Chapter 21 - Reaction, Revolution, and Revolution

The Ideologies of Change

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What were the main tenets of conservatism, liberalism, nationalism, and utopian socialism, and what role did each ideology play in Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century?

Although the conservative forces were in the ascendancy from 1815 to 1830, powerful movements for change were also at work. These depended on ideas embodied in a series of political philosophies or ideologies that came into their own in the first half of the nineteenth century.


One of these ideologies was liberalism, which owed much to the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and to the American and French Revolutions at the end of that century. In addition, liberalism became even more significant as the Industrial Revolution made rapid strides because the developing industrial middle class largely adopted the doctrine as its own. There were divergences of opinion among people classified as liberals, but all began with the belief that people should be as free from restraint as possible. This opinion is evident in both economic and political liberalism.

ECONOMIC LIBERALISM Also called classical economics, economic liberalism had as its primary tenet the concept of laissez-faire, the belief that the state should not interrupt the free play of natural economic forces , especially supply and demand. Government should not restrain the economic liberty of the individual and should restrict itself to only three primary functions: defense of the country, police protection of individuals, and the construction and maintenance of public works too expensive for individuals to undertake. If individuals were allowed economic liberty, ultimately they would bring about the maximum good for the maximum number and benefit the general welfare of society.

The case against government interference in economic matters was greatly enhanced by Thomas Malthus (MAWL-thuss) (1766-1834). In his major work, Essay on the Principles of Population, Malthus argued that population, when unchecked, increases at a geometric rate while the food supply correspondingly increases at a much slower arithmetic rate. The result will be severe overpopulation and ultimately starvation for the human race if this growth is not held in check. According to Malthus, nature imposes a major restraint: “Unwholesome occupations, severe labor and exposure to the seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children, great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of common disease, and epidemics, wars, plague and famine.” Thus, misery and poverty were simply the inevitable result of the law of nature; no government or individual should interfere with its operation.

Malthus’s ideas were further developed by David Ricardo (1772-1823). In Principles of Political Economy, written in 1817, Ricardo developed his famous “iron law of wages.” Following Malthus, Ricardo argued that an increase in population means more workers; more workers in turn cause wages to fall below the subsistence level. The result is misery and starvation, which then reduce the population. Consequently, the number of workers declines, and wages rise above the subsistence level again, which in turn encourages workers to have larger families as the cycle is repeated. According to Ricardo, raising wages arbitrarily would be pointless since it would accomplish little but perpetuate this vicious circle.

POLITICAL LIBERALISM Politically, liberals came to hold a common set of beliefs. Chief among them was the protection of civil liberties or the basic rights of all people, which included equality before the law; freedom of assembly, speech, and press; and freedom from arbitrary arrest. All of these freedoms should be guaranteed by a written document, such as the American Bill of Rights or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. In addition to religious toleration for all, most liberals advocated separation of church and state. The right of peaceful opposition to the government in and out of parliament and the making of laws by a representative assembly (legislature) elected by qualified voters constituted two other liberal demands. Many liberals believed, then, in a constitutional monarchy or constitutional state with limits on the powers of government to prevent despotism and in written constitutions that would help guarantee these rights.

Many liberals also advocated ministerial responsibility, which would give the legislative branch a check. on the power of the executive because the king’s ministers would answer to the legislature rather than to the king. Liberals in the first half of the nineteenth century also believed in a limited suffrage. Although all people were entitled to equal civil rights, they should not have equal political rights. The right to vote and hold office should be open only to men who met certain property qualifications. As a political philosophy, liberalism was tied to middleclass men, especially industrial middle-class men who favored the extension of voting rights so that they could share power with the landowning classes. They had little desire to let the lower classes share that power. Liberals were not democrats.

One of the most prominent advocates of liberalism in the nineteenth century was the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). On Liberty, his most famous work, published in 1859, has long been regarded as a classic statement on the liberty of the individual (see the box on p. 636). Mill argued for an “absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects” that needed to be protected from both government censorship and the tyranny of the majority.

Mill was also instrumental in expanding the meaning of liberalism by becoming an enthusiastic supporter of women’s rights. When his attempt to include women in the voting reform bill of 1867 failed, Mill published an essay titled On the Subjection of Women, which he had written earlier with his wife, Harriet Taylor. He argued that “the legal subordination of one sex to the other” was wrong. Differences between women and men, he said, were due not to different natures but simply to social practices. With equal education, women could achieve as much as men. On the Subjection of Women would become an important work in the nineteenth-century movement for women’s rights.


Nationalism was an even more powerful ideology for change in the nineteenth century. Nationalism arose out of an awareness of being part of a community that has common institutions, traditions, language, and customs. This community constitutes a “nation,” and it, rather than a dynasty, city-state, or other political unit, becomes the focus of the individual’s primary political loyalty. Nationalism did not become a popular force for change until the French Revolution. From then on, nationalists came to believe that each nationality should have its own government. Thus, a divided people such as the Germans wanted national unity in a German nation-state with one central government. Subject peoples, such as the Hungarians, wanted national self-determination, or the right to establish their own autonomy rather than be subject to a German minority in a multinational empire.

Nationalism threatened to upset the existing political order, both internationally and nationally (see Map 21.3). A united Germany or united Italy would upset the balance of power established in 1815. By the same token, an independent Hungarian state would mean the breakup of the Austrian Empire. Because many European states were multinational, conservatives tried hard to repress the radical threat of nationalism.

At the same time, in the first half of the nineteenth century, nationalism and liberalism became strong allies. Most liberals believed that liberty could be realized only by peoples who ruled themselves. One British liberal said, “It is in general a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities.” Many nationalists believed that once each people obtained its own state, all nations could be linked together into a broader community of all humanity.

Early Socialism

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the pitiful conditions found in the slums, mines, and factories of the Industrial Revolution gave rise to another ideology for change known as socialism. The term eventually became associated with a Marxist analysis of human society (see Chapter 22), but early socialism was largely the product of political theorists or intellectuals who wanted to introduce equality into social conditions and believed that human cooperation was superior to the competition that characterized early industrial capitalism. To later Marxists, such ideas were impractical dreams, and they contemptuously labeled the theorists utopian socialists. The term has endured to this day.

The utopian socialists were against private property and the competitive spirit of early industrial capitalism. By eliminating these things and creating new systems of social organization, they thought that a better environment for humanity could be achieved. Early socialists proposed a variety of ways to accomplish that task.

FOURIER One group of early socialists sought to create voluntary associations that would demonstrate the advantages of cooperative living. Charles Fourier (SHAHRL foo-RYAY) (1772-1838) proposed the creation of small model communities called phalansteries. These were self-contained cooperatives, each consisting ideally of 1,620 people. Communally housed, the inhabitants of the phalanstery (fuh-LAN-stuh-ree) would live and work together for their mutual benefit. Work assignments would be rotated frequently to relieve workers of undesirable tasks. Fourier was unable to gain financial backing for his phalansteries, however, and his plan remained untested.

OWEN The British cotton manufacturer Robert Owen (1771-1858) also believed that humans would reveal their true natural goodness if they lived in a cooperative environment. At New Lanark in Scotland, he was successful in transforming a squalid factory town into a flourishing, healthy community. But when he attempted to create a self-contained cooperative community at New Harmony, Indiana, in the United States in the 1820s, bickering within the community eventually destroyed his dream. One of Owen’s disciples, a wealthy woman named Frances Wright, bought slaves in order to set up a model community at Nashoba, Tennessee. The community failed, but Wright continued to work for women’s rights.

BLANC The Frenchman Louis Blanc (LWEE BLAHNH) (1813-1882) offered yet another early socialist approach to a better society. In The Organization of Work, he maintained that social problems could be solved by government assistance. Denouncing competition as the main cause of the economic evils of his day, he called for the establishment of workshops that would manufacture goods for public sale. The state would finance these workshops, but the workers would own and operate them.

FEMALE SUPPORTERS With their plans for the reconstruction of society, utopian socialists attracted a number of female supporters who believed that only a reordering of society would help women. Zoé Gatti de Gamond (zoh-AY gah-TEE duh gah-MOHNH), a Belgian follower of Fourier, established her own phalanstery, which was supposed to provide men and women with the same educational and job opportunities. As part of collective living, men and women were to share responsibilities for child care and housecleaning. The ideas of the comte de Saint-Simón (san-see-MOHN), which combined Christian values, scientific thought, and socialist utopianism, proved especially attractive to a number of women who participated in the growing political activism of women that had been set in motion during the French Revolution. Saint-Simon’s ideal cooperative society recognized the principle of equality between men and women, and a number of working-class women, including Suzanne Voilquin (soo-ZAHN vwahl-KANH), Claire Demar (DAY-mar), and Reine Guindorf (RY-nuh GWIN-dorf), published a newspaper dedicated to the emancipation of women.

TRISTAN One female utopian socialist, Flora Tristan (TRISS-tun) (1803-1844), even attempted to foster a “utopian synthesis of socialism and feminism.” She traveled through France preaching the need for the liberation of women. Her Worker’s Union, published in 1843, advocated the application of Fourier’s ideas to reconstruct both family and work:

Workers, be sure of it. If you have enough equity and justice to inscribe into your Charter the few points I have just outlined, this declaration of the rights of women will soon pass into custom, from custom into law, and before twenty-five years pass you will then see inscribed in front of the book of laws which will govern French society: THE ABSOLUTE EQUALITY of man and woman. Then, my brothers, and only then, will human unity be constiruted.7

She envisioned this absolute equality as the only hope to free the working class and transform civilization.

Flora Tristan, like the other utopian socialists, was largely ignored by her contemporaries. Although criticized for their impracticality, the utopian socialists at least laid the groundwork for later attacks on capitalism that would have a far-reaching result. In the first half of the nineteenth century, however, socialism remained a fringe movement largely overshadowed by liberalism and nationalism.

Next Reading: 21-5 (Revolution and Reform - 1830-1850)