The stresses of economic collapse and total war engendered internal conflicts within European states and created conflicting conceptions of the relationship between the individual and the state, as demonstrated in the ideological battle between liberal democracy, communism, and fascism.
During World War I, states increased the degree and scope of their authority over their economies, societies, and cultures. The demands of total war required the centralization of power and the regimentation of the lives of citizens. During the war, governments sought to control information and used propaganda to create stronger emotional ties to the nation and its war effort. Ironically, these measures also produced distrust of traditional authorities. At the end of the war, four empires dissolved — the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires — but the democratic nations that arose in their place lacked a tradition of democratic politics and suffered from weak economies and ethnic tensions. Even before the end of the war, Russia experienced a revolution and civil war that created not only a new state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the USSR or Soviet Union), but also a new conception of government and socioeconomic order based on communist ideals.
In Italy and Germany, charismatic leaders led fascist movements to power,
seizing control of the post–World War I governments. Fascism promised to solve economic problems through state direction, although not ownership, of production. The movements also promised to counteract the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles by rearming the military and by territorial expansion. The efforts of fascist governments to revise the Treaty of Versailles led to the most violent and destructive war in human history (World War II), a conflict between liberal democracies, temporarily allied with communist Russia, and fascist states. When this conflict ended in the total defeat of fascism, Europe was devastated, and liberal, capitalist democracies faced centrally directed, communist states — the only viable alternatives left.
In the post–World War II period, despite the difference of ideologies, states in both the East and West increased their involvement in their citizens’ lives through the establishment of welfare programs, the expansion of education, regulation and planning of the economy, and the extension of cultural opportunities to all groups in society.
With the collapse of communism and the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the liberal democracies of Western Europe celebrated the triumph of their political and economic systems, and many of the former communist states moved for admission into the European Union and the NATO. By the late 1990s, it became evident that the transition from communism to capitalism and democracy was not as simple as it first appeared to be. The West also experienced difficulties because of economic recession and experimented with hybrid economies that emphasized the social responsibility of the state toward its citizens.
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The Russian Revolution created a regime based on Marxist-Leninist theory.
The ideology of fascism, with roots in the pre-World War I era, gained popularity in an environment of postwar bitterness, the rise of communism, uncertain transitions to democracy, and economic instability.
The Great Depression, caused by weaknesses in international trade and monetary theories and practices, undermined Western European democracies and fomented radical political responses throughout Europe.
Postwar economic growth supported an increase in welfare benefits; however, subsequent economic stagnation led to criticism and limitation of the welfare state.
Eastern European nations were defined by their relationship with the Soviet Union, which oscillated between repression and limited reform, until Mikhail Gorbachev's policies led to the collapse of communist governments in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Pages below are from Jackson Spielvogel's Western Civilization, Updated 9th AP Edition
Reading assignment 1: