Frederick’s decisive victory in the War of the Austrian Succession had laid bare the basic weaknesses of the Habsburgs’ dynastic empire. The empress Maria Theresa (r. 1740-1780) believed in the need for reform and often took as her model the institutions of her hated but successful rival, Frederick II of Prussia.
Spain in its Golden Age, 1516-1659, offers a case study of the clash between the ideal of absolutism and the persistence of the varied groups on which the monarchy sought to impose its centralized, standardizing rules. The reigns of its two hard-working monarchs, Charles V (r. 1516-1556) and Philip II, span almost the entire century.
This regime was well designed to carry on the chief preoccupation of the emerging Roman state war. The Roman army at first had as its basic unit the phalanx- about 8,000 foot soldiers armed with helmet, shield, lance, and sword. But experience led to the substitution of the far more maneuverable legion, consisting of 5,000 men in groups of 60 or 120, called maniples, armed with an iron-tipped javelin, which could be hurled at the enemy from a distance. Almost all citizens of Rome had to serve.
With Karl Marx (1818-1883) socialism moved to a far more intense form—revolutionary communism.
Whereas the early socialists had anticipated a gradual and peaceful evolution toward Utopia, Marx forecast a sudden and violent proletarian uprising by which the workers would capture governments and make them the instruments for securing proletarian welfare. From Blanc he derived the summary of socialist goals: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
Marx found three laws in the pattern of history.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a professor of theology the University of Wittenberg. In 1517 he was undergoing a great religious awakening. Luther’s father had sent him to the University of Erfurt, then the most prestigious in Germany, to study law. Luther yearned instead to enter the religious life. On his way back to Erfurt he was terrified by a severe thunderstorm and vowed that he would become a monk. Against his father’s opposition, Luther joined the Augustinian friars.
In domestic affairs, the 1920s were a time of frantic prosperity for the many who played the stock market. These were the years of Prohibition, of the speakeasy and the bootlegger, when the American media—newspapers, magazines, radio, and motion pictures—gave the impression that the entire nation was absorbed by short skirts, loosened sexual mores, new dances, and bathtub gin.
Poland was clearly going to be Hitler’s next victim. The Germans regarded the Polish Corridor dividing East Prussia from the rest of Germany as an affront; so, too, was the separation from Germany of the free city of Danzig, German in language and tradition, on the edge of the Polish Corridor.
On March 23, 1939, Hitler took the port town of Memel from Poland’s northern neighbor, Lithuania. At the end of the month, the British and French responded by assuring Poland of aid in the event of a German attack.
Much of the study at that time consisted of mere memorizing by rote, since in the days before printing ready reference works were scarce. Though the formal rules of scholarly debate were fixed, there was, nonetheless, lively discussion. Discussion and teaching were particularly preoccupied with defining systems by which people could live faithfully within the expectations of Christendom.
In his Pensees (Thoughts), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) remarked upon the transitions in history:
Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.
When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there should exist a common error which determines the mind of man, as, for example, the moon, to which is attributed the change of seasons, the progress of diseases, etc. For the chief malady of man is restless
curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.
The years between the wars were of great importance for Ireland. In 1916 the British put down the Easter rebellion with grim determination, creating nearly a hundred Irish political martyrs. The British government did not dare extend conscription to Ireland until April 1918, and that attempt led Irish nationalists to boycott the British Parliament. The crisis of 1914, postponed by the war, was again at hand.