Now the German revolutions in 1848 roughly paralleled those in Italy. In Germany, too, liberalism and nationalism won initial victories and then collapsed before internal dissension and Austrian resistance.
In Russia the process of modernization took far longer than in western Europe. There was no parliament in Russia until 1905. Serfdom was not abolished until 1861. Each time reform came—in the 1860s and in 1905 and 1906—it came as a result of military defeat abroad.
The Arabs had overrun a vast collection of diverse peoples with diverse customs. Moreover, internal dissensions among the Arabs themselves prevented the establishment of a permanent unified state to govern the whole of the conquered territory. After Muhammad’s death, there was disagreement over the succession. Finally, Muhammad’s eldest companion, Abu Bekr, was chosen khalifa (caliph, the representative of Muhammad). Abu Bekr died in 634, and the next two caliphs, Omar (r. 634-644) and Othman (r. 644-656), were also chosen from outside Muhammad’s family.
The German attack through Belgium was the first stage in the plan prepared by Alfred Graf von Schlieffen (1833-1913), chief of the general staff from 1891 to 1906. The strong right wing was to take Paris and fall on the rear of the French, who would be pinned down by the left wing.
With France quickly eliminated, the Germans would then unite their forces and attack the Russians, who would still be in the throes of mobilization. Britain, an island nation, would be held off and attacked if necessary.
Critics have often accused European royalty of ruinous expenditures on palaces, retinues, pensions, mistresses, and high living in general, and yet such expenditures were usually a relatively small part of government outlays. War was really the major cause of disastrous financial difficulties for modern governments. Henry VIII’s six wives, his court, his frequent royal journeys did not beggar England; the wars of Charles V and Philip II did beggar Spain.
Indoors, Renaissance buildings reflected the improving standard of life among the affluent. Smaller rooms were easier to heat than the vast drafty halls of the Middle Ages, and items of furniture began to multiply beyond the medieval complement of built-in beds, benches, cupboards, and tables. Although chairs were still largely reserved for the master of the house and important guests, benches or stools were becoming more common.
A solemn formal reception at the imperial court usually dazzled a foreign ruler or envoy, even a sophisticated Western bishop like Liudprand of Cremona (d. 972), ambassador of the king in Italy, who has left us his account from the year 948:
The reign of Alexander III and the first decade of the reign of his son, Nicholas II, formed a quarter-century of consistent policies (1881-1904) of the kind Tolstoy attacked so eloquently. Both czars hated the earlier liberal reforms and were determined that there would be no more.
The concept of an enlightened despot has proved attractive in many cultures.
Those rulers who were versed in the thought of the Enlightenment, may have realized that great social and economic changes were at hand, but some were more adept than others in their understanding of these changes and of how best to prepare their states for the future.
Of course, a bookish knowledge of Enlightenment thinkers was not always translated into enlightened actions.
The greatest test of the Federal Union was the war that broke out in 1861 after long years of sectional strife within the union between North and South. The Civil War was really an abortive nationalist revolution, the attempt of the Confederate (Southern) states to set up a separate sovereignty, as the southern Democrats lost political control at the national level.