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10-08-2015, 16:04


During the course of the nineteenth century, Western society underwent a number of dramatic changes. Countries that were predominantly agricultural in 1750 had by 1900 been transformed into essentially industrial and urban societies. The amount of material goods available to consumers had increased manyfold, and machines were rapidly replacing labor-intensive methods of production and distribution. The social changes were equally striking. Human beings were becoming more mobile and enjoyed more creature comforts than at any time since the Roman Empire. A mass society, based on the principles of universal education, limited government, and an expanding franchise, was in the process of creation. The Industrial Revolution had thus vastly expanded the horizons and the potential of the human race. It had also broken down many walls of aristocratic privilege and opened the door to a new era based on merit. Yet the costs had been high. The distribution of wealth was as unequal as ever, and working and living conditions for millions of Europeans had deteriorated. The psychological impact of such rapid changes had also produced feelings of anger, frustration, and alienation on the part of many who lived through them. With the old certainties of religion and science now increasingly under challenge, many faced the future with doubt or foreboding. Meanwhile, along the borders of Europe—in Russia, in the Balkans, and in the vast Ottoman Empire—the Industrial Revolution had not yet made an impact or was just getting under way. Old autocracies found themselves under increasing pressure from ethnic minorities and other discontented subjects but continued to resist pressure for reform. As the world prepared to enter a new century, the stage was set for dramatic change.