The Rise of New Ideologies in the Nineteenth Century for AP European History
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The French Revolution had challenged Europeans' beliefs in and assumptions about society; the Second Industrial Revolution seemed to be transforming society at a dizzying pace. In order to cope with these changes, and to answer the questions posed by them, nineteenthcentury European intellectuals created, or elaborated on, a variety of ideologies, each claiming to hold the key to creating the best society possible.
In the nineteenth century, conservatism was the ideology that asserted that tradition is the only trustworthy guide to social and political action. Conservatives argued that traditions were time-tested, organic solutions to social and political problems. Accordingly, nineteenthcentury conservatives supported monarchy, the hierarchical class system dominated by the aristocracy, and the Church. They opposed innovation and reform, arguing that the French Revolution had demonstrated that they led directly to revolution and chaos. Supporters of the conservative position originally came from the traditional elites of Europe, the landed aristocracy.
The British writer and statesman Edmund Burke is often considered "the father of conservatism," as his Reflections the Revolutions in France (1790) seemed to predict the bloodshed and chaos that characterized the radical phase of the revolution. The French writer Joseph de Maistre's Essay on the General Principle of Political Constitutions (1814) is a prime nineteenth-century example of conservatism's opposition to constitutionalism and reform.
Nineteenth-century liberalism was the ideology that asserted that the task of government was to promote individual liberty. Liberals viewed many traditions as impediments to that freedom and, therefore, campaigned for reform. Pointing to the accomplishments of the Scientific Revolution, nineteenth-century liberals asserted that there were God-given, natural rights and laws that men could discern through the use of reason. Accordingly, they supported innovation and reform (in contrast to conservatives), arguing that many traditions were simply superstitions. They promoted constitutional monarchy over absolutism, and they campaigned for an end to the traditional privileges of the aristocracy and the Church in favor of a meritocracy and middle-class participation in government. Supporters of liberalism originally came from the middle class.
Two British philosophers, John Locke and Adam Smith, are usually thought of as the forefathers of liberalism. In The Second Treatise of Government (1690), Locke made the argument for the existence of God-given natural rights and asserted that the proper goal of government was to protect and promote individual liberty. In Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith made the case for the existence of economic laws which guided human behavior like an "invisible hand." Smith also promoted the notion of laissez-faire, which stated that governments should not try to interfere with the natural workings of an economy, a notion that became one of the basic tenets of liberalism in the nineteenth century.
Late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century thinkers extended and hardened Smith's ideas. In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Thomas Malthus asserted that free and constant competition would always be the norm in human societies because the human species would always reproduce at a greater rate than the food supply. By midcentury, liberal economic thinkers alleged that there was an iron law of wages, which argued that competition between workers for jobs would always, in the long run, force wages to sink to subsistence levels. The "law" is sometimes attributed to the English economist David Ricardo, but was promoted most prominently by the German sociologist Ferdinand LaSalle.
As the nineteenth century progressed, liberalism evolved. The followers of the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham espoused utilitarianism, which argued that all human laws and institutions ought to be judged by their usefulness in promoting "the greatest good for the greatest number" of people. Accordingly, they supported reforms to sweep away traditional institutions that failed the test and to create new institutions that would pass it. Utilitarians tended to be more supportive of government intervention than other liberals. For example, they drafted and supported new legislation to limit the hours that women and children could work in factories and to regulate the sanitary conditions of factories and mines.
Early-nineteenth-century liberals had been leery of democracy, arguing that the masses had to be educated before they could usefully contribute to the political life of the country. But by midcentury, liberals began advocating democracy, reasoning that the best way to identify the greatest good for the greatest number was to maximize the number of people voting.\ The best example of midcentury utilitarian thought is John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859), which argued for freedom of thought and democracy but also warned against the tyranny of the majority. Together, Mill and his companion Harriet Taylor led the liberal campaign for women's rights, Taylor publishing The Enfranchisement of Women (anonymously in 1851) and Mill publishing The Subjection of Women (1869).
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