Europe is a group of individual countries who have merged and separated over the years to create unique cultures with strong ties to each other. Yet there were many differences in how they developed internally.
In France during the Enlightenment period, revolution was still fresh on the citizens’ minds, but the period of Napoleon III was a time that benefited France internally. He pushed France into the present and prepared it for the future.
Exploring the Enlightenment
This period on our history was a time of change. Stanford University says that “The Enlightenment is the period in the history of western thought and culture, stretching roughly from the mid-decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, characterized by dramatic revolutions in science, philosophy, society and politics; these revolutions swept away the medieval world-view and ushered in our modern western world.” Great minds rose up and thought outside the box. They reached for more questions and sought broader answers. It got everyone thinking of what could be which resulted in the demand for change in the Western world.
The American Revolution set the spark to the powder keg of change in Europe. From there, the French Revolution created a bloodbath that changed how Europe would look at the future. Governments shook in fear. Aristocracy held its breath.
The violence of the French revolutions died down, and peace became something real instead of something hoped for. Blood dried up and washed away. The nation was still reeling from the horrific methods change came about. To a degree, France became stagnant
During the government turnovers, other countries began to move ahead of France in industry. There would not be much of a future if the industry of France did not improve its economy and the industry that drove it. France had taken a major step forward with the revolutions, but they were falling behind quickly.
Napoleon III looked to banking with long term investments that offered opportunity for fledgling businesses and new businesses. (1) A key to improving the industries of France was to create an infrastructure that would support it and encourage it. Napoleon III finished the railroads projects that had been started and abandoned previously as well as initiating the widening of the roads in Paris to allow for better economic and military movements. The result was an improvement of infrastructure and the lives of many including the poor. (2) France began to move forward with optimism.
Internally, Austria and Russia were far behind France. Franz Joseph I wanted Austria to improve internally and compete with the rest of Europe, but his methods were not liberal enough to move from the revolution torn Europe to a new world that was developing all around them. Ruling Hungary added financial and political burdens to Austria including trying to mix ethnic groups together. There were too many factors involved for Austria to improve internally without some actions that were unique and adventurous.(3)
Russia was one of the Eastern European countries that was able to compete with the rest of Europe until Nicholas I took power and pulled the nation back. He did not want to be part of Europe. The goal was to isolate Russia from the rest of the world. This did a lot of damage to Russia that Alexander II tried to fix but found that the nation was too far behind. It also had the same problems that Austria had in having many ethnic groups that had issues living together which hindered economic growth. (4)
France noticed its position in the world and sought to change it. The nation re-evaluated where they stood and began a process to catch back up to the rest of the world. That allowed it to stay a major player in world events.
Austria tried but didn’t have the needed resources which could be one reason the country kept one foot in the past. Russia took a drastic approach that created a wall between it and the rest of the world. It found itself having to catch up years later and stumbling onto the world stage.
(1) Heidi Jeanne Kyle, “Napoleon III and the Second Empire,” Week 4 Lecture, American Public University System, APUS, 2013, accessed January 30, 2013, https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/203545/Week%204%3A%20Mid%20to%20Late%2019th%20Century%20Europe%20/Napoleon%20III%20and%20the%20Second%20Empire.pdf.
(3) Heidi Jeanne Kyle, “Austrian Empire; Imperial Russia,” Week 4 Lecture, American Public University System, APUS, 2013, accessed January 30, 2013, https://edge.apus.edu/access/content/group/203545/Week%204%3A%20Mid%20to%20Late%2019th%20Century%20Europe%20/Austrian%20Empire%2C%20Imperial%20Russia.pdf.