Currents of thoughts (1800-1914)

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

The French revolution and Napoleon's conquest, created a new current of thoughts in Europe during the 1800’s.

During the 1800’s even novels like Frankenstein, written by Mark Shelly inspired and influenced two majors in industrialization, science and that imaginations and emotions are as important as reason.

The new industrialized societies in Europe and United States, changed the mindset of the people towards science and knowledge. People wanted to face science and through it, explain and better the societies.

However, writers and painters did not accept the new industrialized civilization and wanted more to look back at the old simple rules/ways of life. But by the mid century they turned out to accept the new revolution and portrayed it realistically.

“Working men of all countries, unite!”. These words were declared by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. They both oppressed and encouraged men to constantly strive for the better. “You have a world to win and nothing to lose but your chains”. Karl and Friedrich also proposed communism to the new revolution to solve all the new issues, caused by the industrialized/factory system. Many more solutions were debated, as well as arguments against any sorts of interference to the natural laws that governed the economy to not risk any major issues.

Laissez-Faire Economics (Market Economy)

The natural laws that controlled the economy are from the physiocrats during the Enlightenment. The argue that the natural laws should be allowed to operate without any sorts of interferences. This is an economic system, protected/made by the physiocrats and is called “Laissez-Fair Economics”, which by definition means, let people do as they choose.

In the late 1700’s, Adam Smith (A supporter to the economic system with the book, The wealth of nations), a philosopher as well as an economist contended that even though people followed after their own needs, the whole society profits from it. An example would be how industrialists pay workers salaries, thus contributing to the whole society. He introduced the concept of the “invisible hand”.

Another supporter to this system was Thomas Malthus. In his essay on “Population”, he describes how the population is growing faster than the food production and the only forces such as disease and famine keeps the population to not distance from the food supplies. He argues how the government should not try to correct social issues, otherwise the population will grow, wages will decrease and workers will turn out to be more miserable than before.

David Ricardo agreed with the supporters and his new ideas rose, later called “The iron law of wages”. He saw the economic system as a cycle passing two points, population and wages. If wages are high, the population grows and their will be more children. Than the opposite with be a surplus of workers and lower wages, leading to less children, thus there is a shortage of workers and employers have to pay more higher wages and when the wages rise, the cycle begins all over again. The workers are condemned to repeated low wages and misery, later called the “Dismal science”.

Calls and reforms

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (Famous book : On liberty) believed that poverty was not inevitable and if efforts were put into the mattor, the working conditions would improve. Jeremy also believed that the government should not intervene unless one person's actions, brought misery to others. John Stuart Mill believed that workers should act through labor unions and that the government should take actions if the workers needed better conditions. Mill also supported men and women's right to rule. Mill and Bentham supported capitalism as well, in which investors own and control the means of production. They wanted the industries to remain in private hands and the government only involve to correct abuses to the system.

On the other hand the socialist disapproved the capitalist system, because they believed that the system only benefit the industrialists. They wanted a system in which the government and workers controlled the means of production. They wanted a system in which all the people could benefit from.

Mid 1800’s the french journalist Louis Blanc organized cooperative workshops run by workers , which was also set during the French revolution as well, ”From each according to ability, to each according to need”, which was taken up by two german thinkers.

Utopian Socialists

One of the early socialists, was named Utopian and they dream of recreate an industry so that a new kind of society could grow from it. They believed in an ideal society, in which no poverty exists and everyone is treated fairly. Robert Owen is a Utopian socialist that as a child worked in a textile mills of Manchester, but by the age of 23 owned his own cotton manufacturer. A system in which the owner and its workers profit equally. In the 1800’s he tested his idea in New Lanark where he paid high wages, built comfortable houses as well as cheap food stores and his idea worked.

In France, Charles Fourier believed the same thing and so he tested out his own plan by creating small communities with 500-2000 people in each with the same interests and two of his communities were founded in US but all failed.

Natural Science

Science revolted in early 1800s with John Dalton and his atom, as well as with August Weismann’s ideas of life being based on tiny cells. Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, proved that bacterias turn beer and wine sour and that bacterias can be killed by heat. His progresses lead to him developing the process of pasteurization. Pasteurization is an important part of the milk industry today because of it killing the bacterias and preventing them from regrowing. Robert Koch was the man that showed that bacteria can cause diseases and he developed the vaccine for rabies, which was the first step in the development of vaccines protecting humans from a great amount of diseases caused by viruses.

Putting the accomplishments of Koch and Pasteur together, the english surgeon Joseph Lister developed ways to prevent bacteria from entering patients bodies by killing the bacterias on surgeon's hands and instruments. This made deaths caused by infections decrease dramatically, an important improvement. The russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev created the Periodic Table, which made huge progress in chemistry.

In physics, James Clerk Maxwell found out that electric and magnetic energy moves in waves. X-rays was discovered by the german Wilhelm Röentgen, in 1895. In France, Henry Bequerel discovered the unusual/different properties of uranium, which Marie and Pierre Curie that the unusual properties are due to its atomic structure. They also found two new elements called radium and polonium with similar unusual properties.

Then in the early 1900s Albert Einstein took the science even further by laying the basis of modern science with his theories. Einstein’s theory of relativity was important because it for the first time, made it possible to measure motion correctly outside earth, which previously was impossible due to Newton's limited accomplishments.

Karl Marx and scientific socialism

Karl was exiled from Germany because of his religious and political views and so his move to France created a partnership between him and Friedrich and they both blamed the system of industrial capitalism for all the issues in the factories. Marx and Engels explained their theory by 1848 in the communist manifesto(Political pamphlet by the two german philosophers), in which they explained a socialism where there should a public ownership of all lands and productions. Marx disliked the Utopian’s believes, because he saw them as impractical in contrast to his own theory where he sees it being based on scientific studies of history and so he called it “Scientific Socialism”. He believes that it is the economic system that mainly controls the social and political system, thus dividing the population to “Haves” and “Have nots”.

In the industrial society, Marx sees the bourgeoisie and the middle class as haves and the proletariat or working class as have nots. He believed that the bourgeoisie would be replaced by the middle class revolting, leading to an equal classless society. Weakness of marxism is how Marx prediction never occurred, because of how people under the capitalist system got better conditions (higher wages, vacations, public health, public education etc.). He did not really see the influence and power of the nationalism on the people either. He believed that international people would unite if they had a common enemy, capitalism but no one saw themselves as international nation to build a socialist state. In conclusion no one followed this theory, but people were still inspired, thus leading to socialist parties growing during the 1900’s.

Charles Darwin

In 1859, this British biologist Charles Darwin published the book “On the origin of species” that created interest among people as well as protests from the church (for believing that humans descended from apes), because of how he “ignored the human soul, and failed to explain why humans were supreme on earth”. Roman catholics and fundamental protestants believed that the words of god should be interpreted literally and so they condemned the theory. However, later on people became more understanding that the theory of evolution did not deny God's role in creation and that the biblical account of creation is more symbolic than literal.He went on a 5 year expedition to south africa and the pacific islands to observe the lives of animals and plants. He came to the conclusion that all forms of life evolve to a more complex form, completely different from the past. Darwin agreed with Malthus theory of how species grow faster than food and so the food chain fights for survival. This is called the “Process of natural selection” or “Survival of the fittest”. The species that survived, because of their offspring inheriting the biological traits that helped them survive.

Social Darwinism

The minority of the people used Darwin's theory on social, economic and political issues during the 1800’s. Herbert Spencer turned Darwin's theory into a social theory by explaining how all human lifes struggle for existence and only the fittest survive. For example an economic competition is a struggle for survival, where the strong throws out the weak and that the successful companies/industries are the survivors/fittest. Nationalists used Darwin's theory as well, believing that nations also struggle for existence and the nations that defeat other nations are superior.

“They should take who have the power. And they should keep who can”, Rudyard Kipling.

Social Science

Sociology and psychology saw daylight during the 1800s. They were born because people used the scientific method to study the action of human beings. Sociology is the study of the action of human beings in groups, in contrast to psychology which is the study of human beings as individuals.

Auguste Comte, a french philosopher, is seen as the founder of sociology due to his ideas about the society acting based on certain laws in similarity to the nature.

Some did start experiments on animals, like the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov who used dogs to determine whether or not he could reprogram a pattern into the dog’s head. He rang a bell before he fed the dog so the dog would start to produce saliva as a response to the bell.

The man behind psychoanalysis is the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud who believed the unconscious to hide hidden patterns humans do without thinking.


Reflecting the time, the arts of the 1800s showed the new life with the industrialization, the progress in science as well as the growth of cities. The new audience of the arts was the middle class, a big contrast to previous times when only the wealthy had the opportunity to enjoy it’s beautyness and discuss their hidden messages. With a bigger appreciating audience the artists could for the first time express more of their feelings and also sell their works and actually earn money on it.


After the late 1700s, the individual was seen as most important due to rejection against the earlier Enlighten ideas. It turned emotions, imagination and intuition to the ruling part of the society, giving birth to the romanticism. Poets aimed for the exiting Middle Ages, like Alexander Pushkin, a Russian poet, who based his poems on traditional Russian folk tales or like Victor Hugo, a French writer, who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame which took place during that time period.

The romanticism was similar to both literature and paintings. This was in big contrast to the paintings of the 1700s which mostly was rather cold in their classical way. With the romanticism the painters could show their own emotions through their paintings in an extreme way, completely new for it’s time. Showing exactly this, the French painter Eugène Delacroix said “not to imitate nature but to strike the imagination.”

The romanticism did also change the architecture of the 1800s from being similar to the balanced Greek and Roman architecture of ancient times, into being more similar to the buildings of the Middle Ages. The new Gothic style even influenced the British House of Parliament which was rebuilt after being burned down in 1834. Because of the increasing amount of steel the building was stronger and more lightweight in contrast to before. The outcome of improved buildings included the skyscrapers. Typical for the Gothic style was that “form follows function”

Music, was of course, as well inspired by the ravaging romanticism. Ludwig van Beethoven often wrote music of the romantic style which expressed emotions. In the 1800s the Opera flourished and the Italian opera reached it’s peak with Rigoletto, Aida and Otello.

The murder of romanticism

The Romanticism did not survive any longer than until the mid-1800s when people wanted to include the ugly parts making the litterature realistic. With works like The Human Comedy written by Honoré de Balzac and Crime and Punishment written by the Russian Feodor Dostoevski, the realism was born. A man that wrote in a sharp contrast to the romanticism’s view of nature, was the english author Thomas Hardy. Another englishman writing about the realistic life and who drew realistic portraits of the British cities during the Industrialization was Charles Dickens.

The realism did not only murder the romanticism in the literature, it transformed the paintings into showing cold and realistic settings as well. By the mid-1800s painters like Gustave Courbet and Honoré Daumier showed everyday life as it was. They did not make something more beautiful than it was due to them painting objectively.

Impressionism and postimpressionism

Going away from both the romanticism and realism, the impressionism captured fleeting impressions of the reality by often painting colors besides each other instead of blending them together. Claude Monet was an impressionist who painted the cathedral of Rouen in France many times to show different perspectives of light during a day.

Vincent Van Gogh was among others disliking the ideas of impressionism, joining the new art form of post impressionism.

In music, the French composer Claude Debussy expressed similar effects as the impressionists painted.

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