Europe 1870 to 1914
Fig 1. The entry of Prussian troops into Paris at the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 illustrated the power of the newly unified German state under the rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty and the direction of Bismarck. Domination of Europe by France as the greatest continental power was rudely supplanted by the growing industrial might of imperial Germany, whose armies made efficient use of the German railways and artillery built by Krupps. In France defeat toppled Napoleon III's Second Empire and, after the Paris Commune, ushered in the Third Republic.
Fig 2. The Paris Commune followed privations endured in the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. When a new government at Bordeaux called in Paris rents, the lower middle classes and workers revolted and, although greatly outmanned and outgunned, and they held the city from March to May 1871. They introduced a semi-socialist regime until savagely suppressed by government troops.
Fig 3. The great powers all attended the Congress of Berlin in 1878. A major source of conflict was the fate of the decaying Ottoman Empire and its Balkan dependencies, in which the interests of Austria-Hungary (represented by Karolyi, far left), and Russia (Shuvalov, right foreground, shaking hands with Germany's Bismarck), were deeply involved. The Congress recognized the independence of several Balkan states but denied them some of the territory they had just won from Turkey with Russia's help. Austria was allowed to occupy Bosnia-Hercegovina while France and Britain also made gains. The Congress however left all parties unsatisfied.
Fig 4. The unified German Empire became the greatest industrial power in Europe in the years before World War I, surpassing Great Britain in many branches of manufacture by 1900. From 1880 Germany's trade soared and both imports and exports increased more than threefold by 1913.
Fig 5. Elegant women, dashing officers – the outward glitter of "Gay Vienna" in the late 19th- century – masked a rich intellectual and artistic life that stemmed not only from the polyglot Austria-Hungarian Empire but also from much of Eastern Europe. The culture it produced influenced the whole of Europe.
Fig 6. A growing armaments industry towards the end of the 1800s produced weapons such as this German howitzer, which fired a 45 kg (100 lb) shell. Consolidation of nation states and the emergence of an intense patriotism were translated by conscription and industrialization into mass armies with which the nations of Europe faced each other in 1914.
The period after the unification of Italy and Germany witnessed the consolidation and growth of the major nation states. Rising population, growing industrialization and stronger governments created a period of immense dynamism, but also intense national rivalry. The rise of democratic institutions in many parts of Europe and the development of trade unions encouraged more social legislation, such as welfare programs. By the outbreak of World War I, socialist parties had appeared in many countries.
The rise of German power and influence
In terms of population, trade, industry, and armed forces Imperial Germany was clearly the most powerful European state (Fig 4). Its easy conquest of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 testified to its military strength (Fig 1). Following the war the German Chancellor, Count Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898), sought to create a stable diplomatic environment in which a "satiated" Germany would be able to consolidate its gains and build up its international power and prestige. Germany's Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary (1879) and the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia (1887) were designed to prevent those two countries clashing in the Balkans. Bismarck's diplomatic system survived recurrent crises over this issue (3) until his resignation in 1890.
The Dual Alliance became the Triple Alliance with the addition of Italy in 1882, and was faced by the Franco-Russian alliance of 1891. Great Britain joined France in the Entente Cordiale in 1904 and an Anglo-Russian treaty was signed in 1907, forming the Triple Entente. Bismarck's bequest became a dangerous system of alliances which was put under severe strain by imperial rivalry, Balkan crises, and the instability of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Domestically many European states made considerable advances. In Britain extension of the franchise in 1867 and 1884 gave votes to many working men. France also operated a parliamentary democracy. Although still largely an autocratic state, Imperial Germany had the façade of constitutional government and political groups were developing rapidly, including a powerful socialist party. In northern Europe, the Scandinavian countries evolved along a largely peaceful path, often pursuing progressive social legislation. In southern Europe parliamentary democracy existed only to a limited extent. Italy was threatened by its own poverty and frequent periods of disorder and political instability. In the Iberian Peninsula a small middle class and the powerful hold of the Roman Catholic Church meant that politics remained oligarchic and backward. In eastern Europe, Austria-Hungary (Fig 5) remained an essentially monarchial state, troubled by severe national rivalries.
|Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928), five times prime minister of Italy between 1892 and 1922, managed to achieve periods of near stability and considerable industrial progress at a time when Italy was socially and economically backward. Parliamentary democracy was often difficult to introduce in recently unified states and in Italy political strikes and hunger riots were common before 1914.|
The conflict between Church and state
The growing power of the nation states and an increasing degree of state intervention in the areas of public education and welfare brought conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church was attacked in many countries for political conservatism and opposition to liberal and national aspirations. In France the conflict was mainly about education, where the Church had great influence. Republican aims were advanced by the French statesman Jules Ferry (1833–1893), who secularized education through legislation in 1882 and 1886.
In spite of a period of relative amity between Church and state in the period that followed, known as the Ralliement, the Dreyfus affair once again revealed the old tensions and led to bitter anticlerical feeling. As a result, the concordat between the Papacy and the state was ended in 1905.
|Caricatured as a traitor to France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was the center of a bitter controversy after 1896, when it emerged that an army court had unjustly convicted him of spying for Germany. Dreyfus was a Jew and both anti-Semitic and ultra-conservative groups tried to block a fair retrial. Anti-clerical and radical groups supported him with ultimate success and the issue showed the deep divisions underlying the apparent stability of France.|
In Germany, too, between 1870 and 1880, Bismarck waged the Kulturkampf in which the Jesuits were expelled, religious orders dissolved, civil marriage made compulsory, and other anti-Catholic legislation introduced. In Italy, Belgium and other Catholic countries similar clashes occurred, although on a lesser scale.
|Count Bismarck was a master of diplomatic chess, countering the interdicts of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) with anti-monastic legislation, as shown on this cartoon of the day. He presided over the unification of Germany, conducting both foreign and domestic policy with ruthless cunning until his resignation as Chancellor in 1890 after disagreement with the new kaiser, Wilhelm II. Groups such as the Catholics and socialists were subordinated to the interests of the state.|
Tariff reform became a pressing political issue in an era of growing rivalry in international trade and an influx of cheap foodstuffs from outside Europe. France protected its manufacturers by the Meline Tariff of 1892 and Germany built up its industry behind protective barriers. Even laissez-faire Britain witnessed a tariff reform campaign in 1902–1905 by Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914) which, however, failed to secure majority support among the electorate for protection of British and colonial goods.
Appeals to patriotism and nationalism
Several states sought to appease growing working-class demands by social legislation. In Britain, Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) and later David Lloyd George (1863–1945) introduced social welfare. The latter copied the comprehensive social insurance schemes of Bismarck. In France, although anti-clericalism and other issues of the past could still create great passion, politics essentially constituted the safeguarding of vested interests and social legislation lagged. Governments everywhere tended to rally public opinion by stimulating patriotic feeling. Growing literacy, prosperity and communications also fostered intense nationalism. Conscript armies, equipped with the weapons of modern industrial economies, created war machines (Fig 6) capable of unprecedented warfare.