The Twentieth-century World

  • R. A. Buchanan


Modern Industrial Civilisation emerged in a recognisable form in the twentieth century. Its origins, as we have seen, go back deep into the history of Western Civilisation and of the civilisations which preceded that, and it is the achievements of these earlier societies which have made our civilisation what it is. Without the Greek intellect and Hebrew individualism; without Roman administration and law; without the influences of Christianity, science, and technology; and without the experiences of expansion to world supremacy and of rapid industrialisation, the world today would be a very different place from that with which we are familiar, because Industrial Civilisation has combined all these factors and channelled them into a single, dynamic, world community. It is, therefore, not possible to arrive at even a reasonably comprehensive understanding of the contemporary world without grasping the significance of these historical forces which have framed it. Such an understanding, although indispensable, is only a beginning, and the hardest part of the analysis lies ahead. Scholars have long been aware of the perils of ‘contemporary history’, dealing with that penumbra zone of the immediate past from which prejudices and passions survive with undiminished vigour, but for which it has not yet been possible to make an objective assessment of the documentary evidence, so that it falls into a no-man’s-land between the historian and the sociologist. Nevertheless, the recognition of our civilisation as a distinctively twentieth-century phenomenon, and the realisation that this civilisation is now confronted by some quite extraordinary problems, compels us to venture upon this treacherous ground. We will begin with the most obvious political realignments which have taken place in the twentieth century, and proceed then to consider the more elusive ideological changes and the evolution of expectations and aspirations.


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    The fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities occurred in 1964 and produced a rash of studies. A particularly perceptive contribution was that of A. J. P. Taylor, The First World War: An Illustrated History (Hamish Hamilton 1963 ).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© R. A. Buchanan 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. Buchanan
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BathUK

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