A History of World Societies,
The Age of Anxiety in the West
As Chapter 29 explained, World War I marked a "great break" in
world history. The conflict severely reduced the power and resolve of the
Western world. The German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires disappeared,
Britain went from the world's leading creditor nation to a debtor, and fighting
on the Western Front destroyed much of French industry. Chapter 30 traced
the developments of powerful nationalist movements in Asia in response to
World War I that challenged Western predominance in global affairs. This chapter
explores the crisis in confidence that the war provoked within the West. The
sheer destructiveness of the war challenged widespread beliefs in the superiority
of Western culture and political traditions. Increasingly Westerners questioned
long-held beliefs about government, class, industrialism, and capitalism.
Western art reflected this anxiety. During the 1920s and 1930s Western societies
struggled to deal with these frustrations and to recreate a sense of stability
and security that the war had shattered. Chapter 32 will examine why and how
these efforts failed. The following Internet exercises will explore the anxieties
between World War I and World War II and how Westerners dealt with them.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different
sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions
detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking
on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details
- To many Westerners, the end of the war promised a return to happier times.
They clung to nineteenth-century values of "progress, reason, and the
rights of the individual" (McKay, A History of World Societies
[Fifth Edition], p. 985). Others were less optimistic. Read the excepts
History Sourcebook: Oswald Spengler: The Decline of The West, 1922 and
History Sourcebook: Paul Valéry: On European Civilization and the European
Mind, c. 1919, 1922. (You've read part of Valéry's thoughts on page
1001 of McKay, A History of World Societies [Sixth Edition].) Both
men claim that World War I marked the passing of an era. How do they depict
the past era? Describe their predictions for the new order, and analyze
how they use history to defend their claims. Why did they believe that the
war had ushered in a new era?
- Go to Classical
Music Archives: Stravinsky and listen to the passages from The Rite
of Spring. Analyze how this work reflects the new expressiveness of
the art world. World War I furthered these trends.
- For more here, go to The First World War:
War Art. Choose artists from each of the menus on the page (give special
attention to the German artists George Grosz and Otto Dix). Describe the
impact of the war on artistic expression. Did it lead to radical departures
in the art world, or did it encourage contemporary trends in the art world?
Now go to The
Metropolitan Museum Special Exhibitions: Painters in Paris, 1895-1950.
At the bottom of the page, click "Learn more about this exhibition"
and read the text. Be sure to visit the hyperlinks at the bottom of this
- Return to The
Metropolitan Museum Special Exhibitions: Painters in Paris, 1895-1950.
Click on "View images from this exhibition," and analyze these
images. Identify paintings that, in your opinion, exemplify the various
schools of modern art emerging in the early twentieth century - expressionism,
cubism, abstraction, and surrealism. Try to find one painting that fits
in each category, and justify your decision in a brief paragraph. Finally,
analyze how these new forms of art challenged nineteenth-century values
of progress and reason.
- The revolution in the art and music world failed to inspire rapt attention
among much of the middle and working classes in the West. Developments in
art remained the interest of a distinct minority. The general public instead
fell in love with two new mediums of entertainment - movies and the radio.
For a history of the early era of motion pictures, go to .movie.site,
and read the sections "The Birth of Film," "The Silent Era,"
and "The Beginning of the Studio System."
- Explain the evolution of motion pictures during this time period. What
kinds of motion pictures appealed to broad audiences? How did the industry
that produced motion pictures evolve? Did producers of motion pictures view
their craft as artistic expression or entertainment? McKay, A History
of World Societies (Sixth Edition), p. 1010, states that "the greatest
appeal of motion pictures was that they offered ordinary people a temporary
escape from the hard realities of international tensions, uncertainty, unemployment,
and personal frustrations." For more information on postwar life, see
- Go to Selected
Film Clips of Rudolph Valentino, Buster
Keaton: The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Gloria Swanson:
PHOTOS. Read the texts, study the images, and watch the film clips where
appropriate when visiting these sites. All three of these movie stars were
incredibly popular box office draws during the 1920s. Describe the kinds
of films they made. Why do you believe these genres had such a broad appeal?
Were they realistic or fantastic? How did they allow people to escape the
problems they faced in life?
- Radio provided a similar release. For a history of radio, go to Years
and read the text in this detailed timeline. Click on the hyperlinks that
will allow you to listen to songs, speeches, and excerpts from radio programming
from 1918 to 1939. Be sure to visit all links to Donna Halper's site and
listen to the excerpts there. Analyze to what extent the growth of the radio
industry paralleled the growth of the motion picture industry. For example,
how did the industry that produced radio programs evolve in this time? Why
did people tune in to the radio? Did it provide a release from everyday
strains much as movies did? What other purposes did radio have besides entertainment?
- What were the stresses and strains to which Activity Three alludes? For
insight, go to Aftermath:
When the Boys Came Home, which explores Great Britain during the 1920s.
Within this site, read A
Land Fit for Heroes and The
Lost Generation: Myth and Reality (be sure to click "continue"
and read both pages here). Also view the Gallery.
Analyze the problems society faced in postwar Britain. What were economic
conditions like? What psychological problems appeared? What was life like
for veterans of the war?
- The experiences of Great Britain were similar to those of the rest of
Europe. Everywhere on the continent governments struggled to restore peace
and prosperity. For an overview of this dilemma, see Brad
DeLong's essay, Restoring
the Pre-World War I Economy. According to this economic historian, what
economic dislocations did the war cause? How did the leaders of France,
Britain, the United States, and Germany try to remedy them? Why did their
- As DeLong's essay in Activity Five explains, the prosperity before the
war in the West did not return during the 1920s except in the United States.
After 1929, the Great Depression consumed all the economies of the West,
including the economy of the United States. For the international dimension
of the Great Depression, read the essay at The
Great Depression. According to this site, how did the economic slump
that began in 1929 in the United States affect Europe? What government policies
in the West exacerbated the economic decline? Analyze how the Great Depression
challenged traditional assumptions about the economy and government's role
in creating economic growth. Summarize your answer to this last task in
a brief essay (4-5 paragraphs).
- The depth and duration of the Great Depression forced Western governments
to respond with new and innovative strategies. In the United States, this
approach was known as the New Deal. For an overview, go to New
Deal and read this brief essay. Describe the New Deal and its strategy
for meeting the challenges of the Great Depression. What role did government
play in the New Deal? Who were most New Deal policies designed to help?
What traditional attitudes toward government and its role in people's lives
did the New Deal challenge?
- To further analyze the impact of the New Deal on America, go to Work Progress Administration
Projects in Georgia (read the essay at the beginning of this site, and
then observe images that interest you), A New
Deal for the Arts (read the essays and study the images at all the hyperlinks
here), and Brief History
of Social Security (click on "historical development"). These
web sites examine two very popular programs in the New Deal - the Work Projects
Administration (which included federal employment of artists) and Social
Security. McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), p.
1017, states that the New Deal "marked a profound shift from the traditional
stress on family support and community responsibility." Describe how
both programs represented this trend. What were the goals of each program?
Who were they designed to help? Does the federal government of the United
States still engage in efforts such as these? Why do you think the depression
led to such programs? Why are they still popular? Summarize your answers
in a brief essay.
- The New Deal signaled a clear break from traditional nineteenth-century
ideas on economic thought and the role of government. Democratic governments
in the West demonstrated similar trends. Many academics and philosophers
encouraged Governments to assume broader responsibilities during the 1930s.
No scholar had more influence during this time period than John Maynard
Keynes, a British economist; for his impact, go to The
Keynesian Revolution. Analyze how Keynes challenged traditional assumptions
about economic growth and the role of the government in the economy. Why,
according to Keynes, was the Great Depression so enduring? What role did
he believe that government should play in restoring economic growth? Overall,
what role did he urge governments to play in the economy? What older assumptions
did he challenge? For example, how did he view balanced budgets, government
spending, and interest rates?