Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War, Part 2: Forces for Change

What the Poets Foresaw
The river of time in its onrush
Bears along the affairs of men,
And drowns in the abyss of oblivion
All peoples and realms and kings…
Gavril Derzhavin, 1816

The Masque of Anarchy
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819

1824: Romantic poet Lord Byron dies in Greece attempting to aid insurgents fighting against the Ottoman Empire.

The First Railroad Opens for Business

1825 Urban Industrial Europe Emerges
The opening of the world's first railroad, Britain's Stockton and Darlington, helped launch industrial based economic growth unprecedented in human history; more industry, machines, and personal wealth followed. Workers needed for the new factories accelerated an epochal migration to cities from farms in ever increasing numbers. Seething, dynamic mega-cities proved much harder to control politically than the smaller, more dispersed populations of feudal days.

1800–1900: Dramatic European Population Growth, Especially Cities
Europe (not Russia)        150,000,000 to 291,000,000
Russia (Europe + Asia)   37,000,000  to 111,000,000
Paris, France                   548,000  to 2,714,000
London, England             865,000  to 6,581,000
Berlin, Germany              201,000 [1819]  to 1,889,000
Vienna, Austria                232,000  to 1,675,000

Vienna, Late 19th Century

The Fervor of Revolution Re-emerges

1825: Decembrist Revolt in Russia, initiated by idealistic officers is crushed, resulting in increased revolutionary activity by educated elites and increased secret policing of the population.

By 1830 a range of dissenters throughout Europe—from the elite intellectuals to street ruffians—inspired by fond memories of the French Revolution, were ready to return to the barricades. Fittingly a next revolutionary movement broke out in France, triggered by several severe freedom-limiting ordinances of King Charles X. Strikes and protests were followed by armed confrontations, which the army was unable to contain.  Charles abdicated. Several liberalizing reforms followed and, notably, the Tricolor replaced the white flag of the Bourbons. The turmoil and modest successes of the events in France inspired elites throughout Europe to call for their own peoples to rebel. Two future Great War combatants gained their independence. Greece, which had been fighting for a decade, was recognized by the European powers as an independent state, and Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands, winning the guarantee of that independence, which would be honored in 1914. Poles who challenged the tsar, however, were crushed, and the fireworks fizzled in Italy and Prussia. The advocates of change, overall, however, were disappointed, but they would bide their time for another opportunity for revolution. It came a generation later.

Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix, 1830

Every time France sneezes Europe has a cold.
Count Metternich, 1848

Another series of revolutions challenging the Old Order broke out in Europe in 1848. This proved much more alarming to the established leadership, especially the old monarchies. Begun in Sicily, it spread to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire. In France, King Louis Philippe was overthrown and replaced by the Third Republic. Elsewhere the rebellions all ended in failure, put down forcibly in some cases, in others ended by moderates who won some modest reforms, such as the short-lived Frankfurt Parliament. The liberalizers and revolutionaries were once again discouraged at failing to overturn the Old Order. Marx and Engels were inspired to write The Communist Manifesto.

We have been beaten and humiliated . . . scattered, imprisoned, disarmed and gagged. The fate of European democracy has slipped from our hands.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1849

Engels and Marx

One fact is common to all past ages, namely, the exploitation of one part of society by another.
Communist Manifesto


  1. I'm enjoying this series. Please keep going!

    (The Revolutions podcast had a good season on 1848.)

  2. As above , this is very interesting and would like to see it continued. Thank you.

  3. "Fittingly a next revolutionary movement broke out in France, triggered by several severe freedom-limiting ordinances of King Charles X. Strikes and protests were followed by armed confrontations, which the army was unable to contain. Charles abdicated."
    Has anyone seen the news lately?