World War I

by Edward Paice

Start Free Trial

Why was the period following World War I called "the age of anxiety"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The period after WWI was a rather anxious time in political and cultural history. WWI demonstrated that mankind could still be quite barbaric despite being quite advanced in science and technology. The weapons of WWI could be used on both civilian and military targets, thus making an entire country a battlefield. The Austro-Hungarian, Russian, German, and Ottoman Empires fell, thus leaving weaker states in their place. The Bolsheviks were promising to take their revolution all over the world and overthrow governments who oppressed the proletariat.

Socially, people were strongly affected by the war. Many questioned the existence of God and wondered if science would provide the answers they sought. People complained about the loose morals of the 1920s as people sought their own versions of entertainment in fads and mass media. Women sought and gained more rights such as suffrage in this period—some questioned whether the traditional roles of men and women needed to be modified. Economically, the war made a few people a great deal of money. More people sought instant fortunes in the stock markets of the world, most notably that of the United States. This in turn drove up stock and people were encouraged to pay for everything with credit. The ensuing financial calamity which overtook the world in 1929 brought about the rise of dictators who sought to enforce their own version of order while suppressing minorities and consolidating their power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Many people saw World War I as proof that many of the things Western society was based on were essentially a lie. Progress, a rational worldview, patriotism, and religion all seemed irrelevant to people who had witnessed the carnage in the trenches. The period also witnessed a great deal of social unrest in Europe, where wildly fluctuating currencies, radical political leaders, massive strikes, and other social unrest contributed to a feeling of unease. Then there was the rise of the Soviet Union in what had been Russia. This development, especially when coupled with the economic downturn of the late decade, caused many to question western style capitalism. So in short, the period was one of major political, economic, social, and even intellectual uncertainty. The most poignant part, looking back, of course, is that we can see that the anxieties were, in the end, quite well-founded, and that dictators were able to exploit them to rise to power.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team