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Europe In Retrospect

by Raymond F. Betts

Europe in Retrospect: The Reordering of Europe: 1789-1871

When Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx's faithful collaborator, said that he and Marx had selected France for the political model of their analysis and England for the economic, he was only stating what his contemporaries and historians since have argued: that the major change in modern Europe came from the political and industrial revolutions that moved society from a relatively fixed, agrarian base to an urban, industrial one in which change was the operating principle.

The fundamental reordering of the social system and the values that supported it did not occur suddenly, nor did it happen dramatically when the Bastille, prison symbol of France's Old Order, was besieged and destroyed on July 14, 1789. Closer to the mark is the metaphysical argument offered by the French romantic author Chateaubriand: the French Revolution was the result of the "slow conspiracy of the ages." There was no conspiracy, of course, just the final eruption of long fomenting problems and social issues that the Old Order could no longer accommodate. And yet that new world, so violently announced in the revolutionary decade of 1789-1799, was not quickly installed. Indeed, the first half of the nineteenth century was an era of turmoil and confusion.

Across the years which separated the Revolution of 1789 from the revolutions of 1848 a new society emerged, still an awkwardly constructed affair, combining the principle of liberty and the institution of representative government with industrial inventions and the factory system.

Freedom and steam--a political ideal and a source of energy--these were the forces that drove the new age on.

NEXT:  1: The Old Order

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