Descent into the Abyss: World War I and the Crisis of the European Global Order 

Theme 3: State-Building, Expansion, and Conflict

In this chapter, it talks about the First World War (The Great War), and how it has changed the world greatly. A combination of imperialism, weaponry rivalries, industrial development, and nationalism were the main causes that fueled the drive to the war. Powerful European countries fought in this war, including Britain, Germany, and Russia. The War not only destroyed these countries, but also devastated them with poverty and pain. There were still some nations that benefited from this war, and they were the Americans, Japanese, and the Russians. They were able to sell weaponry to these European countries while staying neutral. They get into these conflicts in the Second World War. 

• Political structures and forms of governance

Germany started to develop as a powerful nation that caused diplomatic tensions between other European countries. Before 1914 Germany was a big and prosperous country. (It was a little bigger than modern France, and over 50% bigger than modern Germany). The German states had a first rate education system, widely admired and imitated elsewhere. Scholarly and scientific output at its universities was second to none in quality and quantity, and ambitious scientists and scholars abroad had to learn German in order to keep up with developments in their subjects.

England was another powerful nation that was known for their powerful navy. They were known to have liberal values (The rights of small nations and the rule of law), and this caused them to enter the Great War. They had an organized government that was able to control several colonies like America (even though they became independent), it shows how much England was united together and how powerful they were.

• Nations and nationalism

The underlying causes of World War I were the spirit of intense nationalism that filtered through Europe throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, the political and economic rivalry among the nations. The spirit of nationalism was also manifest in economic conflict. The Industrial Revolution, caused an immense increase in the manufactures of each country and a consequent need for foreign markets. The principal field for the European policies of economic expansion was Africa, and on that continent colonial interests frequently clashed. Several times between 1898 and 1914 the economic rivalry in Africa between France and Great Britain, and between Germany on one side and France and Great Britain on the other, almost precipitated a European war.

• Revolts and revolutions

 The principle of national self-determination dominated in the settlement of European affairs. Several peoples who desired national freedom were made subject to other nations. Revolutions and strong nationalistic movements during the 19th century succeeded in abolishing much of the reactionary work of the congress. 

• Regional, transregional, and global structures and organizations

According to their regional structures, the Germans allied with Austria Hungary and Italy and called themselves the Triple alliances, and the British, Russians, and French nations called themselves the Triple Entente. They organized themselves according to their location and central powers. 


The Great War: Another name for World War I used by Europeans until the Second World War when the title of “World War” was coined. The Great War was extremely destructive because of new technology, but very little understanding of how to utilize the technology. This resulted in an extremely destructive “Trial-and-Error” form of warfare.


Kaiser Wilhelm II: German emperor during World War I whose aggressive foreign policy is often blamed for starting the war. He is also responsible for forming the Triple Alliance.