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1 The Cultural Transformation of the Fin de siecle The era of world wars from 1914 to 1945 constituted the most intense period of international strife and also of domestic social and political conflict in modem history. Many of the forces that helped to generate such conflict had undergone long gestation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as in the cases of nationalism, imperialism, socialism, communism, and anarchism. Only one major new force-fascism-was novel and seemingly original, a product of the great conflict generation itself. Yet no major force suddenly emerges without prior development; the roots of fascism lay in the innovations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and particularly in the new doctrines and concepts produced by the cultural changes of the 1890s and the years that immediately followed. Though the generation that preceded 1914 was soon remembered as a golden age of stability and prosperity, a veritable belle epoque, it had in fact been the time of the most rapid change in all human history to that point, a time in which the physical terms of life were altered with unprecedented rapidity, while the cultural and spiritual foundations of the nineteenth century worldview were severely challenged and increasingly subverted. The late nineteenth century was the time of the "second industrial revolution," with the rapid expansion of heavy industry, accompanied by unprecedented technological innovation. It inaugurated the beginning of large-scale electrification and the modem revolution in communication and transportation, with the expansion of telegraph, telephone, and cable lines, of high-speed oceanic vessels, and with the introduction of the automobile, followed by the airplane. Speed of movement and demographic growth provoked an ever-greater transfer of popu23 24 PART I: HISTORY lation, as increasing numbers crossed continents and oceans, with large-scale emigration becoming a feature of the period. New inventions and discoveries succeeded one another at a dizzying pace, with the discovery of X rays, radioactivity, and the electron taking place between 1895 and 1897. Major discoveries were also made in the fields of chemistry and physics. In social science this was the golden age of sociological theory, producing the seminal formulations of Tonnies, Durkheim, Simmel, Pareto, and others. Changes in social structure were equally rapid and profound, due to an unprecedented increase in urbanization and the growth of the new working class, accompanied by expansion of sectors of the middle classes as well. Thus the fin de siecle became the first age of the masses, the emergence of a mass society being paralleled by commercial mass consumption and industrial mass production. This had major implications for the acceleration of a more modern form of politics and resulted in a new mass culture fed by mass media, featuring the introduction of the cinema and the dawning of a new "visual age." Important aspects were the growth of mass leisure for the first time in history and the beginning of large-scale spectator sports.1 The French writer Charles Peguy declared in 1900 that the world had changed more in the preceding thirty years than in the entire two millennia since Christ. Such far-reaching and unprecedented change created a new sense of the acceleration of history and of the transformation of human society and culture. The fin de siecle was a time of radical innovations in thought. Whereas the nineteenth century had been increasingly dominated by liberalism in politics and by materialism and science in culture, part of the generation of the 1880s and 1890s rejected such values, replacing them with a new orientation toward subjectivism, emotionalism, nonrationalism, and vitalism. This attempt to reverse dominant values produced what one historian has called "the intellectual crisis of the 1890s." 2 That concept is valid in drawing attention to the drastic innovations of new thinkers, writers, and artists, though it must be kept in mind that these new trends were not generally accepted at that time by most of intellectual and artistic society. The most famous and influential harbinger of the new trends was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who preached the "death of God" and categorically repudiated nineteenth-century materialism and rationalism. Nietzscheanism rejected what it called the "herd psychology" of modern democracy and collectivism. It espoused the "will to power" as the primordial I. An account of the inventions and innovations of the period may be found in M. Teich and R. Porter, eds., Fin de siecle and Its Legacv (Cambridge. 1993). 2. The term was coined by Zeev Sternhell with regard to...


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