The West in the 20th Century summary




The West in the 20th Century summary


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The West in the 20th Century summary

Chapter 35  The West in the 20th Century

  1. Introduction

The three decades after World War I were a time of prolonged political, economic, and cultural crisis for Western civilization. After 1945, new sources of dynamism produced a new West. Despite economic challenges from Asia and the end of colonialism, the West's position in the twentieth century has slipped only relatively.

  1. The Disarray in the West, 1914-1945
    1. Introduction

The economic and demographic devastation of World War I unsettled Western Europe. Central Europe lost its traditional structure with the collapse of the German and Austrian empires.

    1. The Roaring 20's

A period of apparent peace reduced internal political tensions in Europe during the early 1920s. Extremist groups on the right and left, which had appeared in the aftermath of World War I, seemed to lose popularity by the middle years of the decade. Industrialization boomed on the back of growing consumer demand. Cultural creativity during the 1920s resulted in new artistic styles and the growing popularity of the moving picture. Women across Europe and in the United States gained the right to vote and other social liberties.

    1. The Impact of the Depression

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, the buoyant optimism of the 1920s disappeared. Western governments raised tariffs, which weakened trade and dampened the economy further.
Political radicalism once again became a popular solution to government inadequacy in dealing with depression. In Scandinavia and the United States, governments chose to intervene more actively in the economy with generally positive results. The price was a more powerful national government. In most cases, however, parliamentary forms of government were weakened. In France, a Popular Front government dominated by socialist groups won the election in 1936. Opposed by more conservative groups, the Popular Front was unable to enact effective policy.

    1. The Challenge of Fascism

In Germany, the depression was a contributing factor to the rise of a fascist regime. Fascists offered solutions to political weakness and economic dislocation through a strongly centralized state with a vigorous foreign policy. They attacked socialist groups, including labor. The first fascist government took power in Italy in 1922. The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany made fascism a major force. Middle- class and conservative groups were drawn to Hitler's assault on the left and accepted his condemnation of the Jews. The promise of conquest gave Hitler the largest electoral vote in 1932 and led to his legal accession to power in 1933.
Once in power, Hitler dismantled parliamentary government and established a totalitarian state. The government invaded all aspects of the economy and culture. Hitler's extreme nationalism was combined with his genocidal hatred of the Jews. After 1940, Hitler's policies created the Holocaust, in which six million Jews died. Hitler's constitutional revisions were intended to create the necessary war machine that would catapult Germany into control of Europe. His war effort began in 1939.

  1. After World War II: International Setting for the West
    1. Introduction

World War II devastated Europe in the same fashion as World War I. With the creation of a bipolar world divided between the United States and the Soviet Union, Europe seemed to diminish in power. Despite its decline, Europe was able to recover significantly in the decades after the war.

    1. Europe and Its Colonies

It became obvious to European powers after World War II that colonies could only be maintained at great expense. France attempted to hold its colonies in Vietnam and Algeria, but both were lost after prolonged struggles. In most cases, the European nations provided more peaceful transitions to colonial independence. Despite abandoning direct colonial control, Western economic influence in the former colonies of Africa and Asia remained strong. Europe's direct power in the world, as demonstrated in the Suez crisis of 1956, was dramatically reduced.

    1. The Cold War

The cold war linked the United States with Western Europe and other allies against the Soviet Union and the communist allies. The U.S. pushed for higher European military expenditures and German rearmament. The Soviet Union, through its support for European communist movements and perceived aggressive position, also influenced European policy. Despite some alterations, the basic outline of the bipolar alliance system remained in place until the 1990s.
Most Western European nations were content to rely on U.S. military might against the possibility of Soviet invasion. Given the relatively minimal European investment in military armament, the United States increased its budgetary commitment to nuclear armament. The dominance of the United States as the primary Western European ally brought the U.S. into closer relationships with Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

    1. New Directions in the West

New leaders in Western Europe helped to extend democratic governments, diminished nation-state rivalries, and committed their nations to economic growth.

    1. The Spread of Liberal Democracy

World War II discredited most right-wing political movements. Left-wing political groups were committed to democracy. The new Christian Democratic movement that became popular in some European countries wedded democratic policies to moderate social reform. In defeated Germany, the regions occupied by the Allies coalesced into the Federal Republic of Germany. A new republic emerged in France after the war. In most European countries, elected parliamentary regimes endured following the conclusion of World War II.
Political crises in Western Europe were limited to France following the Algerian War. Greece, Spain, and Portugal also shifted to more democratic governments in the 1970s.

    1. The Welfare State

Following World War II, Western nations moved to establish government programs for economic planning and social engineering. By 1948, the welfare state had been created. In the 1960s, the United States under Lyndon Johnson also created programs for social welfare as part of the Great Society. Medical care, unemployment insurance, public housing, and family assistance were all part of the welfare state. The welfare states continued to recognize and protect private investment and initiative. The new government programs were hybrids that cushioned citizens from catastrophes but did not attempt to overhaul the social structure. Welfare states remained popular, although they were expensive to maintain.
Increased government economic planning resulted in some industrial nationalization and public capitalization of some industries. Of all the Western nations, only the United States refused to establish an economic planning office. American economic growth after World War II tended to rely on military development. After the 1940s, governments played a large role and spawned bureaucrats whose existence depended on the growing state structure required to manage welfare systems.

    1. Political Stability and the Question Marks

By the 1950s, more conservative governments were elected in much of Western Europe. Conservative governments were generally content to limit the growth of welfare programs rather than dismantle them. A decade of student protest movements beginning in the 1960s in both the United States and Europe disrupted political stability. Green political movements in the 1970s tended to replace student unrest. The economic setback of the oil crisis and terrorism produced a new conservatism in the later 1970s. In Britain and in the United States, more conservative political parties gained electoral victories. Despite some slight variations, the basic lines of postwar governments remained unchanged into the 1990s.

    1. The Diplomatic Context

Both the United States and politicians within the Christian Democratic movement wanted to reduce national conflict within Western Europe. American economic aid through the Marshall Plan required international coordination, reduction of tariffs, and the partial rearmament of Germany.
European leaders contemplated linking German economic resuscitation to an international framework to prevent a recurrence of German aggression. In 1958, West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands set up the European Economic Community, or Common Market. Free movement of goods, labor, and investment was encouraged. Continued disputes between member nations hindered the growth of the Common Market. In the 1980s, agreements were finally reached to unify currency and to complete economic unity. Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, Spain, and Portugal were induced to join. In the mid-1990s Finalnd, Sweden, and Austria joine as well. Economic unification reduced tensions in Western Europe.

    1. Economic Expansion

The Common Market and the welfare state contributed to economic recovery in postwar Europe. By the 1950s, agricultural production was sufficient to supply the Western European population with some surplus. Gross national product figures surpassed all previous levels, a remarkable recovery from the prewar economic malaise. Improved technology allowed economic expansion to take place using fewer workers.
As in the United States, most new employment was in the service sector of the economy. Unemployment levels dropped to such an extent that some European countries began to import labor from southern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Standards of living for most Europeans improved dramatically. Consumer goods rapidly made their way into households of an "affluent society." Advertising and investment in leisure time through vacations were typical of the new economy. There were some disturbing developments. Immigrant workers did not share in the general affluence. Oil crises in the 1970s slowed the rate of economic expansion and produced significant unemployment. Conservation and development of nuclear energy resources permitted Western Europe to survive the temporary setback. Another recession during the 1990s caused governments to cut back on welfare entitlements.

  1. Society and Culture
    1. Introduction

The West developed the first example of an advanced industrial society.

    1. Postindustrial Social Structure

Social mobility and more general affluence blurred lines between classes in the West. Immigrants supplied much of the unskilled labor. There remained discrepancies in class wealth. Increased crime rates and racial disturbances reflected continued social tensions. An advanced industrial society began to develop a new social structure. Most people in the labor force were in service sectors, not industrial production.

    1. The Women's Revolution

One of the most significant postwar social changes was the change in women's status and the nature of the family. The clearest change in family patterns was the increased entry of women into the work force. From the 1950s, the numbers of married women working constantly increased. The numbers of unmarried women in the work force dropped as younger women tended to stay in school. Women's pay lagged behind that for males and many jobs reserved for women were at the lower end of the pay and status scales.
Women also achieved the right to vote in postwar Europe. Women also found greater access to European university systems. Family rights improved as women were able to divorce more easily and had access to varieties of birth control and abortion. As a result of the different position of women within families, birth rates fell. Collective child care often replaced maternal care in the household. Pressures on the new concept of family resulted in higher rates of divorce. Changed status for women also produced a new wave of feminism. Women demanded economic and social equality. The movement reflected attempts to redefine women in the new industrial society as earlier attempts had redefined male roles during the first stage of industrialization.

    1. Western Culture: Creativity and Uncertainty

The culture of the West in the new industrial age reflected innovation and departure from older cultural traditions. Science became increasingly arcane and the ability to synthesize waned as both the sciences and the arts became increasingly specialized. Continued advances in scientific research expanded through the university system, and general belief in the positive aspects of scientific advance continued. Scientific research resulted in the development of the atomic bomb, lasers, space satellites, and refinements in the theory of relativity. Scientific advances generated new technology and industries.
In contrast, the new theories assaulted the idea that the natural world could be neatly regulated, or even understood apart from random change. In the social sciences, quantitative methodology became critical to economics. Like the sciences, social sciences became more specialized and more geared to production of practical applications.
In contrast, many twentieth-century artists turned away from representational art toward abstraction and disharmony. These approaches reflected the trend toward relativity within the sciences. Initially rejected, abstraction in art eventually gained greater public acceptance. The use of new technology also allowed architecture to abandon traditional structural techniques and designs. Urban space was transformed by new architectural visions.
Of traditional cultural practices, the one that declined most in terms of popular practice was religion. Only in the United States did high levels of religious participation remain common. Secularism was a more common aspect of Western culture.

  1. Conclusion: Will the Real West Please Stand Up?

Modern Western society reflected tensions between new industrial values and cultural traditions from the past. While Western attitudes continued to foster individualism, the workplace was typified by routine and repetitive tasks strictly controlled by supervisory apparatus. Leisure also implied participation in mass activities. By the 1950s, the leading leisure activity was watching television. Collective protest against bureaucratization such as union protests and strikes declined. Western society seemed fragmented by youth protest, gaps in wealth and poverty, and rising rates of suicide and mental illness. Through it all, the West remained committed to the political form of representative democracy. The shift to the new industrialization based on a service economy involved a transformation as basic as the initial industrialization of the later eighteenth century. The advent of the computer heralded the post industrial idea of transmission of information as the key to growth. The changing position of women seemed to announce the formation of the postindustrial family with two wage-earners. Environmental and feminist politics produced new types of political agitation. Despite the suggestion that a new society has emerged, there remain strong elements of earlier social and cultural forms.


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