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European Society and Thought - Essay Example

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European Society and Thought

The economy of Europe was transformed Production expanded greatly, and new methods of marketing and transport arose. Finally, governments gradually adopted new methods and policies, often spurred by pressures from below as new groups gained political consciousness. The result was an increasingly active government that sought change in many areas--in agricultural methods, in the organization of cities, in industry and technology, and in more conventional matters such as police and military structure. Population growth, the industrialization of the economy, and the modernization of the state--here were the most obvious motors for change. The result was a transformation that touched every aspect of life; and in many ways the less familiar changes were more important. People became sexier. They had intercourse more often, both in and out of marriage. Their bodies changed. Modern European man is taller, is heavier, and has bigger feet than his premodern counterpart. Women are taller as well, but ultimately their physical image, and with a bit of a lag their physical reality, stressed greater slenderness, along with an increase in bust size. Premodern society had a different notion of work from modern society. It had little specific sense of leisure; the notion of vacations and regular, off-the-job recreation was born in the nineteenth century. Any change as great as industrialization and modernization creates a great deal of stress (Hughes p12).
At every stage of the modernization process large groups of people were fearful of change. Ironically, the same transformation that spread an idea of progress also enhanced a more traditional notion that somehow the past was better. An example: polls in France as late as the 1950s revealed that the majority of the population believed that people lived longer in the past than in modern society, apparently assuming that the stress of modern life, in contrast to the peaceful existence of the countryside, must have reduced longevity. Belief in political reform spread too many sectors of the bourgeoisie in France during the second half of the eighteenth century via Enlightenment tracts. Lawyers and other professional people were particularly receptive. By the 1790s a more radical reform interest, also Enlightenment-derived, reached artisans, whose leaders began talking in terms of social contracts and popular sovereignty. But even here the Enlightenment channelled political interests more than it caused them (Gottschalk p14).
The state, particularly on the Continent, played a more direct role in modernization, though without intending to contribute to any fundamental transformation of society. From the late seventeenth century most European governments had been extending the scope of their operations. They tried to increase their contact with distant sections of their country, curtailing the regional power of aristocrats. Bureaucracies were expanded, and bourgeois elements were brought into some of them. Most important, the government began to deal with activities that had previously been left to the control of local and private groups. Many ...Show more

Summary

The basic fact of European history since 1750 has been an unprecedented social upheaval. Every age is a time of change, and Europe had not been static in the previous centuries. But in the last two hundred years a new kind of society has been formed, as different from its predecessor as agricultural society was from the hunting culture with which man first began to fight for survival (Gilbert p 15).
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