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Prelude to Today,
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This review is from: The Age Of Empire: 1875-1914 (Paperback)
This is the third in a series of four. The series consists of 'The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848', 'The Age of Capital, 1848-75', 'The Age of Empire, 1875-1914' (this volume) and finally, 'Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991', the latter being added to the series after a considerable gap.
They all follow basically the same format but, unlike the other three volumes, this one is not divided up into three sections. Instead, we have a short 'Overture', then the main body of the volume and finally an 'Epilogue'. The main body is divided up into discreet essays, each exploring a specific theme of the era. So, for example, there is a chapter on 'The Politics of Democracy' looking at the fall-out from the Paris Commune of 1871 in which Hobsbawm suggests that 'it became increasingly clear that the democratization of the politics of the state was quite inevitable. The masses would march on to the stage of politics, whether rulers liked it or not'. (P85)
The following section, 'Workers of the World', charts the growth, not only of the proletariat and organised labour and the accelerating move away from an agrarian economy, but also the development of 'tertiary workers' - those in offices, shops and new services.
'Waving Flags: Nations and Nationalism' considers the rise of nationalism in politics. Although nationalism as an idea had been around for a while, '...the word 'nationalism' itself first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century to describe groups of right-wing ideologists in France and Italy, keen to brandish the national flag against foreigners, liberals and socialists in favour of that aggressive expansion of their own state which was to become so characteristic of such movements.' (P142)
The great thing about Hobsbawm's histories is that he never stops there, never just looks at political movements, marching armies and the like, but delves deeper to give you a real feel of the era under examination. So the following sections include 'Who's Who or the Uncertainties of the Bourgeoisie', 'The New Woman', 'The Arts Transformed', 'Certainties Undermined: The Sciences', 'Reason and Society', 'Towards Revolution,' and 'From Peace to War'.
Of course, this is the period leading up to the First World War and so I suppose that there is inevitably a feeling of foreboding and gloomy expectation, but Hobsbawm points out that this was also for many people the 'Belle Epoque', a golden age for arts, literature and science - Proust, Henry James, the young J M Keynes, Picasso. It was, though, also the age of Freud, Nietzsche and Lenin and the times also felt the growing influence of Darwin, Marx, Wagner et al. It was, underneath, a time of experimentation and questioning of received values in all fields. As Hobsbawm summarises:
'Since August 1914 we have lived in the world of monstrous wars, upheavals and explosions which Nietzsche prophetically announced. That is what has surrounded the era before 1914 with the retrospective haze of nostalgia, a faintly golden age of order and peace, of unproblematic prospects. Such back projections of imaginary good old days belong to the history of the last decades of the twentieth century, not the first. Historians of the days before the lights went out are not concerned with them. Their central preoccupation, and the one which runs through the present book, must be to understand and to show how the era of peace, of confident bourgeois civilisation, growing wealth and western empires inevitably carried within itself the embryo of the era of war, revolution and crisis which put an end to it.' (P327)