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The French Revolution began strong in the name of liberalism and was fueled by the philosophies of the Enlightenment. Soon, liberal ideals gave way to nationalistic sentiments as power fell into the hands of Napoleon. The Industrial Revolution crushed liberalism for its own gains. The philosophies of the French Revolution, Enlightenment philosophies held dear in the late eighteenth century, were supplanted by conservative and nationalistic movements supportive of the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century. Imperialism, conservatism, nationalism, romanticism, irrationalism, mechanization and socialism were all bred by an interplay between the forces of the French Revolution and those of the Industrial Revolution. As the ideology and philosophy representative of one revolution lost support, those of the other flourished. It was the interwoven philosophical ideals and political motives of the French and Industrial Revolutions that brought European ideology, society, economy and culture in a full circle leading Europe to the brink of total war.

Napoleon consolidated the gains of the French Revolution and fostered the growth of the Industrial Revolution in the countries he conquered, planting seeds of liberalism across Europe while cultivating the Industrial Revolution. He put into practice many of the liberal ideas key to the French Revolution, the ideas of the philosophes: public education, codified laws, religious freedom, secular education and a merit-based civil service. Updated infrastructure and the need for goods brought on by the Napoleonic wars coupled with the nationalism Napoleon inspired created a sense of national competition and expedited modernization, helping to spread the Industrial Revolution and leading to a perpetuating cycle of modernization and growth. Napoleon modernized Europe and introduced liberal reforms. However, it could never overshadow the tyranny and ravaging wars of his rule. Napoleon Bonaparte set the stage for the next hundred years of conflict between the revolutionary mentality unleashed by the French Revolution and the conservative forces representative of the Industrial Revolution.

Romanticism was a major philosophical movement of the mid-nineteenth century and was the forefather of the irrationalist movement of the early twentieth century. Both philosophies highlight the inversion of European consciousness during the century following the Napoleonic Wars. The massive destruction wrought by the Napoleonic Wars left many questioning the Enlightenment philosophies that had brought them into the French Revolution. Many opined that it was a detachment from feelings, brought about by the elevation of reason by the philosophes, that was to blame for the violence attached to the French Revolution and to its consolidation, culminating in the Napoleonic Wars. The sense of alienation brought on by the Industrial revolution furthered these sentiments and was the root cause of the irrationalist movement. The Industrial Revolution moved the masses to the cities where they lost their communal ties and where inhuman conditions at home and in the workplace led to their discontent. Both revolutions helped reason be supplanted by irrationality, leaving the European mentality in a precarious position.

Science, using the rationale of the Enlightenment and expedited by the Industrial Revolution, helped to foster the sense of alienation, even while improving the overall quality of life characteristic of the industrial age. Competition, spurned by nationalism, was a driving force of the Industrial Revolution: the country which made the most steel had the most power. New machines were engineered using the principles of the Scientific Revolution and of the philosophes. Science also attempted to fulfill the Enlightenment promise of find the underlying laws that govern the universe, but in the end reaffirmed the irrationalists and romanticists in their belief that there was no objective reality. Man was changed from the center of this universe, a being made in the image of God and in total control of his own world, into a small speck in the vast expanse of space, descended from apes and unable to control even his own subconscious. Enlightenment ideals, the same principles at the foundation of and extolled by the French Revolution, were embodied in the driving force of the Industrial Revolution and the cause of much of the anxiety and solitude felt by the urban peoples of Europe: science.

The more than one hundred years following the storming of the Bastille were characterized by a transition from the philosophes view of society to a very non-rational, anti-Enlightenment view. The foundations of the French Revolution valued reason, and its followers believed that human nature was good, that classical standards should be upheld and, most importantly to the twentieth century, that wars should be waged for rational reasons. The tools of the Enlightenment were reason and science. The Industrial Revolution used those tools to eventually usurp the grip of the Enlightenment mind-set. The unconscionable size and strength of European society during the Industrial Revolution began to change the ideology and consciousness across the continent. Reason gave way to feelings, the concept of an objective reality, once again, began to fade and contemporary philosophers began to see man as fundamentally evil and selfish, the dilemma of modern life. The French Revolution led to the fragile distribution of power across Europe which led to an entangled alliance system while also inspiring nationalism and spreading both liberal and conservative views. The Industrial Revolution separated the masses from their communities and increased the pace of life, fostering a sense of alienation and all the while mechanizing and arming the world. These two revolutions coupled together took western civilization on a philosophical, ideological, economic, cultural, political and societal merry-go-round, taking it to the brink of war by 1914.

Notes: This was originally a paper I wrote for a Western Civ course from notes and information contained in Western Civilization: A Brief History, By Perry

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