- See related article Modernity.
The concept Modern World is recognized by many historians as being the period of time commencing after the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, after the mid-18th century. Other terms, such as Modern Period, modern times, the Modern Age, or the Modern Era, are commonly used. Some historians also use the terms New World or the Progressive Age to denote the recent period of time in history.
Beginning and ending
The beginning of this period is marked by the end of the European Renaissance. Exact definition depends on the specific usage — for example a historian might be referring to the period 1650-, whilst a musician might be referring to music postdating the romantic era, which would date the beginning of modernity to around 1900.
The modern age may be defined to extend to the present day, or else to conclude postmodernism (which may be dated any time from the 1960s to the early 1980s), again depending on the usage. In the case where modern is used in a sense which means "before postmodernism", it may refer specifically to modernism. Another view is that postmodernism may, however, be considered as just the latest development of modernism itself.
The concept of the modern world as distinct from an ancient world of historical and outmoded artifacts rests on a sense that the modern world is primarily the product of relatively recent and revolutionary change. Advances in all areas of human activity -- politics, industry, society, economics, commerce, transport, communication, mechanization, automation, science, medicine, technology and culture -- appear to have transformed an "Old World" into the 'Modern or New World. In each case, the identification of a Revolutionary change can be used to demarcate the old and old-fashioned from the modern.
In European politics, the transition from feudal institutions to modern institutions has been marked by a series of Revolutions and military conflicts, beginning with the Eighty Years' War, which resulted in Dutch independence, confirmed in the Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) established the modern international system of independent nation-states, ending feudalism in international relations. The English Glorious Revolution (1688) marked the end of feudalism in Great Britain, creating a modern constitutional monarchy. The French Revolution of 1789 overthrew the Ancien Régime in France, and as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, served to introduce political modernity in much of Western Europe.
The American and French Revolutions ended the role of absolute monarchies to do as they wished in the world. Henceforth the world would become a "Modern" place where Democracy, and Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity became the new standards of government and of the rules of society.
Men such as the Emperor Napoleon introduced new codes of law in Europe based on merit and achievement, rather than on a class system rooted in Feudalism. The modern political system of Liberalism (derived from the word "Liberty" which means "Freedom") empowered members of the dis-enfranchised Third Estate. The power of elected bodies swept aside traditional rule by royal decree. A new attachment to one's nation, culture and language produced the powerful forces of Nationalism. This in turn ultimately contributed to new ideologies such as the ideology of Fascism, Socialism and Communism.
Taken to an extreme, the desire to demolish all vestiges of the past and create a classless society, resulted in the abuses of Communism following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which executed the Tsar and his family, created the Soviet Union, transformed serfdom, and forcibly modernized Mother Russia. In Germany, once the Kaiser had abdicated in 1918, chaos ensued, paving the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.
The new republic of the United States of America granted the vote to black, male citizens, and placed reins on government based on the new Constitution and created a system of checks and balances between the three different branches of government, the legislature, judiciary, and executive headed by a President who won a national election.
Science and technology
Revolutions in science and technology have been no less influential than political revolutions in changing the shape of the modern world. The Scientific revolution, beginning with the discoveries of Kepler and Galileo, and culminating with Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), changed the way educated people saw the natural world.
The mechanical and scientific inventions that were discovered, studied and implemented changed the way goods were produced and marketed. For example, modern machines in Britain speeded up the manufacture of commodities such as cloth and iron. The horse and ox were no longer needed as beasts of burden. The newly invented engine powered the car, train, ship, and eventually the plane, thus revolutionizing the way people traveled. Artificially created energy powered any motor that drove any machine that was invented. Raw goods could be transported in huge quantities over vast distances and manufactured quickly and then marketed all over the world, making Britain into a very wealthy country.
Progress continued as Science saw so many new scientific discoveries. The telephone, radio, X-rays, microscopes, electricity all contributed to rapid changes in life-styles and societies. Discoveries of antibiotics such as penicillin brought new ways of combating diseases. Surgery and drugs kept on making progressive improvements in medical care, hospitals, and nursing. New theories such as Evolution and Psychoanalysis changed humanity's "old fashioned" views of itself.
An Industrial Revolution initiated by mechanical automation of the manufacture of cotton cloth and the use of steam engines, commenced in the 18th century in Great Britain, followed in the 19th century by a later series of developments, which saw modern systems of communication and transportation introduced in the form of steamships, railroads and the telegraph. In the late 19th century, a Second Industrial Revolution, prompted by developments in the chemical, petroleum, steel and electrical industries, furthered transformed the modern world.
Warfare was changed with the advent of new varieties of rifle, cannon, gun, machine gun, armor, tank, plane, jet, and missile. And weapons such as the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb, known along with chemical weapons and biological weapons as weapons of mass destruction actually made the devastation of the entire planet Earth possible in minutes. All these are among the markings of the Modern World.
New attitudes towards religion, with the church diminished, and a desire for personal freedoms, induced desires for sexual freedoms, which were ultimately accepted by large sectors of the Western World. Theories of "free love" and uninhibited sex were touted by radicals in the 1960s.
Equality of the sexes in politics and economics, women's liberation movement, gay rights for homosexuals and the freedom afforded by contraception allowed for greater personal choices in these intimate areas of personal life.
The Modern Age, when used in reference to the arts, is the period from around the beginning of the 20th century, up to the present day. While some art may be described as post-modern, in reality this is just a continuation of the characteristics of modern art. Modern art is typified by self-awareness, and by the manipulation of form or medium as an integral part of the work itself. Whereas pre-modern art merely sought to represent a form of reality, modern art tends to encourage the audience to question its perceptions, and thereby the fundamental nature, of art itself. Key movements in modern art include cubist painting, typified by Pablo Picasso, modernist literature such as that written by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein, and the 'new poetry' headed by Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
Much of the Modern world replaced the Biblically-oriented value system, the monarchical government system, and the feudal economic system, with new democratic and liberal ideas in the areas of politics, science, psychology, sociology, and economics. These new ideas were derived from the writings of such people as:
(Note: The list below is not comprehensive by any means. To name all the thinkers and personalities who helped shape the modern age would be a voluminous undertaking. This selection is meant as a profile of the way major thinkers contributed to the creation of the world as we know it today. They are listed chronologically by year of birth.)
- Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) Refutes geocentric theory, proposes a model placing the Sun at the center of the universe.
- Petrus Apianus (1495 - 1557), astronomer and cartographer. Published the first table of sines.
- Tycho Brahe (1546 - 1601), astronomer, astrologer and alchemist, proposed the Tychonian system in contrast to both the traditional Geocentric model and the new version of Heliocentrism.
- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) Wrote Starry Messenger reinforced Copernicus' heliocentric theory. Used early telescope to discover planets, mountains on the moon, sun spots, and the Milky Way in space.
- René Descartes (1596-1650) Wrote Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method. Rejected Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions; Boosted rationalism
- Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) Elevated scientific pantheism and rationalism.
- John Locke (1632-1704) Refutes Divine right of kings Role of tolerance in government
- Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Wrote Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica or Principia. Revolutionized mathematics, optics, and physics, laid the foundations for modern science
- Voltaire (1694-1778) Wrote Candide opposing Leibniz's "metaphysical optimism". Author and Philosopher freethinker before the French Revolution
- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Wrote Poor Richard's Almanack. Architect of liberty and helped draft the American Declaration of Independence
- Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) Wrote Social Contract :All men are born free and equal, rights of citizens and Will of the people
- Adam Smith (1723-1790) Wrote Wealth of Nations. Father of Classical Economics. Advocated laissez-faire market forces
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Wrote The Critique of Pure Reason in (1781). German philosopher and founder of critical philosophy. Explored role of knowledge and mind. Contributed to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics.
- Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Free trade and constitutional statesmanship against misgovernmemt
- Georg Hegel (1770-1831) Wrote Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821). Concepts of dialectics, thesis and antithesis and synthesis central to Hegelian philosophy.
- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) Wrote Principles of Political Economy advocating greater interaction between Labor and wealth
- Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Theory of evolution and homosapiens. Naturalism, botany
- Karl Marx (1818-1883) Wrote Das Kapital, Marxism, Communism. Dictatorship of the proletariat
- Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) Chiral molecules, existence of germs (microorganisms), pasteurization, vaccine against rabies.
- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Wrote War and Peace and chronicled the tumultuous conditions in Russia, its pre-Revolutionary anarchy, nihilism and social turmoil. Preached a form of Christian peace.
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) Wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Will to Power. Criticized traditional Christian values such as guilt. Preached concept of will to power and doctrine of the Übermensch ("Superman" or "Ultimate Man") that was later twisted and abused by Hitlerian Fascism and the Nazis as a rationale for Germanic anti-Semitism and the genocide of Jews.
- Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) Wrote Judenstaat ("Jewish State"). Father of modern Zionism. Laid down the political groundwork for the future State of Israel. Convened First Zionist Congress (1897) in Basel, Switzerland establishing the World Zionist Organization predicting a Jewish state within 50 years.
- Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Wrote Interpretation of Dreams, The Ego and the Id, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. Medical doctor. Started as neurologist. Father of psychoanalysis. Revealing the hidden subconscious libido and thanatos and the workings of the Ego, Superego and Id on human personality and behavior. Sought cures for modern neurosis and psychosis of neurotic and psychotic patients.
- John Dewey (1859-1952) Wrote Democracy and Education (1916) Philosopher of pragmatism and Social Darwinism.
- Max Weber (1864-1920) Wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), Economy and Society (1914), The Methodology of the Social Sciences (Pub. 1949 ). Forming sociology. Father of Social Sciences and study of the social system.
- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Hindu philosopher and lawyer,proponent of non violent protest contributed to the end of British rule in India and Pakistan helping to end the British Empire.
- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) (together with Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)), wrote Principia Mathematica connecting with Pythagoras and Plato. Russell wrote The Problems of Philosophy, Why I Am Not a Christian (1927) and much more. Logician, mathematician philosopher of liberalism and an activist pacifist, in 1958 becomes founding President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
- Winston Churchill (1874-1965) Wrote History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Political saviour of Britain facing Nazism Strategic theoretician of the Atlantic Alliance between Britain and the USA.
- Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) Wrote Symbols and Transformation (1912), Psychological Types (1921), Psychology and Religion: West and East, Psycholgy and Alchemy (1944), Practice of Psychotherapy. Role of mythology, religion and God in psychology.
- Albert Einstein (1879-1955) Postulated E=mc². All matter is energy and the Theory of relativity. Atomic theories helped the USA build the first atom bomb. Contributed to evolution of atomic energy, the atomic bomb, and nuclear weapons. Peace activist and warned about perils of nuclear war.
- Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) Revolutionary Bolshevik leader and "Father of the Red Army". The Writings of Leon Trotsky shaped Trotskyism.
- John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) Wrote The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in (1936) key in modern economics on employment and supply and demand.
- D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) Wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover and Sons and Lovers Promoted literary eroticism and sexual freedom. Fought efforts by censors objecting to pornography.
- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Wrote The waste land in 1922 and The hollow men in 1925 poet describing the frustrations of love and the emptiness of existence.
- Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) German dictator (1933-1945). Wrote Mein Kampf (1925) whilst in prison for a failed putsch, outlining his views which he put into practice. Doctrine of vicious Anti-Semitism, developed Nazism, and wanted genocide against non-Aryan peoples.
- Walt Disney (1901-1966) Creator of animated movies, revolutionized story-telling by introducing fictional Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs loved and imitated by millions of children and adults. Creator of pop culture.
- George Orwell (1903-1950) Wrote Animal Farm and 1984 warning about the dangers of totalitarianism and the state as Big Brother
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ) Wrote The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation. Intellectual who rejected cruelties of communism in the USSR.
Partisan use of the term Worldwide
The phrase "Worldwide" has tremendous emotional appeal, and is used in various countries not only by persons from professional historians to self-taught curmudgeons but by political groups which want to impose their view of reality upon their countrymen and even the whole world. The easiest way to do this is to establish a benchmark year and leave the particulars to specialists.
Britain: The Glorious Revolution of 1689 established a king selected by parliament, ending the troubles in that country in the seventeenth century. This was primarily done by the faction called the Whigs, who used the term "modern" for generations thereafter to gain credit. Later generations and political parties did not consider this a sufficient change to merit the term.
France: Although the French still glory in the magnificence of King Louis XIV, the end of his reign in 1715 is considered by them as a handy spot from which to tout the next phase of French glory, the Enlightenment, which they call « l'Age des lumières ». In other words, what happened in Britain does not concern them. After the French Revolution of 1789, they declared that the modern age had been surpassed by the contemporary age.
Russia: It took some time for the European socialists to conceive that the next great revolution would start someplace other than in France. But the Russians have always compared themselves to the French. After the October revolution, the Communist party of the Soviet Union declared that the "modern age" began with Peter the Great and the "contemporary age" began with this Bolshevik revolution.
Other countries do not use the terms the same as the French and Russians, especially if their languages are non-Indo-European. The Japanese call the dynasties previous to the Tokugawa dynasty as medieval, and the Meiji Restoration of 1858 is considered equivalent to the French Revolution of 1789, but haven't assimilated a form of the word modern for Tokugawa. As for the Third World, the obvious benchmarks are colonization by European imperial powers and the subsequent decolonization in the twentieth century. But "modern" and "contemporary" are not used for this purpose.
The United States of America: A seemingly natural dividing point as far as Spain and the new world are concerned is the voyage of Columbus in 1492. But the need for such an undertaking was underscored by the taking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire of the Turks in 1453, so historians once took this as their benchmark. Many contemporary historians, however, use a less-specific date, such as 1500, to avoid reference to a specific event that was not as important everywhere in the world.