The Nineteenth Century

Once again, I am not fitting the period in question into its name exactly. The nineteenth century, in the sense of a more of less continuos age of political and social order, lasted from 1815 to 1914, the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the beginning of the First World War. During this time Europe went through the trauma and hope of Industrial Revolution. It was a time when the vast power of industry ripped apart old modes of life and world views but offered the unsullied hope of 'progress'. It was a time when people actually believed the future held unlimited possibilities, when capitalists could talk of markets utterly free of government help or social responsibility with a straight face and utopian socialists believed that all political and social problems could be solved and everyone on earth could live in eternal peace and equality if only they gave up their mindless attachment to property. It was also a time in which Karl Marx could actually believe that history made his visions not only desirable but inevitable, unstoppable by any force. Mainline Christianity, which had remained more or less in tact even through the traumas of Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment essentially died in the nineteenth century. Christians were forced to either grasp an evangelical and fundamentalist sect or go along with the watering down of their faith. Science proved conclusively to all who listened to reason that the earth was not created as the Bible said, and that mankind was not made from clay but descended from apes. Unlike the peasants that had made up the mass of European, indeed world, population up until the Industrial Revolution, the new urban working classes were a raucous, dangerous lot who did not accept their horrid lot in life or accept Christianity's message of resignation. Increasingly these peoples turned to trade unions and socialism, in particular the hard core sect of this new revolutionary religion created by Marx. But though Europe often teetered on the edge of socialist revolution in the nineteenth century (and indeed in 1830 and 1848 went over the edge), no state fell to a workers' rebellion. The reason was another, even more powerful faith. Nationalism can be said to have begun during the French Revolution, and during the Nineteenth Century that faith sunk deep into Europe's soil. Countries that corresponded with nationalist loyalty found a new strength, and way to control their working class masses, in this nationalism. England and France fit into this category. The other powers of Europe were not so lucky. German nationalism was split between loyalty to militaristic Prussia and Imperial Austria, with its many Slavic possessions. The Russian Empire contained many frustrated nationalities, who would eventually lead to that Empire's demise. And Italy, split into petty states dominated by Austria, was due for nationalist Revolution. Italy was first. Led by the flamboyant Garibaldi, nationalist guerrillas united Italy in 1861 under the King of Sardinia. France, under Napoleon III (his actual relationship with his namesake was tenuous at best) helped the Italian cause by defeating the Austrians at Solforino in 1859. Germany was next to unite under Prussian leadership, and again the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire was the loser. In three wars, first with Denmark, then Austria, then France, Prussia's indomitable army forged the German Empire in 1871. Austria, thoroughly Germanic but stuck within the borders of a mostly Slavic Empire, languished and fell behind economically and socially as Germany forged ahead. It was fear of Germany that gradually united France, Britain, and Russia into an alliance, an alliance powerful enough to fight Germany to a stalemate in the war to come. That war, which for the first time showed the devastation industry could create, and more importantly showed the absurdity and weakness of the monarchies and noblities that still dominated European politics, would usher in the twentieth century, a century in which the state came to dominate industry, industry came to dominate the nation, and the nation dominated the individual. To use this page, click on underlined text to access information on various maps of The Nineteenth Century.

Questions, comments, and corrections are welcome! Direct comments and such toTony Belmonte