Europe History

By | January 13, 2023

In the great upheaval of the 16th century, medieval civilization collapsed and modern Europe came into being. Christianity as a common rallying point had collapsed; the new identification factor became Europe: the residents of the continent became more and more aware of their identity as Europeans. It can be argued with some justification that Europeans, as a result of the collapse of the old values, finally discovered Europe – approximately 100 years after they had discovered America.

The period between the Reformations and the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 is commonly referred to as the age of religious wars. Therein lies a strong simplification of a complicated reality; but in any case, the map of Europe underwent a drastic change during that period. Medieval Europe, which reflected the dominance of the Catholic Church, and an imperial power that also claimed to be universal, had perished. From the apparent anarchy and bloody chaos of the religious wars, a completely different Europe emerged, the most important building blocks of which were sovereign princely states with clear territorial boundaries.

This radical reorganization of Europe’s political geography was formally confirmed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which was the result of the first real international peace congress in European history. In addition to confirming the new main role of the princely state, the peace treaty established the primacy of the secular state of reason over religion and also hailed the balance of power philosophy as a guiding principle in international relations. As a concrete expression of the new world order, the Peace Congress guaranteed full sovereignty for Switzerland and the northern Netherlands, later the Netherlands according to

The Peace of Westphalia laid the groundwork for the stable great political pattern of the 1700’s, which consisted of five great powers and a large number of small and medium-sized states that served as buffer zones between the great powers. The most important superpower was France, which now took over Spain’s previous role as the dominant mainland power. In addition, there was England, which took over Spain’s old maritime leadership, Austria, which became the successor state of the ailing empire, Prussia, which by purposeful expansion from around 1700 grew out of the Electorate of Brandenburg, and finally Russia, which remained the great unknown. The Eastern Great Power served primarily as a backdrop for European big politics and only exceptionally interfered in it – a role that was otherwise comparable to that played by the now ailing Ottoman Empire.

The new position of the secular princely state in international politics paved the way for absolutism as the dominant state ideology. With Louis XIV’s France as the glorious role model, absolutist forms of government gradually developed in most European states, with the monarchs as autocratic rulers of God’s grace and with highly centralized power apparatuses. The most significant exceptions to this general rule were the estate-ruled Switzerland, the Netherlands, which was ruled by a merchant oligarchy, and England, which, in connection with The Glorious Revolution 1688-89, had a liberal constitution with Parliament in the lead role. The absolutist regimes remained largely unaffected until they were overthrown by the liberal revolutions of 1789-1848.

In parallel with the secularization of political life, a secularization of intellectual life and science took place. The basis was the new thought figures of the Renaissance; but the real breakthrough came around 1700, when the Englishman Isaac Newton formulated his general mechanistic theory of the constitutions of physics. Almost at the same time, his countryman John Locke formed a similar synthesis in the ethical-social field, and a little later, the Frenchman Montesquieu followed this up by demonstrating the relative nature of societal norms. The overall result was the formulation of the modern European view of the outside world and science, which was based on a fruitful interaction between rational theory formation and empirical verification. This new paradigm later led to epoch-making cognitive innovations that endowed European civilization with a unique dynamic,

In this way, the basis for the 1700’s Enlightenment was created, whose main name was the French philosopher Voltaire.. It was an age marked by indomitable faith in progress, with demands for extensive tolerance and animated by a cosmopolitan attitude. It was thus typical of the time that Voltaire could easily make his rich abilities available to the French, Prussian and Russian courts in writing. In this century, a completely unique alliance existed between the intellectuals of Europe and the political powers of the continent. For the Enlightenment philosophers, it was an important task to train the princes to be good, wise, and tolerant rulers. In this way, the enlightened autocracy developed, whose basic idea was the notion of the prince as the wise, loving and enlightened father of the people. Such ideas characterized most absolutist regimes in their last phase up to the French Revolution of 1789.

This event became a turning point in European history in line with the break-up around 1500. The revolution was in almost every area a showdown with the elitist reason and belief in progress of the preceding period. It was basically carried by the notion of the sovereign people and the general will as a guide for political action, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau had already formulated it as early as the middle of the 18th century. The main ideology of the revolution was liberalism, the economic and market consequences of which were the Scottish economist Adam Smith in 1776 had formulated. Accordingly, the revolution was carried forward by the bourgeois middle class, which in the 1700’s. had experienced a sharp growth in both numbers and economic power as a result of a flourishing trade and the beginning of industrialization. This population group now demanded with increasing force a share in the political power. But as it was incompatible with the essence of absolutism, in 1789 the bourgeoisie took fate into their own hands. The result was the French Revolution as well as the great political and geographical upheavals throughout Europe that followed in its wake. According to AbbreviationFinder, the largest countries in Europe are Russia and Germany.

The overall result of this great earthquake was the emergence of bourgeois-liberal Europe and, once again, a fundamental redrawing of the map of Europe; this time along national dividing lines, which often went across the dynastic boundaries of absolutism. Where the building block of 1700’s Europe had been the dynastic princely state, which often housed several nationalities, the basic element after the French Revolution became the bourgeois-liberal nation-state. Thus, the agenda was set for the development that came to make its mark on 1800’s European history in particular: the growth and consolidation of the nation state with all the consequences that flowed from it.