By the 1870s, the lands of Eastern Europe had been drawn within the orbit of Western liberal capitalist society, responded, however faintly, to its pulse, and aspired to still closer association. The forty or so years that followed till the First World War, the longest period of peace between major powers in modern times, provided the ideal background for the aspiration to become reality. When they began, the majority of inhabitants of our area still lived in a mental world shaped by age-old patterns of absolutism, serfdom and religion; at their end, a generation had been born which is still alive today. The present communications network and school system, the modern city with its sprawl of working-class tenements, the contemporary nation possessing its mature historical awareness and mass support, even our familiar patterns of sport, entertainment and popular journalism had all taken recognizable shape by 1914. At no time before, or in many ways since, did the region have a more commonly accepted code of values than the constitutional monarchy, capitalism and nationalism of these years, or a more widely understood medium for inter-communication than the German language, which was the window on the wider world for its entire intelligentsia, with the exception of some Francophile Poles and Romanians. For all this, and notwithstanding the considerable progress that was made, liberal capitalism failed to remould Eastern Europe in its own image and did not diminish the great differences in cultural and economic development between its various parts.
The most advanced sector of the region remained the German-speaking Alpine provinces of Austria and the mixed German-Slav lands of the Czech Crown, with relatively industrialized portions of Poland and Hungary marking a transition to the less developed east and south. Even in these more favoured zones recent historical research rejects the idea of a dynamic breakthrough to self-sustaining industrial growth on the lines of Rostow’s take-off