Modernization and Its Discontents: Europe 1789 to the Present
Top Five Historical Events, Ideas or Characters
History is an important factor for people to determine who they are and where they come from. Moreover, history brings lessons from the past in order for us to avoid mistakes that had been made. "History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are", David McCullough, an American author, once said. Europe in the period of 1789 - 2007 is such a history. This is the period of dramatic changes, extraordinary characters, and highly influential events. In this paper, I am going to discuss about five historical elements that in my opinion are critical to "who we are and why we are the way we are": Napoleon Bonaparte, the Congress of Vienna, World War One, the Treaty of Versailles, and the New Women's movement along with Feminism.
The first character that I want to discuss in this paper is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was not only a successful leader but also the founder of whole new era for Europe. I think he was more than that to France in particular and to Europe as a whole. He changed France and Europe dramatically in the military, political, and social fields. He pushed Europe forward in science, economic reforms, and legal system reforms. These contributions have made him the greatest and most important figure in Europe during the beginning of 19th century. The Napoleonic Era brought about the waves of changes throughout Europe. First and foremost was the famous Napoleonic Code, one of his greatest achievements. The Napoleonic Code has done many things for the people of France, such as declaring all men equal before the law. Within that law, the people have the right to choose their own religion and occupation. The Code also was a door way for both scientific and legal development. The Napoleonic Code focused on improving trade and the development of commerce by regularizing contractual relations and protecting property rights and equality before law. The impact of the Napoleonic Code does not stop there. It generated a family policy in which the father figure was strengthened, an idea that was praised by the male population of France. In addition to the Napoleonic Code, he also reformed his government in every area. His aggressiveness led France to the next important movement: science and economic reforms. According to my opinion, this movement is critical because it put France into a position of predominance to the rest of Europe. France became the first in scientific research and application. By supporting important work in the areas of physics and chemistry, Napoleon created and maintained a new structure of higher education based on science. As a result, French developments led by Napoleon triggered the reform movement in Europe and changed Europe as a whole. The reforms, such as agriculture revolution in Europe and industrial revolutions in Britain, have proven the importance of France and especially Napoleon.
In addition to these achievements, Napoleon created his mark in history by changing France both financially and socially. Firstly, he solved the financial problems that France had been facing during the previous reign of the Directory. Napoleon did this through several tools such as stabilization of the currency, fiscal reform, tax reform, and protection of industries, as well as others. However, I think his most important financial reform was the creation of a central banking system which had never been done before in the world. Secondly, Napoleon concerned about his society. He supported the talent by encouraging the arts. He created a police force to protect the society. He tried to manage every aspect of French life. In general, Napoleon has transformed France into the single most powerful country in Europe at that time. Moreover, his ideas and policies are still applied in many countries nowadays.
Aside from all of his financial, legal and social achievements, I also think that Napoleon is important in the field of military power. With the innovations coming from the industrial revolution, France became the master of the Continent. Napoleon's empire extended across Europe with the domination of Italy, Naples, Holland, Spain, and others. This domination was critical to the future development of Europe since the French armies influenced the revolutionary reforms and legal codes outside of France and brought with them civil equality and religious toleration. Overall, Napoleon was the first leader after the Revolution to stabilize the government and economy of France. Moreover, he also extended his ideology across Europe which has set a platform for further developments to come in the future. Ultimately, all of these factors have solidly proven the importance of Napoleon to France, in particular, as well as Europe and the world as a whole.
The second critical event that I want to mention is the Congress of Vienna which was signed in September 1814 with the present of Austria, Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and France. In my opinion, the Congress of Vienna is important and played a critical role in European history because it had solved two major problems in Europe at that time. The first problem is the settling with France and preventing an outbreak similar to that of the France under the ruling of Napoleon. This was the main goal of the Congress. The second one concerned the more sensitive matter of rearrangement of territories among European leaders in such a way as to create a new stability in Europe, namely redrawing the map of Europe. Ultimately, I think the Congress of Vienna was the solution to recover the order in French and other European countries after Napoleon's conquests. The Congress of Vienna, originally held to decide the future of France, was a major stepping stone in the future of Europe and the doorway for more peace settlements to end the Napoleonic era. I think the Congress was an ideological victory for Europe as a whole.
However, I think this does not mean that the Congress of Vienna did not have flaws. According to my reading, the Congress of Vienna was carried out without any consideration toward the thinking and opinion of involved countries and territories, and this was a wrong move. National boundaries were redrawn without any voices from local and national ethnic groups. In another word, all of the territorial rearrangements had been made due to the careful discussions but rather uncontroversial negotiations. The achievement and effort of the Congress of Vienna is undeniable, but there are things that could have been done to acquire long-term stability in Europe, such as hearing what the locals and national ethnic groups had to say and trying to accommodate them in the effort of regain trust and healthy relations between nations. Moreover, the Congress of Vienna should have also monitored the acquisitions of land by the victorious allies so that there will not be any opposition toward the new order of Europe. I think if the Congress had considered these actions, Europe might have experienced a longer, better peace.
The third historical event that I want to mention is a war also called the Great War that put Europe through an era of blood, darkness, and horror. War is an unfortunate product of human society, but this war is especially important because it would dramatically change the world. War also gives us many lessons to learn about many aspects of international relationships, such as dealing with regional and international conflicts, co-operations in different levels, and maintaining peaceful relationships with other nations. One of the most important wars in Europe was World War One (WWI). This war is critical because it not only was the bloodiest war of the century but it also caused the great impact across Europe and the whole world. WWI created political impacts on the involved nations, especially Russia and the remaining powers all over the world. First of all, I think the WWI is important because of the total impact it caused to Europe. It put many countries through a terrible period. This war was tremendously expensive by all means. All of the involving nations suffered from significant losses. The most significant loss was human lives. In Western Europe, 8.5 million were dead; total casualties amounted to 37.5 million. France lost 20% of its men between the ages of 20 - 44, German lost 15%, and Great Britain 10 percent. On the other hand, the war also resulted in huge losses of production capability. Economies of many nations suffered a direct hit of tremendous foreign debts. As a result, the governments had to change their policies to recover the economy that had bad impact to the citizens for a long time after the world ended such as increasing tax, loans, and currency inflation.
The second and most recognizable impact of WWI is the political impact on Russia, the largest European nation. Due to the progress of the Great War, Russia had experienced the most dramatic change in regime: two major revolutions which have changed the political situation in Russia significantly. First were the overthrow of the Last Tsar and the creation of two centers of authority to replace autocracy: the Provisional Government and the Soviet. The Tsar's authority, destroyed in March 1917, came as a result of his leaving for the front to command the Russian army, which he left the government for his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and her peasant adviser, Rasputin. This event after the war created a revolution that led by the poor workers and starving working women, which later on became a violent process of revolution and civil war. Second was the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The Provisional Government and Soviet's power were destroyed by Bolsheviks, primarily because Bolsheviks promised peace and end to a long lasting war. As we can see clearly, WWI was not only the bloodiest war that caused huge losses to Europe, but also it had tremendous impact toward Europe in general and the countries that attended the war in particular.
In the aftermaths of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles was signed with Germany on June 28th 1919. This treaty is the fourth historical event that I want to discuss in this paper. The Treaty of Versailles was highlighted as an effort of preventing such a war from repeating itself and also as a settlement of the involving parties, including dealing with defeated Germany. The positive intention of the Treaty is undeniable. The treaty decreased the possibility of war among the powerful countries such as Austria- Hungary and Germany because the agreement that they compromised weakened their power.
However, I believe the Treaty of Versailles did much harm than good for the unstable situation of Europe. The Treaty of Versailles that followed WWI was one of the main causes of the World War II. The treaty of Versailles, despite its positive intention, was an unfair and harsh treaty. The victorious Allies forced the German government to sign this treaty, and so the government did not have any other choice. Germany was to take the full blame for starting WWI, and it was made to pay compensation in form of huge amounts of money and goods. The Germans had to agree to a clause in the treaty which declared that Germany itself had been guilty of violence and held responsibility for the war and its losses. Germany had to pay $32 billion in reparations for the war, and the treaty imposed on Germany's military strict restrictions. Germany had to hand over a large number of their merchant ships, had to lose all German colonies including Alsace and Lorraine, parts of Prussia, and the Saar, and others important territories. All of these factors contributed to the viable possibility of a more destructive war in the future.
In addition, the new German leader, Adolf Hitler, was unhappy with this harsh treaty set by the victorious Allies. He tried to regain lands that previously had belonged to Germany. At that time, France and Britain were having economic problems, and so they did not really pay attention on what Hitler had done. Or in another word, they tried to ignore in hoping that this would go away eventually. When Hitler invaded Poland, France and Britain started the World War II (WWII) in order to stop Hitler. The creation of WWII showed that the unfairness of the treaty caused WWII. Consequently, the Treaty of Versailles, which was created with the intention of upholding the fragile peace after, WWI had caused the biggest negative impact, being one of the main causes of the second Great War in the history of the world, WWII.
Concerning the matter of WWI and WWII, there was a movement during the time of war that was called the waves of liberation of women; the New Woman movement (1871-1914) along with Feminism is the final historical event in this paper. During this period, Feminism aimed at eliminating inequality between men and women. The rise in level of women's political consciousness occurred in the most advanced Western countries within the middle-class sector of the society. Working class women united feminism and socialism in order to search for a better life. At the heart of feminism was the New Women movement. The New Women movement caused a major change in perspective of society in terms of the role, recognition, and independence of women as Europe entered the new age of scientific. The Women's movement had gone a long way since the beginning of the 19th century. In Napoleonic Era, the role of women was restricted inside the household without any social recognition. Women were considered a property of their husband or the male figure of the family. After the collapse of the French empire, the New Women movement was a milestone in which women stepped out of their assumed roles to demand social, economic, and political progress for women. This movement is one of the most important movements in the late 19th century since it stressed the most arguable issue since ancient times: the equality between men and women. This movement has made a big impact on the changes in European and the world's society, including the role of women; broad employment for women at more equal pay for equal work, and the right to medical decisions. First is the working situation and condition. During WWI and WWII, a greater percentage of women were in the labor force relative to the previous years. Due to the intensity of the war, many men were actually involved in fighting; consequently the male population of the work force was actually lessened. As a result, there was the need to employ more women into the labor force. This trend created a new thinking within women of being able to work and being independent.
As the ultimate result, the New Women phenomenon has exceeded the boundaries of feminist movement and becomes a cultural phenomenon. The new women were women with equal intelligence, strength and sexual desire as men. Along with this historical and controversial ideology was the invention and practice of birth control, a means to free women from the burden of bearing and nurturing children. Now they could freely discuss about birth control that gave them better help and a desirable family size. In addition to birth control was the discussion about sexuality and reproduction. Discussions brought into the public arena the fact that women were sexual beings just like men. By 1900, this topic was openly discussed in order to argue for women's rights. I cannot stress enough the importance of this movement because it was the initiative of the social recognition for women. Overall, Feminism along with the "New Women" movement has been the main reason for women's liberation and changed the world perspective about women in general. This movement makes the society recognize the equality of sexes, that there are not much difference between men and women. Women have been giving power to work, to have better education, to control their own body through birth-control, and to discuss sex more freely. I think from this movement, women in Europe as well as the world have started to step up and become as independent and strong as they are nowadays.
In conclusion, I have presented in this paper five critical historical events and characters that helped shape a period of Europe full of change, achievements, successes, and of course failures. Napoleon Bonaparte stabilized the political and economic system of France and also created a movement that ultimately transformed Europe. The Congress of Vienna had a good intention but lacked wise executions. The WWI, the bloodiest war, showed Europe the counter effect of the desire for power. The Treaty of Versailles was originally meant to set peace in Europe yet in the end became one of the reasons for the Second World War. And finally, the "New Women" movement along with Feminism brought new liberation for women. These events are the confirmation of history and its power to change, to effect and to evolve the human society.
Geary, Patrick; Mark Kishlansky; and O'Brien Patricia. Civilization in The West. Pearson Education, 2008.