The last third of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of the masses as a serious political force in national politics. In Britain, the working classes that had given the country the greatest successes in the industrial revolution clamored to be heard by the ruling elite. Eventually, workers threw their support behind the Labour Party, a political party based on trade unions that advocated the creation of the government welfare state. A similar development took place in Germany, where the Social Democratic party emerged as a political force despite the numerous attempts by the ruling elite to destroy its power. In France, the modernized and centralized state that emerged in the Third Republic united the nation and allowed a mass media culture to emerge. The entire population, receiving the same information and the same interpretation of the news, was galvanized by various events, such as the Dreyfus Affair, which cut right to the heart of French society. In Austria-Hungary, the power of the bourgeoisie, who had identified their interests with those of the aristocracy, began to weaken as the entire outsider population--ethnic minorities, students, radical right-wing groups--began to emerge in Austrian politics in an atmosphere of demagoguery and fantastic politics.

Foreign policy throughout this era was generally dominated by the imperial game. By 1914, nearly the entire continent of Africa was dominated by Europeans. The ancient states of Asia (i.e. China and southeast Asian societies) also generally succumbed to European invasion. Only the Japanese, after years of modernization and westernization, were able to become imperialists themselves and exert their own interests on the Chinese mainland.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the political balance of power that had kept Europe at a moderate level of peace since 1815 began to unravel. With the consolidation of the German Empire, new alliances and new balances had to be formed; however, the new models would not succeed. The balance of power degenerated into the bipolarization of the European world--namely, the separation of alliances into two groups, the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. With an arms race developing and the breakdown of peace in the Balkans, Europe was racing toward utter destruction and World War.

Popular pages: Europe 1871-1914