From the years 1789 to 1930 Europe went through a dramatic democratic change. Beginning in 1789 with the French Revolution and ending in 1930 with Irish independence, the changes that swept across Europe were marked and dramatic. The common theme among all of these revolutions was that revolutionaries led the way for marked change toward democratic representation and nationalism. This essay will argue that the ultimate goal for revolutionaries in Europe and the world at this time was to advance democratic representation, by both armed rebellion and democratic reform within existing government structures. Political upheaval played out during the greatest advances in civilization the world had ever seen, the Industrial Revolution.
In The Essential World History it says that the revolutions in France were the spark for revolutions in other countries (The Essential World History, 2011). A depression and agricultural trouble brought on an economic crisis and hardship for the farmers and working class. Additionally, the ruling authorities were refusing to lower the property threshold to qualify for voting, so the ruling government had alienated most of the population. As a result opposition grew and overthrew the ruling monarchy. The working classes were seeking a fair system of “liberty, equality, fraternity” and turned to armed rebellion to achieve their goals.

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In the section Response to Revolution: Two Perspectives (The Essential World History, 2011) two viewpoints are presented in response to the growing trend of upheaval in Europe. The first was delivered to British Parliament by Thomas Babington Macaulay and essentially said that reform was better than revolution. He was quoted as saying “the danger is terrible, the time is short” and warned of “property divided against itself”. Britain itself remained relatively unscathed during this time of revolutions, however it lost many of its territories and eventually even Ireland proper. The second viewpoint written by Carl Schurz was markedly different. This one showed enthusiasm for the revolutions, and excitement that it would spread to the writer’s home country, Germany. However, the writer acknowledged that peaceful revolution was preferred, writing “the regeneration of the fatherland must, if possible, be accomplished by peaceable means… [but] the great opportunity had arrived for giving German people the liberty which was their birthright… [and] it was now the duty of every German to do and sacrifice everything for this sacred object” (The Essential World History, 2011). These two viewpoints represent the two opposing sides of revolutionaries at the time. The first preferred peaceful means and gentle reform of the existing ruling body. The second, while admitting that violence was not desirable, acknowledged that it may be a necessary part if revolution was to be successful. Both of these viewpoints were revolutionary, as they both acknowledged that a change in the status quo was necessary.

While the French Revolution focused on liberty and equality, the Russian Revolution went a step further and introduced a political system which eliminated what they considered the biggest interference with freedom, class. The Marxist revolutionaries believed that introducing a classless society would make everyone equal. This was akin to the societal structure of hunter-gatherers, where every individual had a role. The Marxist revolutionaries, rather than implementing a democratic system of government, implemented a communist government with rigid control over production. They believed this would erase class, and thus provide a more fair and free society.

One of the other driving forces behind revolutions in Europe and beyond was nationalism. This arose out of an awareness of being part of a community that has common institutions, traditions, language and customs (The Essential World History, 2011). This way of thinking grew out of the French Revolution where nationalists believed that each nation should have its own government. This worried conservatives, who saw a potential upset in the balance of power. A united Germany, for example, could (and ultimately would) turn into a European powerhouse.
Although many of the revolutions sparked by revolt in Paris had failed, within twenty-five years many of the goals sought by the revolutionaries were achieved. Italy and Germany were unified into states and many other European countries transformed into constitutional monarchies (The Essential World History, 2011).

In conclusion, the revolutions in Europe – both the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution – led to a growing Western dominance in the world and a spreading of democratic ideals. The ideologies of liberalism and nationalism which were sparked by the French and Industrial revolutions flamed into unified states and governments that represented democratic ideals. People began to identify with their nation state and wars, foreign and civil, were fought for the creation and unification of states. As Europe’s fledging democracies developed, Russia saw a similar revolution but the implementation of a different kind of political system. Rather than a system based on democracy, the Marxist revolutionaries focused on eliminating class. This juxtaposition would eventually come to define the greatest, and deadliest, wars of the 20th century. Ultimately, the goal of revolutionaries in Europe and beyond at this time was nationalism and democratic representation. People united under the representation of nation states.

  • Duiker, William J, and Jackson J. Spielvogel. The Essential World History. , 2011. Print.