Political Parties and Struggles During the European Revolutions (page 2)
Political Parties and Struggles
Politically, the nineteenth century can be defined as the age of “-isms.” These were political movements, ways of thinking that crossed national borders. They were not formal political parties but political philosophies that could be found in several European nation-states.
Most influential Europeans espoused one of two political philosophies; today we would call these the “mainstream” political trends of the era. These were conservatism and liberalism—words that, in nineteenth-century Europe, meant something quite different from their contemporary American definitions.
Conservatives can be defined by their distrust of the people. They did not accept Enlightenment ideas about equality; rather, they believed that a strong executive—preferably a hereditary monarch—should run the government, with some participation by the wealthiest citizens, especially the hereditary nobles. The conservatives opposed freedom of the press, believing that the monarch was the best judge of what should and should not be published. Merchants, aristocrats, and clergy, especially high-ranking clergy, were usually conservative.
The conservatives did not want to return to the days of autocracy or despotism along the lines of Louis XIV. Instead, their ideal was an absolute but benevolent monarch, one who used his or her powers for the good of the people and who worked with other monarchs to maintain a balance of power among nations.
The most important difference between nineteenth-century liberals and conservatives was that liberals looked ahead toward an age of representative government, while conservatives looked backward to an age of absolute monarchy.
Liberals disapproved of absolute monarchy because history had shown them that too many monarchs were arbitrary, tyrannical, weak, or incompetent. They were, however, willing to accept a hereditary constitutional monarchy. An ideal liberal government would have a written constitution, perhaps a constitutional monarch, an elected legislative assembly, and separation among the government’s branches. This last was important because it would prevent the executive from becoming a tyrant; the legislative and/or judicial branches would step in to protect the people.
The liberals supported individual rights such as the right to private property, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. They even supported the right to vote, although they believed it should be limited to men who owned property; property owners were generally better-educated and thus, according to the liberal view, deserving of more rights and privileges.
Neither conservatives nor liberals imagined a place in the political system for the lower classes. Although the workers, farmers, and common people comprised the majority of the population of Europe, they lacked what both conservatives and liberals believed to be the main qualifications for participation in government: high social position, wealth, property, and education. Conservatives believed that a benevolent monarch could be trusted to take proper care of the nation’s workers because it was his or her duty as the servant of the state; liberals urged the legislative assemblies of Europe to specific action on workers’ rights, such as regulation of factories.
Nationalism is similar to patriotism. It refers to the pride a person takes in his or her nation and culture.
During the nineteenth century, the people of Europe began to identify them- selves more with their native countries than had ever been the case in the past. Formerly, people had thought of themselves as belonging to a particular family, town, village, or perhaps even a province. Some monarchs, such as Elizabeth I of England, had attracted a high degree of personal popularity. However, since borders constantly shifted in Europe, relatively few people thought of them- selves as being citizens of a nation.
With the Enlightenment and the coming of the nineteenth century, a gradual shift in thinking became apparent. Europeans began to think of themselves as Frenchmen, Spaniards, or Britons. Even in places like Italy that were still not unified nations, the people took pride in their common language, their shared history, and their unique national culture. The revolutions of the nineteenth century encouraged nationalism by defining national borders and making them permanent. By 1900, nationalism was deeply rooted all over Europe—at least among the educated classes.
Nationalism was a unifying force in culturally homogeneous nations like France, where the vast majority of the population spoke the same language and worshiped in the same church. However, in a diverse empire like Austria- Hungary, which included a variety of ethnic groups and religions, it could be explosive. Nationalism could make citizens react adversely to a monarch or leader who was born outside the country’s borders. In the twentieth century, it would be one of the forces that led to both world wars. Nationalism is also the main reason for the conflict that continues to exist in the United Kingdom between Ireland and England.
Socialism is a form of government in which the good of the whole is more important than the rights of the individual. In a socialist state, the government is in charge of major institutions such as education and health care. In a socialist economy, the state owns and controls the businesses and can establish prices. In a capitalist economy, all businesses and industries are privately owned, and the laws of supply and demand set the prices. Socialism was to thrust deep roots into European soil; by the end of the twentieth century, most European nations would have mixed economies, with major elements of socialism as well as capitalism.
One interesting but short-lived form of socialism developed early in the nineteenth century. Utopian Socialism was based on the Greek word utopia, meaning “nowhere”: a utopia was an ideal society in which there was no conflict, which of course exists nowhere. However, in the nineteenth century, hopeful philosophers believed in the possibility of a real utopia. They envisioned self-sufficient communities in which everything was jointly owned. Followers of Robert Owen in England and Charles Fourier in France founded a number of small utopian communities, but none lasted very long. It seemed that for human beings, private property was desirable and a certain degree of conflict was inevitable.
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