The viscoelastic properties of high molecular weight polymeric liquids are dominated by topological constraints on a molecular scale. In a manner similar to that of entangled ropes, polymer chains can slide past but not through each other. Tube models of polymer dynamics and rheology are based on the idea that entanglements confine a chain to small fluctuations around a primitive path that follows the coarse-grained chain contour. Here we provide a microscopic foundation for these highly successful phenomenological models. We analyze the topological state of polymeric liquids in terms of primitive paths and obtain parameter-free, quantitative predictions for the plateau modulus, which agree with experiment for all major classes of synthetic polymers.