The Empire of Austria-Hungary, a dominion in which the Magyars of Hungary received a modicum of autonomy under the rule of one monarch who was simultaneously emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, was a multinational empire that controlled the region of Eastern Europe to the south of Russia's Polish lands. In 1860, the Habsburg monarchs were forced to accept constitutional government with a parliamentary system based on a very limited suffrage. As a result, the bourgeoisie, who identified their interests with those of the landed and inherited aristocracy, took control of Austrian politics and society. As testament to their rights as inheritors of Austria's great western and cultural tradition, the Germanic bourgeois leaders in Vienna rebuilt the city as a virtual fortification of grand structures. However, this control led to a popular backlash that limited its longevity.

By 1900, liberal bourgeois politicians who favored free trade and little government involvement in economic affairs were being eliminated by mass politics movements from the right that were based on charisma, fantasy, and mere appearances. These mass parties were formed out of any number of views: anti- Germanic feelings (supported by most ethnic minorities in the empire), anti- capitalist opinions (supported by millions of farmers, peasants, and the very small worker population), anti-Semitic perspectives (supported by everyone from artisans to students to the agrarian poor to the militarists), and nationalist hopes (supported by the lower-middle class). These groups used demagoguery and scapegoating policies to rouse opposition to Jews (who were associated with capitalists and Germanic peoples for irrational reasons--and thus sweep themselves to political victory throughout the empire.


Though manifested somewhat differently, the domestic events in Britain, Germany, and France between 1871 and 1914 follow a similar trend: these forty years before the outbreak of World War I mark the emergence of the masses as a political force. In Britain and Germany, we refer to the workers; in France, we refer to the agrarian poor and non-Parisians; in Austria, we refer to everyone save the elite, Germanic bourgeoisie. Each and every group became a powerful force in politics and society during this time period.

So, what does this mean? The growth of popular power in Europe at this time suggests that the forty years before World War I can be seen as the beginning of "late modernity", setting the stage for a twentieth century in which the western democracies dedicated themselves to the expansion of democratic civil and individual rights. The domination of traditional aristocratic elements in European society came to its final end in this period of history and, by virtue of that fact alone, the years after 1871 should be viewed as a revolutionary time, even if it was a revolution without blood.

Popular pages: Europe 1871-1914