European Political Thought, 1815-1989

By Spencer M. Di Scala; Salvo Mastellone | Go to book overview

2
EARLY LIBERALISM

The quest to understand social and economic realities and to discover ideal political forms were not the only dominant themes of the Restoration period in Europe. The years between Napoleon's fall and the revolutionary agitation that shook the continent up to 1832 witnessed the enunciation of the central political doctrines that characterize the modern period. These included, among others, modern conceptions of liberalism and democracy, nationality and revolution, and class politics. Immediately after 1815 liberalism appeared to be gaining support among political thinkers. Soon, however, the question of nationality was raised for Italians, Germans, and Poles, and in industrially advanced countries such as Britain and France the drama of the working class began playing out.

Like many other developments in Western history, the extremely influential current of political thought known as liberalism had its origins in the eighteenth-century industrial revolution. According to the reigning economic theory before the industrial revolution, mercantilism, the prosperity of a state depended on its wealth as measured in precious metals such as gold and silver. The larger the proportion of these metals a state possessed, the greater its strength and influence. An important axiom of this theory, however, was that the world's wealth was limited, and therefore an increase in one state's proportion of the riches necessarily decreased the proportion of another's. Since industry and trade were prime methods of accumulating wealth, governments regulated commerce and encouraged and subsidized production but assumed that they could not be successful at this endeavor unless industrialists produced high-quality products. As a result, in return for its support to employers, the state mandated stringent rules and regulations to which the recipients of this aid had to adhere. In this manner governments ensured the production of quality goods that would be in demand in foreign lands,

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