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The Twentieth Century as the “Century of ‘isms’”

The 20th century is the century that saw a remarkable shift in many spheres of human life. Technological, medical, social, ideological, and political innovations became a peculiar feature of the Common Era. In the current paper, we are going to consider some of the most important forces in the political and economic history that the twentieth century has generated. Imperialism, nationalism, Marxism, liberalism, capitalism, ideological totalitarianism, and globalism are just a few “isms” that the 20th century witnessed.

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The early Common Era saw the breakup of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Through the peace treaties ending World War I many independent nations was established. The principle of national self-determination originates from the Paris Peace Conference upheld by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations. This principle recognizes the basic equality of all nations, large or small. The problems arise when this principle goes so far so that a nation claims superiority for itself.

Nazi Germany serves as an example of extreme nationalism. The superiority of the so-called Aryan race caused thousands of deaths of those who did not belong to this race. The Asian and the African continent also witnessed nationalist movements. The Indian National Congress struggled for the independence of India for over 60 years. Colonial territorial buildings were transformed into dozens of new nations after World War II. The growth of nationalism is observed after the fall of the Soviet Empire, the growth of Muslim fundamentalism, and the collapse of Yugoslavia. It is the concern of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Organization for African Unity to control the development of nationalism so that it does not grow into its extreme form.

Returning to the beginning of the 20th century we should speak of capitalism that different countries throughout the world experienced. After the years of the Great Depression in 1930 in the United States, capitalism existed in the form of subsidies, tax credits, incentives, and other types of exemptions. In Germany and Japan, the idea of centrally-planned industrial policies in which bankers, industrialists, and labor unions meet and seek to agree to wage policies and interest rates prevailed. These countries reject the idea of letting the market wholly determine the economy. Nowadays, some countries follow the principles of small-scale capitalism within a strictly Communist political framework, for example, China, but their future remains uncertain.

The antithesis of capitalism is Marxism. This economic and social system based on Marx and Engels’s theories has undergone several stages during the 20th century. The 1917 October Revolution led by Lenin was the first considerable attempt to implement Marxist ideas into practice. The initiators of the Revolution wanted to see the international spread of the Marxist ideas and the development of Communist parties did take place but without success in the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe. After World War II there was a rise of the revolutionary communist parties around the world. Vietnam, East Germany, Albania, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Yugoslavia were the countries where the communist parties gained power and established their own version of a Marxist state. The year 1991 symbolizes the collapse of Marxism ideas in a number of states. In global politics, radical Marxism ideas were replaced by neoliberal capitalism.

The impact of World War II on world development in the twentieth century can hardly be underestimated. The expansion of liberal ideas is one of the spheres which the War influenced. Britain, Scandinavia, and the USA saw the expansion of social welfare programs. After the economic stagnation that began in the late 1970s classical liberal positions revived. This presupposed the domination of free markets that is especially true when speaking of the political conservatives in Britain and the USA. Liberalism existing in the contemporary world is aimed at reducing inequality and expanding individual rights. Social reforms remain to be of first priority.

When we speak of the 20th century we think of the globalism ideas that stand to denote the network of connections that span multi-continental distances. Globalism is a phenomenon of ancient roots. The most obvious example of globalism is the Silk Road that served as an economic and cultural link between the two ancient continents: Europe and Asia. The 20th century saw the emergence of the four distinct dimensions of globalism: economic, military, environmental, and social. The economic dimension of globalism implies long-distance transport of materials or biological substances in the atmosphere or oceans that affect human health and well-being. The “balance of terror” between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War years serves as an example of the military dimension of 20th-century globalism. This was a network, a long one, in which constant threat of force was deployed. If we consider social and cultural dimensions of globalism we will see that in the 20th century it became less dependent on military and economic spheres. Movements of ideas, images, and people in the century under consideration are impossible without the spread of information. The current use of the Internet makes communication possible and facilitates the exchange of ideas and enhances globalism as a whole (Nye).

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Thus, a lot of “isms” shaped world development in the 20th century. Different opinions can exist about this or that economic and political system that the century witnessed, but no debates arise concerning the significance that the systems had and continue to have for world history.

Works Cited

Diehl-Callaway, Linda. “Is Capitalism Kaput?.” American Economist 36.1 (1992): 71.

“Nationalism.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2007.

Nye, J 2002, “Globalism Versus Globalization”, The Power of Global Ideas, 2008. Web. 

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 28). The Twentieth Century as the “Century of ‘isms’”.

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