The New Age After the 1500s


After 1500 there were many signs that a new age of world 
history was beginning, for example the discovery of America and the 
first European enterprises in Asia. This "new age" was dominated by 
the astonishing success of one civilization among many, that of 
Europe. There was more and more continuous interconnection between 
events in all countries, but it is to be explained by European 
efforts. Europeans eventually became "masters of the globe" and they 
used their mastery to make the world one. That resulted in a unity of 
world history that can be detected until today. Politics, 
empire-building, and military expansion were only a tiny part of what 
was going on. Besides the economic integration of the globe there was 
a much more important process going on: The spreading of assumptions 
and ideas. The result was to be "One World." The age of independent 
civilizations has come to a close.
 The history of the centuries since 1500 can be described as a 
series of wars and violent struggles. Obviously men in different 
countries did not like another much more than their predecessors did. 
However, they were much more alike than their ancestors were, which 
was an outcome of what we now call modernization. One could also say 
that the world was Europeanized, for modernization was a matter of 
ideas and techniques which have an European origin. It was with the 
modernization of Europe that the unification of world history began. A 
great change in Europe was the starting-point of modern history.
 There was a continuing economic predominance of agriculture. 
Agricultural progress increasingly took two main forms: Orientation 
towards the market, and technical innovation. They were 
interconnected. A large population in the neighborhood meant a market 
and therefore an incentive. Even in the fifteenth century the 
inhabitants of so called ³low countries² were already leaders in the 
techniques of intensive cultivation. Better drainage opened the way to 
better pasture and to a larger animal population. Agricultural 
improvement favored the reorganization of land in bigger farms, the 
reduction of the number of small holders, the employment of wage 
labor, and high capital investment in buildings, drainage and 
 In the late sixteenth century one response to the pressure of 
expanding population upon slowly growing resources had been the 
promoting of emigration. By 1800, Europeans had made a large 
contribution to the peopling of new lands overseas. It was already 
discernible in the sixteenth century when there began the long 
expansion of world commerce which was to last until 1930. It started 
by carrying further the shift of economic gravity from southern to 
north-western Europe, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, which 
has already been remarked. One contribution to this was made by 
political troubles and wars such as ruined Italy in the early 
sixteenth century. The great commercial success story of the sixteenth 
century was Antwerp's, though it collapsed after a few decades in 
political and economic disaster. In the seventeenth century Amsterdam 
and London surpassed it. In each case an important trade based on a 
well-populated hinterland provided profits for diversification into 
manufacturing industry, services, and banking. The Bank of Amsterdam 
and The Bank of England were already international economic forces in 
the in the seventeenth century. About them clustered other banks and 
merchant houses undertaking operations of credit and finance. Interest 
rates came down and the bill of exchange, a medieval invention, 
underwent an enormous extension of use and became the primary 
financial instrument of international trade. 
 This was the beginning of the increasing use of paper, instead 
of bullion. In the eighteenth century came the first European paper 
currencies and the invention of the check. Joint stock companies 
generated another form of negotiable security, their own shares. 
Quotation of these in London coffee-houses in the seventeenth century 
was overtaken by the foundation of the London Stock Exchange. By 1800 
similar institutions existed in many other countries. It was also the 
time of some spectacular disastrous investment projects, one of which 
was the great English South Sea Bubble. But all the time the world was 
growing more commercial, more used to the idea of employing money to 
make money, and was supplying itself with the apparatus of modern 
 One effect quickly appeared in the much greater attention paid 
to commercial questions in diplomatic negotiation from the later 
seventeenth century and in the fact that countries were prepared to 
fight over them. The English and Dutch went to war over trade in 1652. 
This opened a long era during which they, the French and Spanish, 
fought again and again over quarrels in which questions of trade were 
important. Governments not only looked after their merchants by going 
to war to uphold their interests, but also intervened in other ways in 
the working of the commercial economy. One advantage they could offer 
were monopoly privileges to a company under a charter; this made the 
raising of capital easier by offering some security for a return. Such 
activities closely involved government and therefore the concerns of 
businessmen shaped both, policy and law. 
 The most impressive structural development in European 
commerce was the sudden new importance to it of overseas trade from 
the second half of the seventeenth century onwards. This was part of 
the shift of economic activity from Mediterranean to northern Europe. 
By the late seventeenth century. Rising populations and some assurance 
of adequate transport (water was always cheaper than land carriage) 
slowly built up an international trade in cereals. Shipbuilding itself 
promoted the movement of such commodities as pitch, flax or timber. 
More than European consumption was involved; all this took place in a 
setting of growing colonial empires. By the eighteenth century there 
were already present an oceanic economy and an international trading 
community which does business -- and fights and intrigues for it -- 
around the globe. In this economy an important and growing part was 
played by slaves, most of them black Africans. In Europe itself, 
slavery had by then all but withered away. Now it was to undergo a 
vast extension in other continents. Soon a permanent slaving station 
was set up in West Africa. This shows the rapid discovery of the 
profitability of the new traffic. It was already clear that it was a 
business of brutality. As the search for slaves went further inland, 
it became simpler to rely on local potentates who would round up 
captives and barter them wholesale.
 Early industrial centers grew by accretion, often around the 
centers of established European industries closely related to 
agriculture. This long continued to be true. These old trades had 
created concentrations of supporting industry. Antwerp had been the 
great port of entry to Europe for English cloth; as a result, 
finishing and dyeing establishments appeared there to work up further 
commodities flowing through the port.
 The twentieth century needs no reminders that social change 
can quickly follow economic change. We have little belief in the 
immutability of social forms and institutions. Three hundred years 
ago, many men and women believed them to be virtually God-given and 
the result was that although social changes took place in the 
aftermath of inflation, they were muffled by the persistence of old 
forms. Superficially much of European society remained unchanged 
between 1500 and 1800. Yet the economic realities underlying changed a 
great deal. Rural life had already begun to show this in some 
countries before 1500. As agriculture became more and more a matter of 
business, traditional rural society had to change. Forms were usually 
preserved. Although feudal lordship still existed in France in the 
1780s, it was by then less a social reality than an economic device.
 Europe was divided roughly along the Elbe. To the west lay 
countries evolving slowly by 1800 towards more open social forms. To 
the east lay authoritarian governments presiding over agrarian 
societies where a minority of landholders enjoyed great powers over a 
largely tied peasantry. In this area towns did not often prosper as 
they had done for centuries in the West. They tended to be overtaxed 
islands in a rural sea, unable to attract from the countryside the 
labor they needed because of the extent of serfdom. Over great tracts 
of Poland and Russia even a money economy barely existed. Much of 
later European history was implicit in this difference between east 
and west.
 In the time span between the sixteenth and the eighteenth 
century states that were once powerful fell in rank, namely Spain, 
Sweden, the Netherlands, and the Ottoman Empire. This led to the rise 
of the new great powers such as Austria-Hungary, England, France, 
Prussia, and Russia. Factors to their rise were their geography, 
financial system, military strategy, and a new form of bureaucracy.
Laws ensured the people¹s security , whereas religion did not 
interfere. Furthermore a new form of government was introduced, where 
there was more than just an exclusive group at power. With these 
changes a new system of modern bureaucracy began to rise. With that a 
major contradiction seemed to come up. How could capitalism, promoting 
free enterprise, and bureaucracy, which was a complex system of 
regulations and restrictions, coexist? However, taking a closer look 
at today¹s capitalistic societies one can clearly detect an advantage 
of that constellation. In Germany for example the capitalistic 
business world is strongly restricted by government regulations, 
decreasing the companies¹ profits, but benefiting society. In Brazil, 
on the other hand, where the so called "capitalismo salvage" prevails, 
the business world lives of the people, leaving them in poor 
 The ³Treaty of Utrecht² benefited most of central Europe by 
establishing a balance of power and restoring peace. Russia benefited 
of Sweden¹s decline, and a large bureaucratic machinery collected a 
lot of taxes. Ivan the Terrible build up an extremely efficient system 
of espionage, which preserved his own power and increased state 
revenues. Likewise, Prussia prospered from its modern legal system, 
its strong state apparatus, where bureaucrats were state servants with 
some duties and many privileges. Prussia was also known for its 
disciplined army with advanced weapons. One could say that Prussia was 
a very well organized efficient power. 
 Austria-Hungary was also able to maintain its status as a 
great power for a long time. The bureaucracy remained efficient due 
to the separation of power that existed between the prince and the 
people. In this case, the elements of finance, geography, and 
military strategy were not as crucial to the rise of this 
organization. France kept an effective and rational bureaucracy that 
consisted of royal officials who acted as state authorities along with 
the king. The collection of revenue was direct and strictly enforced 
by the bureaucracy. While France was a prominent Great Power, it also 
faced numerous problems. Their military strategy was extremely weak. 
 The allotment of revenue that went towards defense was split between 
land and sea powers; creating a mediocre military in both areas. 
Thus, France was unable to turn to the offensive. The taxes collected 
were not enough to uphold the maintenance of the state. France's 
financial situation was inferior to that of England's since they had 
no system of credit which England already developed. France also 
relied heavily on the importation of goods from colonies. This 
constant trade drained the economy because it called for a strong navy 
which was not possible. 
 England became superior to France in many ways. This was 
largely due to the industrial revolution that made England a powerful 
force while France suffered because of structural problems. England 
experienced success in the coal, iron, textile, and steel industry. 
England was the leading nation in Europe in mining and heavy 
manufacturing. Then came more innovations such as the invention of 
the steam engine in 1712. This success led only to more prosperity in 
many areas. 
 The rise of the mentioned powers was greatly influenced by the 
adaptation of a new system of bureaucracy. This new system utilized 
at least one of the important factors that brought about the rise of 
these nations: finance, geography, or military strategy. England 
proves to be the best example of this modern bureaucratic system 
because it used all three elements while striving for maximum 
efficiency and power.


Quotes: Search by Author