In the final chapters of The Age of Empire, Hobsbawm explores the societies and trends of nations leading up to World War I. He also explores the causes of the Great War. Imperialism and nationalism really made the war inevitable—or at least the global scale of it. Imperialism also opened the door to economic competition among powerful nations which created deep tensions. In the competition, the powerful nations had military power already from imperializing that they were confident in and ready to mobilize in case a competitor were to make a move. During this era, European nations also allied amongst each other and swore to protect their allies. Due to this readiness to fight and to join allies, the World War began almost immediately after a small conflict between just two nations. A student from Bosnia assassinated the Archduke of Austria causing Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia, and then many other nations followed in a domino fashion. The politics and foreign affairs of this time were a hurricane, similar to the social sphere.
Chaos ensued in society during this time, the ‘belle époque,’ as it grew more secular as science grew. The issue of science versus religion was, and is to this day, a very controversial issue, which was introduced mostly at this time which led to a complete transformation in the Western mind and society. Science exploded and many new branches developed. This led to the demand for specialization and as it exponentially evolved, it became impossible to obtain as much relative knowledge as previously. The evolution of science was a true spark for progress which is a quintessential aspect of modern Western culture. With the rise in popularity of science and its development, major advancements were made in communication, military things, technology, productivity, etc. The progress experienced in the sciences became the new distinguishing factor between a core country and a periphery.
Clearly, the West was the core in this new scientific society, but I am simply wondering the ‘what if’s. As we learned from Abu-Lughod, the East used to be the core of the world system in the 13th and 14th centuries, but the West took control. It’s not a matter of if this hadn’t happened, but if it was the East instead of the West that had moved away from religion and looked towards the sciences. What would it have been like if it was the East who set the precedent for scientific progress and who had all the technological advances and power in their hands during this era?