Section 1 A New Revolution in Science
The ideas of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud had an enormous impact on the 20th century. These thinkers were part of a scientific revolution as important as that brought about centuries earlier by Copernicus and Galileo.
Impact of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
In 1905, Einstein theorized that while the speed of light is constant, other things that seem constant, such as space and time, are not.Space and time can change when measured relative to an object moving near the speed of light—about 186,000 miles per second. Since relative motion is the key to Einstein’s idea, it is called the theory of relativity. Einstein’s ideas had implications not only for science but also for how people viewed the world.
Influence of Freudian Psychology
Freud treated patients with psychological problems. From his experiences, he constructed a theory about the human mind. He believed that much of human behavior is irrational, or beyond reason.He called the irrational part of the mind the unconscious. In the unconscious, a number of drives existed, especially pleasure-seeking drives, of which the conscious mind was unaware. Freud’s ideas weakened faith in reason.
Literature in the 1920s
The brutality of World War I caused philosophers and writers to question accepted ideas about reason and progress Disillusioned by the war, many people also feared the future and expressed doubts about traditional religious beliefs.Some writers and thinkers expressed their anxieties by creating disturbing visions of the present and the future.
Thinkers react to uncertanities
In their search for meaning in an uncertain world some thinkers turned to the philosophy known as existentialism. A major leader of this movement was the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre of France
Nietzsche wrote that Western ideas such as reason, democracy, and progress had stifled people’s creativity and actions. Nietzsche urged a return to the ancient heroic values of pride, assertiveness, and strength. His ideas attracted growing attention in the 20th century and had a great impact on politics in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
Revolution in the Arts
Although many of the new directions in painting and music began in the prewar period, they evolved after the war.
Artists Rebel Against Tradition
Inspired by traditional African art, Georges Braque of France and Pablo Picasso of Spain founded Cubism in 1907. Cubism transformed natural shapes into geometric forms. Objects were broken down into different parts with sharp angles and edges. Often several views were depicted at the same time.
Society Challenges Convention
Women’s Roles Change
The independent spirit of the times showed clearly in the changes women were making in their lives. The war had allowed women to take on new roles. Their work in the war effort was decisive in helping them win the right to vote. After the war, women’s suffrage became law in many countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and Austria.
A growing number spoke out for greater freedom in their lives. Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman risked arrest by speaking in favor of birth control. As women sought new careers, the numbers of women in medicine, education, journalism, and other professions increased.
Technological Advances Improve Life
Guglielmo Marconi conducted his first successful experiments with radio in 1895. However, the real push for radio development came during World War I. In 1920, the world’s first commercial radio station—KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—began broadcasting. Almost overnight, radio mania swept the United States. Every major city had stations broadcasting news, plays, and even live sporting events. Soon most families owned a radio.
The king of Hollywood’s silent screen was the English-born Charlie Chaplin, a comic genius best known for his portrayal of the lonely little tramp bewildered by life. In the late 1920s, the addition of sound transformed movies. The advances in transportation and communication that followed the war had brought the world in closer touch. Global prosperity came to depend on the economic well-being of all major nations, especially the United States.
Section 2 A Worldwide Depression
War’s end saw the sudden rise of new democracies. From 1914 to 1918, Europe’s last absolute rulers had been overthrown. The first of the new governments was formed in Russia in 1917. The Provisional Government, as it was called, hoped to establish constitutional and democratic rule. However, within months it had fallen to a Communist dictatorship. Even so, for the first time, most European nations had democratic governments.
Many citizens of the new democracies had little experience with representative government. Some countries had a dozen or more political groups. In these countries, it was almost impossible for one party to win enough support to govern effectively
Frequent changes in government made it hard for democratic countries to develop strong leadership and move toward long-term goals. The weaknesses of a coalition government became a major problem in times of crisis. Voters in several countries were then willing to sacrifice democratic government for strong, authoritarian leadership.
The Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic had serious weaknesses from the start. First, Germany lacked a strong democratic tradition. Furthermore, postwar Germany had several major political parties and many minor ones. Worst of all, millions of Germans blamed the Weimar government, not their wartime leaders, for the country’s defeat and postwar humiliation caused by the Versailles Treaty.
Germany also faced enormous economic problems that had begun during the war. Unlike Britain and France, Germany had not greatly increased its wartime taxes. To pay the expenses of the war, the Germans had simply printed money. After Germany’s defeat, this paper money steadily lost its value.
Burdened with heavy reparations payments to the Allies and with other economic problems, Germany printed even more money. As a result, the value of the mark, as Germany’s currency was called, fell sharply. Severe inflation set in. Germans needed more and more money to buy even the most basic goods. For example, in Berlin a loaf of bread cost less than a mark in 1918, more than 160 marks in 1922, and some 200 billion marks by late 1923. People took wheelbarrows full of money to buy food. As a result, many Germans questioned the value of their new democratic government.