Forces for Change in Nineteenth Century Europe The nineteenth century transformed the lives of the European population from the Feudal world to a new industrial, dynamic world. It was not, however, the nineteenth century alone which produced such a great change. It was the evolutionary developments prior to the nineteenth century that paved the way for an era of rapid and fundamental change. This tidal wave of change reached its crescendo in the nineteenth century and was characterized by population growth, capitalism, socialism, liberalism and nationalism.
So powerful were these forces for change that the conservatives were forced to give way to the social, political, and economic changes that would follow. Prior to the eighteen hundreds changes were evolving that were to culminate and cause the tremendous change of the nineteenth century. The Renaissance encouraged ideas of humanism and individualism. The Reformation gave many people a secular perspective on life.
The Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions created new technology and a new social order. From this it can be said that these early changes were the preamble to the dynamic changes of the nineteenth century which needed only a dramatic increase in population to start the new social revolution. Perhaps the most significant force for change in the nineteenth century was population growth. The fact that the European population increased nearly fourfold meant that "No social of political order could have remained unaffected by so immense an increases in humanity." (Thompson, 1957: 112). This momentous growth provided a ready supply of labour for the Industrial Revolution which was takin place.
Consequently a new working class emerged which pressured the government to make reforms in areas of working conditions, education and health. Clearly it can be seen that the dramatic population increase was the most significant force for change in the nineteenth century and as a result, various other forces for change followed. These new emerging forces for change however, were not without considerable opposition. The majority of the nobility could not accept the dynamic changes of the nineteenth century and consequently a conservative backlash occurred.
Monarchs, aristocrats, members of the church and reactionary members of society attempted to deflate the new social revolution. Ultimately, however, they were defeated, sometimes violently, by the general population who encouraged these new changes. As a result the nobility were forced to succumb to the new social, political and economic changes that followed. Capitalism was a significant force for change to the European economy in the nineteenth century. The capitalist movement was a change to the social system where a monetary economy replaced the old, exchange economy of the Feudal world. This enabled people of any social status to be able to change their lifestyle and become wealthy businessman who were motivated by profit in a Laissez Faire economy.
In conclusion, capitalism created a booming European economy however it also created an increasing gap between the middle class and the working class and as a result, a socialist movement was established. Socialism was a significant force for change and was largely a reform to the capitalist system. Socialism was an attempt, driven largely by the middle class, to correct the failures of the Laissez Faire economy. Thompson states that while the whole process of industrialization and capitalism was going on, "each government was confronted, in quick succession, with a host of novel social problems." (Thompson, 1957: 116). The middle class were driven by fear of the increasing dichotomy between the middle and lower class and were compelled to demand a series of reforms in the welfare of the working class. For example the middle class demanded that the government accept responsibility for the welfare of the lower class.
On balance it can be said that the socialism movement was a significant and intelligent alternative from the Laissez Faire economy as it ensured greater equality among people and less hostility between the social classes. The overthrow of autocratic regimes and the formation of new political groups was another force for change known as Liberalism. Essentially the characteristics of Liberalism were freedom, equality, progress and the belief in one's intellect. The middle class demanded political representation and once this was achieved, various improvements in health, education and the establishment of trade unions occurred.
Liberalism decreased the power of the church, monarchs and the aristocracy thereby creating a more democratic society. In conclusion, Liberalism was a tremendous force for change as it brought freedom and more equality to the greater population of Europe. Another very significant force for change in the nineteenth century was nationalism. Nationalism was a fervent belief in one's country and put an end to the old feudal system where the loyalty of the people was given to their local lords. Nationalism caused borders to be formed which encompassed people of the same race, religion or language and excluded people who were different in these respects.
Friction between nations occurred and therefore a military system for each nation was established in order to protect the wealth of the country. On balance it can be said that nationalism was the cause for several European wars and was a tremendous force for change to political Europe. The era of rapid and fundamental change in the nineteenth century was a product of a number of factors. The early, evolving changes prior to the nineteenth century cemented the path for tremendous change to occur while the enormous increase in population forced new and dynamic changes on the European world.
As a result of this new social impact, various forces for change like capitalism, socialism, liberalism and nationalism emerged that were to consequently transform the social, political and economic factors in Europe. Therefore from the significant and dynamic changes of Europe in the nineteenth century, it can be argued that this era pioneered the lifestyle of the Western World today.