Social change and politics in the early 1800s


A. General social trends in the early 1800s:


1. Accelerated population expansion.

Causes:  as noted in earlier lecture, improvements in diet, sanitation, medical knowledge and care, that decrease death rate, but also shifts in marriage and birth patterns. 


Note: marriage and birth patterns among the "Middle Class" increasingly differed from those of urban and rural working people.


2. Accelerated Urbanization.

"Familiar" problems of urban growth:  overcrowding and concentration of poor, poor quality housing, lack of running water and sanitation, lack of ventilation and light, all of which contribute to the spread of disease and to social tensions


3. Changes in rural society in 1800-1850:

Note:  linkage between changes in patterns of land ownership/use and large national economic trends:


B. New social classes:


 1. The Middle Class

  2. Working Classes or Working Class?


C. New political and cultural movements


1) Liberalism before 1848.  Belief in:


Liberals differed among themselves over who should have the right to vote and to serve in government: 

Liberals generally believed in laissez-faire principles—that the functions of government should be limited to what was necessary to protect rights and preserve order, and that the government should not interfere in the workings of the economy.  (Stress on ideas of

Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo.  


Note:  Laissez-faire principles often helped to justify and rationalize the social inequality that typified the industrial revolution.  (e.g., insistence that poverty was the result of character flaws and weaknesses; in the open market place, those who worked hard and exercised self-control would rise out of poverty.)


But there were debates among liberals over when and how government might legitimately intervene in social and economic matters: 

2) Conservativism before 1848.  Conservativism in the early 1800s came in two basic varieties: 



The best representatives of the first (continental) variety of conserativism are men like Joseph de Maistre in France and Tsar Nicholas I in Russia. 


The best example of the second (British) variety was Edmund Burke, whose ideas were laid out in his influential criticism of the French Revolution.  Burke argued that


3) Socialism before 1848.  Like the liberals, socialists believed that men and society could be improved, and that the application of new rational principles of government and society could create a world in which people enjoyed liberty and equality.


Unlike the liberals, Socialists

Most socialist thinkers pointed to the industrial revolution for proof of their arguments about inequality.  They argued that:


But not all socialist thinkers agreed on how best to solve the problems of inequality:



The most influential socialist critic of capitalism was the German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx.  Marx and his working partner, Fredrich Engels, would emerge as the dominant socialist thinkers of the second half of the 1800s.  On the eve of the 1848 revolutions, Marx's main ideas had already taken shape. According to Marx:



NOTE: Marx had relatively little influence before 1848, and would have far more influence in the decades after 1848.


4) Romanticism before 1848.  Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that had an influence on liberalism, conservativism, and socialism.  It als can be seen as a reaction against some of the ideas of the Enlightenment and against the Industrial Revolution:



NOTE:  The Romantic movement was often contemptuous of middle class culture and morality, yet the work of Romantic poets (like Shelly, Wordsworth, Keats, Blake, Byron, Pushkin, and Goethe), composers (like Beethoven), and painters (like Gericault and Delacroix), shaped the aesthetic of the Middle Classes in the 1800s.


Romanticism's emphasis on emotions also had a great influence on politics, but it belonged to no one political ideology:


5) Nationalism before 1848.  Modern Nationalism was a product of the French Revolution and in the early 1800s was tied closely to Liberalism.  As noted in an earlier lecture,


Liberals in general championed the cause of nationalism and national unity, which they connected with constitutional rule and a nation state that would create unified systems of law (etc) to develop nation-wide markets.


Conservatives initially feared nationalism, which they worried would undermine traditional social hierarchies and authority.   But in the Napoleonic period conservative thinkers began to see the possibility that nationalism could be used to promote authority.  As already noted, nationalism would become central to conservative ideology after the revolutions of 1848.


Some socialists, like Karl Marx, argued against nationalism.  (Marx argued that class unity was more important than nationalism).  But many early socialists, like Proudhon, were staunchly nationalistic.


NOTE:  Nationalism depended upon the spread of a sense of national identity, which in fact was not something that spread quickly throughout all elements of all European societies in the early 1800s.  When it did develop, the spread of a sense of national identity was generally the slow product of several changes often linked to state institutions.  Among the important forces and experiences contributing to the spread of a sense of national identity were:

Most of these institutions did not really have influence over the everyday lives of common people until after the Revolutions of 1848.