New Ideas and Movements in Europe

New Ideas and Movements in Europe, also known as the Enlightenment, was a philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. Centered on the idea that reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy, this movement advocated such ideals as liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.

Liberal ideas of Adam Smith, Bentham and Mill:-

Political liberalism raise in Western Europe and the United States of America in the nineteenth century. But it made striking progress only in England, Holland and Spain. The Spanish liberals were the first to use the term liberalism and uphold the principles for which it stood.

Liberalism raise as a reaction against the authority of the feudal barons, the government by aristocrats, and the power of the clergy. Broadly speaking, it stood for the liberty of the individual, democratic institutions and free enterprise.

Liberalism upheld Laissez faire (free trade), and hence it be Came unpopular among the critics of capitalism.

Adam Smith:

Adam Smith (1723 -1790) was a great Scottish economist. He was Professor of logic (1751) and of moral philosophy (1752-1764) at the Glasgow University. He favored liberalism and powerfully advocated the cause of laissez faire. (that is, leave alone in French) or individualism, or which has been regarded as his pet child. He championed the cause of individualism in his famous book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) which became the Bible of the friends of free trade. He said that every man should be allowed to have his own way to protect his own interests in the field of industry, trade and commerce. He strongly advocated, the cause of private property and free competition.


Jeremy Bentham (17481832) was another great liberal thinker. He was the founder of utilitarianism or philosophical radicalism. His most famous books are Fragments on Government.(1776) and The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789).

As a liberal thinker advocating the cause of utilitarianism, he said that the state should promote the happiness and welfare of all. He laid emphasis on self-regarding (happiness of the individual) and other-regarding (happiness of others) impulses. He advocated the introduction of liberal reforms in Britain. He gave great publicity to the slogan the greatest happiness of the greatest number. He wanted annual parliaments, freedom of the press, and abolition of the House of Lords.

The influence of Bentham spread far beyond the frontiers of England and made itself felt in several countries. Mirabeau and other leaders in France felt the impact of his thought. Many reforms, which Bentham advocated, were introduced in Britain in course of time. His doctrines were followed in Russia, Portugal, Spain and parts of South America. Leaders of national movements, which defeated the Holy Alliance, followed his ideas. In building new nations on the ruins of the Spanish and Turkish empires, Bentham’s thoughts were found useful.


John Stuart Mill (18061873), the eldest son of James Mill, was the greatest champion of liberal ideas. He powerfully advocated the principles of James Mill (1773-1836) and Jeremy Bentham.

Mill’s most important principles were:

  1. Extension of civil rights to all classes and women.
  2. Laissez faire or free trade.
  3. Wide freedom of thought and expression; and
  4. Freedom of organization.

At a very early age, Mill came under the great influence of Jeremy Bentham, and in 1823 he established the Utilitarian Society. Like Bentham, Mill was a staunch advocate of reforms calculated to better the lot of the people. He stood for labor reforms, universal suffrage and women’s suffrage, proportional representation and compulsory education.

In the ideas of John Stuart Mill, the currents of utilitarianism and individualism are blended. He strikes a compromise between self-interest and  the interest of others and call upon the Individual to be impartial between his own interest and the interest of other.  According to him self-regarding and other regarding should go together. Thus Mill’s attitude to happiness is clearly superior that Bentham.

Like Bentham, Mill was a champion of r representative government and democracy. According to him only in a good government moral and intellectual qualities of the people are nursed people are trained for good citizenship.

Socialism of Karl Marx and Engels:-

In the 19th century a socialism rose as sharp reaction against exploiting capitalism. Broadly speaking, socialism is of two types:

  • Democratic,and
  • Revolutionary.

Democratic Socialism raise in Britain, a country in which bloody revolution was avoided. In Britain, it was possible to bring about a reconciliation between Democracy and Socialism.

Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels:

The year 1848 is a great landmark in the history of the world, as it witnessed Karl (Marx (1818-1883), and (Friedrich Engles  (1820-1895) issuing a Joint Communist Manifesto addressed to the workers of the world to unite, for you have nothing to lose but the chains of your slavery. These two collaborators, who expressed them Selves in unambiguous and clear cut language against the evils of ruthless and exploiting capitalism, provided the ideology for bloody  revolutions, which were staged on a large scale in Russia and China in the twentieth century.

Marx and Engels are regarded as the high priests of Proletariat Socialism or Communism. It is curious to note that Marx, who was to rock capitalist citadels all over the world, married a lady of the class of Prussian nobles in 1843. The very same year, he became a socialist. Owing to his radical views, he was not allowed to be a university teacher, and his radical journalism led to his expulsion from Prussia.

During 1848-49, he was in France and Belgium. In January 1848, along with Friedrich Engels he issued the Communist Manifesto, when he was 30 years old. In 1849, owing to the pressure of the Prussian Government, he was expelled from France also

Das Kapital:

For about 34 years, Marx was in exile in England. He spent these years in writing pamphlets and treatises on socialism. The publication of Das Kapital (his magnum opus) was the greatest event of his life.

He died in 1883 after having gone through difficult years of illness and poverty. His friend Engels helped him much to tide over his financial troubles. He could publish only the first volume of his Das Kapital, and a the remaining two volumes were published several years after his death by the efforts of Engels.

When Engels died in 1895 theorists like August Babel, Wilhelm Liebnecht, Jules Guesde  and Karl Kautsky for some time upheld Marxism. Kautsky (1854-1938), who spent a major part of his life in Austria and Germany was a great defender of the fundamental principles of Marxism.

Utopian and Scientific Socialism:

Robert Owen and others like him preached democratic socialism, which is also known as Utopian Socialism. The revolutionary socialism of Marx and Engels is called Scientific socialism. Utopian socialism is mild and evolutionary, whereas scientific socialism or communism is Violent and revolutionary.

Baste Principles of Marx:

We may briefly refer to the basis Principles of Karl Marx.

Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis:

He put forward the principle of dialectical materialism. Dialectic is the study of contradictions, which lie at the very heart of existence. Development is the struggle of opposites. Opposite forces, which are always present, form the moving force of history. The dominant force of each age (for example family) assumed the role of a thesis. The thesis was soon confronted by an anti-theses or opposite (for example bourgeois society). This contest finally resulted in the production of a synthesis (for example state) which had the more valuable elements of both thesis and antithesis.

Materialistic Interpretation of History:

Marx applied the principle of dialectical materialism to the interpretation of history. Economic conditions determine historical phenomena. Production, distribution and exchange of goods finally determine political, social and cultural developments.

Theory of Surplus Value:

Labour creates two values necessary and surplus. The wage paid to the laborer is equal to the necessary value. The remaining major part of the worker’s due is robbed by the capitalist. Capital doesn’t create anything on the contrary it is itself created by labor.

Theory of Class War:

At every stage in history there 8 war between classes, The landowner exploits the landless, and the factory owner exploits the workers.  Between the glasses, there is always hatred.

Law of Concentration of Capital:

Another principle put forth bye Marx  is concentration of capital in a few hands. The rich become richer, and the poor-poorer, as the wealth of the community gets concentrated in the hands of a few people.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat :

The proletariat, the landless and the property-less people, who are being cruelly exploited by the capitalists will overthrow the capitalists and establish a dictatorship, which will last for some time only. Ultimately the dictatorship of the proletariat will seize all capitalist property.

Withering of the State:

Ultimately the state will wither away. In the transitional stage, the state will be used by the proletariat to destroy any resistance of the bourgeoisie.

Religion the Opium of the People:

Marxism is against religion. He linked religion with capitalist exploitation. Religion which acts as opium on the minds of the people is the capitalist tool to deceive the masses of people.

Marxism became a tremendous force. Its theory is very clear and it has given hope to the workers. It became & terror to exploiters all over the world.

Marxist theory has serious flaws. The idea of surplus value is wrong.  Marx has ignored non-economic factors. State has not withered, but has become stronger. Marxism does great injustice to religion. It also preaches antagonism and hatred between classes.

Karl Marx himself did not engineer any great revolution. But as stated earlier, in the 20th century two great revolutions (Russian and Chinese) broke out on the basis of Marxism. The Bolshevik Revolution of Russia took place 34 years after the death of Marx.

Growth of Democracy in England:-

In England parliamentary democracy rose as a result of a slow process of evolution, and the establishment of customs and conventions played an important part.

In 1215, the clergy, the nobles and the common people compelled King John Lackland to agree to the conditions laid down in the Magna Carta (Great Charter).

At first the king raised taxes and spent public money as he liked. But gradually Parliament asserted its rights to curb the power of the kings.

When the people badly needed a strong and stable monarchy, they allowed the Tudor kings (from Henry VII to Queen Elizabeth  I—1485-1603) to govern absolutely. But in the Stuart period (16031688), the power of the king was progressively checked. There was a great struggle between King and Parliament in which the latter was successful. Charles I (1625-1649) who tried to govern arbitrarily was executed, and James II, who also did the same, lost his crown in the Glorious Revolution (1688).

Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the king’s powers were limited. On the accession of William and Mary, Parliament enacted the Bill of Rights in 1689 setting forth the rights of the people and restricting the royal power without parliamentary sanction. It granted full freedom of discussion in Parliament, freedom of petition a elections, and provided against any Roman Catholic becoming King.

Drawbacks of Parliament:-

Parliament in the first part of the 19th century had serious drawbacks, which denied true democracy to Britain. Though the executive was responsible to Parliament and could not govern as it liked, Parliament did not represent the common citizens. The House of Lords, the upper house consisting of Lords and Peers and the upper clergy, represented the privileged classes. Its member were not elected, but they secured seats by hereditary right.

House of Commons Not Democratic:

Even in the House of Commons, the lower house, the seats were occupied by members of the upper strata of society. The ordinary people did not have true representation, and their interests were not protected.

Restricted Franchise:

All citizens of England did not pave franchise, which was based on high property qualification and payment of high taxes. The principle of representation was favorable to the rich and unjust to the poor.

Rotten and Pocket Boroughs:

The electoral districts were not changed, though great changes in population had taken place. Some areas, which were thickly populated in the early days, became thinly populated later as the population migrated to cities after the Industrial Revolution. But certain other areas, which were originally thinly populated, developed a thick population owing to the rise of new industries. Certain thinly populated areas were ridiculously over-represented. These were known as Rotten Boroughs. Certain thickly populated areas were badly under-represented. In a certain electoral area, there was only one voter,-who happened to be rich landlord, enjoying the privilege of sending his representative to the House of Commons. This voter, thus, had the whole area or borough in his pocket known as the Pocket-Borough. Big cities like Manchester and Sheffield teeming with wealth and population had absolutely no representation at all, but Rotten and Pocket Boroughs were excessively over-represented.

Open Voting:

Secret ballot had not been introduced. Voting was open, and this had exposed parliamentary elections to the worst type of bribery and corruption, intimidation, violence and murders. Rotten and Pocket Boroughs coupled with open voting made it impossible for the House of Commons to represent the people.

Parliamentary Reforms Overdue :

Since the outbreak of the French Revolution, any type of agitation, even if it was reasonable and just, was sternly suppressed. But after Napoleon’s death in 1821, slow reforms were introduced to reform representation.

The First Reform Act:

Eleven years after Napoleons death, Parliament passed the First Reform Act, 1832. This made representation fair and just by withdrawing it from the Rotten and Pocket Boroughs and giving it to the unrepresented areas. Property qualification was reduced, and a large number of people was enfranchised.

The Whig Prime Minister of England, Earl Grey, had promised parliamentary reform in 1880. But reform could be introduced only in 1832 after a general election. The Tory members of Parliament were against reform, and the Prime Minister had to recommend to the king to create new members in the House of Lords for commanding adequate support.

The First Reform Act did not satisfy a large section of the population, as farm, workers, factory workers and women were not given franchise.

Chartists :

A strong movement known as the Chartist Movement was started in the early part of the 19th century for parliamentary reform. They presented the People’s Charter in 1838, outlining their urgent demands. Their demands included.

  1. Adult suffrage
  2. Secret ballot
  3. Annual Parliaments
  4. Equal electoral districts

Unfortunately the Chartists over-reached themselves and indulged in violent demonstrations. Some of their unrealistic demands, violent tactics and forged signatures in their mammoth petition submitted to Parliament alienated the sympathy they had.

The Chartist Movement failed, but not without achieving some good result. It succeeded in creating a strong awakening for further parliamentary reform.

The Second Reform Act:

By the Second Reform Act, 1867 passed in the time of the Conservative. Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, factory workers secured franchise, and the number of voters was doubled.

This Act also left many people disgruntled, as the term worker were not given franchise.

The Third Reform Act:

In the time of Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, voting by secret ballot was introduced in 1872. The Third Reform Act was passed in 1884 granting franchise to farm workers. In 1885, Parliament passed an Act for having equal electoral districts.

Powers of the House of Lords Cut:

In the 20th century, the powers of the House of Lords were cut so drastic ally that it became almost a powerless body.

By the Parliament Act of 1911, the House of Lords lost the power of dealing with Money Bills. This Act was passed, as the House of Lords had rejected the budget for 1909 and had broken a long-standing custom, which had given the House of Commons the first place Even regarding Ordinary Bills, the position of the House of Lords was weakened. If the House of Commons passed a Bill on three – successive occasions, it became law after two years, even if the House of Lords did not support it.

By the Parliament Act of 1949, the House of Lords even lost the power of Suspension veto of two years over non money Bills. Since then it is only a revising and delaying body, and not very effective even for that purpose.

Franchise for Women:

In 1918 women aged over 30 years won the right to vote, and in 1928 women were put on par with men by abolishing the age discrimination.

King a Titular Head:

England became a full fledged democracy in the 20th century. Ministers are responsible to Parliament. The king is merely a titular head. The king does no wrong, and has no will of his own.

Model to Other Countries:

The British parliamentary system became a model to other countries. Under the Constitution of  India, 1950, India has the cabinet system.

Revolutions of 1848 in Europe:-

We observed in Article how the Congress of Vienna, 1815 took unwise and shortsighted decisions, ignoring and even antagonising the forces of nationalism and democracy. These resulted in: numerous revolts and small revolutions in Europe in the 19th century. If the 19th century knew no peace, it was owing to the unpopular Metternich System. In 1848 several revolutions broke out in Europe.

Revolution in France:

In February 1848, mob violence broke out, the palace of Tuileries was stormed, and a revolution took place. Louis Philippe (1830-1848), a distant cousin of Charles X (1824-1830), who was in power had to run away to England like his predecessor and seek shelter there. Then the Second Republic of France was proclaimed. Louis Napoleon (1848-1852), the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte was elected the first and the last President under a new liberal constitution. A unicameral legislature elected on the basis of adult franchise came into being, and the principle of equality was upheld.

The French Revolution of 1848 inspired many popular revolts for nationalism, liberty and democracy in Europe. Unfortunately for the Socialists, who had led the Revolution, the national workshops established for providing work arid wages failed miserably, and public money was wasted.

In the general election of 1848, the Moderates won a majority and the Socialists were defeated. The Moderates ordered for the closure of the national workshops. The workers opposed it, and in the bloody clashes that took place 10,000 workers and 1,500 soldiers were killed. Such terrible bloodshed had not, taken place at a time even during the course of the great Revolution of 1789.

In December 1851 Louis Napoleon dissolved the Legislature Aung his rivals in jail, and brought Paris under military rule. He prepared a new constitution with the intention of having dictatorial power. He made himself President for 10 years, and wielded un-tramelled powers. In 1852 he made himself Emperor of France.

Fall of Metternich in Austria:

The revolution of 1848 rudely shook the whole of Europe without sparing even Prince Metternich, whose system had been responsible for all the troubles. In 1848 in Vienna, the capital of Austria, bloody riots broke out. Metternich desired to save himself with his army, but the army itself had been deeply influenced by revolutionary ideas and refused to fire on the rebels with whom it had sympathy. Metternich was compelled to resign. Finding his own life-in danger, on March 1948, pocketing his ego and disguising himself as an Englishman, he ran away to England. The fall of – Metternich was a great landmark not only in the history of Austria, but also in the history of Europe.

The revolutions of 1848 had their profound effect on the minds of the people, who had been suppressed under the Metternich system. They roused new hopes and strengthened the movements for nationalism and democracy. In Germany and Italy (which had been kept divided), national movements broke out, and in 1848 these movements entered into a new phase. In 1870 in both Germany and Italy, 22 years since the fall of Metternich, the national unification movements reached a successful end, and they became full-fledged nations.