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European history in the period from 1789 until now has come through a lot of ups and downs, through a lot of brightest days and darkest hours, through a lot of glorious victory and shameful defeats. Ultimately, these critical events have not only changed the course of history of Europe and the world but also highlighted individuals and events that played an utmost important role in shaping the world today. In this paper, I will discuss about two characters and three main events that I think has done just that, changing our world today in a major way. The two characters are the First Consul and Emperor of France (1799-1815), and "the first among equals", Vladimir Lenin. The three main events are the French Revolution, the formation of Napoleonic Rule and the British Industrial Revolution.
The first character who has to be mentioned during this fast changing period of history in Europe is Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is well known for both his military and domestic accomplishments, but which of the two were more important to the citizens of France? Some might believe that his military accomplishments were far superior to his domestic achievements, and others might think that they were equally important. However, I believe that Napoleon's domestic achievements were more important to France than his military accomplishments. All of his military gains were only temporary, while many of his domestic achievements impacted everyday life for the people of France for years to come. Also, while his military conquests were good for national pride, Napoleon's domestic changes affected law and justice, government efficiency, the economy, and education.
The economy of France had been in decline in the years before Napoleon. France was in a lot of debt and laid very heavy taxation on its people. Napoleon changed all this for the better. He was able to balance the budget with the money he gained from the battles France had won. Also, he dramatically improved the efficiency and honesty of the tax collectors, thereby increasing the amount of taxes brought in by the government. As well, the first semi- official Bank of France was opened under his guidance for the purpose of acting as the government's financial agent. Napoleon's Le Shapelier Law of 1791 worked to strengthen the curbs placed on strikes and labor unions, thereby keeping higher productivity in the country. While it is true that France's economy was boosted by profits from Napoleon's wars, his economic policies put the money to work for the people. In addition, to increase government efficiency, Bonaparte introduced a system of administrators within each department responsible to the central government. Another important aspect of Napoleon policy was education. The education system in France was continually changing during the Revolution, and was subject to change once more when Napoleon took over. Although he neglected primary schooling, Napoleon founded the first University, naming it such because of its universal potential. Also, he advanced the field of science in France by taking along scientists and geographers on his trip to Egypt. They discovered the Rosetta stone, which was the first key to translating the Egyptian Hieroglyphics. This gave France a huge advance in the study of Egyptology, which Napoleon helped to found.
If the French Revolution was not influential enough as it was, Napoleon was there to make sure it was properly carved in stone in the history all across Europe. It was often said that Napoleon's rise to power was the beginning of Europe on a clean slate. When European states such as Spain, Kingdom of Naples, Kingdom of Italy and Grand Duchy of Warsaw came under the subjugation of France's leadership by 1810, the new political ideas such as Nationalism and Liberalism diffused into the developing minds of the people. Such political ideologies would very well have stayed within French boundaries or even remained dormant had Napoleon not brought all others together to celebrate the newfound ideologies. Napoleon's fervent armies impressed many and quickened the change brought on by the revolution. They gave Europe a glimpse of greater efficiency of modernized institutions and law. It was also perhaps more of the irony that these people reveled in more peace and economic improvement under a foreign ruler than they ever experienced under their own.
These ideologies later on inspired many liberalist movements in Germanic States and Italy. It was these very ideologies that attributed to the Unification of Italy and Germany. These new ideas were responded to with much interest and favour by the intellectuals and wealthy middle class. By bringing them under his government, Napoleon placed them right on the threshold to a new era of modernity that they only read about in books. They were very much enchanted at the way the French were made to speak one common language and they all looked up to the same beloved General. It triggered within them also the desire to do the same for their own countries.
The next important event that in my opinion has changed the face of Europe and the world is the formation of the Napoleonic Code. In actuality, the influence of Napoleon stretches beyond 19th century. The impact of Napoleonic Code in Europe during the 19th century encompassed the forms of political, militant, economic, social and ideological changes. For many years after the era of Napoleonic dominance, the traditional balance of power in Europe never really found its way back. The two most prevailing ideologies he permanently set in stone in Europe were nationalism and liberalism. His liberal approach in economic reforms in France and other countries under him initiated a quick industrialization in backward countries. Napoleon was influential in the fact that he was a not a radical liberalist in whom traditional minded-people fear to reckon with immediately, he did not altogether destroy absolutism instead, he created a more efficient form of it.
Countries of Europe dominated by ancient old monarchies in subsequent years even long after the death of Napoleon, learnt to equip their countries with more centralized bureaucracies and secret police forces. Many popular politicians in the later years such as Bismarck and Metternich bore the similar style of government as Napoleon in their respective countries; they all held central control of the country, they eliminated opponents efficiently and they all used propaganda. Napoleon not only brought them into the modernity of political ideology but also set them an example of an efficient and successful government which at the same time practiced absolutism. Napoleon also set a new trend of militarism. His military victories and genius spread across Europe and beyond. Many politicians followed the same footsteps as Napoleon. People like Cavour, Metternich and Bismarck had specific interest in controlling both politics and the military. They learned from Napoleon that control of both sides would secure their influence. Europe was therefore in this aspect revolutionized as well. Napoleon as a ruler of France in itself was a most effective influence that could ever exist in Europe in the 19th Century. Napoleon being a commoner who rose to the title of emperorship sent a lasting ripple in the history of Europe. It was a turning point, a road sign clearly indicating for change. Napoleon was himself an icon of meritocracy and an indication of the end of traditional monarchical rule in Europe. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the Congress of Vienna (1815) set to mend the damage Napoleon had done to the traditional balance of power. It was also an attempt to resist the liberalism and unnecessary radical nationalist feelings. Yet the salvage was only temporary. Though old monarchs were reinstated, there were underlying socio-political tensions that manifested themselves in the 1820-30s uprisings followed by the 1848 revolutions.
The second important event of Europe history from 1789 to 2007 is the French revolution. There is no dispute today that the French Revolution was the most important revolution to occur in Europe in recent memory. It is such a critical event because of the tremendous impact on every aspect of Europe after the revolution. One of the greatest examples of the French Revolution's significance was the extent of the unity the French experienced subsequent to the Revolution and Napoleon. For hundreds of years, the French people knew what it was like to live under the rule of an autocratic monarchy, and they thrived under such rule. Prior to the French Revolution, France was dominated by absolutist regimes, most notably by Louis XIV. With the French Revolution and the creation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, France was introduced to a constitutional government, and the ideal of democracy were unleashed upon the nation. Many critics have argued that in all the bloodshed, terror, and gore of the French Revolution, France actually gained nothing democratic out of it; however, this certainly is not true. While the rise of the Mountain and Robespierre, and the unfortunate Reign of Terror could understandably be seen as incredibly undemocratic, one must look past that to the goal Robespierre had intended: to create a society in which "liberty, equality, and fraternity" were emphasized, where the French people could rule as one and not be oppressed by the over-powerful nobility. Granted, what was of noble intent ultimately ended in disastrous terror, but as with all experiments, there are bound to be successes and failures. The same can be said about Napoleon's reign. Although he was clearly a dictator, he was driven by democratic principles and driven by what was best for the "French republic."
From a purely theoretical viewpoint, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era were lessons well-learnt in democracy, because they taught France, as well as the rest of Europe and America, what the limits of popular rule was. Subsequent philosophical ideas, such as limited popular sovereignty or checks and balances, were all highly influenced by the French Revolution and reign of Napoleon. Had it not been for this important chain of events, when would Europe have learned that democracy was a game that could easily go wrong?
The third important event of Europe history is the British industrial revolution. The revolution has changed the course of history and the face of Europe in particular and the world in general. It has such impact because the industrial revolution is a major factor in what our present day society is like. The industrial revolution was the beginning of many new ideas, technology and changes. Although the industrial revolution did have its negative effects on the people living during that time, it was a blessing to world economy, and manufacturing. The Industrial Revolution had many positive effects. England became a far superior technologically advanced nation due to the Industrial Revolution. Also, it provided for much more people to have jobs as a result of increased employment. Both time and money were saved because of the new machinery and technology in place from the Industrial Revolution. This new technology made work much easier for people and allowed it so that many people could do the work of what only one person could previously do. These positive effects of the Industrial Revolution greatly influenced manufacturing for the better. The quality of products improved so that poorer people could now have better quality products at cheaper prices. These products were cheap because they could now be mass produced less expensively and more rapidly then they could pre-industrialization. This is an example of the growth and expansion of manufacturing. However, these positive effects did not come without a cost. The Industrial Revolution did have many negative effects on the people of that time. Often in factories there was child labor, poor working conditions, long hours, and low pay. The children that worked in these factories often had to face many hardships and risks. They aged much too premature and some were malnutrition as a result of working in factories. The Industrial Revolution did in a sense disrupt family life in a way never before seen in the world. It made it so that the young children were out of the house working, and so was the husband. Now all members of a family took on new responsibilities and jobs.
The last but not least important character is Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was the leader of the first socialist revolution in the world. Vladimir Lenin was and still is a very important figure in the Socialist movements across the world. Vladimir Lenin is synonymous with the Russian revolution in 1917. This alone meant that he would have an impact on revolutionary thinking all over the world. However, he was not just the leader of the revolution and a practitioner of Marx he was a leading voice in the development of the first socialist country. His philosophies concerning the need for a separate organization for revolution and active participation are still used today throughout the many International Socialist groups. Lenin was a man driven to succeed in his quest for a successful socialist revolution, he combined fierce leadership with practical application of Marxist theories. The fact that many people still read his works, to apply his ideas to their own situation is testimony that Lenin had an outstanding impact on Modern Western Intellectual History.
Lenin has created a tremendous impact toward Russia in particular and Europe and the world in general through three of his assessments. First, Lenin had a complete dedication to the revolutionary cause. This cause came second to nothing else in his life. His personal life was very much affected by this drive for revolution. He would sacrifice anything and anyone for this cause. This attitude has direct implications on the second assessment. The second assessment is his kind nature to individuals and then truthfulness to the same or different individuals. This behavior depends whether or not the cause is involved. The third and final assessment that is agreed upon by his many biographers is the complete lack of personal vanity or ambition which was coupled with an unwavering conviction that he alone was capable of leading his party and that he had the right answer. These attitudes made Lenin a very strong leader during and after the revolution.
Lenin's major accomplishments are still studied and practiced by many radical groups of today. The single most important idea that Lenin put forth is the need for an organization independent of government involvement to lead the revolution. A government based political group cannot overthrow the government that they are a part of. This group that is attached to the government would have long term goals to slowly transform society into one that might be considered socialist, this in Lenin's mind is the wrong way to bring about change. The right way to bring about socialist change is action from the working class in the form of revolution. The old form of government needs to be dismantled to be able to lay the groundwork for the new communism.
The greatest contribution made by Lenin to the Modern Western Intellectual world was indirect through the revolution. Since Lenin was the leader of the revolution and the revolution had profound effects on many societies across the world, Lenin must have had at least a small influential effect on these societies. For example, in Germany there was an attempted revolution in 1918. The revolution failed because they were unable to form an organization independent from the government and the leaders capitulated to their class interests leaving the mass majority of people without a party for organization. In 1919 there was a general strike in Winnipeg. This was an important event in Canadian history and was influenced by the revolution in 1917. In the 1920's there were mass strikes in England again influenced by the 1917 revolution. The socialist parties from across the world looked to Lenin and the Bolsheviks to form strategies to suit their own struggles.
In conclusion, we can clearly see that each of these characters and events played important roles in Europe history and has contributed to the big picture of an ever changing Europe from 1789. Napoleon has brought to France's and the world's perspective new ideologies during the French Revolution that help shaping our world today, and one of his most spectacular contribution is the formation of the Napoleonic Code. The British Industrial Revolution has introduced to the world what so-called "the new way of industrialization". Moreover, these events and characters not only help us understand more about the present through the past, they also let us know that our existence is thanks to their existence. I want to conclude with a quote from Dexter Perkins: "History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity."