Friday, September 13, 2013

Berlin Conference of 1884
  • The Berlin Conference of 1884–85 was a meeting between European nations to create rules on how to peacefully divide Africa among them for colonization. 
  • The conference was convened by Portugal but led by Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of the newly united Germany. 
  • Though invited, the U.S. declined to participate. 
  • The resulting agreement, the General Act of the 1885 Conference of Berlin, banned the slave trade in name (though not in reality, especially in the Belgian-controlled Congo Free State) but otherwise encouraged European nations to aggressively colonize and exploit Africa's human and natural resources or to lose their claims under the Principle of Effectivity, which allowed signatories of the agreement to jump each other's claims if the claims were not being fully exploited.
  • Capitalism is an economic system that developed during the European industrial transformation that began in the late 18th century. 
  • Capitalism is based on beliefs in progress, respect for individual choices, and property rights, including the right to buy and sell freely. 
  • It seeks to create wealth by controlling and improving the means of economic production, such as land, factories, and machinery. 
  • Unlike those in a feudal system, laborers in a capitalist system are free to make their own decisions about where and whether to work. 
  • Capitalism differs from mercantilism in that mercantilism seeks to control the means of trade, especially long-term trade, and to increase national wealth by creating trade imbalances with other countries, whereas capitalism seeks to increase wealth through increasing efficiency in production.
  • Détente, French for "thaw," refers to the lessening of tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the decade following the Cuban Missile Crisis. (The term also refers to better relationships between the U.S. and China over the same period.) 
  • Détente saw public progress toward nuclear arms control (SALT I treaty) and increased cooperation in trade and space exploration, but relationships remained strained over human rights and proxy wars, such as Vietnam, fought between the capitalist democracies and the communist bloc. 
  • Rising tensions between the USSR and China, including a 1969 border conflict, prompted both communist countries to improve relations with the West. 
  • Détente largely ended with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an event that contributed to the USSR's 1991 collapse.
European Union
  • The European Union is a transnational federation that has largely removed barriers to movement by people and goods, mostly shares a common currency, and coordinates defense and diplomatic policies. 
  • It began as a six-nation coal and steel community in 1952, but grew in size and scope, due largely to the post-World War II view that European integration was essential for avoiding World War III. 
  • Its governing Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union became compulsory for member states under the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. 
  • Its bureaucratic and political structures are based in Brussels. 
  • Current controversies include refusal to admit Turkey (Europe's largest Muslim country) into the union, leading to assertions that the union merely reinforces the pan-European Christian identity dating from the Roman Empire.
French Revolution
  • The French Revolution (1789–1799) established the first modern European republic and signaled the death of feudalism. 
  • Feudal excesses, wars and fiscal mismanagement contributed to the revolution, whose flashpoint occurred when King Louis XVI convened an assembly, the "Estates-General," representing the three pillars of feudal society — nobles, clergy, and commoners — to revise taxes. 
  • The commoners present asserted the right to enact a new constitution, triggering national revolt. 
  • In subsequent years, the royal family was executed and the ideals of "liberty, egality and fraternity" suffered as various councils attempted to govern France while warring against neighboring monarchies and the republic descended into a "Reign of Terror" involving mass beheadings of suspected counter-revolutionaries. 
  • Napoleon Bonaparte ended the revolution in 1799 by seizing powers similar to the king's.

  • Humanism was a Renaissance artistic, literary, and political movement that sought to reorder society along the artistic and moral examples of the pre-Christian Classical World. 
  • The movement was especially invigorated by the ancients' previous accomplishments in aesthetics, ethics, and applied reason. 
  • The modern study of "the humanities" derives from this term and period. 
  • The humanists, including pioneers like Dante and Petrarch, emphasized the ancient Greek values of individualism and human excellence (virtue) over the divine and helped to reintegrate Classical thought, especially neo-Platonic thought, into the Western tradition. 
  • Humanists were avid collectors and translators of ancient Greek and Roman texts, many of which had been largely unknown prior to the revival but which became widely disseminated through the aid of the printing press.

  • Imperialism is the political, economic, military, or other domination of one country or culture by another. 
  • Imperialism has existed throughout recorded human history and typically involves economic transfer of wealth from the dominated country to the dominator, either in the form of tribute or favorable terms for the transfer of natural resources, use of territory (such as ports), taxes, and other means. 
  • The term is especially applied to the European domination of Africa following the Berlin Conference of 1885, and was an outgrowth of earlier policies of mercantilism and colonialism
  • During the period of European imperialism, practitioners of it sought to justify their behavior through theories like Social Darwinism and beliefs in a civilizing mission, dubbed the "White Man's Burden," behind European global dominance.

Laissez-faire Capitalism
  • Laissez-faire capitalism is a belief that unregulated capitalism will create the greatest benefit for all. 
  • Proponents of such a system believe that government interference, including tariffs or social safety nets, ultimately causes more harm than good by promoting or protecting inefficiency. 
  • In extreme forms, the philosophy has been used as a reason not to intervene in humanitarian crises, such as the Irish famines (1846–49), despite evidence that many "natural" catastrophes are the result of government actions or lop-sided concentrations of wealth and resources. 
  • Adam Smith's belief in the "invisible hand" that balances economic systems is sometimes cited as evidence of his support for laissez-faire policies, though his call for government to intervene to prevent monopolies shows he was not an absolutist.
  • A nation-state is a political entity with sovereignty over a defined territory often coinciding with the distribution of a unified ethnic identity. 
  • The nation-state in Europe replaced the religious and imperial basis for political legitimacy following the Reformation. 
  • The Peace of Westphalia solidified the concept of nation-states and national sovereignty by constraining the rights of outsiders to intervene in the internal affairs of others on religious or other pretexts. 
  • National sovereignty became a key concept in social contract theory. 
  • The related concept of self-determination of peoples has been used to justify formation of nation-states mirroring ethnic distributions, but completely homogenous countries rarely, if ever, exist. 
  • Unified identities have created nation-states, as in England, but have also developed in response to nation-state creation, as in France.
  • The term papacy refers both to the pope's position as leader of the Catholic Church and to the larger bureaucratic structure of that church. 
  • Today the papacy is headquartered in the independent country of the Vatican, surrounded by the city of Rome. 
  • This location reflects the historical primacy of the bishop of Rome over other bishops due to the church's status as the state religion more or less since the reign of Constantine. 
  • Starting with the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 AD, the popes established their authority in Europe to act as God's representatives in supporting — or denying — the Divine Right of Kings to rule in Europe. Collaboration was thus assured between Europe's secular and religious leaders until the Reformation created new political possibilities.

  • The Protestant Reformation (1517 – 1648) began with a challenge by German monk Martin Luther to the Catholic Church with his "95 Theses" to end the practice of selling forgiveness for sins in exchange for money (a practice known as "indulgences"), but led to the permanent disruption of the relationship between the Papacy and the aristocracy as the basis for political legitimacy and stability in Europe. 
  • Martin's premise that no church hierarchy or intercession is required either for prayer or salvation was reinforced by his translation of the Bible into German, making its text directly accessible to common people for the first time. 
  • The current diversity of Christian sects emerged in the century of warfare and social upheaval that followed.

Scientific Revolution
  • The scientific revolution refers to the rapid advances in European scientific, mathematical, and political thought, based on a new philosophy of empiricism and a faith in progress that defined Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. 
  • It grew gradually from expanded global trade, invention of the printing press, and the Reformation. 
  • The 1543 publication of Copernicus' observations that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system is viewed as the revolution's flash point because his book encompassed its major trends: challenging Classical writers and religious doctrine that contradicted direct observation and dissemination of knowledge via the printing press. 
  • Contests between Catholic and Protestant regimes at the time also provided safe havens for those willing to challenge the doctrines of either side.

The Holocaust
  • The Holocaust (1939–45) was the mass-murder of six million Jews and additional millions of Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally disabled, and political opponents by the German government and military under the Nazis during World War II. 
  • Two-thirds of the Jews in Europe were murdered through use of the products of the Industrial Revolution — notably railroads, large-scale prison camps, and chemistry — and bureaucratic management that systematically carried out the largest genocide in history. 
  • Referred to by Nazis as the "final solution," the Holocaust was the culmination of anti-Semitic and extreme nationalist views outlined in Hitler's 1926 biography, Mein Kampf, published prior to the 1932 election that gave his Nazi party a parliamentary majority. 
  • Numerous Nazi leaders were tried for crimes against humanity in the precedent-setting Nuremburg trials.

  • The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or Soviet Union (1922 – 91) was a one-party, communist state emphasizing a centrally planned command economy. 
  • Founded following the overthrow of the Czar and victory by the Bolsheviks in the ensuing civil war, it was the first country to transform society along Marxist economic and social theories. 
  • Russians formed the country's largest cultural group. 
  • Though its early decades were characterized by oppression, famine, and political mass murder, the USSR emerged from World War II as one of two world superpowers, a position it maintained throughout the Cold War by allocating national resources to military spending, including space exploration, at the expense of consumer goods and overall economic growth. 
  • The USSR dissolved in 1991 following a six-year restructuring effort.

Warsaw Pact
  • The Warsaw Pact (1955 – 91) was a post-World War II military alliance composed of the USSR and the Soviet-dominated Eastern European countries, referred to as "Soviet satellites." 
  • The pact formerly began in 1955 following admittance of West Germany into NATO. 
  • The Warsaw Pact was the principal rival to NATO during the Cold War, but its weakness was demonstrated by the invasion of pact members Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968, respectively, by other members to prevent anti-communist political reforms. 
  • Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a majority of former Warsaw Pact countries have joined NATO as a means of strengthening ties with Western Europe against continued pressure from Russia, which largely inherited the Soviet Union's military and arms.


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