(Published in GralsWelt 17/2000)
In the second half of the 19th century, Europe reached the height of its importance in the world:
European science and culture seemed to be well on the way to determining “world culture”.
Christianity also wanted to convert the remaining peoples to its faith. However, the Christian churches were divided on hundreds of denominations, and the behavior of many Christians was not a recommendation for their religion.
The "civilized world" (including Europe and North America in particular) wanted to dominate the "natives" and the "colonial peoples" (including ancient civilizations such as India and China). This was most evident in Africa. This was largely divided between European nations or their zones of influence.
Because all states aspired to colonies that promised cheap labor, inexpensive raw materials and sales markets for domestic overproduction.
Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal are particularly considered to be colonial powers; for a few decades also Germany and Italy. It is often overlooked that Siberia and the Caucasus were Russian colonies, the Philippines were colonies of the USA. T. are still.
Europe and the US shared common values; both felt, for example, committed to Christian ethics.
The majority of the European states were enlightened monarchies with parliaments, whose influence increased, so that politically they came closer to the democratic USA. But there were still reprisals against politically dissenting people and the oppression of ethnic minorities (e.g. in Russia), so that emigrants were still looking for a better life overseas for political or economic reasons.
Wars were considered a legitimate means of sovereign states; what did not find a solution on the diplomatic stage was fought out on the "field of honor". Almost every year there was war or riot somewhere in the world.
The economy developed. In addition to the "classic" branches of industry such as the textile industry and the construction industry, mechanical engineering, chemistry and electrical engineering became increasingly important. Perhaps the most important discovery of the time came with microbiology, which after 1870 finally recognized the causes of infectious diseases and ways to avoid epidemics.
A preliminary stage of today's “world economy” was practiced by colonial powers like Great Britain, and the “free economy” was celebrated in England, while other states, including the German Empire, protected their factories against unpleasant foreign competition with tariffs.
In the USA in particular, monopolies emerged that strove for total market power and in some cases had to be contained by legal measures.
In Europe as in the USA, socialist ideas also gained political influence. Workers' movements arose, strikes and lockouts hardened the relationship between “workers” and “factory owners” in the struggle for social equality, and it took a while until strikes were recognized as legitimate and could no longer be violently suppressed.
All of these tensions became apparent in the last decades of the 19th century. They hinted at the problems of the coming 20th century:
The conflict between capital and labor prophesied by Karl Marx (1818-1883). The socialist revolution. War for sales markets. Power struggle between companies and unions. A "world battle for raw materials". The "struggle for space" expected by nationalists.
In Central Europe, the already unstable balance of power between the states was additionally burdened: after its unification in 1871, the German Reich developed into a leading military and economic power that laid claim to colonies and claimed its due place in the concert of the great powers.
The economic competition between the states intensified. The economic basis was still based on raw materials found in one's own country, e.g. B. Coal and steel. But it was foreseeable that imported products such as rubber and crude oil would become increasingly important. Every great power had to secure access to these resources in order to assert itself.
Thus the economic and political goals of the nations overlapped. Economic constraints, political slogans, striving for power, social tensions, animosities between peoples were exploited by propagandists for their purposes in all states. The responsible heads of state were mostly overwhelmed by the variety of interests, opinions and problems.
The individual citizen was mostly little known about these global challenges; he concentrated on his personal environment. The governments did not demand the “formation of political will” as is desired in modern democracies; because many heads of state still thought aristocratically and oriented themselves to the cabinet policy of the 18th century.
So - also in Germany - it was suppressed how unstable the situation was, how endangered the German Reich, which was so self-confident and powerful, was. Even the Kaiser Wilhelm II, crowned in 1888, understood neither the difficult path to German unity nor the complicated situation of a newly formed empire in the heart of Europe, suspected with suspicion.
Other states were also under pressure:
Overdue reforms failed to materialize in Russia and short-sighted patriots wanted to cover up internal difficulties through a war.
Austria-Hungary threatened to break up under the independence of its various nationalities.
France cried out for revenge for the defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.
England had problems in the colonies and her industry felt German competition.
Italian nationalists demanded the "Alto Adige" (South Tyrol).
Ireland wanted to become independent.
The Balkans was a powder keg.
Blind nationalism supplanted the knowledge that all European peoples are united by a common culture and that only peaceful cooperation can promise a happy future for them.
Then the responsible decision-makers, absorbed by the problems of the day, staggered half-blind into the "Great Disaster of the 20th Century". (See under “History”).