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Analyzing the Progress Made in Primary Education

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The New Reading Public

In 1850 about half the population of western Europe and a much higher proportion of Russians were illiterate. That situation changed during the next half century.

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Advances in Primary Education

The attack on illiteracy proved most successful in Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia, where by 1900 approximately 85 percent or more of the people could read.

The new primary education in the basic skills of reading and writing and elementary arithmetic reflected and generated social change. They also hoped that literacy might help the poor to help themselves and might create a better, more productive labor force.

They soon discovered that much of the education that led to better jobs and political influence was still open only to those who could afford it.

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Reading Material for the Mass Audience

Advances in printing and paper technology lowered production costs. The number of newspapers, books, magazines, mail-order catalogs, and libraries grew rapidly. Other publishers produced newspapers with specialized political or religious viewpoints. Probably more people with different ideas could get into print in the later nineteenth century than ever before in European history.

Because many of the new readers were only marginally literate and still ignorant about many subjects, the books and journals catering to them often were mediocre.

Science at Mid-Century

In about 1850 Voltaire would still have felt at home in a general discussion of scientific concepts. The basic Newtonian picture of physical nature that he had popularized still prevailed.

Comte, Positivism, and the Prestige of Science

The French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857), developed a philosophy of human intellectual development.

Comte thought that positive lows of social behavior could be discovered in the same fashion as laws of physical nature.

Popularizers, such as Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) in Britain and Ernst Haickel (1834-1919) in Germany, wrote and lectured widely on scientific topics.

Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection

Earlier writers had believed that evolution might occur; Darwin and Wallace explained how it could occur.

Darwin’s and Wallace’s theory represented the triumph of naturalistic explanation, which removed the idea of purpose from organic nature. Eyes were not made for seeing according to the rational wisdom and purpose of God but had developed mechanistically over time. The idea that physical and organic nature might be constantly changing allowed people in the late nineteenth century to believe that society, values, customs, and beliefs should also change.

In The Descent of Man, he applied the principle of evolution by natural selection to human beings. Not since Copernicus had removed the Earth from the center of the universe had the pride of Western human beings received so sharp a blow.

Science and Ethics

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a strong individualist, believed that human society progressed through competition.

They genuinely believed that they had, for all intents and purposes, discovered all that might be discovered.

Christianity and the Church Under Siege

The nineteenth century was one of the most difficult periods in the history of the organized Christian churches. Many European intellectuals left the faith. Yet during all of this turmoil, the Protestant and Catholic churches still made considerable headway at the popular level.

Intellectual Skepticism

Strauss contended that the story of Jesus was a myth that had arisen from the particular social and intellectual conditions of first-century Palestine.

By looking to natural causes to explain floods, mountains, and valleys, Lyellremoved the miraculous hand of God from the physical development of the Earth.


Much more important, the moral character of the Old Testament God came under fire. His cruelty and unpredictability did not fit will with the progressive, tolerant, rational values of liberals.

Conflict of Church and State

Liberals generally disliked the dogma and the political privileges of the established churches. From 1870 through the turn of the century, religious education was heatedly debated in every major country.


In Great Britain, the Education Act of 1870 provided for the construction of state-supported schools run by elected school boards, whereas earlier the government had given small grants to religious schools. In the Education Act of 1902, the government decide to provide state support for both religious and nonreligious schools but imposed the same educational standards on each.

Under the Falloux Law of 1850, the local priest provided religious education in the public schools. In 1905 the Napoleonic Concordat was terminated, and church and state wree totally separated.


Through administrative orders in 1870 and 1871, Bismark removed both Catholic and Protestant clergy from overseeing local education in Prussia and set education under state direction.

The legislation abolished the disciplinary power of the pope and the church over the clergy and transferred it to the state. In 1876 he had either arrested or driven from Prussia all the Catholic bishops.

In the end, Bismarck’s Kulturdampf (“cultural struggle”) against the Catholic Church failed. The Kulturdampf was probably the greatest blunder of Bismarck’s career.

Areas of Religious Revival

In Ireland, the 1870’s saw a widespread Catholic devotional revival. There were efforts by churches of all denominations to give more attention to the urban poor.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Modern World

The brief hope for a liberal pontificate from the Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878) vanished on the night of November 1848 when he fled the turmoil in Rome. In 1864 he issued the Syllabus of Error, which condemned all the major tenets of political liberalism and modern thought.

The First Vatican Council ended in 1870, when Italian troops invaded Rome at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

Pius X, who reigned from 1903 to 1914 and who has been proclaimed a saint, holed to resist the intrusions of modern thought and to restore traditional devotional life.

Toward a Twentieth-Century Frame of Mind

Philosophers, scientists, psychologists, and artists began to portray physical reality, human nature, and human society in ways different from those of the past. Their new concepts challenged the major presuppositions of mid-nineteenth-century science, rationalism, liberalism, and bourgeois morality.


Discoveries in the laboratory paralleled the philosophical challenge to nine-teenth-century science. In December 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923) published a paper on his discovery of x-rays, a form of energy that penetrated various opaque materials.

In 1902 Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), who had been Thomson’s assistant, explained the cause of radiation through the disintegration of the atoms of radioactive materials.


In 1900 Max Planck(1858-1947) pioneered the articulation of the quantum theory of energy, according to which energy is a series of discrete quantities, or packets, rather than a continuous stream. In 1905 Albert Einstein (1879-1955) published his first epochmaking papers on relativity in which he contended that time and space exist not separately but rather as a combined continuum.

In 1927 Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) set forth the uncertainty principle, according to which the behavior of subatomic particles is a matter of statistical probability rather than of exactly determinable cause and effect.

Literature: Realism and Naturalism

Realism rejected the romantic idealization of nature, the poor, love, and polite society. Realist novelists portrayed the dark, degraded, and dirty side of life almost, some people thought, for its own sake.


The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) carried realism into the dramatic presentation of domestic life. He sought to achieve new modes of social awareness and to strip away the illusory mask of middle-class morality.

One of Ibsen’s greatest champions was the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), who spent most of his life in England. During the late 1880’s, Shaw vigorously defended Ibsen’s work. He went on to make his own realistic onslaught against romanticism and false respectability.


Like realism, modernism was critical of middle-class society and accepted morality.

Friedrich Nietzsche and the Revolt Against Reason

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), at one time or another, he attacked Christianity, democracy, nationalism, rationality, science, and progress. He wanted not only to tear away the masks of respectable life but also to explore how human beings made such masks.

Nietzsche criticized democracy and Christianity.

In Nietzsche’s view, morality was a human convention that had no independent existence apart form humankind.

Nietzsche’s philosophy and that of other writers of the time questioned not only the rigid domestic and religious morality of the nineteenth century but also the values of toleration, cosmopolitanism and benevolence that had been championed during the Enlightenment.

The Birth of Psychoanalysis

A determination to probe beneath surface or public appearance united the major figures of late-nineteenth-century science, art, and philosophy.


Freud was born into an Austrian Jewish family that settled in Vienna.

In the mid-1890’s, Freud changed the technique of his investigations. He abandoned hypnosis and allowed his patients to talk freely and spontaneously about themselves.

As a rationalist, Freud believed that the seemingly irrational content of dreams must have a reasonable, scientific explanation.


He developed a new model of the internal organization of the mind.

Like the philosophes, he was a realist who wanted human beings to life free of fear and illusions by rationally understanding themselves and their world.

The most important of these dissenters was Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss whom for many years Freud regarded as his most distinguished and promising student.

Jung believed that the human subconscious contained inherited memories from previous generations.

By the 1920’s, the psychoanalytic movement had become even more fragmented.

Retreat from Rationalism in Politics

They generally felt that once given the vote, individuals would behave according to their rational political self-interest. Political scientists and sociologists painted politics as frequently irrational.


The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) regarded the emergence of rationalism throughout society as the major development of human history.

Weber saw bureaucratization as the basic feature of modern social life.

Weber also contened-again, in contrast to Marx- that noneconomic factors might account for major developments in human history.


Sorel argued in Reflections on Violence (1908) that people did not pursue rationally perceived goals but were led to action by collectively shared ideals.


Renaissance explorers had displayed considerable prejudice against nonwhite peoples.

In the late nineteenth century, however, race emerged as a single dominant explanation of the history and the character of large groups of people.


Gobineau’s essay essay remained little known for many years. In the meantime, a growing literature by anthropologists and explorers helped to spread racial thinking.


Racial thinking was one part of a wider late-century movement toward more aggressive nationalism.

From the 1870’s onward, however, nationalism became a movement with mass support, well-financed organizations, and political parties.

Anti-Semitism and the Birth of Zionism

Religious anti-Semitism dated from at least the Middle Ages. Since the French Revolution, West European Jews had gradually gained entry into the civil life of Britain, France, and Germany.


In Vienna, Mayor Karl Lueger (1844-1910) used anti-Semitism as a major attraction to his successful Christian Socialist Party.

According to racial thinkers, the problem of race was not in the character but in the blood of the Jew.


Herzl became convinced that liberal politics and the institutions of the liberal state could not protect the Jews in Europe or ensure that they would be treated justly.

Women and Modern Thought

Within the often radically new ways of thinking about the world, views of women and their roles in society often remained remarkably unchanged.

Antifeminism in Late-Century Thought

Many late-century thinkers and writers of fiction also often displayed real fear and hostility toward women, portraying them as creatures susceptible to overwhelming and often destructive feelings and instincts.

Despite their otherwise conservative views on gender, however, both Darwin and Huxley supported the expansion of education for women.

Since psychology would increasingly influence child-rearing practices and domestic relations law in the twentieth century, it would, ironically, give men a large impact in the one area of social activity that had been dominated by women.

Emile Durkheim portrayed women as essentially creatures of feeling and family rather than of intellect. Virtually all of the early sociologists took a conservative view of marriage, the family, child rearing, and divorce.

New Directions in Feminism

Women became more clearly of their problems as women in a variety of ways, confronting them not only by seeking the vote. Nonetheless, late in the last century and early in this one, they defined the issues that would become more fully and successfully explored after World War II.

Increasingly, feminists would concentrate on freeing and developing women’s personalities through better education and government financial support for women engaged in traditional social roles, whether or not they had gained the vote.

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