Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The intellectual ferment of the eighteenth century gave rise to a popular discontent with the status quo which culminated in two major revolutionary upheavals near the end of that century. We may fully understand the distinctive features of contemporary Western society only as we consider the transformations wrought by the American and French Revolutions. Discontent deep enough to produce widespread resistance to constituted authority is not an infrequent social phenomenon, but rarely has it resulted in movements which so profoundly rent the fabric of society as in the years between 1776 and 1815. A logical fulfillment of the intellectual unrest of the Enlightenment, these two great disruptive movements ushered in a new set of basic ideals in the Western World. Henceforth political democracy, economic liberalism, and social egalitarianism were acceptable, and although reactionary elements returned temporarily to power in subsequent years, their rule was tempered by the new social and political creeds. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XI: The Revolutionary Years, 1776-1815. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.