1 A World Half Restored

The Nature of the Restored Regimes

Constitutional Monarchies

Despotism in Italy and Spain

The Eastern Autocracies

The Ottoman Empire

2 Political Contestation from the Vienna Settlement to the 1830 Revolutions, 1814–1832

Failed Revolutions

Conservative Consolidation

Erosion of the Conservative Order on the European Periphery

Reform and Revolution in the West

Resistance to Change in South, Central, and East Europe

3 Stability, Stasis or Decay?

Structural Sources of Stability in Inter-State Relations

The Thin Veneer of Ideology

Utopian Socialism

Consolidation and the Constitutional Monarchies: Britain and France in the 1830s

Liberal Advance and Political Instability: Spain in the 1830s

The Volatile Complexity of Emergent Nationalism and Liberalism in Italy, Germany, and the Austrian Empire, 1830–1848

Toward Crisis? The Constitutional Monarchies in the 1840s

4 The Underpinnings of Politics

Population Growth and Agricultural Production

Rural Society: Peasants, Nobles, and Notables

Commerce, Industry, and the Emergent Urban Economy

Urban Society

State Formation and Social Control

Cultural Trends: Religious Revival and Romantic Revolt

5 Europe in Transition


The Initial Wave

The Springtime of the Peoples

The Crucible: Politics up to the June Days

Incomplete Conservative Recovery, July–December 1848

In the Balance: A Second Revolutionary Wave and Conservative Response, January–October 1849

Conservative Consolidation and the Spanish Exception

New Departures on the Left: Scientific Socialism and Anarchism

The Return of Great Power Rivalry

Taking Stock

6 Wars of National Unification and Revolution in the European States System, 1850s–1871

Domestic Politics in the 1850s: Liberalism in the West

Autocratic Politics in the 1850s

The Quixotic Foreign Policy of Louis-Napoleon: Italian Unification

Partial Unification of Germany

The Early Stages of the Women’s Movement

Domestic Politics in the 1860s: Reform in the Autocracies

Domestic Politics in the 1860s: Reform in Britain and France

Domestic Politics in the 1860s: Instability in Italy and Spain

Birth and Death: The Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune

7 Europe from the Paris Commune to the Fall of Bismarck, 1871–1892

Arms, Alliances, and Inter-State Relations in the 1870s

The Coming of Male Democracy

Domestic Politics in the 1870s: Britain and France

Domestic Politics in the 1870s: Spain and Italy

Domestic Politics in the Eastern Autocracies in the 1870s

Inter-State Relations in the 1880s: The “New Imperialism” and the Demise of the Bismarckian Alliance System

West European Domestic Politics in the 1880s: Britain and France

Spain and Italy in the 1880s

The Eastern Empires during the 1880s

8 The Underpinnings of Politics

Rising Population

Economic Expansion

Mid-Century Prosperity

Economic Slowdown

The Return of Rapid Growth

Social Change: Urbanization

Rural Society

Urban Society

State Response to Economic and Social Change: Increasing Intervention

Association “Mania”

Cultural Trends: Positivism and the Cult of Scientific Progress

Religious Response

Growing Doubt

Mass Culture

9 Toward Destruction?

Inter-State Relations, 1890–1900: Shifting Alliances

Inter-State Relations, 1900–1905: Partial Clarification and Continued Flexibility

Democracy, Mass Politics, and the Women’s Movement

Adaptation to Mass Politics in Britain and France

Mixed Signs in Spain and Italy

Uncertainty in the Autocracies: Germany and Austria-Hungary

Revolution in Russia

10 Transition Re-routed

Domestic Politics: The End or Beginning of an Era?

Evolution in Britain and Stalemate in France, 1906–14

Failure in Spain and Italy

Parliamentary Conflict and the Limits to Opposition in Germany

Nationalist Divisions in the Dual Monarchy

Imperial Russia: One Step Back from the Brink of Revolution?

Toward the Abyss: Inter-State Relations, 1905–14

From the First Moroccan Crisis to the Annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1904–9

Temporary Stabilization and the Return of Crisis, 1909–12

The Final Destruction of the European States System, 1911–14

The Causes of World War One






Blackwell History of Europe

General Editor: John Stevenson

The series provides a new interpretative history of Europe from the Roman Empire to the end of the twentieth century. Written by acknowledged experts in their fields, and reflecting the range of recent scholarship, the books combine insights from social and cultural history with coverage of political, diplomatic and economic developments. Eastern Europe assumes its rightful place in the history of the continent, and the boundary of Europe is considered flexibly, including the Islamic, Slav and Orthodox perspectives wherever appropriate. Together, the volumes offer a lively and authoritative history of Europe for a new generation of teachers, students and general readers.


Europe between Dictatorship and Democracy: 1900–1945
Conan Fischer

Europe’s Troubled Peace: 1945–2000
Tom Buchanan

Europe in the Sixteenth Century
Andrew Pettegree

Fractured Europe: 1600–1721
David J. Sturdy

In preparation

Europe: 300–800
Peter Heather

Europe in Ferment: 950–1100
Jonathan Shepard

The Advance of Medieval Europe: 1099–1270
Jonathan Phillips

Europe: 1409–1523
Bruce Gordon

Europe from Absolutism to Revolution: 1715–1815
Michael Broers


image Maps


Vienna Settlement (Europe in 1815)


Italian unification


German unification


Austria-Hungary, 1867–1918


Europe in 1880


The partition of Africa


Nationalities in the Habsburg Empire


The Balkan Wars, 1912–1913


Europe, 1914

image   Figures


The Congress of Vienna. Hardenberg is seated on the far left. Metternich is standing, pointing at Castlereagh, who is seated with his legs crossed. Talleyrand is seated on the right, with his forearm on the table


A secret meeting of Italian carbonari, c. 1815–1830


The Cunning Men, paper, lithograph, print by Robert Seymour (?), published by Thomas McLean, London, 1831


German caricature of the Rhine Crisis of 1840 contrasting the calm of the French withf the hysteria of the Germans. SLUB Dresden/Deutsche Fotothek


Mechanized (mule) spinning in a Lancashire cotton factory, 1834


Coke smelting and the Royal Iron Foundry at Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, 1841


Unemployed French workers and a bourgeois national guard. Bibliothèque National de France


Revolution in Vienna, 1 May 1848: Soldiers fire on the mob during a revolutionary uprising against the Habsburg Austrian Empire. Getty Images


A Paris women’s club in 1848


Frederick William IV contemplates an Imperial Crown: “Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I?”


Removal of a portion of the Latin Quarter, Paris 1860


Alexander II addresses Moscow nobles on the emancipation of the serfs. John Massey Stewart Picture Library


The Oath at Versailles. “The Proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser of the new German Reich, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on 18th January 1871,” painted by Anton Alexander von Werner, 1885. Schloss Friedrichsruhe, Germany / The Bridgeman Art Library.


The dream of the inventor of the Needle Gun


Advances in transport: the automobile, French colour poster, 1902. Getty Images


Preparations for a strike in Hungary. Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest, Hungary/The Bridgeman Art Library


Darwin looking at human ancestry. Private Collection/ The Bridgemean Art Library


Dreyfus the traitor publicly disgraced


Suffragettes arrested after a demonstration before Buckingham Palace, 1914


The boiling point

image Preface

The book that follows is a political narrative. Why focus on political history rather than the other subdisciplines? In governing, rulers and politicians have to take military, diplomatic, economic, social, and cultural developments into account. For this reason, political history constitutes a nexus; all the other subdisciplines are connected by, and related, to it. Knowledge of political history thus provides a starting point for more advanced study of the other subdisciplines and, better yet, underlines the limitations of viewing any of them in isolation. Why should a student care about politics? Even if you do not take much interest in those who govern you, you can be certain that they take interest in you and that their decisions affect you from the cradle to the grave. Study of nineteenth-century Europe helps to explain why states have become so influential, for better and worse, in the lives of all citizens.

Europe’s Uncertain Path is divided into ten chapters and a conclusion. Two thematic chapters are dedicated specifically to discussion of demographic, economic, social, and cultural trends. Their function is to supplement the other chapters through consideration of how major trends affected government. International (including military) and domestic political developments are analysed in eight narrative chapters organized along chronological lines so that the reader can trace how they evolved. By carefully situating decision-making within its long- and short-term contexts, we can better understand the motivation of leading political figures and assess the consequences of what they did. Politics is a product of ideology (a more or less coherent system of ideals or values) and pursuit of material interest through the acquisition of power. Thus to comprehend politics we need to know the leading ideologies of the period. In assessing our own contemporary politicians, few of us would however be content to look solely at the ideals they express in campaign speeches, public addresses, or legislative debates. Rhetoric tells us something; yet there is much to be said for the adage that action speaks louder than words. What did political figures actually do? We cannot cover everything of consequence, but a major objective of this book is to provide the reader with sufficiently broad knowledge of principal developments that he or she will be prepared to undertake more specialized reading in the future.

In discussing politics, I have tried to give due consideration to both inter-state relations and domestic developments. The period 1815–1914 was framed by vast international wars; nevertheless, with several important exceptions, it was primarily one of peace. The foundations for the states system were put in place at the start of our period and came to be known as the Concert of Europe. In formal terms, the Concert consisted of meetings of representatives of the great powers to discuss crises wherein their interests might come into potentially dangerous conflict. More important than formal conventions however were a number of informal practices derived from prior experience during the Revolutionary-Napoleonic Wars. Foremost among the latter were recognition that war among the powers might bring the destruction of participating regimes, and that peaceful diplomacy required genuine consideration of the vital interests of other powers. Despite moments of stress, the Concert system largely succeeded until the Crimean War of 1854–56 commenced an intense period of wars that ended in 1871. Thereafter the powers avoided war among themselves until 1914, although the states system and the character of diplomacy had dramatically changed.

A key to this transformation of the states system was recognition by several leading statesmen that nationalism could be put to the purpose of buttressing the regimes they served. Foreign war was the means by which Count Cavour and Otto von Bismarck (respectively) unified Italy and Germany. Unification enhanced the power of the monarchs of Piedmont-Sardinia and Prussia and enabled Cavour and Bismarck to establish Italian and German states that denied the aspirations of democratic nationalists. Equally important was the way Cavour, Bismarck, and the French Emperor Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte based their diplomacy on real politic. The latter gave short shrift to belief that peace among the powers was necessarily conducive to the stability or interests of a particular state. Worse still, each of these statesmen employed deceit to achieve their objectives, undermining trust. Peace after 1871 rested far more heavily on calculations of military force in the formation of alliances. The leaders of nationalist movements seldom exercised direct influence over governments; yet the temptation remained for states to act aggressively in foreign relations to secure the support of the growing number of nationalists. For a time, overseas imperialism was something of a safety valve for rivalry among the powers in that the rest of the globe provided plenty of opportunity for expansion with limited risk of direct conflict in Europe. By the turn of the century, however, the number of potential “prizes” had diminished, and thereafter rivalry came to be focused closer to home – in North Africa and the Balkans. As tensions rose, resort to great power conferences was renewed; unfortunately the informal understandings that had made the Concert of Europe successful prior to the Crimean War no longer existed.

Few phenomena have as much impact on the lives of citizens as modern wars and hence examination of how and why the Concert system was gradually eroded presents itself as a principal concern for this study. Diplomacy was not however conducted in isolation; domestic and foreign policies often were closely intertwined. Thus tracing the connections between foreign and domestic policy constitutes a second theme for detailed analysis. Victory in war could lend prestige to a regime and thereby fortify it, but defeat could open the door to dramatic change by means of revolution or reform.

Partly due to the way in which I have conceived of this work, hard decisions have had to be made as to which states will be given consideration in terms of domestic politics. One of my objectives is to provide sustained discussion throughout the entire period. Touching upon individual states incidentally, and only in so much as to demonstrate overarching themes, is inadequate for tracing how they progressed from one point to another and can leave the reader wondering about the period between the two points of discussion. Sustained discussion comes at a cost and while I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, there are regrettable omissions. In selecting Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires for sustained analysis, I have included the leading states and sought to give adequate representation to west, central, and east Europe. Other states do come up for discussion, but only in relation to particular topics.

Europe is the subject of this book; yet the period was characterized by the emergence of the nation state. Partly due to overseas imperialism, belief in a European identity, based largely on cultural characteristics such as religion, language, and ethnicity, gained ground. Nevertheless, conception of European boundaries was fluid and frequently ambiguous. Whereas the orient could be defined as “other” with relative ease, where to place the Slavs of central and eastern Europe remained problematic and the Balkans region was viewed as a bridge or crossroad between Europe and the Islamic world. Moreover, Europe as a source of identity was utterly overshadowed by the growth of nationalism and the century was dominated by boundary setting within Europe. Similarly, while cultural organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church or political movements such as socialism and feminism had an international character, it was the institutions of the nation state that increasingly imposed themselves upon the consciousness of the average citizen or subject. Still, the objective here is not to write a fragmented account of separate nations. To avoid the latter outcome, continuous comparison will be made of the ways in which the various regimes developed. Toward this end, I have grouped the states on the basis of rough constitutional similarities.

At least as difficult as the selection of states for consideration is the task of identifying the main themes of domestic politics. The nineteenth century was prolific in the formulation of new ideologies and discussion of the leading “isms” is obviously essential. While these ideologies will be largely familiar to many readers, they may not be entirely so. Liberalism, for example, arose in a certain historical context and thereafter evolved as context changed. Moreover, the character of liberalism varied according to where one looks. Although simplistic working definitions have a purpose, study of history provides opportunity for deeper understanding. People change, as do the “isms” they espouse, and rigid formulations often obscure the complexity of real life.

All the same, generalization is necessary, if only for the sake of brevity. In reflecting on how the nineteenth century constituted a transition from earlier times to the twentieth century, I have identified a number of principal themes that will be traced through the entirety of this book.

The first consists of state formation. What did governments do? Over the course of the period the size, power, and scope of the state expanded significantly, partly due to the wealth generated by industrialization and commercial expansion, and partly because states spent relatively less of their revenues on the military. Initially states expanded in a traditional field of activity – provision of law and order; underlining this development was, however, a shift toward preventing disorder rather than simply reacting to it once it had occurred. Especially after the revolutions of 1848, states became increasingly involved in the provision of education systems, development of transportation and communications infrastructure, and urban renewal. Thereafter regulation of economic (particularly industrial) relations and rudimentary provision of social welfare came to the fore. In sum, the influence the state exercised over the lives of Europeans increased dramatically, although it did not reach the levels attained in the twentieth century.

Why did such vast change occur? In analyzing state expansion, we can trace the development of several related general causes. Running throughout the nineteenth century like an electric current was preoccupation with social order. Often inflated accounts of mob violence and the brutality of the Terror during the French Revolution exacerbated fear of what might happen if control over the masses were lost. Traditional sources of authority such as the society of orders had been weakened during previous centuries, and they were badly damaged, or even destroyed, during the Revolutionary-Napoleonic era. Slowly but surely the state filled this vacuum and the process was sustained by anxieties over what contemporaries viewed as bewilderingly rapid economic, social, and cultural change.

From the 1820s onwards, scholars, writers, and journalists were preoccupied by what became known as the “social question.” Rural poverty, exacerbated by rapid demographic growth, was in fact endemic; yet it was the swelling ranks of urban poor who drew most attention. Frequently composed of recent migrants from the countryside and sometimes identified as alien, “dangerous classes,” the urban poor sparked a mixture of fear and sympathy. Concern that the urban poor had become detached from traditional sources of morality contributed to growing conviction that the state must do more to prevent social conflict. In consequence governments increased their efforts to promote economic expansion, built mass education systems, and reshaped the urban landscape.

Perhaps the most powerful inducement for increased intervention on behalf of the poor was the argument that all of society would benefit by it. The novelist Charles Dickens was just one of many authors who believed that disease and corruption born of physical or moral squalor could not be confined and would inevitably spread throughout society. Following the opinions of contemporary experts, the public saw moral and physical hygiene as closely linked, and state attempts to promote public health through increased regulation grew. Along similar lines, arguments that an educated, healthy workforce would be more disciplined and productive could be deployed in favour of state regulation of economic relations and provision of at least minimal levels of social welfare. Finally, towards the turn of the century, the spread of nationalism and imperialism also fostered arguments that in a world in which only the fittest survive the state must promote a healthy and robust populace.

A second grand theme is the gradual emergence of mass politics through the establishment of political rights and institutions. A starting point in this process was the creation of elective bodies which possessed powers independent of the state executive. A second stage consisted of extension of the franchise so that greater numbers could participate formally in the political system, strengthening the legitimacy of claims to represent the nation. At the start of our period regimes were either autocratic (with no sharing of powers by the monarchy with a representative body) or plutocratic (wherein the members of a representative body were chosen by a small, male, elite). By 1914 most states had representative institutions of one sort or another, although the powers held by these bodies, especially the ability to hold governments accountable, varied considerably. None of the states was fully democratic; women were still excluded and the proportion of enfranchised adult males also varied from state to state. But even when these limitations are taken into account, the process of democratization remains striking.

Mass politics does not consist simply of enfranchisement; rights of expression, assembly, and association are also fundamental. In recent times historians have paid growing attention to the emergence of what is termed “civil society” – in essence, the establishment of nongovernmental organizations and institutions that contribute to the formation of public opinion. Here we find a progression that ran roughly parallel to the process of democratization. Until the revolutions of 1848, and then again in the 1850s, rights of expression were narrowly restricted in most states. In consequence, opposition often took the path of clandestine publication or indirect allusion. Nevertheless, several long-term developments corroded the ability of regimes to repress criticism or control opinion. Expanding literacy spread political consciousness. Technological and marketing innovations reduced the costs of publication and improvements in transportation and communications facilitated dissemination. Economic growth increased the number of individuals or families who possessed sufficient wealth and leisure time to become better informed, and who believed themselves qualified to have some say in matters of government. The impact of such developments was gradual and more pronounced in some states than in others; all the same, the ability of states to control opinion through censorship or restrictions on publishing rights had dramatically declined by the Great War.

Equally consequential was expansion in the number and size of voluntary associations. Although most states initially sought to repress political organization, allegedly cultural associations often served as a cover for political discussion and ambition. Formation of economic and professional organizations also could have significant political consequences. Attempts by the state to control such formations slowly declined, partly due to sheer force of numbers, and partly because elite elements often joined voluntary associations. By the 1870s much of Europe had contracted what came to be termed an “association mania” and the trend accelerated thereafter. Some theorists have posited that voluntary associations are inherently liberal in that they provide a counterpoint, and hence limit, to state authority. Not all such associations were necessarily tolerant of the right of others to organize however, and some lobbied for increase in state power. One way or another, increased freedom of expression and association made politics more complex by adding to the number of voices making at times conflicting demands upon governments.

Early in the century advocates of reform often saw in representative government the means to correct unjust government and rectify social problems. Much of the politics of the century thus consisted of battle to establish parliaments, to strengthen parliaments in relation to state executives, and to extend franchises. To establish a representative system of government was one thing, however; to make such a system effective in the provision of good government was another. It took time and experience to find an effective balance between the claims of the state and of representative bodies, and to develop parties capable of representing the masses in a disciplined fashion. Already by the 1880s anti-parliamentary mass movements had entered the scene. They would remain on the fringes of power until 1914; nevertheless they were an ominous portent that mass politics might not necessarily lead to democracy and representative government.

How did elites respond to the emergence of mass politics? The first point to note is that members of the socioeconomic elite were divided in their attitudes toward political regimes and ideological systems. While some individuals embraced, or accepted a need for, extension of political rights, others sought to resist. Among the latter, repression was initially the primary recourse, but especially after 1848 conservatives increasingly sought to accommodate demand for change by adopting systems that gave an appearance of representative government while denying its substance. Elections could be vitiated if the state managed to control them. Even where elections were free of state control, their import would be limited if representative institutions possessed little independent power. The Napoleonic formula of government allegedly for the people, but not by the people, remained much in evidence in 1914.

If the challenge of how best to adjust to mass politics remained unresolved, much had nevertheless changed. How did change come about? Alteration of political systems was achieved by two principal means – gradually by reform or rapidly by revolution. The paths of reform and revolution were not entirely separate and their relationship was complex. The cause of reform could be strengthened or weakened by the threat of revolution, and the possibility of revolution might be increased or diminished by reform. Whichever the means, the chances of success were greatest when a combination of elite and non-elite elements challenged unpopular regimes. Yet even when the latter scenario existed, the position taken by the military, or the militaries of the great powers, could still prove determinant. Ultimately there was no single formula for change and much depended on specific context. It thus makes sense to start by considering the context in which the long nineteenth century began.

image Acknowledgments

During the writing of this book my colleagues Penny Bryden, Simon Devereaux, Andrea McKenzie, Tom Saunders, and David Zimmerman offered helpful advice at various points, and Dr. Bryden also read the manuscript, seeking to reduce the number of errors and infelicities I had committed. I would also like to thank the three anonymous readers and general editor John Stevenson for their insightful and constructive criticism and suggestions. None of the above individuals are, of course, in any way responsible for any remaining imperfections, which are attributable solely to me. The work was much longer in the making than I had initially proposed and so I am especially grateful for the patience and forbearance shown me by Tessa Harvey, commissioning editor, and Gillian Kane, editorial assistant, and all of the people at Wiley-Blackwell with whom I have worked. Tenured faculty are fortunate creatures and I also very much appreciate the periods of sabbatical leave granted to me by the University of Victoria for the undertaking of this project. Above all, I wish to thank Penny and Lizzie, to whom this work is dedicated.