The Rise of Nationalism in Europe

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07 The Rise of Nationalism in Europe

The French Revolution and the Idea of the Nation:


  • The French Revolution brought about the political and constitutional changes that led to the transfer of sovereignty from the monarchy to a body of French citizens.
  • Through a return to monarchy Napoleon had destroyed democracy in France.
  • In the administrative field he had incorporated revolutionary principles in order to make the whole system more rational and efficient.
  • In places such as Holland, Switzerland, Brussels, Mainz, Milan and Warsaw, the French armies were welcomed as harbingers of liberty.
  • Increased taxation, censorship, forced conscription into the French armies required to conquer the rest of Europe, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of the administrative changes.

The Making of Nationalism in Europe:

  • In the mid-eighteenth-century Germany, Italy and Switzerland were divided into kingdoms, duchies and cantons whose rulers had their autonomous territories.
  • Such differences did not easily promote a sense of political unity.


The Aristocracy and the New Middle Class

  • A landed aristocracy dominated Europe socially and politically.
  • Compared to this small group of aristocracy, the majority of the population was made up of the peasantry.
  • With industrialisation, new social groups came into being: a working-class population, and middle classes made up of industrialists, businessmen, professionals.
  • It was among the educated, liberal middle classes that ideas of national unity following the abolition of aristocratic privileges gained popularity.


What did Liberal Nationalism Stand for?

  • Ideas of national unity in early-nineteenth-century Europe were closely allied to the ideology of liberalism.
  • For the new middle classes liberalism stood for freedom for the individual and equality of all before the law.
  • Politically, it emphasised the concept of government by consent.
  • Economically, liberalism stood for the freedom of markets and the abolition of state-imposed restrictions on the movement of goods and capital.


A New Conservatism after 1815

  • After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, European governments were driven by a spirit of conservatism.
  • Conservatives believed that established, traditional institutions of state and society should be preserved.
  • On the other hand many did not propose a return to the society of pre-revolutionary days.
  • In 1815, representatives of the European powers – Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria, met at Vienna to draw up a settlement for Europe.
  • Hosted by Duke Metternich, the delegates drew up the Treaty of Vienna of 1815.


The Revolutionaries

  • After 1815, the fear of repression drove many liberal-nationalists underground.
  • Secret societies sprang up in many European states to train revolutionaries and spread their ideas.

The Age of Revolutions: 1830-1848

  • As conservative regimes tried to unite their power, many European regions such as the Italian and German states, the provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Ireland and Poland got associated with revolutions for liberalism and nationalism.
  • The first disturbance took place in France in July 1830.
  • The Greek war of independence mobilised nationalist feelings among the educated elite across Europe.

The Romantic Imagination and National Feeling:

  • Romanticism was a cultural movement which sought to develop a particular form of nationalist sentiment.
  • Instead of glorifying of reason and science, Romantic artists and poets focused on emotions, intuition and mystical feelings.
  • Language too played an important role in developing nationalist sentiments.

Hunger, Hardship and Popular Revolt:

  • The 1830s saw great economic hardship in Europe.
  • In 1848, the rise of food prices led to widespread pauperism in town and country.

1848: The Revolution of the Liberals:

  • Events of February 1848 in France had brought about the rejection of the monarch and a republic based on universal male suffrage had been proclaimed.
  • The issue of extending political rights to women was a controversial one within the liberal movement.
  • Monarchs were beginning to realise that the cycles of revolution and repression could only be ended by granting concessions to the liberal-nationalist revolutionaries.

The Making of Germany and Italy:

Germany – Can the Army be the Architect of a Nation?

  • After 1848, Prussia took on the leadership of the movement for national unification.
  • Its chief minister, Otto von Bismarck, was the architect of this process carried out with the help of the Prussian army and bureaucracy.
  • Three wars were fought over seven years with Austria, Denmark and France.
  • Eventually, Prussia emerged victorious and completed the process of unification.


Italy Unified

  • During the middle of the nineteenth century, Italy was divided into seven states, of which only one, Sardinia-Piedmont, was ruled by an Italian princely house.
  • During the 1830s, Giuseppe Mazzini had sought to put together a coherent programme for a unitary Italian Republic.
  • Chief Minister Cavour led the movement to unify the regions of Italy.
  • A large number of armed volunteers under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi joined the fight.
  • In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed king of united Italy.


The Strange Case of Britain

  • The formation of the nation-state in Britain was the result of a long-drawn-out process and not of a sudden upheaval or revolution.
  • The Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland resulted in the formation of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’.
  • The symbols of the new Britain were the British flag (Union Jack), the national anthem (God Save Our Noble King), the English language.

Visualising the Nation

  • Artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found a way to represent a ruler by personifying a nation. They represented a country as if it were a person.
  • Nations were then portrayed as female figures.

Nationalism and Imperialism

  • By the last quarter of the nineteenth century nationalism no longer retained its idealistic liberal-democratic sentiment.
  • The major European powers manipulated the nationalist aspirations of the people in Europe to further their own imperialist aims.
  • The most serious source of nationalist tension in Europe after 1871 was the area called the Balkans.
  • Nationalism, aligned with imperialism, led Europe to disaster in 1914.

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