standards, but he was open-minded enough to be a close friend of liberal novelist Gustav Freytag and also an associate of the Crown Prince.  Probably because of the latter, Bismarck became convinced that Stosch was aiming to replace him and that the Crown Prince may well appoint him Chancellor when old William died.  When Stosch defended the powers of the Prussian War Minister in 1883, Bismarck forced him to resign; thereafter Stosch remained in retirement growing wine.  Bismarck's touchy treatment of Stosch reminds one of his relations with Harry Arnim in the 1870's.  People with opinions like Stosch had little hope for success under the Bismarck regime.  Bismarck's treatment of him is instructive on the nature of the Reich constitution and Bismarck's political behavior.


Wolfgang Mommsen, Imperial Germany 1867-1918: Politics, Culture and Society in an Authoritarian State (1995) is a collection of densely written, related, often overlapping essays written by the author over the last 30 years.  They tend to be elucidations/reinterpretations of German history in this period rather than original research.  Their approach seems similar to Gordon Craig's.  One can do no more than summarize the highlights.  1) The German political system created by Bismarck was a system of "skirted decisions:" hard choices were not made in drafting the constitution, authority lines were unclear, the system often functioned chaotically: "the Empire was almost ungovernable by the early 1890's" (Craig, p. 251: politics "resemble[d] a bellum omnium contra omnes.").  The system was in a latent crisis in the last 25 years of its existence.  2) Germans were conscious of pursuing a Sonderweg that was neither the capitalist/democratic liberalism of the West nor the autocracy (later Marxism) of the East.  (Was Nazism a realization of this dream?)  3) Expansive nationalism/ Weltpolitik/navalism seized control of much public opinion in the 1890's and never let go.  Tirpitz exploited it ruthlessly to support construction of the battle fleet; the regime exploited it in order to ward off reform of the Wilhelmine system.  The middle classes, especially professional people and lower middle classes were adamant supporters.  Even the conservatives (Junkers, etc.) were behind it after the turn of the century.  Public opinion often raced ahead of the government in clamoring for an aggressive foreign policy.  4) By the end of the 19th century bourgeois writers were mainly estranged from middle class politics (exception Heinrich Mann): some of them supported strong nationalist aims; others withdrew into the artist's realm of alienation and Bildung.

Gordon Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945 (1955) is a classic analysis of the relations of the Prussian officer corps with the Prussian (then German) state through the end of World War II.  In the 19th century, the army always strove to maintain it independence of the civilian authorities, considering itself subject only to the command of the king; it also strove to influence foreign policy when appropriate.  In the mid-century wars the elder Moltke always strove to influence foreign policy in wartime, much to Bismarck's chagrin; but at least he had an understanding of political factors in wartime.  The army was quite independent of civilian control in the Bismarckian and Wilhelmine periods: the seven-year law and the defanging of the Prussian War Minister in 1883 are cases in point.  At this time the army expelled all "subversive" elements also from the officer corps.  The Schlieffen Plan (1905) was developed without civilian participation, and has a fateful impact on the conduct of foreign policy up to 1914.  Taking advantage of the confusion of the German constitution, the army established basically a military dictatorship in Germany from 1916-1918 leading the country to a disastrous defeat.  The army was careful to maintain its independence vis-à-vis the Weimar Republic, and "signed on" to the Nazi accession to power in 1933.  Virtually all vestiges of the army's vaunted independence were eliminated by 1938, and not only the Reich but the army were completely destroyed in 1945.  Craig's lesson: the army should be under civilian control; it was the chief obstacle to democratic progress in Germany's recent history.


George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: The Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (1964) posits the development of a "volkisch" ideology in Germany beginning in the 19th century; this ideology was the direct ancestor of National Socialist ideas, and was perhaps, according to Mosse, the main origin of the victory of the Nazis in Germany.  The volkish ideology goes back to certain conservative theorists in the Romantic Period.  Volkish thinkers believed in a mystic German soul that had an equally mystical relationship with the soil of the country; they wanted nothing to do with modern civilization, progress, industrialization, liberalism; their enemy was the urban proletariat and the Jew.  Racism, particularly anti-semitism was rampant among the Volkish thinkers: Jews were given the repulsive racial characteristics that the Nazis emphasized; the German race was superior to all others, the eugenics were justified in order to produce a pure German race.  Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche's sister, Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn (only Germans possessed a soul, they should rule subject races under a messianic ruthless leader.  Jews were presented as subhuman creatures.  Volkish ideas were particularly strong among the young, in the Youth Movement, university students, etc.  After the disaster of the war, these ideas became much more popular; the NSDAP was a direct outgrowth of them, and rode to power largely on their power.  Through these ideas the Nazis had a direct appeal to the German people.  Familiarity with this set of ideas makes it easier to understand how the Nazis could have come to power in this civilized country.


Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 1871-1918 (1985) is a structuralist interpretation of the years of the Wilhelmine period ("the problem-oriented historical structural analysis of German society and its politics"); its approach appears to be derived partly from Marxism.  He thinks Germany in this period was dominated by an elite of powerful groups (industrialists, Junker farmers, bureaucrats, army officers, etc.) who exploited the system in their own interests.  Under Bismarck Germany was a "Bonapartist-type dictatorial regime" that evolved into an "authoritarian polyarchy without coordination in the Wilhelmine years.  The elites developed in effect the "Sammlung" policy to rally the nation behind them in opposition to the threat of the Social Democrats and of Germany's foreign enemies (navalism); their aim was to prevent any significant change to the system.  He appears to think that 19th century imperialism was a seeking for a place to house excess capital and goods.  He does not agree with the Fischer thesis that Germany hatched and launched World War I as a bid for world power; but that in their increasing desperation the German elites bungled foreign policy and thus unwittingly plunging Europe into a war from which they would be a long time recovering.  The book has a turgid, dull style.


Klemens von Klemperer, Germany's New Conservatism: Its History and Dilemma in the Twentieth Century (1957, 1968) brings together in a somewhat problematic category of "Neo-Conservative" a number of right-wing intellectuals who labored under the Weimar Republic.  They had their roots in prewar Germany, and were manifest in the ideas of "national socialism," German socialism or conservative socialism that emerged in the "Spirit of 1914" during the war.  The moderate "elder" conservatives of the early years of Weimar (Walter Rathenau, Max Weber, Thomas Mann) argued for a strong presidency, federal structure and a collaborative socialism, but they soon gave way to a more angry generation of Young Conservatives.  Moeller van der Bruck, Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jünger put forth various ideas that the Nazis picked up: war as adventure and creativity, irrationalism, nihilism, the myth of a Third Reich that would bring salvation to Germany, some sort of socialism that would serve all Germans; they were all strongly opposed to the Weimar Republic.  The Nazis exploited their ideas and "glittering" vocabulary ruthlessly.  They were eliminated from the public scene as soon as they had served their purposes for the Nazis.  They succeeded in helping undermine the republic, but made no positive contribution to German politics.  They were not consistent, certainly made no effort to agree with one another, and in fact don't fit comfortable under a single sobriquet like "Neo-Conservative."  They are indicative of the influence of disillusioned Wilhelmine intellectuals like Delagarde and Julius Langbehn, and of the fateful rejection of the Weimar Republic by many intellectuals after World War I.


Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918 (1998) is an excellent comprehensive source for study of this subject.  It is an admirable summary of current research and insights about the German experience in World War I.  It is extremely well written -- clean, graceful and balanced.  It asserts: the German Army was efficient and the war effort was reasonably well organized; the military usurped political power in Germany, particularly after Ludendorff and Hindenburg were put in charge toward the end of 1916; political and military leaders were motivated by internal political considerations, i.e., avoid internal political changes in Germany; major strategic decisions taken in 1914, 1917 and 1918 were arrogant, risky, and even desperate; opposition to the war was negligible before 1917 when it became pervasive, although passive, due to internal hardships and war weariness; military and conservative leaders plotted in 1918 to saddle the democratic civilian leadership with responsibility for losing the war, and in the 1920s they succeeded in blaming the Weimar Republic for the defeat.  The author emphasizes the latter is an absurd thesis, "a monument of perversity and intellectual folly" that was largely responsible for Germany's involvement in another, even more disastrous, European war. 


Andreas Dorpalen, Heinrich von Treitschke (1957) is an excellent treatment of the Perceptor Gemaniae and his times.  It is particularly good at placing Treitschke in his times: before 1871 he was devoted heart and soul to the cause of the unification of Germany under Prussia; after 1871 he was invariably disappointed how the story turned out under Bismarck and Wilhelm II, when Germany became a place of petty squabbles and crass materialism.  Known for his patriotic lectures, he was a radical loner who had to shout and rant because of his inherited deafness.  He claimed always to be a National Liberal, which may have been justified in his earlier days when he placed his hopes on the national will of the German Bürgertum, but liberal principles are hard to detect after 1871.  He was a devoted and passionate student of Hegel; he emphasized the creative role of the (Prussian) state in the life of Germany.  He adopted strong anti-semitic ideas in his later years, but his animosity was cultural and social rather than racial.  He was particularly vitriolic in his denunciation of England.  It is difficult to map his influence after his death, but he seems to stand at the head of the patriotic fervor of the Bildunsbügertum in the Wilhelmine and Weimar years: pseudo-liberal, nationalist, imperialistic and increasingly racist.


Martin Kitchen, The Silent Dictatorship: The Politics of the German High Command Under Hindenburg and Ludendorff, 1916-1918 (1976) is an able detailed analysis of the policy of the OHL (High Command of the German Army) under Hindenburg and Ludendorff.  Hindenburg was essentially a father figure for the nation and the army; Ludendorff provided the ideas and a ruthless will to pursue the war to total victory.  German army officers thought they should control every aspect of the total war being waged by 1916 -- not just command of the army, but war production, foreign policy, resistance to internal democratic reform, etc.  Soon after these officers were appointed commanders-in-chief, OHL set in place a dictatorship that tolerated some civilian participation as essentially a smoke screen to mask their policies and a scapegoat upon whom they could dump responsibility in case things went wrong.  The Kaiser was aware of the danger and resisted the appointment of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, but he soon became their puppet: whenever he resisted their demands (for example, the removal of civilian leaders), they would force his compliance with threats of resignation.  These developments show the weakness of the Wilhelmine constitutional system -- anarchic assignments of responsibilities with much military influence that becomes dominant in time of war.  The Dolchstoss idea was already implicit in OHL's policy in 1916.  As soon as a hysterical Ludendorff realized in 1918 that the army was headed for defeat, he took measures to evade responsibility and to blame the defeat on the civilians.


Richard William Mackey, The Zabern Affair, 1913-1914 (1991) ably chronicles the evolution and significance of the famous events in this Alsatian town.  Lieutenant Forstner and his regimental commander, Colonel von Reuter, showing their fabled Prussian arrogance, are the villains of the piece.  By invoking martial law in peacetime, they broke Reich law in several instances.  An interpellation in the Reichstag evoked a spirited defense of the autonomy of the military from Bethmann-Hollweg.  When court-martialed, Forstner and Reuter were found innocent.  Things returned to normal.  The significance of the affair is multi-faceted.  1) It showed the continuing autonomy of the military in Wilhelmine Germany: its prerogatives must be defended even if the law must be broken.  The military's power is amply demonstrated in the war years.  2) Liberals and the Reichstag remain timid: even though there was much outrage in the Reichstag, nothing was done to place limits on the government.  3) There was much concern in Germany about the issue.  Even though no one was pressing for revolution, many people in Germany were moving to the position that the constitution of the Reich was unworkable; this may be seen as the preparation for the overthrow of the Reich in 1918.


Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair (1961) is a celebrated, brilliant and well-written account of the career, ideas and influence of three social/cultural critics in Germany in the late 19th century and the early 20th century: Paul de la Garde, Julius Langbehn and Moeller van der Bruck.  They were all alienated from the modern industrial, urban and liberal world in Germany, which they thought was in moral and social decay.  They were connected to one another only through the similarity of their ideas. Their hatred of modernity led to a call for a "conservative revolution" that would restore traditional, creative virtues in Germany.  Although they had no direct influence on politics or major intellectual trends before the war, but their sort of "Germanic ideology" has a major impact on the erosion of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler to power.  Much like Nietzsche, de la Garde despised the philistine middle classes and saw Germany in a severed cultural crisis on the morrow of unification; he hated liberals and Jews.  Julius Langbehn in his popular Rembrandt als Erzieher bemoaned the supremacy of science, liberalism, commerce and industrialization in late 19th century Germany; he advocated a cult of youth (very influential in the turn-of-the-century Wandervogel) and the revival of national values.  In his Das Dritte Reich (1922) Moeller van der Bruck preached ideas and values that the Nazi incorporated into their ideology: the Third Reich that was soon to come under the mystical leadership of the Führer; he would establish a realm of National Socialism that would abolish class differences into a single Volk Gemeinschaft.  These men leaped "from despair to utopia," helping lay the foundations for Nazi Germany.  It seems the Germans paid a high "psyche cost" for their "hothouse industrialization."



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History books Summaries



            Through many millennia early humans (hominids) began using stones, discovered fire, and in small bands they gathered wild plants and hunted wild animals.  Modern humans, known as Homo sapiens sapiens, appeared first in Africa no later than 150,000 years ago, and eventually spread throughout the world by the end of the Paleolithic era, or the Old Stone Age.

            The Neolithic (New Stone Age) Revolution occurred beginning c. 10,000 B.C., and its significance was in producing food through the domestication of plants and animals, an event that first occurred in the upland regions of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent.  Permanent villages replaced nomadic bands, pottery was made from clay, goods were accumulated and traded. 

            Increasing complexity led to the further development of what is called civilization, which can be defined as urban, with more formal institutions, the use of writing, monumental architecture, and the production of metal. 

            Ancient Mesopotamia, in Southwest Asia, was a city-state civilization created by a people known as the Sumerians.  The rivers were tamed, but remained unpredictable, affecting both religion and the arts (notably in the Epic of Gilgamesh). Priests and kings held a monopoly of power, temples (ziggurats) were constructed of brick, and trade and commerce expanded, although most of the inhabitants were farmers.  Writing on clay, known as cuneiform (wedge-shaped) began.  Located on flat plains, the city-states were vulnerable to invasion.  The result was the creation of a series of empires, beginning with the Akkadians c. 2340 B.C, later followed by the Babylonians, famous for Hammurabi’s law code (c.1750).

            Civilization also developed along Egypt’s Nile River, a more predictable river than those in Mesopotamia, and Egyptian religion reflected its more benign nature.  The Nile also served as a unifier of ancient Egypt, and surrounded by deserts, Egypt was less subject to invasion.  Egyptian pharaohs were perceived as gods, unlike the rulers in Mesopotamia, and their tombs were the pyramids that were constructed during the Old Kingdom, c. 2600-2400 B.C.  A quest for immortality developed, particularly around the cult of Osiris, and mummification became widespread during the Middle Kingdom (c.2050-1650 B.C.), whose end coincided with an invasion of the Hyksos peoples.  Native rule resumed during the New Kingdom (c. 1567-1085), an era of Egyptian imperialistic expansion throughout much of the Middle East. 

            During the 1330s, a potentially radical religious revolution began with the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who assumed the name Akhenaten, in honor of his god, Aten, god of the disk of the sun. His actions in closing the temples devoted to the other gods alienated the priesthood, particularly the priests of the powerful god, Amon-Re. After his death, the old gods were restored, but in his religious pursuits, Akhenaten had neglected foreign policy, and Palestine and Syria were lost from Egyptian rule. In the 1200s, the so-called “Sea Peoples" invaded Egypt, and during the next millennium Egypt was often dominated by foreign empires, such as the Assyrian, Persian, and Macedonian. In the late first century B.C., Egypt became a Roman province.




            Farming appeared in Europe’s Balkans by 6500 B.C. and in central Europe by 4000 B.C. Indo-European speakers migrated into Europe and the Middle East around 2000 B.C. One Indo-European group, the Hittites, established a kingdom in Asia Minor c. 1700. They, like the Egyptians, were attacked by the Sea Peoples, and by 1190, Hittite power had ended.

            The Middle East was a complex and vibrant region during the first millennium B.C., with numerous peoples, sometimes as kingdoms and empires, contending with each other.  One of the most significant peoples was the Semitic-speaking Hebrews of ancient Canaan.  By the end of the second millennium B.C. they had emerged as an identifiable people, with a united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon, which was followed by two smaller kingdoms–Judah and Israel.  The latter succumbed to the power of the Assyrian Empire in the late eighth century B.C. and the former to the Chaldeans, or the Neo-Babylonians, in 586 B.C.

It was not political, military, or economic power that explains the importance of the Jews, but their religion of ethical monotheism.  The single God of the Hebrews–Yahweh–was perceived as a universal and transcendent God who demanded morality and goodness from his worshipers. The theological and moral beliefs of the ancient Hebrews have affected the western world down to the present.

A Middle Eastern kingdom that had much greater political and military power was the Assyrian Empire, whose might at its height stretched from the Tigris and the Euphrates to the Nile. The Assyrian kings, who were considered to be absolute rulers, assembled a mighty army of well over 100,000, and was the first large army to make use of iron weapons.  The Assyrians resorted to terrorism to defeat and control their enemies: they had a fearsome reputation. The Assyrian Empire reached its apogee under Ashurbanipal (d. 626 B.C.), but by the end of the seventh century it was destroyed and succeeded by a new imperial power, the Chaldeans, or Neo-Babylonians, headed by Nebuchadnezzar (d. 562 B.C.), with his capital of Babylon becoming one of the ancient world’s great cities, which contained the famed Hanging Gardens. 

However, the reign of the Chaldeans was brief and was followed by the Persians, an Indo-European speaking people related to the Medes and led by Cyrus the Great (d. 530 B.C.), from Persis in southern Iran.  Under his leadership, the Persian Empire stretched from Asia Minor through the Middle East and Mesopotamia to western India. His successors, Cambyses and Darius, expanded and consolidated their rule, expanding into Egypt and, briefly, to Greece.  Under Darius, Persia was the world’s largest empire.  An efficient bureaucracy and an integrated road system were established, along with a cosmopolitan army, and its capitals were located at Susa and later at Persepolis.  The most significant cultural contributions of the Persians was the religion of Zoroastrianism, a religion of the one god, Ahuramazda, who was opposed by an evil spirit, and which eventually resulted in a religion more dualistic than monotheistic in character.




            Like the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks also had a profound influence on Western Civilization.  Unlike the river valleys of the Middle East, Greece is mountainous land, with human occupation generally occurring in the narrow valleys.  The soil was poor in most locations, and the peoples of Greece early turned to the sea, notably the Aegean Sea.

            The first civilization in the region was a non-Greek society centered on the island of Crete.  During the third millennium B.C. the Cretans, (or Minoans, from legendary King Minos), traded throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  Commerce and art rather than military conquest governed the Minoans, practices reflected in the wall frescos at Knossos and elsewhere.  However, c. 1450 B.C. its civilization was destroyed, perhaps by natural disaster, probably through military conquest by the Greek-speaking peoples of the mainland.

            The earliest Greek-speakers (Indo-Europeans) migrated into Greece c. 1900 B.C., and by c. 1600 B.C. had established the first Greek, or Mycenaean, civilization (from one of its major cities, Mycenae).  More war-like than the Minoans, the Mycenaeans dominated the Aegean world and beyond until they succumbed during the twelfth century B.C., possibly through invasions by new Greek-speakers from the north.  A Dark Age resulted: civilization largely disappeared, an era covered by the stories of Homer’s epic poems, which established the heroic values for later Greek society.

            With the end of the Dark Age (c. 800 B.C.) the era of the polis, or city-state, began.  Most numbered a few thousand persons, although Athens at its height reached 300,000. Two of the most famous city-states were Sparta, a militarized polis ruled by an oligarchy, and where commerce and the arts were minimized, and Athens, which became noted for its democratic instructions though, like other poleis, their many slaves and women had no political rights.

            War was endemic, with the poleis rarely uniting until Persians invaded Greece.  The Persian War (499-479 B.C) temporarily unified the Greeks, who were victorious against the powerful Persian Empire.  At the end of the war, Athens created the anti-Persian Delian League, but Athens converted the alliance into an empire.  In reaction, Sparta created its own alliance, the Peloponnesian League.  Eventually, war broke out, and in the resulting Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), the Greek world suffered disastrously.

            The fifth and fourth centuries was the classical era in Greece, especially in Athens, with the emergence of history and theater. The ideals of Greek art and architecture (e.g. the Parthenon) have survived to the present.  Rational and critical thought developed, and philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle posed questions about humanity and nature which are still being debated today.  Religion and myth were important to most Greeks: the gods dwelt on Mt. Olympus, games and festivals were held in their honor, and oracles were consulted, notably at Delphi.  Ancient Greece was no utopia, as slavery, poverty, repression of women, and violence was often the norm, but as the text notes, its civilization was the fountainhead of the culture of the West.




            The independence of the Greek poleis ended in the fourth century, and a new age, known as the Hellenistic era, came into being. Philip II (d. 336 B.C.), king of Macedonia to the north, overcame the last Greek resistance at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C.  His next goal was to invade the Persian Empire, but he was assassinated in 336 B.C. leaving that task to his twenty-year old son, Alexander, known to history as Alexander the Great.

            In 334 B.C. Alexander crossed into Asia Minor with an army of 37,000 soldiers.  By 332 B.C. he captured Egypt, building there a new city on the Mediterranean, and naming it Alexandria.  The Persian capitals of Susa and Persepolis fell by 330 B.C., and he reached India three years later.  Alexander wanted to go on, but his troops rebelled.  Still planning more campaigns, Alexander died in Babylon in 323 B.C. at age thirty-two, one of the ancient world’s greatest heroes as well as one its most enigmatic figures.

            The resulting society is known as Hellenistic, meaning Greek-like or to imitate Greeks.  The Greek language became the international language, Greek ideas became influential, and Greek merchants, artists, philosophers, and soldiers found opportunities and rewards throughout the Near East.  Alexander’s new empire soon divided into several states, ruled by his generals and their descendants.  In addition, outsiders, notably the Celts from Gaul, who sacked Rome in 390 B.C., invaded Macedonia in the early third century and later Asia Minor, threatening the Hellenistic world.

            The great cities were also dominated by Greeks. Commerce increased, and women often played significant roles in economic activities.  Slavery was extensive, with the slave market on the island of Delos selling as many as 10,000 slaves each day.  Educational opportunities were broadened, with the state sometimes assuming a larger role, though most schools were established by wealthy individuals.  As in the past, education was generally for boys, not girls. 

            Egypt’s Alexandria was particularly significant in cultural matters: its library contained 500,000 volumes (or scrolls), and artists and intellectuals were attracted to the city. The era was rich in literature, and comedy and history both thrived.  Sculptors and architects found many opportunities under the patronage of kings and other wealthy individuals. It was a golden age for science and mathematics, with astronomers positing a heliocentric universe and accurately determining the circumference of the earth. 

            There were new schools of philosophy, such as Epicureanism and Stoicism. Religion remained central, but the worship of the Greek Olympian gods declined, and other religions came to the fore.  Many were mystery religions that promised individual salvation, such as the Egyptian cult of Isis.  Judaism remained the exception to the cults and civic religions, and worshiped Yahweh, whether in Judea, which again achieved its independence in 164 B.C., or elsewhere. 

            The Hellenistic world was a Greek-like world, but there were many other influences in that cosmopolitan society, and much would have appeared foreign to the Greeks of sixth and fifth




            Italy, less mountainous and more fertile than Greece, almost bisects the Mediterranean, and was thus potentially positioned to dominate that inland sea, and under Rome it did so. The Greeks to the south and the Etruscans to the north were early influences, and the latter ruled Rome during the sixth century B.C. In 509 B.C. the Romans expelled the Etruscans establishing a republic, but one ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy.

            Roman citizens were divided into two groups, or orders, the few patricians and the many plebeians.  At the beginning of the Republic the former had the power, but from the early fifth century the two orders struggled with each other.  Over time, through the Roman genius for political compromise, the plebeians gained influence, including a plebeian assembly, the right to become magistrates, and intermarriage, but most of the advantages went to the richer plebeians.

            Rome also struggled with its neighbors, but not so peacefully. By 264 B.C. Rome was the master of Italy.  Roman diplomacy was as important as its armies, and its rule was softened by allowing local autonomy and gradually granting Roman citizenship to non-Romans.   The next challenge was Carthage and its empire in Africa and Spain.  Three wars were fought (the Punic Wars: 264-241, 218-202, and 149-146 B.C.), with Rome the victor.  In the east, Rome conquered Macedonia in 148 B.C., taking over Greece. The increasingly larger Roman army played a major and continuous role in Rome’s expanding empire. 

            Religion and law permeated Roman life.  Ritual was at the focus of religion, for ritual   established the correct relationship with the gods, both for individuals (families had their household cults) and for the state.  Roman law was among its most enduring accomplishments.  The early civil law for Romans was expanded to the law of nations, for Romans and non-Romans alike.  Finally, a system of natural law emerged, based upon reason and universal divine law. Late Republican Rome was influenced by Hellenistic Greece, particularly in literature, art, and Stoic philosophy.

            In the second century the conservative and traditional values of Rome declined as affluence and individualism increased, and from 133 B.C. to 31 B.C. the Republic was in crisis. There were factional struggles within the governing oligarchy. 

            In 60 B.C., Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar seized power.  Caesar conquered Gaul (most of western Europe) during the 50s B.C., thus becoming a threat to Pompey and the Senate.  War led the defeat of the Senate and the death of Pompey.  Caesar became dictator, thus alienating the Senate oligarchy, who murdered him on March 15, 44 B.C.  Mark Antony, Caesar’s chief associate, and Caesar’s young adopted heir, Octavian, then formed an alliance, but Antony’s relations with the Egyptian ruler, Cleopatra, contributed to the breaking of the pact.  At the Battle of Actium (31 B.C.), Antony and Cleopatra were defeated, and Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman world.  The Republic had come to an end.




            Octavian, an astute politician, did not declare the Republic dead or himself emperor.  In 27 B.C. he accepted the title of Augustus, and rather than emperor he called himself princeps, or chief citizen.  He followed the prescribed legal forms, and the Senate had a role in governing, but most of the authority was in the hands of the princeps.  Significantly, the army swore loyalty to him. Concerned about moral decline, Augustus restored temples and shrines.  Marriage and children were encouraged, extravagance was discouraged. It was a Golden Age in literature with works by Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy. 

            Augustus established the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which lasted until 68.  In 69 Vespasian, a successful general but not a member of an old Senatorial family, founded the Flavian dynasty.  His son, Domitian assumed the title of imperator, or emperor.  In the second century five “good emperors” maintained the Pax Romana (Roman peace).  The empire, with its 50,000,000 inhabitants, was prosperous, but more so in the cities than the countryside. The Romanization of the Empire varied widely, but became more entrenched in the West, where Latin took root, than in the East and Asia, with its older traditions and preexisting Greek as the major language. The age of expansion was over: the Rhine and Danube rivers served as the borders in Europe, and the Near East was governed by client rulers.  The Early Empire was a prosperous era for many, including long distance trade over the Silk Road from China and East Asia.

            In the Early Empire Romans excelled in architecture and engineering, as exemplified in its 50,000 miles of roads and the Colosseum.  Rome itself had a population of one million, and the gulf between the rich and poor was enormous. However, the third century was an era of decline.  There were civil wars, invasions, plagues, population decline, and economic collapse.   

            One of the most important events in history was the birth and spread of the religion of Christianity, which grew out of Judaism and probably influenced by the numerous mystery religions of the period.  Jesus (d. c.30 A.D) preached the love of God and one’s neighbor. Some saw Jesus as a false messiah, others were disappointed that he did not lead a revolt against Rome, and the Romans, fearing he was a rebel, executed him. His followers believed that he rose ascended into heaven, and that he would return and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Christianity, with its promise of salvation as a consolation to this life’s trials, its similarity to many mystery religions, and its universality as a religion for all people, slowly gained acceptance.

            The fifth century saw the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire (the empire was divided in 395). With fewer resources, the West was less able to repel the Huns and German. In 476 the last Western emperor was deposed, and numerous Germanic kingdoms replaced the Western Roman Empire, although the Eastern Empire survived for another thousand years.




            The third century had been an era of severe decline in the Roman Empire, but under Diocletian (r. 284-305) and Constantine (r. 306-337) stability was restored. The fourth century saw the triumph of Christianity. Constantine legalized it, becoming the first Christian emperor, and Theodosius (r. 378-395) proclaimed it as the official religion. Constantine founded a New Rome in the east, and named it Constantinople. The empire was divided in 395, and with fewer resources, the West was less able to repel the Huns and Germans. In 476 the last Western emperor was deposed, while the Eastern Empire survived for another thousand years. 

            The migration of the Germanic peoples was a cause as well as a consequence of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  Germanic kingdoms were established in the West, including the Ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain, several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain, and a Frankish kingdom in old Gaul. Socially, there was often a fusion between old Roman elites and the new Germanic aristocracy, but Roman laws were replaced by the blood feud and the ordeal. 

            Bishops headed the Christian Church in major cities.  The Bishop of Rome claimed supremacy over the Church. According to tradition Peter became the first Bishop of Rome (or pope), and his successors claimed his authority.  One of the most significant was Gregory I, the Great (590-604): the Church would build upon Gregory’s foundations, both religious and political.

            Monasteries were crucial to the success of the Church. Early Christian monks were often hermits who practiced extreme forms of asceticism. The Church was the intellectual force in the Middle Ages.  The early Church was greatly influenced by Greek philosophy in defining doctrine.

            The Eastern Roman Empire suffered no decline and fall, as had the West.  Constantinople was the largest city in Europe, and Justinian (r. 527-565) was among its greatest rulers. He codified centuries of Roman law in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, which was adopted in the West toward the end of the Middle Ages. 

            But the Eastern Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, was overextended, and plagues and wars reduced its territory to Asia Minor and the Balkans. The pope was the recognized head of Western Christendom, but in the East it was the emperor who not only ruled the state but also the church. Eventually the differences led to two different Christian churches, Catholic and Orthodox. 

            Muhammad, one of the most significant figures in world history, was born in the Arabian city of Mecca.  Muhammed received numerous religious revelations from Allah (or God), which were written down in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Although differences emerged after Muhammed's death in 632, in part over who should succeed him, Islam expanded rapidly, with Muslim Moors moving into Spain c.710 and into France until defeated at the battle of Tours in 732.  Constantinople repelled Muslim armies, surviving until 1453, indirectly protecting Christian Europe.  Not only did Muslims capture vast territories, they also created a great culture.



            Early medieval Europe was a land of isolated villages.  Famine was common and life expectancy low.  In France, Charlemagne (r.768-814) gained a vast European kingdom through military conquest. On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo III crowned him Roman emperor, symbolizing the fusion of Roman, Christian, and German elements. It was a much different Roman Empire than existed centuries earlier, but nevertheless, some historians have claimed that Charlemagne should be considered as the “father of Europe.”

There was also a Carolingian intellectual revival.  Monasteries maintained scriptoria for the copying of manuscripts, and the Carolingian minuscule standardized the script. A palace school was established, which taught in classical Latin what later became the liberal arts.

            The Church attempted to establish formal monogamous marriages. Sex outside of marriage was condemned, as was homosexuality. Clergy were to be celibate. The fundamental food for all classes was bread, consumed in great quantities. Drunkenness was common, as was overeating (gluttony), though malnutrition also was widespread.  Bleeding, herbs, magical charms, and appeals to God and the saints were resorted to in curing diseases.

            Charlemagne’s grandchildren divided his lands into a Latin-French west and a Germanic east, with the middle region to be fought over. Invasions by Scandinavian Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars occurred in the ninth and tenth centuries. Divided leadership and the invasions led to feudalism, or lordship, where government became localized and powerful nobles controlled vast lands.  Other free men, vassals, served the lords, promising military service, and were granted lands, known as fiefs. Relations between lords and vassals were formalized by the oath of homage. Peasants, free and unfree (serfs), worked the land in a system known as manorialism.

In the Germanies, with the death of the last Carolingian ruler (911), a Saxon duke was elected king. Otto I (d.973), who was crowned Roman Emperor, attempted to rule both Italy and the Germanies, an impossible task. The Carolingian line also died out in France (987), and Count Hugh Capet was chosen the new king. In England, Alfred the Great (r.871-899), king of Wessex, defeated the Danish Vikings and created a unified monarchy.

            The tenth century was the “Golden Age of Byzantine civilization.”  Under the Macedonian dynasty (867-1081), trade flourished, the Bulgars were defeated, Muslim armies were repelled, and Byzantine territory was increased.  In Eastern Europe the Slavic kingdoms of Poland and Bohemia were established, whose peoples were converted to Christianity by Catholic missionaries.  The eastern and southern Slavs, such as the Bulgars, the Serbs, and the Russ, adopted Orthodox Christianity.

            Under the Umayyad dynasty, Damascus was the capital of Islam until the eighth century when the new Abbasid dynasty moved it east to Baghdad. Greek, Syrian, and Persian scientific and philosophic writings were translated into Arabic, and an urban culture blossomed, not only in the Near East but also in Umayyad Spain’s Cordoba, which later became a gateway of classical knowledge to the Christian west.  Political unity, however, was lost, with separate caliphates established in Spain, Egypt, and elsewhere. 




            The period from 1000 to 1300, known as the High Middle Ages, saw a doubling of the European population and the growth of cities and trade.  The climate improved, contributing to increased food production, and forests were cleared and lands reclaimed from swamps. Iron plowshares brought heavy soils under cultivation, and horses, with the invention of horse collars, replaced the slower-moving oxen in the fields. Watermills and windmills came into wider use.  The increased demand for agricultural products improved the lot of the peasants.

            While peasants labored, the aristocratic ideal was to wage war.  Tournaments allowed knights to train for battle, but it also provided a social outlet, contributing to the ideals of chivalry. The Church, with mixed success, attempted to limit warfare by forbidding fighting on Sundays and feast days, and by redirecting the ardor for battle into crusades. Castles served as fortresses and homes for the ruling class.  Aristocratic women married young and were to be subservient, but they often had financial responsibilities, and some had considerable influence.

            The revival of urban life occurred first in northern Italy and in Flanders, where the wool-cloth trade developed. Regional fairs, such as at Champagne in northern France, facilitated trade.  In the cities, the largest with a population of 100,000, artisans, organized into monopolistic craft guilds, played a major role. New laws and customs evolved, and many towns gained charters of liberty from local lords, which guaranteed certain freedoms. The urban inhabitants lived and worked in close proximity, fire was a constant threat, and dirt and disease was rampant. 

            There was also an artistic and intellectual renaissance in the High Middle Ages. The first university was founded in Bologna, Italy, where the recently discovered Body of Civil Law was the focus of study. Teaching was in Latin, and the curriculum was the seven liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Books were rare, thus instructors read the texts to students, adding their own interpretations. Many graduates took positions in the royal and church bureaucracies.

            There was a renewed interest in classical writings, particularly those of Aristotle, which were translated into Latin in the twelfth century. Christian theology was the “queen of the sciences,” and scholars attempted to reconcile faith with reason, using logic to validate revelation in a system known as scholasticism.  The most influential of the scholastics was Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), who used Aristotelian logic and the dialectical method of posing and answering questions in his Summa Theologica.

            In literature, Latin began to give way to the vernacular. Troubadour poetry was written in the vernacular, as were heroic epics such as the Song of Roland.  In architecture, Romanesque, with its barrel vaults and massive pillars and walls with little space for windows gave way in the twelfth century to the Gothic. Cathedral construction would take decades: it was a community endeavor, an act of faith in this world and the next. 



            In the High Middle Ages monarchs consolidated their power. When William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066, he created a centralized monarchy. Henry II (d.1189) established a system of royal courts and laws common to the entire kingdom, but Henry’s youngest son, John (d.1216) was forced to accept the Magna Carta in 1215, which established the principle that the king was also bound by the laws.  Edward I (d.1307) advanced representative government in the institution of Parliament when he summoned representatives from the cities and the non-titled knightly class to meet with the higher nobility.

            The early Capetian kings of France had little authority over their nobility, but Philip II Augustus (d.1223) strengthened the monarchy by depriving the English kings of their French lands. By the reign of Philip IV the Fair (d.1314) a royal bureaucracy was firmly in place.  In 1302, Philip summoned representatives of the nobility, clergy, and the cities, thus instituting the Estates-General, which never gained the power of England’s Parliament.

            In the eleventh century several small Christian kingdoms in northern Spain began to wage war against the Muslims, a struggle that continued until 1492 when the Moors were expelled.  The German monarchs, preoccupied with controlling northern Italy, lessened their authority in Germany; centralized royal power never materialized in Germany.  Unified monarchies appeared in Scandinavia, and in Eastern Europe German Teutonic Knights battled Slavs. Further east, the Mongols conquered Russia.

            The Church remained powerful, but its spirituality was compromised by its secular involvements. In the Investiture Controversy, wherein the German kings had been appointing church officials, Pope Gregory VII forced Henry IV to beg his forgiveness at Canossa (1077), an event which symbolized of the pope’s authority. The Church’s power reached its apex under Pope Innocent III (r.1198-1216), who excommunicated kings and authorized crusades. 

            The High Middle Ages was an era of religious enthusiasm. Monasteries provided many social services, including providing food and clothing to the poor, and hospitals for the elderly or terminally ill. Collecting holy relics and embarking on pilgrimages was widespread.  Innocent III supported a crusade against the heresy of Cathar dualism, and instituted the holy inquisition.  Homosexuals and Jews were also victims of popular passions, and the latter were driven out of France and England.

            The crusades exemplified the power of the papacy and popular religious enthusiasm.  The Moslem Seljuk Turks defeated a Byzantine army at the battle of Manzikert in 1071, and in 1095 Pope Urban II urged a holy war against Islam. The motives of the crusaders were mixed, including religion, adventure, and the quest for riches, and they captured Jerusalem in 1099 and established several small states in the region.  The Turks struck back, leading to later crusades. The Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople; the Byzantine Empire never fully recovered. Other crusades followed, but in 1291 the last western outpost fell to Islam.  The crusades contributed to the revival of trade, already underway, but they also encouraged the spread of religious bigotry and violence. 



            The fourteenth century was a era of crisis.  A “little ice” age led to famine, but a greater disaster followed: the Black Death.  The bubonic plague, spread by black rats’ fleas carrying the bacterium Yersina pestis, reached Europe in 1347.  In a few years up to 50 percent of the population died, with higher mortality rates in urban areas.  It returned every few years for centuries.

            Reactions differed.  Some escaped into alcohol, sex, and crime.  Others, believing the Black Death to be a punishment from God, attempted to atone for their sins through self-inflicted pain. The Jews became scapegoats.  People fled, carrying the plague with them. The resulting labor shortage could benefit peasants, although the demand for products was also reduced. When the ruling classes reduced wage rates there were peasant revolts. The ruling classes quelled the revolts, but social upheaval continued to bedevil the post-plague world. 

            Wars were also part of the crisis, notably the Hundred Years War between England and France.  In 1328 the French Capetian line ended. England’s Edward III (d.1377) claimed the French throne, but a cousin to the Capets, Philip of Valois, became king (d.1350). War soon began. Armored knights on horseback were the backbone of medieval armies, but English peasants using the longbow had begun to change the face of war. When the French king was captured, a treaty was signed in 1360: France agreed to pay ransom, the English received land in France, and Edward renounced his claim to the throne.

Using guerilla tactics, the French regained their lands, but in 1415 England’s Henry V (d.1422) invaded. The French cause was saved by Joan of Arc (d.1431), a young peasant woman. Her leadership inspired the French, who also began to rely on cannon, and by 1453 France had won.

            During Edward III’s reign, the English Parliament gained control over taxes, increasing its power.  In France, however, the Estates-General failed to achieve the same influence. In Germany, dukedoms and city-states went their own way, independent of the Holy Roman Emperor, itself an elective office.  Italy was divided into small kingdoms in the south, the Papal States in central Italy, and several city-states in the north, notably Milan and the oligarchic republics of Florence and Venice. Warfare was endemic.

            The papacy declined.  Confrontation between France’s Philip IV (d.1314) and Pope Boniface VIII led to the removal of the papacy to Avignon on France’s border in 1305.  From 1377 there were two competing popes. Some argued that a general council, not the pope, should rule the church, and Conciliarism did end the Great Schism.

Vernacular literature was exemplified in Italy by Dante, Chaucer in England, and Christine de Pizan in France. In art, Giotto explored three-dimensional realism.  After the Black Death, artists frequently portrayed subjects of death and decay. The impact of the plague led to urban public health regulations and to younger marriages. Technological developments included the perfection of the clock. Finally, the development of gunpowder blew the Middle Ages into history.




            Beginning in Italy, the Renaissance (or “rebirth”) was an era that rediscovered the culture of ancient Greece and Rome.  It was also a time of recovery from the fourteenth century.  In comparison with medieval society, the Renaissance had a more secular and individualistic ethos, but might best been seen as evolutionary in its urban and commercial continuity from the High Middle Ages.

            The aristocracy remained the ruling class, its ideals explicated in Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier.  Peasants were still the vast majority, but serfdom and manorialism were dying out.  An important minority were the inhabitants of towns and cities, with merchants and bankers at the apex and the unskilled workers at the bottom. The father or husband as a dictator dominated the extended family, and marriages were arranged for social and economic advantage. Wives were much younger than their husbands, with their primary function being to bear children.

            Italy was dominated by five major states: the duchy of Milan, Florence, Venice, the Papal States, and the kingdom of Naples. There were also other city-states that were centers of culture and where women played vital roles. At the end of the fifteenth century, Spain and France invaded the divided peninsula. The exemplar of the new statecraft was Niccolo Machiavelli (d.527), whose The Prince described the methods of gaining and holding political power: moral concerns are irrelevant, for the ends justify the means.          

            There was an increased emphasis upon the human. Civic humanism posited that the ideal citizen was not only an intellectual but also a patriot, actively serving the state, and humanist education was to produce individuals of virtue and wisdom. The printing press was perfected, multiplying the availability of books.  In art, the aim was to imitate nature by the use of realistic perspective. Masaccio (d.1428), Donatello (d.1466) and Michelangelo (d.1564) made Florence a locus of the arts. The High Renaissance of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci (d.1519) and Raphael (d.1520) combined natural realism with Platonic idealism.

            It was the era of the “new monarchies.”  In France, Louis XI (d.1483), the Spider, established a centralized state. England’s Henry VII (d.1509) limited the private armies of the aristocracy, raised taxes, and left a more powerful monarchy.  In Spain, Isabella (d.1504) and Ferdinand (d.1516) created a professional army and enforced religious uniformity by the conversion and expulsion of Jews and Moslems.  The Holy Roman Empire remained weak, but the Habsburg emperors created a strong state of their own through numerous marriages.  The were no “new monarchies” in Eastern Europe, but Russia’s Ivan III (d.1505) ended Mongol control.  Lastly, in 1453 the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

            The church was besieged by problems.  John Wyclif (d.1384) and John Hus (d.1415) condemned the papacy for corruption, its temporal concerns, and demanded the Bible in the vernacular. The popes reflected their era, and their secular involvements overshadowed their spiritual responsibilities. Most were great patrons of the arts, but religious concerns ranked behind the pleasures of this life.




            There were several roots of the religious reformations of the sixteenth century, including Christian humanism, where the focus was on the Bible and the writings of the church fathers. Among the humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (d.1536), who stressed inner piety and Christ as a guide for daily life rather than dogma and ritual.  The Church was criticized for corruption, materialism, and for abuses such as pluralism and absenteeism. To the medieval church, the sacraments administered by the clergy ensured salvation, but Martin Luther (d.1546) argued that faith alone was the answer, and that the Bible, not the Church, was the sole authority.  In 1517 Luther went public in his criticisms. Outlawed after being condemned by pope and emperor, he translated the Bible into German. 

            Erasmus agreed with Luther’s ideas, but feared that they would destroy Christian unity. When peasants rose in rebellion, Luther condemned them: equality before God did not mean equality on earth, and pragmatically, Luther needed the support of the German princes against Emperor Charles V (r.1519-1556). In 1555, Charles and the princes agreed to the Peace of Augsburg, by which each prince would determine the religion of his subjects. In Switzerland, Ulrich Zwingli (d.1531) removed stained glass windows and eliminated music from worship. When Pope Clement VII was unable to annul the marriage of England’s Henry VIII (d.1547), Parliament established a separate church with the monarch as its head.  John Calvin (d.1564) agreed with Luther’s theology, but went further in emphasizing God’s sovereignty and the concept of predestination: some were predestined for heaven, others for hell.  His leadership made Geneva, Switzerland, the locus of Protestantism.

            For Protestants the family was the center of human society, but theological equality did not lead to equality in marriage: the wife’s role was to obey her husband and bear children. Catholic holy days and religious carnivals were abolished; some went further, closing theaters and abolishing dancing.

Within the Catholic Church, the most important religious order was the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola (d.1556).  Pope Paul III (r.1534-1549) called the council of Trent, which met from 1545 to 1563; its final report reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine.

            It was a violent century.  In France, Henry III, a Catholic, was assassinated by a monk in 1589, and the Huguenot, or Protestant, head of the Bourbon family became Henry IV (d.1610).  He converted to Catholicism, reconciling the majority, and he issued the Edict of Nantes, granting religious toleration to the Huguenots: both actions were taken for political reasons. Spain’s Philip II’s authoritarian rule and persecution of Protestants led to rebellion in the Netherlands. It was crushed in the south, but not the north: the Dutch became independent in 1648.

            Elizabeth (d.1603) was a moderate Protestant, whose policies satisfied most, but not the radical Puritans nor her exiled Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, who plotted against her and was beheaded. Philip II sent a naval Armada against England in 1588.  It ended in defeat for Spain.



            The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were an era of Western global expansion.  Among the motives, economics ranked first, followed by religion, and adventure or fame, or, as the text quotes, “God, glory, and gold.”  It occurred when it did because of the emergence of centralized monarchies, sufficient wealth to finance such endeavors, and new technologies such as better maps and charts, more seaworthy ships, the compass and astrolabe, and knowledge of Atlantic winds.

            The first to venture forth were Portugal and Spain.  Portuguese ships were exploring and trading along Africa’s west coast by the mid-fifteenth century, bringing back slaves and gold. Seeking the same Asian goal as Portugal, the Italian Christopher Columbus (d.1506), sailing for Spain, reached the Caribbean West Indies in 1492, believing it was part of Asia.  It was not, and the newfound land became known as the New World or America, after Amerigo Vespucci, an early geographer.  Spanish conquistadors arrived on the mainland of Mesoamerica in 1519.  Aztec resistance was quickly overcome thanks to assistance from other native states, gunpowder and horses, and European diseases such as smallpox. 

In South America, the Incas were conquered by the 1530s.  The natives became Spanish subjects, but were often exploited by Spanish settlers. Catholic missionaries, under the control of the Spanish crown, brought Christianity, including cathedrals, schools, and the inquisition, to the native population.

            Although originally less prized than gold and spices, slaves became a major object of trade, and by the nineteenth century ten million African slaves had been shipped to America. It was not until the late 1700s that slavery came under criticism in Europe.

            The Dutch expelled Portugal from the Spice Islands by 1600, and in India, the British East India Company controlled the Mughal Empire by the mid-1700s.  Trade with China was limited, its rulers believing the West offered nothing that China needed, and Japan gave only the Dutch even minimal trading rights. In the New World, the Dutch, French, and the British also established colonies.  Eventually British North America consisted of thirteen colonies.  France established an empire in Canada, but its French population remained small.

            In Europe, a commercial revolution led to integrated markets, joint-stock trading companies, and banking and stock exchange facilities.  Mercantilist theory posited that a nation should acquire as much gold and silver as possible, there must be a favorable balance of trade (i.e. more exports than imports) and the state would provide subsidies to manufactures, grant monopolies to traders, build roads and canals, and impose high tariffs to limit imports.  

            The impact of European expansion was mixed.  In the Americas, the native culture was largely destroyed and a new multiracial society evolved. The Columbian exchange saw Europeans bringing horses, cattle, sugarcane, wheat, disease and gunpowder to the New World and adopting the potato, maize (corn), and chocolate in turn.  Native cultures were least affected in Asia, particularly in Japan and China. Missionaries, mostly Catholic, were mainly successful in the New World, and within Europe, imperial rivalries could lead to war. 




            The seventeenth century experienced economic recession and population decline as well as continued religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.  The breakdown of community and the growth of a more individualistic ethic resulted in a world of greater uncertainty.  One reflection of anxieties was an epidemic of witchcraft accusations, usually against women.   

            Protestant and Catholic animosities remained a prime cause for war, notably the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). There were also national and dynastic rivalries such as those between the Bourbon kings of France and the Habsburgs of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  The Peace of Westphalia gave the German princes the right to determine the religion of their domains, France gained territory, Spanish power declined, and the Habsburg authority as German emperors was diminished.

            The century is known as the age of absolutism or the age of Louis XIV. Monarchs justified their absolutist claims by divine right–God had chosen kings to rule.  Louis XIV (r.1643-1715), the Sun King, was the model for other rulers. His palace of Versailles symbolized his authority, where the aristocracy was entertained and controlled by ceremony and etiquette.  Louis revoked his grandfather’s Edict of Nantes, and he fought four costly wars, mainly to acquire lands on France’s eastern borders. The Hohenzollern rulers of Brandenburg-Prussia became kings. Austrian power waned in the empire but it gained lands in the east and in Italy.  Russia’s Peter the Great (r.1689-1725) attempted to westernize Russia, especially militarily, and built a new capital, St. Petersburg, to be his window on the west.  The last major invasion by the Ottoman Empire into central Europe resulted in its defeat in 1683.

            The period also witnessed the golden age of the oligarchic Dutch republic. The States General was controlled by wealthy merchants, many from Amsterdam with its population of 200,000.  During wars, the military leader, or stadholder, gained additional power.

            The Stuart kings of Scotland, advocates of divine right absolution, became the rulers of England in 1603.  Religious disputes occurred within Protestantism, between the Church of England and Puritan reformers.  Civil war between Charles I (r.1625-1649) and Parliament led to the creation of a republic, the Commonwealth.  The monarchy was restored under Charles II (r.1660-1685). His brother James II (r.1685-1688), a Catholic, was opposed by his own Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, the Dutch stadholder, invaded.  Before ascending the throne they accepted the Bill of Rights, limiting royal power. John Locke (d.1704) claimed that government is created by a social contract to protect the natural rights of life, liberty, and property, and if it fails to do so, there is a right of revolution.  

            In art, Mannerism, with its emotional and religious content, was followed by the Baroque, which used dramatic effects to convey religious and royal power, which in turn gave way to French Classicism.  Rembrandt (d.1669) made it the golden age of Dutch painting. It was also a golden age of theater with England’s Shakespeare (d.1616), Spain’s Lope de Vega (d.1635), and France’s Moliere (d.1673).




            There was an interest in nature, “God’s handiwork,” in the Middle Ages, but the world was seen through a theological prism, relying on a few ancient authorities, particularly Aristotle.  Other ancient authors were rediscovered in the Renaissance, and its artists made use of science, mathematics, and nature in portraying the real world.  New technologies also contributed.  The quest for scientific truths was often combined with a belief in magic and alchemy.

            From the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came a new cosmology.  Aristotle and Claudius Ptolemy had posited a geocentric universe, with the fixed earth in the center and crystal spheres moving around it in perfect circular orbits. But it was difficult to reconcile the Ptolemaic system with actual astronomical observations until Nicolaus Copernicus (d.1543) theorized a heliocentric or sun-centered universe.  Johannes Kepler (d.1630) discovered that planetary orbits were elliptical and that a planet’s speed is variable, thus destroying the idea of perfect circular orbits.

            Galileo Galilei (d.1642), using the new telescope, discovered the moon’s craters, moons of Jupiter, and sunspots; the universe was not perfect and unchanging as the Aristotelian system had claimed. Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church, which feared a cosmology where humanity was no longer at the center of the universe and where God’s heavens were material. In his Principia, Isaac Newton (d.1722) put forth mathematical proofs to support his universal law of gravitation: the entire universe is a mechanistic entity, operating though mathematical laws.

            There were advances in medicine. Andreas Vesalius (d.1564) used anatomical dissection, discovering that ancient Greek ideas of medicine were often incorrect.  The discovery a single system of blood that circulates through veins and arteries was made by William Harvey (d.1657).

            In spite of gender discrimination, the lack of formal educational opportunities, and the assumption that females were inferior, many women made contributions to the Scientific Revolution, including Margaret Cavendish (d.1673) and the astronomer Maria Winkelmann (d.1720).   

            The Scientific Revolution led to doubt.  Rene Descartes (d.1650) questioned all that he had learned and began again.  What he could not doubt was his own existence–I think therefore I am–truth relies upon reason. Mind and matter differed; the mind could only achieve knowledge of the material world through reason and mathematics.  Francis Bacon (d.1626) contributed the scientific method or the inductive method, where a study of the particular would lead to correct generalizations.  To “conquer nature in action” was Bacon’s goal.  

            Knowledge of the new science was spread through universities, royal patronage, scientific societies, and scientific journals.  The Scientific Revolution was more than merely intellectual theories.  Its appeal was also to non-scientific elites because of its practical implications in economic progress and profits and in maintaining the social order, including the waging of war. 

            Traditional religious beliefs were challenged.  Blaise Pascal (d.1662) claimed that Christianity was not contrary to reason, that reason and emotions were inseparable.  Ultimately, his faith was in the human heart, not the rational mind.




             A cosmopolitan group, the philosophes used reason to improve society.  The baron de Montesquieu's (d.1755) The Spirit of the Laws praised the system of checks and balances and separation of powers that he believed were the essence of the British political system, an important concept of the United States Constitution.  Voltaire (d.1778) attacked the intolerance of organized religion, and many philosophes adopted Deism with its mechanistic god and a universe operating according to natural laws. 

            Denis Diderot (d.1784) compiled a multi-volume Encyclopedia, a compendium of Enlightenment ideas.  David Hume (d.1776) advocated a “science of man.” In economics, the Physiocrats rejected mercantilism in favor of the laws of supply and demand and laissez-faire, as did Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (d.1778), like Locke, believed in the social contract theory, arguing that society must be governed by the general will.  In claiming that in education children should follow their instincts–reason was not enough–he was a precursor of Romanticism.  Many of the philosophes had traditional attitudes towards women, bu Mary Wollstonecraft (d.1797) argued for the equality of the sexes and the right of women to be educated. The Enlightenment appealed mostly to the urban middle classes; it passed the peasants by.  Its ideas were discussed in Parisian salons, coffeehouses, reading clubs, lending libraries, and societies like the Freemasons. 

            In art, the lightness and curves of the Rococo replaced the Baroque.  In classical music there were major development in the opera, oratorio, sonata, concerto, and the symphony by Johann Sebastian Bach (d.1750), George Frederick Handel (d.1759), Franz Joseph Haydn (d.1809), and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (d.1791).  In England, the novel became a new literary form. There was an increase in the reading public with books, magazines, and newspapers.   Elite private schools emphasized the Greek and Latin classics, but new middle class education stressed modern languages and other relevant subjects. The theories of Cesare Beccaria (d.1794) and others contributed to a decline in the use of torture and capital punishment.   

            There was a separation between popular culture and the culture of the elites, although the rate of literacy was rising among the majority, in part because of an increase in primary education.  State churches, traditional and conservative, were the norm.  There was some gain in religious toleration for minorities including the Jews, although anti-Semitic attitudes continued.  Popular religious movements appealed to the non-elites.  Pietists in Germany sought a deeper personal relationship with God, and in England, John Wesley (d.1791) led a revival movement among the common people.  It was a century of both change and tradition.




            During the eighteenth century, royal authority was often justified by the service the monarch could render to the state and its people rather than by divine right. Some believed that the monarchs should have a monopoly of power in what is called “enlightened despotism” or “enlightened absolutism.” Britain’s constitutional monarchy was an alternative.

            For much of the century France was ruled by Louis XV (r.1715-1774). Only five when he ascended the throne, in his maturity he proved to be weak and lazy, controlled by his mistresses and advisors. His successor was little better.  Louis XVI (r.1774-1793) was unprepared, and his wife, Marie Antoinette, an Austrian princess, became a focus of anti-royal attitudes. In Britain, power was shared between kings and parliament, with the latter gaining influence. The new ruling dynasty, from Hanover in Germany, was ignorant of British traditions and incompetent, which led to a new position in government, that of the Prime Minister.

            Prussia rose to major power status under Frederick William I (r.1713-1740) and Frederick II the Great (r.1740-1786), strengthening the kingdom through an efficient bureaucracy and a larger army.  Frederick the Great was in the model of an enlightened despot: he reformed the laws, allowed religious toleration and considerable freedom of speech and the press, but he also increased the army to 200,000.  In the Austrian Empire, Empress Maria Theresa (r.1740-1780) centralized the government and Joseph II (r.1780-1790) abolished serfdom, reformed the laws, and granted religious toleration, but his reforms did not outlast his reign.  Russia’s Catherine II the Great (r.1762-1796) also instituted reforms, but they favored the landed nobility rather than the peasants and serfs. 

            War was endemic, with national interests and dynastic concerns prevailing in a system guided by the balance of power.  The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was fought not only in Europe but also in North America and India.  Frederick the Great was the instigator, desiring Austrian Silesia, but Britain was the true victor, driving France from Canada and India, and creating a worldwide empire. 

            The population grew, mainly as the result of a declining death rate and improvements in agriculture, and the end of the threat of the bubonic plague. The seeds of the industrial revolution were planted, notably in the textile industry where new technologies transformed the manufacture of cotton cloth, and there was a significant increase in international trade

            The patriarchal family remained the core of society. 85 percent of the population were peasants, freer in the west than the east, but still facing many legal obligations. The nobility were 2 or 3 percent. Their large country estates defined their life style, but anyone with sufficient wealth could generally enter their ranks. Townspeople were a small minority except in Britain and the Dutch Republic; London had a population of 1 million, Paris half that.  Urban mortality rates were high and poverty widespread.




            An era of revolutions began with the American Revolution, justified ideologically by Locke’s social contract and natural rights philosophy.  The Constitution of 1787, with its Bill of Rights, provided a strong central government with a separation of power between the three branches.  Its affect in Europe was immense: Enlightenment ideals could become reality.

            But there were other causes for the French Revolution, such as the legal inequality of the three Estates of the clergy, the aristocracy, and commoners, who were the vast majority.  In 1788, the government, facing financial collapse, summoned the Estates-General for the first time since 1614.  Assembling at Versailles in May 1789, it deadlocked on whether to vote as estates or by head.  The Third Estate proclaimed itself the National Assembly, an illegal act which Louis XVI failed to repress, in part because of rural and urban uprisings, notably the capture of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14. 

            The constitution of 1791 subordinated the monarch to the Legislative Assembly.  All were citizens, but only citizens who paid taxes had the vote. The lands of the Catholic Church were nationalized and the church placed under civil control. The result was war in April 1792.  In reaction to early military defeats the revolution entered into a more radical stage, abetted by the Paris Commune of artisans and merchants. A republic was proclaimed and the ex-king, Louis XVI, was executed in January 1793.

            To meet the domestic and foreign threats, the Committee of Public Safety was given dictatorial power.  Under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, it raised an army motivated by national patriotism rather than dynastic loyalties.  Revolutionary courts were created to ferret out those not sufficiently supportive of the revolution, and 50,000 were executed during “the Terror.”  But in July 1794, the National Convention turned against Robespierre, who was quickly executed.

            Revolution and war gave Napoleon Bonaparte, his opportunity. A controversial figure, he was more the enlightened despot than the democratic revolutionary.  He made peace with the papacy on his terms, and his Civil Code guaranteed equality, though less so for women. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor.  His armies conquered much of the continent but his empire did not last.  Great Britain remained undefeated and French armies on the continent bred nationalistic reactions in many of the conquered areas. In June 1812, he invaded Russia with 600,000 troops, but ultimately the French were forced to retreat.  National revolts, a reaction to French occupation armies, broke out, and Napoleon abdicated in 1814.  He briefly returned to power but was defeated at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, and sentenced to exile on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.  His shadow hung over Europe for decades.

            At the end, order had triumphed over liberty, and the victors were the propertied classes.  However, the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity inspired future generations, and the citizen nationalism created in France led to the development of modern nationalism elsewhere.





            The Industrial Revolution was a transforming event in world history.  Britain was in the forefront because of several advantageous circumstances.  An agricultural revolution had increased the quantity of foodstuffs thus lowering the costs and a population increase supplied a surplus of labor for the new industrial technologies.  Britain was a wealthy nation with capital for investment.  Coal and iron were abundant, and a transportation revolution created a system of canals, roads, bridges, and later, steam-powered railroads. Parliament had established a stable government where property, one of Locke’s natural rights, was protected.  Finally, Britain was the world’s major colonial power with access to overseas markets.  The cotton industry led the way because of new technologies such as the spinning jenny and power loom.  Most significant was the steam engine, perfected by James Watt (d.1819).  London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 showcased to the world Britain’s industrial might.

            Continental industrialization was delayed because of a lack of transport, the existence of internal tolls, less sympathetic governments, and the upheavals of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Unlike Britain’s laissez-faire approach, continental industrialization was subsidized by governments the construction of railroads, establishing technical schools, and excluding cheaper British goods through tariffs.  By 1860, the United States was also well along the road of industrialization.

            In the non-western world industrial development was much slower, in part because it lacked the social-economic-political structures of the West, but also because Britain and other colonial powers prevented the growth of local industries in order to maintain a market for their manufactured goods: colonies were to produce raw materials and purchase industrial products.

            The birthrate declined but the population increased because of a reduction in epidemics and wars and an increase in the food supply.  Overpopulation, particularly in rural areas, led to disaster, such as in the potato famine in Ireland that led to the death of a million persons between 1845 and 1851.  Cities grew dramatically: London grew from one million in 1800 to 2.35 million in 1850.  Urbanization was slower on the continent, and until the twentieth century most workers were still engaged in agriculture. Urban living conditions were often horrendous and most cities lacked any semblance of sanitary facilities.   

            The new middle-class consisted of manufacturers and bankers.  Even members of the traditional aristocracy became industrial entrepreneurs. Another new class was the working class. The work environment, especially in the factories, was dreadful: long hours, unsafe conditions, and child labor was the norm.  Laws were passed, in Britain known as the Factory Acts, in the attempt to improve factory conditions, initially for women and children, and workhouses were established for the jobless and homeless.

Labor unions were formed to improve wages and conditions but with limited success.  Workers sometimes protested by destroying the factories and machines, as did the Luddites in England.  England’s Chartist movement petitioned Parliament, demanding reforms, but the politicians rejected their demands.  The Industrial Revolution radically transformed western civilization and then the rest of the world–politically, economically, socially–for good and for ill.  




            One of the many “isms” of nineteenth century was conservatism.  For conservatives, society and the state, not the individual, was paramount, in a world to be guided by tradition. The victors over Napoleon met at the Congress of Vienna, forming the Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia.  Its guiding principle was “legitimacy,” or monarchical government, to be maintained by a balance of power. A new German Confederation replaced the Holy Roman Empire. The Quadruple Alliance became the Quintuple Alliance with the admittance of France. 

            Acting as the Concert of Europe, the major powers intervened to uphold conservative governments.  However, Britain, seeking new markets, opposed intervention when Spain’s Latin American colonies declared their independence. The Bourbons returned to France with Louis XVIII (1814-1824) and Charles X (1824-1830).  Bourbon Spain and Italy remained under conservative rule. Order was maintained in multi-ethnic Austria, and in Russia a reform movement was crushed in 1825.

            Liberalism grew out of the Enlightenment and the era of Revolutions.  Freedom was the aim, both in politics and in economics; the state should have no responsibilities except in defense, policing, and public works construction.  Natural rights and representative government were essential, but most liberals limited voting to male property owners.  Nationalism, with its belief in a community with common traditions, language, and customs, also emerged from the French Revolution, threatening the status quo in divided Germany and Italy and the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire. Utopian socialists envisioned cooperation rather than competitive capitalism, and voluntary communities were established.

            In 1830, an uprising in France led to a constitutional monarchy headed by Louis-Philippe (1830-1848), supported by the upper middle-class.  Belgium split off from the Netherlands, but national uprisings in Poland and Italy failed.  In Britain, the franchise was widened to include the upper middle-classes, and free trade became the norm.  The great revolutionary year was 1848.  France’s Louis-Philippe fled into exile and the Second Republic was established with universal manhood suffrage, but conflict developed between socialist demands and the republican political agenda.  A unified Germany was the aim of the Frankfurt Assembly, but it failed.  In Austria, liberal demands of Hungarians and others were put down.  In Italy, there were uprisings against Austrian rule and a republic was proclaimed in Rome, but conservatives regained control.

            Romanticism, a reaction against Enlightenment reason, favored intuition, feeling, and emotion. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a popular novel about a youth who committed suicide for love.  The brothers Grimm collected folk tales, and the Middle Ages inspired Sir Walter Scott.  Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe wrote about the bizarre and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord George Byron were notable poets.  Nature was often the subject in William Wordsworth’s poetry and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. In music, Ludwig von Beethoven was a major figure. 




            Louis Napoleon was elected president of France’s Second Republic in 1848, but when the National Assembly refused to sanction a second term, he led a coup d’etat against his own government, and, with the approval of the French voters, he became Emperor Napoleon III. Against the tide of laissez-faire liberalism, his regime took the economic lead, notably in the rebuilding of Paris.  The decline of the Ottoman Empire sparked the Crimean War (1854-1856), the result of Britain and France’s fear of Russian expansion.  Russia was stalemated but it and Britain retreated from European affairs during the era of the unification of Germany and Italy.

            Italian unification was led by Count Camillo di Cavour (d.1861), prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia.  An alliance was made with France against Austria, and victories in 1859 enlarged Piedmont’s territory.  Giuseppe Garibaldi (d.1882) led an uprising against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and in 1861 a kingdom of Italy under Piedmont’s House of Savoy was realized, excluding Rome and Venetia, which were taken over by 1870.

            In 1862, Otto von Bismarck became Prussia’s prime minister.  A brilliant diplomat, in 1866 he maneuvered larger Austria into declaring war against Prussia.  With its superior army, victorious Prussia united the northern states into the North German Confederation.  In 1870, Prussia defeated France in a brief war, and the Second German Empire was the result.  Under Bismarck, nationalism was allied with conservatism, whereas earlier in the century nationalism had been associated with liberalism.

            Austria compromised with Hungarian nationalists, creating the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.  Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War led to reforms under Alexander II (r.1855-1881), including the freeing of millions of serfs. Conservatives feared the tsar went too far, but others wanted more reform, which led to the tsar’s assassination in 1881. Britain escaped disruption because of economic growth and Parliament’s willingness to make necessary reforms.  The American Civil War (1861-1865) ended with the Union preserved and slavery abolished, and in 1867, Britain gave Canada dominion status, including the right to rule itself in domestic matters.

            Karl Marx (d.1883), with Friedrich Engels (d.1895), published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, but initially it passed unnoticed.  According the Marx, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”  In the modern world it was the middle-class, or the bourgeoisie, which controlled the means of production, but Marx predicted that the proletariat would rise up, reorganize society on a socialist model, and create a classless society.                

            In science, the laws of thermodynamics, the germ theory of disease, electromagnetic induction, and chemistry’s periodic law changed the world, as did Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) with its theory of the struggle for existence, the survival of the fittest, and the emergence of new species.           

It was the age of realism in the arts, exemplified in the novels of Gustave Flaubert and the works of Charles Dickens.  Gustave Courbet painted scenes of everyday life. 




            A Second Industrial Revolution occurred in the latter nineteenth century, a revolution of steel, chemicals, electricity, and the internal combustion engine.  Higher wages fueled internal markets. Tariffs replaced free trade and cartels monopolized production.  Germany became the industrial leader while Europe was divided into a industrialized north and a poorer south and east. World-wide, European manufactured goods and investment capital was exported abroad in exchange for raw materials.

            The status of women improved somewhat in service and white-collar jobs as typists and clerks. Prostitution remained an avenue for survival for many women. Working-class political parties, such as Germany’s Social Democratic Party, were established.  The Second International, 1889, hoped to coordinate Marxist socialist parties, but split among advocates of the revolutionary class struggle and those who envisioned socialism being achieved democratically.  Trade unions were most successful in Britain.

            Europe’s population reached 460 million by 1910. Many migrated from the poorer east and south to industrialized northern Europe and abroad, often for economic reasons, but also to escape ethnic and religious persecution.  In the industrial north, urban populations constituted up to 80 percent of the total.  Urban conditions improved because of building codes and better housing, cleaner water, and new sewage systems. Old city walls were torn down and workers commuted by trains and streetcars to the new suburbs. In redesigned cities, such as Paris and Vienna, parks and wide roads were built.

            The standard of living generally improved.  The elite were 5 percent of the population but controlled 30-40 percent of the wealth, as old landed wealth merged with the new industrial wealth.  The middle classes, with their values of hard work and propriety, encompassed the upper middle class professionals down to the lower middle class white-collar clerks and bank tellers. The lower classes made up 80 percent of the population, but with rising wages many workers adopted middle class values.  Industrialism reinforced traditional female inferiorly: women stayed at home while men went out to work.  The birthrate dropped as families limited the number of children.

            Because of expanding voting rights and the need to have an electorate educated in national values, most states assumed responsibility for mass compulsory education up to the age of twelve.  Literacy rates reached almost 100 percent in northern Europe, leading to a demand for mass newspapers, filled with sports and sensationalism.  New leisure hours, including the weekend, led to new mass entertainment.

            By the end of the century most British males had the vote. In France, the Third Republic was established in spite of opposition from monarchists, army officers, and the Catholic clergy.  Italy was troubled by regional differences, political corruption, and ever-changing governments.  The traditional order lasted longer in central and eastern Europe. In Germany, where the popularly elected Reichstag lacked power, Bismarck implemented social welfare programs to seduce the workers away from socialism.  After the assassination of Russia’s Alexander II, the reactionary Alexander III (r.1881-189) and Nicholas II (r.1894-1917) opposed all reforms.




            By the end of the nineteenth century, faith in reason, progress, and science was being subverted by a new modernity about the physical universe, the human mind, and in the arts.  The anxieties about old certainties were seemingly confirmed by the Great War, which began in 1914.

            The Newtonian mechanistic universe was challenged by the discovery of radiation and the randomness of subatomic particles.  Max Planck said that energy is radiated in packets, or quanta.  Albert Einstein claimed that time and space were relative to the observer, and that matter was a form of energy (E = mc2.).  Friedrich Nietzsche lauded the instinctive irrational, and Sigmund Freud argued that human behavior was governed by the unconscious.  

            Social Darwinists, arguing that society was also a survival of the fittest, justified laissez-faire government, but it was also used by nationalists and racists as a justification for war and inequality.  Science challenged religion, but fundamentalists put their faith in the literal Bible. 

            In literature, Naturalism exhibited a mechanistic attitude toward human freedom.   Symbolists denied objective reality; it was only symbols in the mind.  Art Impressionism stressed the changing effects of light in the paintings of Camille Pissarro.  In Post-impressionism, Vincent van Gogh emphasized light but also structure in portraying subjective reality (photography mirrored objective reality).  Pablo Picasso’s Cubism reconstructed subjects according to geometric forms and Vasily Kandinsky’s Abstract Expressionism abandoned representational images.  In music, mood was stressed; the musical dissonances of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused a riot at its Paris debut.

            Many women demanded equal rights, including political equality; British suffragettes broke windows and went on hunger strikes to gain attention.  Anti-Semitism revived.  In France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was imprisoned on trumped-up charges, and there were anti-Semitic political parties in Germany and Austria.  In Russia, pogroms led many Jews to emigrate.  Theodor Herzl claimed that Jews should have their own state in Palestine. British Liberals enacted social welfare legislation.  Germany’s Social Democratic Party was opposed by the emperor and right-wing parties. In Russia, socialists turned to revolution; after the 1905 Revolution, Nicholas II accepted a weak Duma.  By 1900, the United States was the world’s leading industrial nation.

            National rivalry, Social Darwinism, religious and humanitarian concerns, and economic demands of raw materials and overseas markets contributed to the New Imperialism. By 1914, Africa had been colonized.  Britain occupied Australia and New Zealand and took over India from the East India Company.  France colonized Indochina and Russia expanded to the Pacific. China was unable to resist Western pressures, and Japan was forced to open its borders, but modernized by borrowing from the West.  An imperial United States emerged after 1898.        

            After the unification of Germany, Bismarck formed the Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary.  Russia turned to France, and Britain, fearing Germany’s ambitions, joined them in the Triple Entente.  Austrian annexations in the Balkans were resented by Serbia. With Germany backing Austria and Russia supporting Serbia, a spark could set off a conflagration.



            The text rightly calls World War I the defining event of the twentieth century.  The June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by a Serbian terrorist, was the final spark.  Austria, after receiving a  “blank check” by Germany, declared war against Serbia on July 28.  Germany declared war on Russia after the latter’s military mobilization.  Germany’s Schlieffen Plan was to attack France through neutral Belgium.

By August 4, the Great War had begun.  Initially there was great enthusiasm. War gave excitement to ordinary lives and most assumed that it would soon be over.  The Germans drove the Russians back in the east, but in the west a stalemate developed, with trenches extending from the Swiss border to the English Channel, defended by barbed wire and machine guns.  Attacking troops had to cross “no man’s land”: 21,000 British died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  Artillery, poison gas, seasonal mud, and ever-present rats and decaying corpses added to the carnage.

            The Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Italy.  After German submarine attacks, the United States entered the war in 1917. Governments took the economic lead, especially in producing munitions, and wage and price controls were instituted.  Propaganda was employed to keep up morale and newspapers were censored.  Many women entered the labor force, and after the war were given the vote in the United States and Britain.

            Russia was unprepared for war, lacking a large industrial base or adequate leadership, and public support waned because of military losses. When bread rationing was introduced in March 1917, women demonstrated in the streets of St. Petersburg/Petrograd.  The Duma established a Provisional Government and Nicholas abdicated on March 15.  But socialist soviets, or workers’ councils, challenged the new government’s legitimacy.  The revolutionary Bolshevik V.I. Lenin campaigned for “Peace, Land, and Bread” and “All Power to the Soviets.”  The war was increasingly unpopular, and in November the Bolsheviks seized power.  Lenin established a dictatorship and signed a costly peace with Germany.  Civil war broke out between the Bolshevik Reds and the Whites, who were unable to agree politically and militarily.  Able military leaders, interior lines of defense, and “revolutionary terror” led the Bolsheviks to victory by 1921.

            After Russia’s withdrawal from the war, Germany launched a massive attack in the west.  However, the war had taken its toll in Germany, and in the fall, after American troops entered the conflict, the German government collapsed.  On November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed.

The peace delegates gathered at Paris in January 1919. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles required Germany to accept guilt for causing the war and pay reparations. Its army was reduced to 100,000 and it lost territory to France and Poland.  The Austrian and Ottoman empires disappeared.  The United States refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and did not join the League of Nations, the institution that was to guarantee permanent peace.




            Ten million deaths, a lost generation, disillusionment and despair were among the fruits of World War I. Some of the survivors turned to pacifism; others were attracted to radical national ideologies such as fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany.

            European prosperity, largely the result of American loans and investments, ended with the Great Depression.  The economist John Maynard Keynes favored increased government spending and deficit financing rather than deflation and balanced budgets, but had little support.  Britain’s unemployment remained at 10 percent during the 1920s and rose rapidly in the depression. France was governed, or ungoverned, by frequent coalition governments. The United States’ New Deal was more successful in providing relief than in recovery, and unemployment remained high until World War II. Among most of the nations of Europe there was a retreat from democracy, which seemed to have failed, both politically and economically.

            Totalitarian governments, which required the active commitment of their citizens, came to power in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union.  Italian fascism resulted from Italy’s losses in the Great War, economic failure, and incompetent politicians. Threatening “to march on Rome,” Benito Mussolini was chosen prime minister in 1922.  Legal due process was abandoned and rival parties were outlawed, but totalitarianism in Italy was never as effective as in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

            In Germany, Adolph Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis). A powerful orator, Hitler published his beliefs in Mein Kampf, and created a private army of storm troopers (SA), but it was not until the depression that the Nazis received wide support.  Hitler became chancellor in 1933, and a compliant Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, giving him dictatorial power. Hitler rearmed Germany, abolished labor unions, and created a new terrorist police force, the SS.  The Nuremberg laws excluded Jews from citizenship, and in the 1938 Kristallnacht, Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned and Jews beaten and killed.          

            After Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin assumed leadership in the Soviet Union.  In 1928, he announced his first five-year plan to turn the Soviet Union into an industrial society. Giant collective farms were created, and in the process 10 million lives were lost.  Stalin’s opponents were sent to Siberia, sentenced to labor camps, or liquidated.  With the exception of Czechoslovakia, authoritarian governments appeared in Eastern Europe as well as in Portugal and Spain.  In the Spanish Civil War, the fascist states aided Francisco Franco and the Soviet Union backed the Popular Front. 

            In art, German Expressionism reflected the horrors of war and the corruptions of peace, Dada focused upon the absurd, and Surrealism upon the unconscious.  The unconscious “stream of consciousness” technique was used in the novels of James Joyce.  The Bauhaus movement emphasized the functional in architecture.  It was also the “the heroic age of physics.”  The discovery of subatomic particles indicated that splitting the atom could release massive energies, and Werner Heisenberg’s  “uncertainty principle” had implications far beyond the study of physics. 



            Of the causes of World War II, Adolph Hitler’s ambitions loom large, including his beliefs in Aryan racial supremacy and the need for Germany to have living space in the east (Lebensraum).  Posing as a man of peace, Hitler claimed that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair; and when German troops occupied the demilitarized Rhineland, there was little reaction by Britain and France.  Criticized for invading Ethiopia, Mussolini joined Hitler in forming the Rome-Berlin Axis.     

            Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938.  Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, home of three million ethnic Germans, was next. Hitler soon seized the rest of Czechoslovakia, signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and launched the Blitzkrieg against Poland on September 1, 1939.  Next the Netherlands fell in five days, and France capitulated in June.  Most of the British army escaped at Dunkirk, and under Winston Churchill’s leadership, Britain survived Nazi Germany’s air assault in the Battle of Britain. Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, but Soviet resistance and winter conditions led to stalemate and soon a Soviet counterattack.

            Imperial ambitions and economic concerns propelled Japan to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Japanese advance was ended at the naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in 1942.  In mid-1943 a German army was defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad, a major turning point in the war.  In June 1944, Rome fell to the Allies and Normandy was invaded.  The Soviets linked up with the western Allies in April 1945, and Hitler committed suicide. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 8, 1945. The war had ended, but at the cost of 50 million dead.

            In the Nazi empire racial assumptions were paramount, and anti-Semitism was central to Nazism.  In the 1930s, Jewish emigration was encouraged, but ultimately the Final Solution was annihilation, and millions died in extermination camps.  Up to six million Jews died in the Holocaust, along with Gypsies, homosexuals, and others.

            Women played a major role in all the combatant nations.  The mainland of the United States was never endangered, and because of its industrial wealth, the United States became the chief arsenal for the Allies. 110,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in relocation camps.  Both sides bombed civilian populations; the Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945 killed 100,000 persons, and Japanese cities suffered from widespread bombing even before the use of the atomic bomb. 

            Approximately 20 million soldiers lost their lives, and civilian deaths numbered 40 million. The Soviet Union experienced the greatest losses. With the exception of the United States, the economies of the belligerent nations were nearly destroyed.

            By the Yalta conference of February 1945, the Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe.  Germany was to be divided into zones of occupation. An ideological struggle had emerged, pitting totalitarian communism against democratic capitalism.  In 1946, Churchill gave a label to the new Cold War reality: Europe was divided by “an iron curtain.”





            The Cold War began in the aftermath of World War II.  The United States and the Soviet Union had different philosophies and conflicting ambitions and fears. The Truman Doctrine promised to aid nations threatened by communism, and the Marshall Plan, which provided $13 billion to rebuild Europe, was rejected by the Soviets.  Germany and Berlin were divided into zones.  When the Americans, British, and French unified their zones, the Soviets blocked access to Berlin, leading to a year-long Berlin Air Lift.

            In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created as a defensive alliance against Soviet aggression.  The Soviet bloc countered with the Warsaw Pact. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, and the West claimed it was instigated by the Soviets. The Cold War spread to space, with the Soviet space satellite, Sputnik I.  The Berlin Wall was built in 1961, a major Cold War symbol.  The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis almost led to nuclear holocaust until the Soviets backed down. In Vietnam, the United States feared a communist victory would result in the fall of all of Asia, like a row of dominoes.  The communists achieved victory in 1975, but the dominos did not fall.

            By the end of the 1960s, most of Africa had achieved independence.  In the Middle East, Israel was founded in 1948 amidst war with the Arab states; the 1967 Six Day War brought the Palestinian West Bank under Israeli control.  The Philippines became independent, and British India, with its Hindu majority and Muslim minority, was partitioned into Pakistan and India, but at the cost of a million dead.  In China, Mao Zedong’s Communists forced Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists to Taiwan. Soviet emphasis on heavy industry left little for consumers, and when their satellite states pursued independent paths the Soviets cracked down.

            The Western European economy boomed.  Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic saw France leave NATO and develop an atomic bomb.  The Federal Republic of Germany experienced an “economic miracle,” as did Italy in spite of its many coalition governments.  Britain’s Labour Party created a welfare state, but unrealistic union demands and a lack of business investment slowed the economy. The 1960s was a time of upheaval, with the civil rights movement, race riots, and the Vietnam anti-war movement.  Canadian events often mirrored those in the United States.

            A new society, with its own challenges, resulted from economic growth and new technologies.  White-collar workers increased, birth control, notably “the pill,” led to smaller families, and more women joined the work force.  A significant feminist or women’s liberation movement emerged.  In the arts, Andy Warhol’s Pop Art achieved notoriety as did Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism.  Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot exemplified the Theater of the Absurd. The impact of two world wars and the breakdown of traditional values led to the philosophy of existentialism, exemplified by Jean Paul-Sartre and Albert Camus, which reflected the meaninglessness of modern society. Conversely, the same events and concerns led to a revival of religion.





            At the end of the 1960 protests engulfed the West. A youth movement emerged, and the feminist movement transformed the lives of women. One focus of rebellion was the Vietnam War, which deeply divided American society. At times the protests turned violent, and in reaction, many demanded “law and order,” a desire that Richard Nixon capitalized upon in gaining the presidency in 1968.

            Under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev (d.1982), economic stagnation stalked the Soviet Union. Because of Soviet control, Eastern Europe also stagnated. There were some economic reforms in Hungary—“Communism with a capitalist facelift”—but when reforms were introduced in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Red Army crushed the “Prague Spring.”

            After decades of economic growth, Western Europe experienced economic recessions in 1970s. West Germans installed a center-left government in 1969, and under Willy Brandt a policy of Ostpoklitik, or “opening to the East” was adopted. In 1979, the Conservative Party’s Margaret Thatcher became the first woman prime minister in Britain. She reduced the power of the unions and brought down inflation, but some areas of the country suffered unemployment.

            During the 1970s, the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter struggled with economic stagflation—high inflation and high unemployment. The economic problems compounded by Carter’s inability to gain the freedom of American hostages held in Iran led to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980. The Reagan Revolution reduced welfare benefits and increased military funding. Tax cuts were initiated in the belief that they would stimulate economic growth, and although the economy improved, government deficits also increased.

            In Vietnam, by 1965 the Vietcong opposition, backed by North Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, threatened the survival of the south. In response, Lyndon Johnson sent in American combat forces. Casualties mounted and in 1973, Nixon agreed to withdraw American troops.

            In the People’s Republic of China, the apex of communist radicalism was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. In 1972 the fervent anti-communist Nixon journeyed to China, and met with Mao. The result was a lessening of tensions and by the end of the 1970s a “strategic relationship” against any Soviet threat in Asia.

Relations with the Soviet Union also improved with détente. In 1975 the Helsinki Agreements signatories recognized existing borders in Europe and agreed to protect the human rights of their citizens.  Détente took a step backwards in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” and pursued a military buildup.

            It was a new era of science, wherein governments and large corporations provided necessary funding. The computer, made possible by the silicon chip, revolutionized society. But scientific developments could lead environmental disaster, as symbolized by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986.

            The ideas of Postmodernism rejected objective truth, and literary critics posited structuralism and deconstruction as alternative ways to perceive the world. Serialism and minimalism were influential in music. Popular culture was increasingly globalized, and mass sports increased in popularity, made possible by world-wide television.




            By the 1980s the Soviet Union was in economic crisis. A new era began in 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. In his attempt to reform Soviet society he relied upon perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Competitive elections were instituted, and non-Communist political parties were legalized.

However, the Soviet Union was in disarray as nationalistic movements began in most of the republics, a consequence of the reduction of the Soviet dictatorship. The Soviet Union was abolished in 1991, and a voluntary Commonwealth of Independent States replaced the Soviet empire. New president Boris Yeltsin gave backing to a market economic and a pluralistic political system, but corruption and organized crime remained. Yeltsin resigned in 1999, and a former KGB official, Vladimir Putin, replaced him.

            Across Eastern Europe, Communist regimes collapsed, replaced by democratic governments. A few of the eastern states joined NATO and more became members of the European Union (EU). Ethnic demands shook Serb-dominated but multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, and war resulted when Croatia declared its independence. Yugoslavia, which had come into existence after World War I, disappeared from the map, with the remaining rump renamed Serbia.

            German reunification came at considerable economic cost given the former East Germany’s bankrupt economy.  In Britain in 1997, Tony Blair was elected prime minister, whose tenure was tarnished by corruption and his active support of the Iraq War.  Socialism failed to work in France under Francois Mitterrand, but economic problems continued under conservative Jacques Chirac.

By 2004, the population of European Community was 455 million. The EC became the European Union in 1994, and a common currency, the euro, was adopted by most member states. In the United States, the 1990s was a period of prosperity. The events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, dominated the presidency of George W. Bush.

            Although the Cold War had ended by 1990, “history” had not. There was a new era of conflict, an Age of Terrorism. The motives of terrorists could be nationalist, economic, political, and increasingly religious.

            Women continued to enter the workforce in greater numbers, and the women’s movement prospered. In spite of the opposition of the Catholic Church, birth control and abortion were widely available. The birth rate in many Western countries declined, necessitating immigrants and “guest workers” to staff jobs. Social tensions increased and violent anti-immigrant actions occurred in France and Germany and elsewhere.

            Church attendance declined precipitously in the West. The exception was among fundamentalist Christians, particularly in the United States. Islamic fundamentalism found a receptive audience, some of whom turned to terrorism.

In the visual arts, Neo-Expressionism reached its apex. The world became digitalized, and video games and cell phones transformed society. In the global economy, the multinational or the transnational corporation has become the central arbiter.  But globalization could also contribute to environmental challenges such as global warming and mass immigration, with its social consequences.  




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